*This is an essay I wrote for my Human Adjustment class.
Erik Erikson is a German-American developmental psychologist who developed the theory of the eight stages of psychosocial development. His theories highlight the importance of social relationships rather than Freud’s theory of sexual influence. This paper focuses on the final stage, integrity vs. despair. When a person enters this stage, they will decide if their life has the sensation of satisfaction or failure. It will depend on how each psychosocial crisis from each stage has been resolved and whether or not the person feels they had a meaningful life.
Integrity vs. Despair: The Eighth Stage of Erikson’s Psychosocial Development
Erik Erikson, born in 1902, was a psychologist and psychoanalyst specializing in developmental psychology and personality development. Erikson is well known for his Psychosocial Development and for coming up with the phrase and meaning of identity crisis. He was born in Germany but later became an American citizen. Erikson died at the age of 91 in Massachusetts. Sigmund Freud and Ruth Benedict heavily influenced Erikson’s theories. Erikson trained under the supervision of Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud. He later won a Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his book Gandhi’s Truth.
Erikson’s mother gave birth to him out of wedlock and fled; therefore, his biological father’s identity was never known. Though his stepfather raised him, it was kept a secret that Erik was not his biological son until late childhood. This gave him the feeling of being deceived and thus began the development of his quest to discover the meaning of and search for identity, the nucleus of his body of work. The last name Erikson is actually a last name Erik created and changed to, from his stepfather’s last name of Homburger. Erikson’s lifelong feeling of deceit and search for his own identity did not carry on to influence his own behavior with his children. His forth son, Neil, was institutionalized because he had Down syndrome; Erikson deceitfully told his children that he had died at birth (Nevid 48).
Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development is a theory of eight stages in which people pass through as they go through life. Each stage presents a challenge, leaving them with one of two outcomes, or a blend of both. Erikson believed that adolescence seek ego identity, unlike Freud’s theory, where the focus is more on sexuality rather than identity and who people see themselves as. Erikson also added stages beyond adolescence and into late adulthood. If a person passes through each stage with a positive outcome, they will have healthy progression through life.
This paper will focus on Erikson’s final stage of psychosocial development, ego integrity vs. despair. Integrity vs. despair is the 8th stage of Erikson’s theory, which is experienced at the age of 65 and older. With each stage, a virtue is developed; for this final stage that virtue is wisdom. Wisdom is a sense of closure that helps with the acceptance of the inevitable end of life. Ego integrity develops when a person sees their life as accomplished and successful. Despair is developed when the person feels dissatisfied with their life, guilt, or unaccomplished. Despair leads to the feeling of hopelessness and depression (McLeod 2018).
Late adulthood begins at the age of 65. Life expectancy for women is the age of 81, and 76 for men, and continues to rise (2012). Physically, males’ testosterone levels lower as they age and for women, progesterone and estrogen decrease. Women have menopause and men have andropause. Decreased energy, lower bone density and muscle mass, cognitive impairment, low libido, and depression are common symptoms for men and women over the age of 60 (RUSH 2018). The endocrine system produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism, sexual function and mood. These levels decrease as we age. Life satisfactions tend to increase and then declines after the age of 65 (Nevid 468). According to WebMD, depression is common in late adulthood and can be harder to spot due to the way it presents itself. Depression is often overlooked in seniors because the symptoms are usually the same as general aging.
Cognitive change is part of aging and the brain can be affected in normal everyday tasks such as reasoning and memory. The number of Americans over the age of 65 is at an all time high (NIH). It is important for healthcare providers and loved ones to understand the cognitive changes as individuals age, and to differentiate between behaviors and impairments such as dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death; it is an irreversible brain disease resulting in the death of the brain cells, causing gradual deterioration in the mental processes (Nevid 464). Social changes in seniors may vary based on the outcome of their crises and their cognitive state.
The stage of ego integrity versus despair comes at a very tough time in life. Facing the approach of death or dealing with more and more health issues can be a challenge in itself. At this stage, one may question if their life had meaning. As a person moves through the stages of life, the previous stages and crises may influence how they choose their outcome. For example, the previous stage of generativity versus stagnation takes place during the ages of 40 to 65 years old. Generativity produces feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, such as volunteering, contributing to society or being involved in the community (McLeod 2018). In Generativitiy outcome leads to the sense of finding your life’s work and meaning. Failing to contribute produces the feeling of stagnation, or being stagnant in life with no motivation. The person may feel disconnected or uninvolved at this stage in life. As the person enters ego identity vs. despair, the conclusion of the prior stage can play a large role. If the person was feeling stagnation, it is likely they will feel despair in their final stage.
This final stage focuses on the person’s reflection of his or her own life. A person who lives in a state of despair will feel like they have failed themselves, did not accomplish their goals in life, and may feel as if their life was wasted. People in this stage will likely appear grumpy, miserable, bitter and angry, as they feel hopeless without any answers. In contrast, at the end of life, when a person accomplishes ego integrity, they will likely accept their death and feel proud and accomplished. The person will contemplate whether or not they had a successful and fulfilling life. Wisdom is accomplished when successfully balancing the two stages and ending with a sense of closure (McLeod, 2018).
The good news is that nothing is set in stone. Each person can continue to search for his or her ego identity, to find peace and closure from previous stages, by resolving the crises at a later time. If an individual is 65 or older and feels guilt and regret, making peace with their past and working through their feelings may help accomplish a positive outcome. Volunteering is an example of a healthy way to find a sense of satisfaction during this existential crisis. Erikson’s theory is meant to be a ‘tool to think with rather than a factual analysis,’ and provides a foundation to allow the consideration in which social stage of development a person is in throughout their lifespan.
McLeod, Saul. Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. Simply Psychology, 2018https://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html
Nevid, Jeffrey S., and Spencer A. Rathus. Psychology and the Challenges of Life: Adjustment and Growth. Wiley, 2016
Hormones as You Age. RUSH, 2018.http://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/discover-health/hormones-you-age
Harada, Caroline N., et al. Normal Cognative Aging. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 2014. http//:www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4015335/
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