Symbiosis and identity formation in the teenager

Personality research shows that about 80% of teenagers go through what is known as the stage of storm and stress. That is where there is a significant change in they personality which leads them to be negativistic and difficult to relate to. Interestingly the personality features they do evolve during the teenage years have some marked similarities to the criminal personality.


Consider these research results

Criminological research shows that the prevalence of criminal involvement peaks during middle to late adolescence then declines rapidly and tapers off for most by their early twenties.

The male teenager is one of the highest risk groups in the community for engaging in some form of anti social act

A majority of teenagers engage in some form of delinquency. At age 17, 65% to 75% of youths have committed some illegal acts ranging from very minor offences to rape and assault.

Teen graffiti

In 2015–16, there were approximately two and a half times more male than female youth offenders

The youth offender rate was higher for males than females for every offence category, but the difference was most pronounced for Dangerous/negligent acts (male offender rate was eight times higher than the female offender rate) and Prohibited/regulated weapons (seven times). The smallest difference was for Theft, where the male youth offender rate was one and a half times higher than the female rate.


These are all very interesting but if 80% of teenagers go through a stage of storm and stress that means 20% do not. What happens to them? One of the classic features of the criminal is what is called an ‘Authority problem’.


A person who has an antagonistic or unhealthy relationship with authority figures may be described as having an authority problem. In some cases, these people tend to antagonise and resent any authority figure they encounter, regardless of the legitimacy of that person’s authority.

20% of teenagers do not have this or at least have it to a much smaller degree than the average teenager. This has also been my observations in my years of working with teenagers. There is a group who just have very little storm and stress and authority problem.

One of the main explantations for a stage of defiance is that this is how the teenager separates from the parents, known as the stage of identity formation. How they come to experience themselves as an individual separate from the parents. Erik Erikson called this the stage of identity formation as seen here

Eriksons third stage

Eriksin stage

He says that if the teenager does not achieve this he or she suffers role confusion, a weak sense of self, inadequacy and a feeling of “I am only someone if I am loved.”.

In transactional analysis terms this is where they finally breakdown the last of the symbiosis they have had with mother all their life.

Adolescent symbiosis

It is assumed that this is a natural drive in all humans and if a child or teenager does not separate from their parents then they have some kind of neurosis and maybe diagnosed as having separation anxiety. And all the nasty things that Erikson says will happen.

However maybe this is not so true with every adolescent especially the 20% I am referring to. Perhaps there is just not a strong drive or need in this group of people and the assumption that all people have this need is an incorrect assumption. The strong drive for identity formation is not so for everyone and thus there is a group who are normally psychologically adjusted without this.

And if this is the case what is the evolutionary advantage of that? To have about 20% of the human group who do not separate and form a strong sense of identity? How could this contribute to the increased possible survival of the human species?

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