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Identity Foreclosure Definition

The Meaning of Identity Foreclosure


Updated June 10, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Definition: Identity foreclosure is one step in the process of finding a sense of self. It occurs when people think they know who they are, but they have not even explored their options yet. Identity foreclosure mimics identity achievement, but it isn't actually a true identity. A person must undergo an identity crisis (also called moratorium) in order to achieve a genuine sense of self. People in identity foreclosure have committed to an identity too soon. Often they have simply adopted the identity of a parent, close relative or respected friend.

Of all the steps in finding an identity, tweens are most likely to be in identity foreclosure. For instance, a tween might proclaim that he is Catholic (his religious identity) even though he has not actively explored other options. He has simply considered himself to be Catholic because that's his parents' religious identity. As he enters the late tween and teen years, however, he may begin to question his religious identity and try out other approaches. Through this exploration (called identity moratorium), he will eventually reach religious identity achievement, which may or may not be Catholic.

Identity achievement is one of four identity statuses identified by psychologist James Marcia. Theorist Erik Erikson also wrote extensively about identity crises. Finding one's identity is a critical part of personality development.

Related terms: Identity Moratorium, Identity Diffusion, Identity Achievement, Identity Crisis

Santrock, John, PhD. Children, Eleventh Edition. 2010. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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