In order to focus on the content of the blog, I thought I would return to reading from years ago about stages of life and Erikson, a well-known researcher and writer on this topic. Insights into what an individual might be trying to work out and do at certain times of his or her life. This could be especially relevant to inspiring ageing. Erikson has 8 stages, but I am concentrating on adolescent and adult stages for convenience - assuming that I managed to negotiate the first 3 successfully.
5. Identity vs. Role Confusion
During adolescence, the transition from childhood to adulthood is most important. Children are becoming more independent, and begin to look at the future in terms of career, relationships, families, housing, etc. The individual wants to belong to a society and fit in.
12-18 years. During this stage, adolescents search for a sense of self and personal identity, through an intense exploration of personal values, beliefs, and goals.
The adolescent mind is essentially a mind or moratorium, a psychosocial stage between childhood and adulthood, and between the morality learned by the child, and the ethics to be developed by the adult (Erikson, 1963, p. 245).
This is a major stage of development where the child has to learn the roles he will occupy as an adult. It is during this stage that the adolescent will re-examine his identity and try to find out exactly who he or she is. Erikson suggests that two identities are involved: the sexual and the occupational.
According to Bee (1992), what should happen at the end of this stage is “a reintegrated sense of self, of what one wants to do or be, and of one’s appropriate sex role”. During this stage the body image of the adolescent changes.
Erikson claims that the adolescent may feel uncomfortable about their body for a while until they can adapt and “grow into” the changes. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of fidelity.
Fidelity involves being able to commit one's self to others on the basis of accepting others, even when there may be ideological differences.
During this period, they explore possibilities and begin to form their own identity based upon the outcome of their explorations. Failure to establish a sense of identity within society ("I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up") can lead to role confusion. Role confusion involves the individual not being sure about themselves or their place in society.
In response to role confusion or identity crisis, an adolescent may begin to experiment with different lifestyles (e.g., work, education or political activities).
Also pressuring someone into an identity can result in rebellion in the form of establishing a negative identity, and in addition to this feeling of unhappiness.
6. Intimacy vs. Isolation
18 to 40 yrs. During this period, the major conflict centers on forming intimate, loving relationships with other people.
During this period, we begin to share ourselves more intimately with others. We explore relationships leading toward longer-term commitments with someone other than a family member.
Successful completion of this stage can result in happy relationships and a sense of commitment, safety, and care within a relationship.
Avoiding intimacy, fearing commitment and relationships can lead to isolation, loneliness, and sometimes depression. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of love.
7. Generativity vs. Stagnation ages 40 to 65 yrs. Generativity refers to "making your mark" on the world through creating or nurturing things that will outlast an individual.
People experience a need to create or nurture things that will outlast them, often having mentees or creating positive changes that will benefit other people.
We give back to society through raising our children, being productive at work, and becoming involved in community activities and organizations. Through generativity we develop a sense of being a part of the bigger picture.
Success leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, while failure results in shallow involvement in the world.
By failing to find a way to contribute, we become stagnant and feel unproductive. These individuals may feel disconnected or uninvolved with their community and with society as a whole. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of care.
8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair
This stage begins at approximately age 65 and ends at death.
As we grow older (65+ yrs) and become senior citizens, we tend to slow down our productivity and explore life as a retired person.
It is during this time that we contemplate our accomplishments and can develop integrity if we see ourselves as leading a successful life.
Erikson described ego integrity as “the acceptance of one’s one and only life cycle as something that had to be” (1950, p. 268) and later as “a sense of coherence and wholeness” (1982, p. 65).
Erik Erikson believed if we see our lives as unproductive, feel guilt about our past, or feel that we did not accomplish our life goals, we become dissatisfied with life and develop despair, often leading to depression and hopelessness.
Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of wisdom. Wisdom enables a person to look back on their life with a sense of closure and completeness, and also accept death without fear.
Wise people are not characterized by a continuous state of ego integrity, but they experience both ego integrity and despair. Thus, late life is characterized by both integrity and despair as alternating states that need to be balanced.
So in brief, exploring personal identity and how that might fit with the world (work, family, leisure)
Getting comfortable with intimacy
'Making your mark'
Accepting the life as complete and useful
This kind of analysis is great to initiate thoughts on stuff. Two questions come to my mind.
First, the fit with history - these stages occur within a prevailing cultural climate full of events. What is the relationship between the individual and the wider world?
Second, I'm not sure about the linear progression. I'm sure Erikson would agree that these tasks for a balanced life overlap, might be missed and even occur at different ages. Intimacy for example has a chequered past with same sex relationships, but seems to have levelled out now. Many people in retirement are still 'making their mark' as part of accepting who you are and what you have done.
From a personal point of view two things - I had an indentity crisis right up to retiring. And, whilst I'm content with most the bits of my life being useful and coherent, I have numerous tapes which rerun regularly about my less savoury moments.
David Bowie's comment on ageing are so good - If you are pining for youth I think it produces a stereotypical old man because you only live in memory, you live in a place that doesn’t exist… I think ageing is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.
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