Saturday, November 20, 2010

Josselson's Theory of Identity Development in Women Summarized by Krista Loken

Ruthellen Josselson’s Identity Theory explores why some women encounter a crisis, and whether or not they integrate that into their identity. This theory takes James Marcia’s four identity groups and applies them to women. These four groups include foreclosures/gatekeepers, identity achievers/pathmakers, moratoriums/searchers, and identity diffusions/drifters. Women fit into one of these four groups based on experiencing a crisis and commitment of identity.

The foreclosure group includes women who have not encountered crisis; however they have made an identity commitment. These women have high internalization of the values of their parents, and they maintain ideals they had as children. The identity achievers have experienced a crisis, and committed to their identities. They have explored options, and they understand that they have their own authority to make decisions. The moratorium group have experienced crisis, but they have trouble committing to an identity. These women realize that there are many choices, but they tend to be overwhelmed by the options. The identity diffusers have not gone through a crisis, and they have not committed to an identity. They are women who seem to wait for life to happen to them.
Use in Higher Education
Women’s Resource Centers utilized Josselson’s theory by providing an area for women to talk about crisis and offer a safe place to comprehend events. Giving women the ability to talk about their majors, career choices, and personal lives allow for them to reflect on internal issues that could potentially become a part of their identities.

Annotative Bibliography Entry
Miville, M., Darlington, P., Whitlock, B., & Mulligan, T. (2005). Integrating identities: The relationships of racial, gender, and ego identities among White college students. Journal of College Student Development46(2), 157-175.

This study examined how racial identity and gender identity affect ego identity of White students. For women, it was observed that those who were experiencing racial and/or gender identity confusion usually experienced ego identity crisis or confusion as well. Those women who had positively internalized their gender and racial identities usually resolved their ego identity crisis (identity achievement). Racial and gender identities that were accepted because of societal norms lacked identity crisis (foreclosure/drifters). This study included mostly college seniors, which makes it hard to generalize to those going through crisis at different times in their lives.

Josselson R. (1987) Finding herself. Pathways to Identity Development in Women. San Francisco-London: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Josselson, R. (1998). Revising herself: The story of women's identity from college to midlife. USA: Oxford University Press.

Josselson, R. (2000). Relationship and connection in women's identity from college to midlife. In M. E. Miller & A. N. West (Eds.), Spirituality, ethics, and relationships in adulthood: Clinical and theoretical explorations (pp. 113-145). Psychosocial press.

Miville, M., Darlington, P., Whitlock, B., & Mulligan, T. (2005). Integrating identities: The relationships of racial, gender, and ego identities among White college students. Journal of College Student Development46(2), 157-175.


  1. In regards to application in Higher Education I think it is extremely important to provide women with a place to share their experiences. Like any support service it is important for those who work there to understand the experiences that women may encounter and the development processes that they might be experiencing.
    While some women may never experience crisis I believe that the majority do or will in some way, at some point, in their lives. It is important for women to have a place they feel that they can safely talk about these experiences. By providing these spaces and support I believe that their identity will be that much stronger.

  2. I definitely agree with you on the limitation to the article that was reviewed. Since the majority of the women included in this study were college seniors, it lacks the diversity necessary to see different aspects of crisis within the subjects. Throughout the semester, we have learned about different development theories that seem to have a common theme, with more experience, comes higher development. Even though longitudinal studies are difficult to conduct, it would be interesting to review a study that follows women from age 17 to 25; to evaluate how different crises have affected them.

  3. Our identity can be developed through many different occurrences, whether it is through time and/or our experiences, within cultures and societies. It is so interesting to think of how a crisis can be incorporated into one's identity and if we fall into one or more of the categories mentioned by Josselson.
    I feel that this theory is so limited by its categorization. The theory itself is judgmental because it is viewing women through a lens of 1970's women and you're either this or that. Not taking into account different cultures or where people are coming from.

  4. I found this theory interesting when it was presented in class. I didn't say anything at the time but I always wondered why Native American women of the Navajo tribe always fell into foreclosures/gatekeepers. No matter how many times their spouses or significant others cheated on them they would not say anything and just forgive them. It was always really hard for me to just accept this type of behavior. My mom would tell me well they are guys and it is in their nature to be like that. I wasn't about to accept what was normal for Navajo women. Even to this day I always tell my parents I will never let a guy treat me that way. Guess that explains why I am still single :D jk. I thought this presentation was presented very well :D

  5. I found this theory very interesting and applicable to many of the students I work with as well as my own life. Most interesting to me is the crisis many women experience and how the effects of the crisis is completely dependent on how the individual perceives the crisis. What may be a huge life-changing event to one woman, may be relatively insignificant to another. This range in view determines the magnitude of the effect the crises has on their lives. Having an understanding of this theory reminds me to take student concerns with high importance because what may seem like not a very big deal to me, may have a huge impact on a student.

  6. In the article by Miville, another interesting finding that relates to this theory is that women were more likely than men to experience a gender identity crisis (Diffusion) which resulted in an overall identity crisis (Moratorium). Few men in the study experienced issues with their gender and if they did, it didn't really impact their ego identity. On the other hand, the biggest indicator of ego identity crisis for women was struggling with gender identity issues. That is why services that support the development and success of women are so important. It provides them a safe space to process through their crisis to move from the Moratorium stage to the Identity Achievement phase.

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