Thoughts, Engagements, and Updates

7 Aug 2017

Between God and Self: On Youth Identity Crisis


There are reasons to believe that how we construct the self stems from our close relationship experiences, and in particular, in the existence of God as a symbolic attachment figure. In a study conducted with about one hundred young South African Christians, results reveal that this might be the case. This notion is consistent with the ideas of Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate who have both written extensively on attachment and authenticity. They stress the importance of attachment as a developmental process that empowers the individual to exist through experiences with parents in terms of being true to one’s self while functioning based on the programming of early childhood years. This means that the way an individual is drawn to an attachment figure at a relational level is the key outlet for the cultivation and activation of their authenticity. The needs for attachment relationship and authenticity may as well explain Victor Frankl’s concern for ultimate meaning since both constructs aid in integrating and forging meaning in life through proximity to forces greater than one’s self and desiring the need to stay true to self.

Overall, the study results on attachment to God and authenticity with Christian youths in South Africa show that insecure attachment with God is related to inauthenticity and an absence of a sense of authenticity. In addition, the variation in attachment to God was also attributed to the gender differences and church denomination of Christian youths in the study.

Young people have two main needs: attachment and authenticity. When young people feel abandoned and betrayed by those who are supposed to be there for them, they often enter into a cycle of identity crisis, trying to stay true to who they are in order to deal with their relationship problems.

Findings from this study are consistent with the claims of self-determination theory, which focuses on how social and cultural factors either facilitate or undermine motivational behavior and engagement with activities that are outlets for human survival. The psychological need for attachment protection with God may be linked to feelings of authenticity or inauthenticity. In other words, the more secure a relationship (with God) is in terms of providing the right environment for personal growth and identity formation, the more likely it is for the individual to meet their need for autonomy, competence, and survival through feeling in tune with their authentic self.

You can download the full paper here.

— Victor Counted

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