What to Know About Identity Foreclosure

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on December 06, 2022
4 min read

Early life experiences can affect someone's life into the future. Friendships are important, and a person without positive relationships within them can end up with high levels of social conflict. A number of studies examine these poor relationships and school adjustment issues alongside behavioral problems, loneliness, and psychologically motivated health later in life. Identity foreclosure happens when someone accepts without question the values, skills, goals, and overall worth someone else has assigned to them. This often happens in young people hearing from teachers, parents, or peer groups. Individuals in identify foreclosure will not accept social support or engage in ways to grow their identity, and they may struggle to form good interpersonal relationships

Dedication to an identity or set of values prematurely and without compromise is known as identity foreclosure. Those with identity foreclosure accept the values that others like parents, coaches, siblings, or instructors have placed on them without considering other roles or visions for themselves they might prefer.

Characteristics of identity foreclosure include the decline of possible alternatives while committing securely to an idea. Defensive egotism, low-level anxiety, and authoritarianism also are seen in those in foreclosure. They will avoid new experiences, therefore allowing the goals and objectives of authority figures to become their objectives, and eventually, the two cannot be separated. When one's center of control is external — meaning, someone else controls it, instead of the individual — this can often lead to misled self-satisfaction. Identity foreclosure can be a type of closed-minded settlement upheld with defensive narcissism.  A foreclosure will happen when people are overly committed to their beliefs, but will not explore alternate options.

People in foreclosure will commit to an identity before exploration of its worth or viability. A woman who grows up tall may be expected to become a supermodel. If she is in identity foreclosure, she will commit to being a supermodel without hesitation. She may not even consider that her quickness in addition to her height might allow her to become an excellent soccer player. 

Sometimes kids are not given an opportunity to make their own choices because the parents will always step in and decide for them. Sometimes, kids want to be like their parents due to admiration and deeply relating to them. Think of religious influences and career choices. Kids often adopt their parents' beliefs.  Characteristics that are often seen with long-standing foreclosure are obedient kids with a need for high approval, low levels of acceptance of change, authoritarianism with parental styles, conventional thinking, and increased levels of conformity.

Renowned psychologists have identified eight psychological stages of life development that all people within their lifetimes must go through. The basic psychosocial job for adolescents is to find a true sense of identity formation. Children will continuously change their perception of themselves and their surroundings over time. The life development stages are:

  • Trust vs. Mistrust
  • Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
  • Initiative vs. Guilt
  • Industry vs. Inferiority
  • Identity vs. Identity Confusion
  • Intimacy vs. Isolation
  • Generativity vs. Stagnation
  • Integrity vs. Despair

Each of these stages may have a personal crisis attached that should be resolved for a healthy growth cycle for the individual. Identity vs. Identity Confusion, which is the 5th psychological stage, happens while a person is in adolescence.  The main challenge during this time period is for young individuals to settle on who they really are and where they want to go in life. This is where they develop their ego identity, self-acceptance, their sense of where they want to go in life, and ability to make decisions. Adolescents who have created a positive ego identity will usually have high self-esteem. These individuals are more than likely to be self-directed, decisive, problem solvers, and can adequately cope with the demands of a changing environment. If they have not successfully created a positive ego identity, they then more than likely are susceptible to identity foreclosure.

Current studies also suggest that the identity classification of achievements and moratoriums are positive, while foreclosure and diffusion are negative. A moratorium will occur when someone is actively searching for identity formation but has not committed. Diffusion is an absence of commitment or exploration. This is not true for everyone but is the case for many people. Thinking of individual differences when forming identities is vital. 

In identity formation, foreclosure implies that a person has given up and given in to socially acceptable pressures in making a career decision. This happens before going through the normal developmental stages of identifying and clearing personal values and needs. Experts have suggested that most people in late adolescence are in identity foreclosure, and career and academic counseling should be a form of intervention for these types of students. A lot of research has gone into statuses and their relationship to psychological issues. But the research on its own shows that statuses are better theorized as developmental or other types of styles of decision-making.