Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tweaks to a famous life-stage theory

We're grown-ups, how did that happen? And how do we make it stop?
(Props to who can name where that quote came from)

This one is for all of you psychology geeks out there. I've been having jitters for about a month or two... Life is changing and I fear I'm entering a life-stage crisis as I like to say. The last semester of PA school is underway, I'm in the middle of planning my wedding, I've started to job hunt, my board exam date is booked, and my quarter century birthday is on it's way.

So lets talk psychology. Everyone has heard of a "mid life crisis" and ironically, when you Google search, there is also a quarter life crisis -- which refers exactly to the time frame I'm in right now. Furthermore, the famed psychologist Erik Erikson developed and proposed a sort of counter-theory to Freud's approach that describes life stages that correlate with certain ages and with specific psychological barriers that must be overcome to continue to the next stage. His 8 stages of development are as follows:

1. Trust vs. Mistrust: 0-1 years, highly related to the baby's relationship with the mother; separation anxiety usually starts during this stage and the baby must learn to trust the caregivers

2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt: 1-3 years, coincides with toilet training, child learns that he/she has control over his/her body and actions

3. Initiative vs. Guilt: 3-5 years, associated with preschool, children learn to assert control over their environments

4. Industry vs. Inferiority: 6-11 years, associated with elementary education, children learn to how cope with new challenges independently, such as homework and responsibility at home

5. Identity vs. Role Confusion: 12-18 years, this coincides with middle school and high school when teens start learning about themselves and who they are/who they want to be, this is highly affected by social influences (peer pressures)

**6. Intimacy vs. Isolation: 19-40 years, young adults learn and need to form loving human relationships and bonds while also finding a sense of security in adult hood (via career, education, relationships, etc)

**7. Generativity vs. Stagnation: 40-65 years, adult lean and need to find ways to be productive, whether it be having and nurturing children or creating a positive change that will benefit others

8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair: 65-Death, older adults reflect and acknowledge their accomplishments to find a sense of fulfillment

The first word in the stage name, trust, autonomy, initiative, etc, is the attribute the individual attains if successful, and the second word, mistrust, shame, guilt, etc, is that which the individual learns if unsuccessful. I have written these descriptions in the positive light in which the individual is successful during that stage (i.e. in stage 2 if the child learns he has control over his body, he feels a sense of autonomy, if he fails and does not learn this self control he learns to feel shame and doubt).

Stages 6 and 7 have been starred and I bet you can guess why. Intimacy vs. Isolation (stage 6: young adulthood) correlates with a "quarter life crisis"... however, I personally like to call what I'm going through a "life-stage crisis" because over the span of 20 years, I'm sure individuals can feel a sense of uncertainty at multiple and various points along that time frame. Yes graduating and getting a job is one, but what about marriage? Or buying a house? Or having a child? All these can happen at different time points and still cause feelings of "crisis" because they are each big life changes. And while Erikson's theory doesn't specifically refer to crisis, his description of the stages account for the crisis by suggesting there is a certain conflict to overcome, in this case finding security.

Generativity vs. Stagnation (stage 7: middle adulthood), which correlates to "mid-life crisis," is really just a continuation from finding security, for after you gain security the next goal is to be productive in that role. If you have nothing to show for your hard work and effort at the end of the day, or if you feel like you have nothing to show or you don't know where your work is taking you, that can lead to feelings of crisis. Though I'm not at this stage in my life, its important to keep in mind now that I'm currently laying the foundation for what is to come, so I better give myself a nice set up so I can be successful in the future.

What does this mean for me right now? I guess I need to get some "security." Since I've identified the feeling, and now the problem/solution, the next step is putting it into action and continuing to keep my goals in mind while taking one step forward at a time. The important thing is to avoid letting the feeling take over and paralyze progress, because the feeling is simply a feeling - it is of no real value. To keep it simple: this too shall pass.

*Note: Any supplemental information about Erikson in this post is from my good friend wikipedia. 

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