Poetic Elegance of Erik Erikson, p.2

                                                     (continued from p.1)
5.   Tension: identity vs. role confusion (virtue = “fidelity”) … the big adolescent tension, who am I? But, don’t we all continue to be confronted throughout life with choices of roles – me vs. not me?  The literature in the sixties often spoke of gender orientation as a good example of a crisis which could cause a fall back to an earlier stage, unable to successfully resolve a “nonconforming” gender/sexual orientation due to social pressure. That’s less of an issue today, but perhaps not totally absent, yet, in certain segments of society. But, don’t we often have demands placed upon us, by some compelling authority, which simply DO NOT FIT who we feel we are. If that leads to job change, there could be a snowball effect with livelihood, family, community, etc. … all leading to a throwback to an earlier stage. I believe I had such an experience with teaching, in my youthful exuberance after college, which led to my moving to the DC area, and back to Stage 3 or 4.
6.   Tension: intimacy vs. isolation (virtue = “love”) … ahhh, the memories! The loneliness of late adolescence (i.e., the horniness!). I’m sure I don’t need to say anything more about this tension to any divorced, or widowed, adult! Loss of an intimate partner can surely propel one backwards to an earlier, more comfortable, resolved, stage of development – stage 5, at least! Fortunately, I have not had such an experience (yet), but I can imagine the devastation I would feel at the loss of my wife of 34 years.
7.    Tension: generativity vs. stagnation (virtue = “care”) … those of us who think we’ve successfully resolved this tension, know that it (and all the previous stages) must have resolution before achieving the final virtue of “wisdom”. We know about the pandemic of “career burnout”, taking away the sense of achievement in your career. That even had an impact on my own retirement decision, when I felt I had done all the damage I could to the institution! But, then I found that I had to establish new “retirement competencies” (Stage 4?), like writing a blog! And, isn’t failure to secure “caring” one of the leading causes of divorce (i.e., stagnation)?
8.   Tension: ego integrity vs. despair (virtue = “wisdom”) … yes, here we are, today. Despair is also described in some of Erikson’s writing as “disgust”: that is, self-disgust. The central question is really: have I been a good person? I Can’t help but wonder where our President is in this stage of psychosocial development, now … also, isn’t intellectual honesty part of the picture? Do I really believe what I say, or write? Readers may speculate …
I only discovered in researching Erikson’s eight stages that, shortly before her death twenty years ago, at age 93, Joan Erikson published an article which postulated a ninth stage of psychosocial development, she characterized it as something which happens mostly to people who live as long as she, and it encapsulates all previous eight stages, but inverted … unwinding, as it were! Until, ultimately, one is left with Distrust vs. Trust … when you realize that, in the end, you are clearly alone and abandoned! Perhaps religious beliefs may help to counteract this realization, at least historically: discussion, debate?
Erikson’s influence has grown since the 1960s, until now, when the “Eight Stages …” are fundamental components of any understanding of developmental psychology. Like many psychosocial theories, Erikson’s has both supporters and detractors. He acknowledged that his theory was more descriptive than predictive, certainly not prescriptive, but it still stands on its own as a beautifully balanced portrait of an idealized lifespan, truly elegant in its structure, and its language. He uses the term “epigenesis” to describe his theory, “beyond genetics”. The critics tend to focus on his lack of prescriptive therapeutic practice. But, to this student, at least, the expansion beyond Freud’s emphasis on the id is seminal. It allows us to see psychosocial development as a life-long process, not something which is completed in adolescence — Freud’s “genital” stage of development. Although, Erikson’s entry point was adolescent psychology (hence, my early fascination?), it is the life-encompassing nature of the theory that generates its “poetic elegance.”

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