Many psychologists have put forward several different personality theories. These provide a framework to understand how personality develops and any differences or similarities that arise. One such psychologist who successfully designed a theory that incorporates several different stages of life is Erik Erikson. He developed the theory of psychosocial development that looks at the different stages of life.
The Theory of Psychosocial Development
Covering the entire lifespan, the theory is divided into eight stages. Each stage has a crisis and a positive outcome and a conflict. The conflict is between two opposites and if the individual solves the conflict successfully, they are likely to attain a positive outcome and move on successfully to a new stage. However, when the conflict is not resolved successfully, the individual ends up in a state of crisis. Even though they move onto a new stage of life, they will emerge out of the stage without ego strength and have a sense of inadequacy.
The first stage of Erikson’s work talks about the time of infancy and how an individual can develop either trust or mistrust. As obvious by their names, trust is the positive outcome and mistrust is the crisis. Children who receive nurturance and warmth are likely to develop trust and move onto the second stage of early childhood. During the second stage, the child starts to learn the importance of self control and control of the id impulses. This time the tussle happens between the positive outcome autonomy and the crisis shame and doubt. When successfully completed, the child is likely to be self confident and independent. If not completed successfully, the baggage of shame and doubt is carried onto the next stage of development.
For the next stage, initiative is the positive outcome where as the guilt is the crisis. Occurring during the preschool years, the child can either attain initiative or feel the capability of leading others or be left behind with feelings of guilt and self doubt. For the fourth stage and during the early school years, attaining achievements and accomplishments can give a sense of pride and lead to the development of industry and a sense of self belief. If the fourth stage results in a crisis, then the individual carries forward feelings of inferiority.
Adolescence is the time period for identity development because an individual enters the process of discovering themselves. If they successfully do so, they understand well their role in life and gain a strong sense of self and independence. If there exists the crisis of confusion, the individual stays confused about their role and their future. The sixth stage includes the time period of early adulthood and a step into the world of relationships. If the individual doesn’t find someone, they feel the crisis of isolation; however, the positive outcome of intimacy is attained if the individual successfully passes this stage.
The last stage comprises of the positive outcome of generativity and the crisis of stagnation. This is the adulthood phase and the more involved that one becomes in building ones lives and the community, the greater the positive outcome of generativity. On the contrary, if there is stagnation, the individual is likely to develop feelings of being unproductive. And lastly, is the stage of integrity and despair. This is the old age stage and is a consequence of the earlier stages and the different events of life. Therefore, the later years of life are a sum of the manner in which the earlier stages are dealt with. If the individual has lived his life to the fullest and has achieved many different positive outcomes at the different stages, the positive outcome of integrity will be attained. If there are only disappointing events to look back at, the crisis of despair can be seen in such individuals.
Senior Citizens and Erik Erikson’s Stages
When the world talks about growth and improvement and giving back to the community, the focus is always on the youth. Everyone expects the ‘young’ to step out there and act as the agents for change. Several fail to notice that the basis for the ideas and work of the youth is what has already been laid before them by their elders. Erik Erikson’s last and final stage focuses on the role of the elders and the seniors. Once the elderly person attains the positive outcome of integrity, they achieve the basic virtue of wisdom.
Wisdom and Age
Wisdom comes with age and elders of the community serve as the hubs of knowledge. With wisdom by their side, they can give knowledge and guidance to those who seek it. It is their years of experience in the world that provides with answers for several different questions. In the terms of Erikson, it is the stages they resolve successfully that provides them with the wealth of knowledge.
Take the analogy of mountain climbing. Your elders and the senior citizens are those standing at the peak. They know more about the mountain because they fought against many hurdles to defeat it. The many obstacles that came their way were dealt with effectively and now they have made it to the top and look back at the world with a smile. An individual who is new to mountain climbing can actually do wonders if he understands how those before him successfully conquered it. Similarly, the senior citizens or the elders have the knowhow of life. Turn to them and you will be able to live your life with a new perspective.
Suggestion for the Expert Storytellers
Not everyone will have fond memories to turn back to. There will be many who according to Erikson will undergo despair. To counter the feelings of lack of achievement in life, know that every experience that you have been through is of great value to others. Imagine how much those around you will be able to learn when you teach them the ‘don’ts of life.’ You will be passing your wisdom hat that might seem like despair to you, but will be a protective helmet for someone else.