Welcome back! We’re still discussing Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. In my last entry we covered ages 0 - 12. This one will cover adolescence through adulthood.
Ego Identity vs Role Confusion (12 - 18 years): During adolescence a person is starting to look forward, and becoming more independent. They will start to explore different roles they will assume in adulthood, both personally and professionally. The person is also changing physically as they enter puberty. Too much pressure from outside sources leads to rebellion. Yet at the same time, guidance is still needed, as the person is not yet capable of making long-term, adult decisions. Role confusion occurs when the person is not able to make decisions about themselves or their role in society by the end of this stage. The person may go through different phases of trying on different roles. It is important not to minimize these roles. They are of the utmost significance for the person to come to a personal identity. Rather, parents, teachers, and other significant adults can act as guides and mentors. Encourage teens to explore within safe limits. Talk to them about what they’re learning as they move through this period of time. the trust, autonomy, initiative, and industry the person has developed in the 12 years prior will be necessary in order to resolve this stage. See how that works? Stages can’t be skipped, and have to happen in their proper order. The virtue developed during Ego Identity versus Role Confusion is fidelity. In this context, fidelity refers to the ability to commit oneself to others, even when there may be significant differences, such as beliefs. Pressuring someone into an identity or role during this time can not only result in rebellion, but also in confusion about oneself, and place in society.
Intimacy vs Isolation (18 - 40 years): This is when we start focusing on romantic and sexual relationships. We explore these relationships, and begin to establish commitments to long term partners. Since we know that stages build on the ones before it, we can see how the stage preceding this one is so important: a person needs to have an established identity in order to function as part of a couple. The virtue of fidelity, the ability to commit, is key in establishing long term relationships.
Close friendships are also important. Erikson defined an intimate relationship as one characterized by closeness, intimacy, and love. Successful completing of this stage leads to commitment, safety, and care. Isolation, loneliness, and depression can result if this stage is not resolved. The virtue learned during this stage is love.
Generativity vs Stagnation (40 - 65 years): Okay, so we trust people and are able to individuate and be independent. We can take initiative, and feel competent. We even have a committed relationship. Not too shabby! So now we take all of these accomplishments, and focus on career and family. We begin to focus on the bigger picture: What do I contribute to society? These contributions come in the form of raising our children, and being productive in the workplace. Additionally it may come from commitments made to others, developing familial relationships, and mentoring and contributing to the next generation or generations. Generativity comes from feeling that we are, indeed, of value, and have a place in the bigger picture. Stagnation is the feeling that we have not contributed. A person experiencing stagnation may feel insignificant, disconnected, or apathetic about their community and society.
It is also important to note that this age is also when people may experience “midlife crisis.” They may regret past choices, and feel that they no longer have time to correct mistakes. Some may still make changes that lead to increased feelings of productivity. Those who are able to make changes which end up enhancing their quality of life report greater satisfaction long-term. Those with health problems, troubled relationships, and feel they have no control over their life’s trajectory are more likely to experience stagnation. The virtue developed in this stage is care.
Integrity vs Despair (65+): It is worth noting that Erikson is one of the few developmental theorists to address aging. It’s also interesting (and I think pretty cool!) that Erikson acknowledged that development continues throughout a person’s life, and does not end when a person reaches adulthood (take that, Siggy!). The final stage is that of Integrity versus despair. A person in this stage is coming to terms with whether they feel thy have lived a meaningful life? During this time, a person will likely experience significant losses of a spouse, siblings, extended family, and/or friends. The onset of this stage is often precipitated by a significant loss. A person who achieves integrity during this stage will look back at their life with feelings of content, wisdom, and peace. Wisdom is, in fact, the virtue attained during this stage.
Erikson’s theory has limitations, as any theory does. It does not define definite tasks that symbolize when one stage ends, and another begins. Later stages also don’t carry the same diagnostic influences on personality as earlier stages. It’s also very ethnocentric to western culture. What I like about this theory is it feels like something almost everybody in western culture can relate to, and understand. When I talk about this theory with clients and friends, it makes sense. As a clinician, I see elements of all of the developmental theories and models which are relevant. Yes, I said all. I present this information here to you to help you to be better informed. I strongly discourage self-diagnosis. But if this gives you context and language to better understand yourself or someone else, then I have achieved my goal for this blog. Pop quiz…what stage would this be?
Cherry, K. (2016). Erik Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development. Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/erik-eriksons-stages-of-psychosocial-development-2795740
McLeod, S. A. (2013). Erik Erikson. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html