Ego Integrity and the
process of finding meaning in life and death
in late adulthood
Erik Erikson talks about eight stages of human development. The last stage, Ego Integrity vs. Despair, happens in late adulthood. This may be the most important stage in one’s life affecting their family and friends possible more than others in addition to bring one’s life to close. With better understanding of this anchor stage of ones life, we can aid our transition and even prepare for it early in life. Preparing for ones final stage, as everything in life, can lead to a more successful transition into late adulthood. Strong knowledge of Ego Integrity can help prevent dangerous fall out when life’s dilemmas and tragedies force us into other stages prematurely.
Stages of psychosocial development
In 1950 Erik Erikson, a psychoanalyst, developed an improvement upon Sigmund Freud’s Psychosexual stages. Freud’s theories identified the id, ego, and superego and how infantile sexuality represented in psychosexual development. Taking all these theories onboard, Erikson did not support describing personality solely on the basis of sexuality as Freud did. Erikson showed how valuable childhood development can be to personality development. This theory was different from Freud who argued personality development ended at five years of age. In Erikson’s most well known work, Childhood and Society (1950), human life was divided into eight stages of psychosocial development.
“Human personality in principle develops according to steps predetermined in the growing person’s readiness to be driven toward, to be aware of and to interact with a widening social radius” – Erik Erikson
According to the theory, successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality and successful interactions with others. Failure to successfully complete a stage can result in a reduced ability to complete further stages and therefore a more unhealthy personality and sense of self. These stages, however, can be resolved successfully at a later time
Stage One Oral-Sensory: from birth to one, trust vs. mistrust, feeding; Stage Two Muscular-Anal: 1-3 years, autonomy vs.doubt, toilet training; Stage Three Locomotor: 3-6 years, initiative vs.inadequacy, independence; Stage Four Latency: 6-12 years, industry vs.inferiority, school; Stage Five Adolescence: 12-18 years, identity vs.confusion, peer relationships; Stage Six Young Adulthood: 18-40 years, intimacy vs.isolation, love relationships; Stage Seven Middle Adulthood: 40-65 years, generativity vs.stagnation, parenting; Stage Eight Maturity: 65 years until death, integrity vs.despair, acceptance of one's life.
The stage this thesis focuses on the stage eight, life’s finial stage. This ego integrity vs. despair people find themselves in large amounts of introspection. At this stage, the goal is to promote intellectual vigor; focus energy on new roles and activities and start to form their own point of view about death.
“Ego integrity is the ego's accumulated assurance of its capacity for order and meaning. Despair is signified by a fear of one's own death, as well as the loss of self-sufficiency, and of loved partners and friends. Healthy children, Erikson tells us, won't fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death.” (Erikson's stages of psychosocial development)
As we grow older and become senior citizens, we tend to slow down our productivity, and explore life as a retired person. This stage in life is the most identifiable step we take in life and therefore the most likely to prepare for. It is during this time that we contemplate our accomplishments and are able to develop integrity if we see ourselves as leading a successful life. If we see our lives as unproductive, feel guilt about our pasts, or feel that we did not accomplish our life goals, we become dissatisfied with life and...