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Adolescent Struggle for Selfhood and Identity. 
By John J. Mitchell. Calgary: Detselig Enterprises Ltd, 1992, 218 pp. 
Review by Mr Song Cheng Hock.

Adolescents are people in transition. That evolutionary change from teen to adult is dramatic. They experience growth spurts, mood swings, and restlessness from time to time. Besides having to cope with these physiological changes, they have to learn how to satisfy their basic physical, psychological, social and moral needs as well. The author, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Alberta, aptly describes that growth process, a “struggle.”  It involves making “one’s way with difficulty, or to labour with considerable exertion” (p. 9).  Growth pains are a reality.

Mitchell’s academic background essentially sets the tone and structure of the book. It is written in formal and precise language, without the anecdotal examples used by modish writers who deal with the same subject.  The intention is clearly to present an objective psychological profile of the adolescent and understand his or her proclivity toward self-centredness, irrationality and faulty decision-making.  It is not intended to be a prescriptive manual using pop psychology to address the problems and concerns of youths.  

He divides the book into two sections. The first section focuses on the struggle for selfhood, and the second section deals with the issue of identity. This delineation is deliberate. It allows him to specifically set thematic parameters, address each struggle separately, and then to show the relationship between the two sections.

In section one, Mitchell sees selfhood from the point of adolescent behaviour. He postulates that egocentrism and narcissism primarily determine it.  As the term suggests, egocentrism refers to the preoccupation with one’s own concerns to the relative insensitivity to the concerns of others. However, there is one counteracting mental construct that mitigates its self-absorbing inclination, that is, the breakthrough of formal thought. The significance of formal thought is that it “not only enables the adolescent to conceptualize his thinking, "it also permits him to conceptualize the thought of other people” (p. 22). Here lies the essence of the struggle, the adolescent has to wrestle with contrasting opposites and choose between altruism and egocentrism.

Narcissism is the other determinant of selfhood. It refers to a preoccupied fascination with oneself and also “the force within the personality which strives to orchestrate the outer world so that it nourishes and flatters the inner self” (p. 54). This has serious implications for the impressionable youth. This transient self-absorption breeds insecurity, perfectionism, self-love and self-hate, which will eventually shape his self-esteem. It has long lasting implications.  

Mitchell’s work strongly suggests that egocentrism and narcissism often prevail over the good senses (formal thought) of the growing adolescent. His sombre assessment is nondescript, “How this challenge can be met, it seems to me, is the heart of parenting, teaching and rehabilitating young people in our era” (p. 116).

Section two explores the reasons for the adolescent’s struggle to attain a sturdy, worthwhile identity and why this struggle could ironically lead to confusion (also commonly referred to as “identity crisis”).  While in his words, the themes of this section are rather straightforward (p. 117), the outworking of it is not. Here the reader is led to see how the egocentrism and narcissism in the first section of the book influences the adolescent’s quest for his own identity. Unfortunately, that exploration does not bring about a liberating self-awareness to the adolescent.

However, he will eventually come to a crossroad where he will experience a change. Mitchell calls them “turning points” (chapter 8). The change may be for the better, or for the worse.  These significant changes will bring about an awareness of the adolescent’s hitherto illusive identity. These turning points need not be a crisis, but all crises are turning points (p. 187).

This book is meant for the serious minded who seeks to understand the (sometimes hidden) motivations and struggles of the adolescent. The reader may find the book "western" in its content.  But, this is not a serious limitation as transitional growing pains are experienced by youths everywhere.


Walk In Love (Eph 3:14-21) by Steven S. H. Chang on 29 June 2005


What motivates you?  People today need to be motivated to do anything.  Companies, schools, and churches often expend much of their resources trying to motivate their people.  Otherwise, nothing would be achieved.  From one perspective, the problem in Paul’s Asia Minor was a motivational one. These new converts were not motivated to change their old way of life: sexual immorality, greed, lying, anger, rage, unwholesome talk, coarse joking, and drunkenness, to name a few. They lacked the power to transform (“power” in 3:16, 18, 20) because of a lack of motivation.

 Paul’s solution was to remind these Christians of Asia Minor to be “rooted and established in love” (3:17).  In other words, believers must be motivated by God’s love in Christ in order to keep from sin. But how does love motivate believers? God’s love motivates us because it forms the foundation of action. For Paul, God’s acts of creation and predestination (1:4) and of redemption and recreation were grounded in love (2:4-5).  The phrase “in love” occurs 6 times in Ephesians (out of some 13 total in the NT).  Being “rooted” is an agricultural metaphor that suggests the health and strength of a plant or tree.  Being “established” is an architectural metaphor that suggests the firmness of foundation, much like the house built upon a rock in Matt 7. In order to change and in order to withstand the lure of sin, these believers had to be “rooted and established” in God’s love for them. Without a proper understanding of God’s love in Christ Jesus, believers are not properly motivated to change.  Because God loves us, we can and must change.  

 Furthermore, God’s love motivates us because it inspires us.  Throughout Ephesians, Paul’s injunctions to love are followed by a “just as” clause.  For example, “live a life of love just as Christ loved us” (5:2); “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (4:32); “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (5:23).  In other words, the way God has loved us in Jesus Christ sets the standard by which we are to love.  This is how Christ’s love compels believers to do the same.  Does God’s love compel and motivate you?  

 For Paul in Ephesians, God’s love is so important that it should be the object of intense study.  In other words, believers must seek to know profoundly God’s love in Christ (3:18-19).  Thus, he wishes that his readers might “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (3:18) and that they might “know this love that surpasses knowledge” (3:19).  He wants them to process for themselves what God’s love means and to begin to see the full dimensions of that love, grasping its significance for ethics and relationship.  Only when believers know the love of Christ—that they are dearly loved—will they be enabled to resist sin and “walk in love” (5:2).  From the perspective of Ephesians, God’s love in Christ, properly understood, is entirely motivational.  Truly know, therefore, God’s love for you and you will be motivated to live for Him.  

Chapel Speaker on 13 July will be Mrs Elizabeth Goldsmith. Join us at Chapel next Wednesday, 12 noon -12.45 pm (2nd floor).


  1. We are pleased to have Martin & Elizabeth Goldsmith back with us at BGST. Martin & Elizabeth are conducting intensive courses from 27 June to 13 July.

  2. Congratulations to Joanna Peck for God’s gift of a baby boy, Chong Khen, on 29 June, her third child.

  3. We extend our deepest condolences to the family of the late Rev Hong Tiong Peng who went home to be with the Lord on 3 July 2005.


A Blessed Birthday to ...

Building Fund Issue 19

Mr Adrian Teo  4/7

Mrs Yeo Ee Ee  4/7

Ms Noelle Yee  4/7

Mrs Irene Tan  5/7

Rev Eman Kumar  5/7

Ms Angeline Ong   8/7

Mr Lewis Lew  8/7

Mrs Lucy Lim  9/7

Ms Denise Ng  9/7

Mr Peter Jamir  10/7

Mr Shermen Tjiong  10/7

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Last update : 8 Jul 2005. 
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