Everybody has significant events in their lives. Some of these events may even be quite similar, but how these events affect what happens next on their journey differs greatly for each person (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). Experiences from early childhood through adulthood help shape an individual’s cognitive, emotional and social development. I believe any event that has caused a substantial amount of turmoil to my own life, has shaped my identity for the best. Identity and self-concept are always under revision.
Identity includes all dimensions of self-knowledge. Factors that contribute to the development of identity and self-concept are social, biological and cultural factors. Identity and self-concept are a work in progress becoming more organized and complex throughout adulthood. The six life events that were significant in my development throughout the years are, moving from my place of birth (Pennsylvania), to Florida; my parents getting divorced; getting sick with the Epstein Bar Virus; my mother passing away; becoming a mother and getting divorced.
Moved from Pennsylvania to Florida (Non-normative life event)
I was born in 1987. When I was 7 years old, my father, mother and my brother moved to Florida. We were in the middle of my Kindergarten year of school. We left all of our childhood friends and some of our family. We were very close with the families in our neighborhood, along with being able to walk to our small-town church. My brother and I were never given a reason, until we were adults. We both held on to anger and sadness from this decision, but now that we know the reason, it all makes sense.
We recently found out that the reason we moved, was because my father started drinking and my mother wanted to live closer to her mother and sister, in
Florida. Florida has never felt like home for either of us, 25 years later.
Early childhood memories are a big part of self-concept (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). This event was significant to my development, because I don’t even remember there being a smooth transitional period, it all happened so fast. At this point in my life, I still had poor perspective taking skills, known as preoperational egocentrism (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). I was centered on my own perspective of the situation and not my parents’, which led to anger and little understanding. Also, not only did we move mid kindergarten, but that was the first time I had been in school, due to my mother being a stay at home mom during that time.
Once we moved to Florida, we quickly found an apartment and my brother, and I had to start at new schools to finish off the year. I remember my classroom, but I don’t remember my teachers or making any friends. Peer relationships are ongoing and related to social and emotional development (Walden, Lemerise & Smith, 1999). I don’t remember much effort being made, in encouraging friendships, in that school. Once that school year ended, we moved again into a home and new schools. We stayed in this home until I was 11 years old.
Parents Got Divorced (Non-normative life event)
When I was 10 years old, my parents got divorced. This event tore my world apart. All that I had known was changing. If experiences within relationships with caregivers do not fit a child’s expectations, their developing ideas about their self and others, could be changed creating negative expectations (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). The reason my parents go divorced was due to my father’s drinking. I don’t remember ever hearing them fight or argue, but I did find a Vodka bottle hidden under the seat in my father’s truck. This instance caused me a lot of anxiety because at that time, I had known he was battling alcoholism, so I was stuck between telling my mother or not. I specifically remember that moment in my father’s truck. I can also recall the moment my mother came outside to tell me that they were getting divorced. Today, I remember what I was doing and what I thought in that given moment. I felt confused and almost as if I should make myself cry.
I did not understand the complexity of the situation or what divorce really meant. At that time, I had a strong attachment to my father. Once divorced, my father moved into a small apartment. I did not feel very comfortable being with him during this time, almost as if the attachment disappeared. Problems related to an individual’s attachment style, can impact an individual’s peer and romantic relationships, as they age. My brother and I would hear him stumbling into the closet, in his bedroom. During this time, my brother and I shared a room and an L-shaped couch that we both had to sleep on. Being a 10-year-old girl going through puberty, sharing a room with a 14-year-old boy, was not ideal or comfortable. In remembering these moments so vividly, I see how much of an impact they have had on my development.
Parent divorce is associated with negative outcomes in academic achievement, behavior, emotional regulation, self-esteem, and social relations (Amato, 1993). During this time, I experienced puberty earlier than most. I began pulling out my eyelashes due to anxiety about the divorce and the changes happening to my body. Early sexual maturation for girls, is associated with greater storm and stress (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). My mother, brother and I moved, so I had to switch schools again. Sometimes, I would get made fun of, because my breasts were bigger than others, or if I had pulled out a lot of eyelashes or even some of my eyebrows. Kids would say I “looked like a burn victim”. Not only did my parents’ divorce negatively affect my self-esteem and peer relationships, but that attachment issues between my father and I, affected my ability to trust others and form healthy intimate relationships as well. Early bonds with caregivers could have a bearing on relationship building throughout an individual’s life span (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).
Got Sick with Epstein Bar Virus (Non-normative life event)
Adolescence has been called a sensitive period for stress, by some (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). When I was 15 years old, I got sick with the Epstein-barr Virus (EBV). This virus is the most common cause of infectious mononucleosis, also known as ‘mono’ (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). The symptoms of this virus can include extreme fatigue, head and body aches and fever.
During adolescence, the brain is changing rapidly (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). The fundamental developmental task that individuals face during adolescence is defining their identity (Crocetti, Rubini, Luyckx & Meeus, 2008). This virus caused me to be homeschooled for some time, during high school. It also affected my ability to maintain friendships. Highschool is a time of active identity development and peer relationships are important in the construction of an adolescent’s identity (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). Before I got sick, I had a close-knit group of friends, I was outgoing and confident. I had a high self-esteem and a positive body image. Once I got sick, I began to miss out on social functions, felt left out, lost a lot of weight and isolated myself. My friends would come to see me, but I wouldn’t answer the door.
Thriving within a peer group, is one of the most significant accomplishments an adolescent’s life. This event affected the commitment I had towards relationships. I went from belonging to an achievement identity status, where I was outgoing, open to new experiences and what I felt to be, at the peak of my interpersonal and social functioning, to more of a diffusion/foreclosure status. I became, pessimistic in my thinking, allowing myself to believe that I could not go back to school and that I wouldn’t get to feeling better. The thought of going back to school made me anxious, but I pushed through it. I have always felt that I was self-disciplined and self-motivated when I needed to be. Once I returned, I began to isolate myself slowly. I felt so “out of the loop” and unaccepted, caring too much about other’s feelings towards me; however, no one made me feel this way but myself. It was clear that this event negatively affected my confidence and self-esteem drastically.
Mother Passed Away (Non-normative life event)
Adolescents experience many transitions that can provoke anxiety within, such as social and emotional challenges like separating from their parents, performance stress in school, feeling accepted by their peers and figuring out who they are (Friedman, 2014). When I was 17, my mother passed away unexpectedly and tragically. I was not close with my father at the time, my attachment style with him was more dismissive-avoidant. The dismissive style has been associated with those who have early experiences of trauma (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). I did not have a loving and supportive parental figure around.. Adolescents are sensitive to social and emotional information and are quite vulnerable during this time. I looked for support in boyfriends who were much older than me and engaged in risky behavior. Structural differences between the adolescent and adult brain, explain why young people may fail to practice self-constraint leading to risky behaviors.
Without going into too much detail, because of how my mother passed away, I lost complete trust in people, became very pessimistic, and felt a great deal of guilt due to not being able to say goodbye. I was in my Senior year of high school and ended up staying out of school for about a month after this event. This affected my identity development because I felt like I had just started getting back on track socially, and I felt like I was slowly reaching the achievement status of identity. I had set a goal, to finish high school, go to college, graduate from college and get married and start a family. Dismissing individuals have a positive view of themselves, but a negative model of others such as finding it hard to trust others, getting nervous when people get too close and are not as comfortable being intimate, causing withdraw (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).
These individuals do not believe they need close relationships with others. My view of myself was not as positive as before my mother passed away. Her death was on the news, along with my 9-1-1 call. I felt like my mother passing away, became who I was and that none of my friends would ever be able to understand how I felt. Feeling a sense of belonging is extremely important for an adolescent, during this time of vulnerability. Once I went back to school, I isolated myself for some time, then slowly became social again. Accomplishment of identity development is based on having positive role-models who support and encourage exploration. My Aunt, grandma and slowly my father, became the support system that I needed. They helped in attaining my identity. I became focused on completing high school and going off to college. I had started to focus on my future again, because I couldn’t see my life going in any other direction. This event has affected every aspect of my life and has shaped who I am today, greatly.
I Became a Mother (Normative age-graded influence)
When I was 26 and married, I gave birth to my son. Becoming a mother brought up a lot of complex trauma associated with my mother passing away. Extremely traumatic events may last for years or even decades after exposure (Aldwin, Sutton & Lachman, 1996). Not having my mother around for my child’s birth, was tough. I had to have a C-section due to the position my son was in, so the recovery process was not an easy one. Having a husband that traveled, made it to where I had to take care of his son and mine, along with driving my son to physical therapy, all within a couple days after surgery. Becoming a mother showed me just how strong I really was. It also allowed me to understand, all that my mother did for my brother and me. I see a lot of her in my parenting. Typically, parents will interact with their children, in a way that makes sense to them; such as, the way they were brought up, or the complete opposite because of wanting to give their children something different (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). Becoming a mother was the start of what helped shaped my identity and was the start of resolving any identity issues that I may have had. Through the true intimacy I found by loving my son and the work put into child rearing, I was able to continue to achieve my adult identity. I also matured and learned what it meant to be selfless.
I Got Divorced (Non-normative life event)
Adults who experienced parental divorce as children, are more likely to have greater marital instability (Amato, 1993). When I was 28, I got divorced. I was the petitioner and I was the one who left. I could not take his son with me, who I raised since he was 2, so a sense of guilt overwhelmed me and still continues to. I felt that I was part of a cycle because of my grandparents getting divorced, then my parents and now me. As a single mother working full time, I was able to better understand what my mother went through which helped to provide another perspective. Moos and Schaefer (1986) state that some benefits of stress include increased empathy and better perspective taking. Also, I was forced to accept help from others during this event, which was stepping out of my comfort zone. According to Fraley (n.d.), I tend to be dismissive-avoidant within relationships, meaning I don’t like to depend on others. Being able to walk out of a toxic and hostile situation, gave me the strength that I thought for sure, my husband had drained out of me. I felt liberated, confident and resilient, which helped in the development of my adult identity. Being resilient as an adult, can stimulate well-being, emotional stability, and reactivity to stress across adulthood (Diehl & Hay, 2010).
Children of divorced families are more likely to experience emotional and behavioral problems, as well as depression and antisocial behaviors, especially in adolescence which is the stage his son was in (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). Throughout the divorce process and from there on out, I tried to remain confident in my role as a mother and provide both of our children with love and consistency. Children experience the world through the support of their caregivers and the environment surrounding them; therefore, the self is influenced by culture and context (Haste & Abrahams, 2008).
Development is continuous, and development is change (Thelen, 2005). Evidence shows that an individual’s development is the product of relationships among many spontaneous factors, interacting in many different ways (Broderick, & Blewitt, 2015). As I get older, I see the impact that my past experiences have on my relationships, career and parenting style. Most of an individual’s identity and self-concept grow out of social interactions and early childhood experiences. I believe that my childhood experiences, both positive and traumatic, have greatly shaped my identity and continue to as I move throughout adulthood. The process of development creates the transformation of infants, into children and children into adults (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). This process continues on until death, which is why theorists. Believe that development is part of what it means to be alive. Developmental processes that create the transformation of infants into children and children into adults, continue on until death leading theorists to believe that developmental change is part of what it means to be alive (Broderick, & Blewitt, 2015).