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Psychosocial Development #2


In his later stages, Erikson moves away from and beyond Sigmund Freud’s 5 stages.

It was adolescence that interested Erikson first and most; and the patterns he saw here were the starting points for his thinking about all the other stages.
At this stage, adolescents are in search of an identity that will lead them to adulthood. Adolescents make a strong effort to answer the question “Who am I?” Erikson notes the healthy resolution of earlier conflicts can now serve as a foundation for the search for an identity. If the child overcomes earlier conflicts, they are prepared to search for identity. Did they develop the basic sense of trust? Do they have a strong sense of industry to believe in themselves? Without these things, the adolescent is likely to experience confusion about their social role(s), meaning an uncertainty about your place in society and the world. When an adolescent is confronted by role confusion, Erikson says that is likely to produce an identity crisis. Erikson strongly supported the notion that society should provide clear rites of passage – certain accomplishments and rituals that help to distinguish the adult from the child. In one way or another, the distinction between the powerless but irresponsible time of childhood and the powerful and responsible time of adulthood, needs to be made clear.
The sense of forward-looking into adulthood – as opposed to aimless drifting into it – certainly requires BLUE to be strong and, if focused ambition is involved, the emergence of the ORANGE vMEME. RED will also need to be strong to assert “This is who I am” identity statements.
There is such a thing as too much ‘ego identity’ where a person is so involved in a particular role in a particular society or sub-culture that there is no room left for tolerance. Erikson labels this maladaptive tendency ‘fanaticism’. A fanatic believes that his way is the only way. Adolescents are, of course, known both for their idealism and for their tendency to see things in black-and-white. These people will gather others around them and promote their beliefs and life-styles without regard to others’ rights to disagree. (Beck (2003) calls this zealotry and sees it as an effect of thinking that is caught either in the transition from RED to BLUE or a harmonic of those vMEMES – see Assimilation-Contrast Effect.)
The lack of identity is perhaps more difficult still, and Erikson refers to the malignant tendency here as ‘repudiation’. They repudiate their membership in the world of adults and, even more, they repudiate their need for an identity. Some adolescents allow themselves to ‘fuse’ with a group, especially the kind of group that is particularly eager to provide the details of your identity: religious cults, militaristic organisations, groups founded on hatred, groups that have divorced themselves from the painful demands of mainstream society. They may become involved in destructive activities – eg: drugs and/or alcohol – or they may withdraw into their own psychotic fantasies. After all, being ‘bad’ or being ‘nobody’ is better than not knowing who you are! This state most likely indicates a failure of BLUE to consolidate as the dominant vMEME, with RED struggling to acquire esteem in whatever way it can – Nicholas Emler (1984) termed this negative reputation. This can lead to PURPLE facilitating unhealthy bonds – eg: gangs.
If you successfully negotiate this fifth stage, you will have the virtue Erikson called ‘fidelity’. Fidelity means loyalty, the ability to live by society’s standards in spite of their imperfections and incompleteness and inconsistencies. Fidelity means that you have found a place in that community, a place that will allow you to contribute.
Elements for a positive outcome
The adolescent must make a conscious search for identity. This is built on the outcome and resolution to conflict in earlier stages.
Elements for a negative outcome
If the adolescent cannot make deliberate decisions and choices, especially about vocation, sexual orientation and life in general, role confusion becomes a threat.
Adolescents attempt to establish their own identities and see themselves as separate from their parents.

In this stage, Erikson says the most important events are love relationships. Intimacy refers to one’s ability to relate to another human being on a deep, personal level. There is also the sense of having a joint identity. Because you have a clear sense of who you are, you no longer need to fear ‘losing’ yourself, as many adolescents do. The ‘fear of commitment’ some people seem to exhibit is an example of immaturity in this stage. An individual who has not developed a sense of identity usually will fear a committed relationship and may retreat into isolation. It is important to mention that having a sexual relationship does not indicate intimacy. People can have sexual relations without being committed and open with another. True intimacy requires personal commitment. However, mutual satisfaction will increase the closeness of people in a true intimate relationship.
Intimacy is centred on the activities of PURPLE facilitating new forms of bonding – eg: romantic love relationships, adult friendships. To achieve intimacy in a healthy way, RED needs to be strong and asserting well-defined schemas of who you are (identity) and what you do (roles). An element of BLUE is required so that healthy relationships have clearly defined rules and expectations agreed and understood by the parties.
Erikson calls the maladaptive form ‘promiscuity’, referring particularly to the tendency to become intimate too freely, too easily and without any depth to your intimacy. This can be true of your relationships with friends and neighbours – even your whole community – as well as with lovers.
The malignancy he calls ‘exclusion’, which refers to the tendency to isolate oneself from love, friendship and community, and to develop a certain hatefulness in compensation for one’s loneliness.
If you successfully negotiate this stage, you will instead carry with you for the rest of your life the virtue or psychosocial strength Erikson calls ‘love’. Love, in the context of his theory, means being able to put aside differences and antagonisms through ‘mutuality of devotion’. It includes not only the love we find in a good marriage but the love between friends and the love of one’s neighbour, co-worker and compatriot as well.
Elements for a positive outcome
The young adult must develop intimate relationships with others. Not resolving this conflict leaves the young adult feeling isolated. The young adult must be willing to be open and committed to another individual.
Elements for a negative outcome
An individual may retreat into isolation if a sense of identity is not developed and will fear a committed relationship.
Giving and sharing with an individual without asking what will be received in return.

In this stage generativity refers to the adult’s ability to care for another person. It is considerably less ‘selfish’ than the intimacy of the previous stage; intimacy, the love between lovers or friends, is a love between equals and it is necessarily reciprocal. With generativity, that implicit expectation of reciprocity isn’t there – at least not as strongly. Few parents expect a ‘return on their investment’ from their children.
The most important event in this stage is parenting. Does the adult have the ability to care and guide the next generation? Generativity has a broader meaning then just having children. Each adult must have some way to satisfy and support the next generation. Erikson considers teaching, writing, invention, the arts and sciences, social activism and generally contributing to the welfare of future generations to be generativity as well. According to Erikson, “A person does best at this time to put aside thoughts of death and balance its certainty with the only happiness that is lasting: to increase, by whatever is yours to give, the goodwill and higher order in your sector of the world” (Erikson, 1974).
Stagnation, on the other hand, is self-absorption, caring for no-one, according to Erikson. The stagnant person ceases to be a productive member of society.
This is the stage of the ‘midlife crisis’. Sometimes men and women take a look at their lives and ask that big, bad question: “What am I doing all this for?” Because their focus is on themselves, they ask ‘what’, rather than ‘whom’, they are doing it for. In their panic at getting older and not having experienced or accomplished what they imagined they would when they were younger, they try to recapture their youth. Men are often the worst examples: they leave their long-suffering wives, quit their humdrum jobs, buy some ‘hip’ new clothes, and start hanging around singles bars.
This is an example of unhealthy RED dominating the vMEME stack – and is most likely to occur in this stage when the individual realises the ideal self (to use Carl Rogers (1961) concept) which they have held in their selfplex perhaps for much of their life, is now unobtainable.
Gail Sheehy (1976) used Erikson’s concepts in studying mid-life crisis on women. She found that a woman’s crisis tends to relate to her children going off to school and her waning ability to conceive. This may lead her to become more career driven to find a purpose or have an affair in response to fears of fading beauty and no longer being able to pass on her genes. A woman who is unable to achieve status in a career field may become stagnant during this phase. However, those who are capable of finding careers suitable to their educational credentials are able to generate more, thus resolving the conflict in a more positive manner. Again, the attempts to boost self-worth reflect the work of the RED vMEME.
Elements for a positive outcome
To have and nurture children and/or become involved with future generations.
Elements for a negative outcome
An individual must deal with issues they are concerned with or it can lead to stagnation in later life.
In this stage an adult will be concerned with issues such as: the future of the environment, what kind of world will we leave the next generation, equality for all people, etc.

The most important event at this stage is coming to accept one’s whole life and reflecting on that life in a positive manner. According to Erikson, achieving a sense of integrity means fully accepting oneself and coming to terms with the fact that life is temporary and ends in death. The task is to develop ‘ego integrity’ with a minimal amount of despair. Ego integrity means coming to terms with your life and thereby coming to terms with the end of life. The inability to do this results in a feeling of despair. In response to this despair, some older people become preoccupied with the past. After all, that’s where things were better! Some become preoccupied with their failures, the bad decisions they made and regret that, unlike some in the previous stage, they really don’t have the time or energy to reverse them. We find some older people become depressed, spiteful, paranoid, hypochondriacal or developing the patterns of senility with or without physical bases.
Elements for a positive outcome
The adult feels a sense of fulfilment about life and accepts death as an unavoidable reality.
Elements for a negative outcome
Individuals who are unable to obtain a feeling of fulfilment and completeness will despair and fear death.
An aged person may find it necessary to reflect and analyse what they have accumulated throughout life and decide what offspring will receive from them upon death.

Application of Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development to Integrated SocioPsychology
As discussed earlier, Clare W Graves (1971/2002; 1978/2005) was, of course, notoriously reluctant to attribute time frames to the emergence of vMEMES. However, Erikson’s first 6 stages of psychosocial development give us a rough sequence because of the issues – the ‘crises’ – the child has to overcome through to becoming a functional adult. This sequence, with a commentary on the underpinning activity of vMEMES, is summarised in the table below which also has Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development mapped onto Erikson’s stages as outputs of vMEME activity – click to enlarge…

ERikson-Graves-Kohlberg2This mapping of psychosocial development with the emergence of vMEMES and their impact on moral development starts to break down in the Peer Relationships and Love Relationships stages. Firstly, as Kohlberg (Anne Colby et al, 1983) noted, only a relatively small number of people achieve Stage 5 in their moral development – indicating the failure of ORANGE and higher vMEMES to emerge as dominant drivers in the selfplex. While, some caution is needed with this conclusion as Kohlberg’s findings are more than 30 years old, as yet there is no significant evidence to contradict his findings. In spite of this apparent stall in vMEME emergence, just about everyone everywhere goes through the lengthy Parenting and Maturity stages – even if they do not become parents and/or have grandchildren. Thus, it becomes all but impossible to link specific vMEMES to psychosocial development in the way they can be to the earlier stages. For example, the Parenting stage could be driven primarily by PURPLE if the focus is on the family and children; on the other hand, if generativity means creating something to benefit society, then it would more likely be the work of ORANGE and GREEN – or even beyond. If wisdom is dispensed in Maturity, then equally it could be the cosmic wisdom of TURQUOISE, the quaint folklore and old wives tales of PURPLE or the cool scientific analysis of BLUE/ORANGE rationalism.

Nonetheless, the first 6 stages – and the first 4 especially – do provide a rough timeframe for how vMEMES might emerge…typically, but not exclusively.

What Erikson doesn’t give us a means of linking vMEME development to changes in the life conditions of the internal environment – but then his focus was on the psychosocial!

Critiquing Erikson’s Psychosocial Development
P H Miller’s (1993) criticism of Erikson’s stage theory that there is no detail on how someone moves from stage to stage – or even how they resolve the crisis bound into a stage – is countered by looking at the pre-adult stages in terms of Integrated SocioPsychology. The crises form the life conditions in the external environment which, in a healthy individual, are resolved by the emergence of the pertinent vMEME.

As a Psychodynamic theorist, Erikson greatly expands upon Sigmund Freud’s concepts of the Oral, Anal and Latent stages while his emphasis on the psychosocial means his theory largely avoids the Oedipal complications and controversies of Freud’s Phallic stage. Plus, while inevitably, as shown above, the later stages are too broad to be cohesive or particularly useful, they nonetheless do capture the outstanding key issue of generativity and near-end-of-life reflection. In contrast Freud has nothing to say about later life other than the need to resolve the (unconscious) traumas of early life to improve mental health.

As the case studies on which Erikson based a large part of his theory were almost all male, there have been accusations of gender bias – eg: Carol Gilligan (1982) – and the suggestion that the stages might not apply to women. Caroll Tavris (1992) explained that, upon reading Erikson’s stages, “it was worrying. I wasn’t having any of my crises in the right order. . . . My identity was shaky, although I was no longer a  teenager, and I hadn’t married when I was supposed to, which was putting my intimacy and generativity crises on hold.”

Erikson (1968) did come to accept that there were some differences between men and women in the sequence of stages. Eg: men typically achieve a sense of identity before they achieve deep and sustained intimacy with a sexual partner during the stage of early adulthood. Most women on the other hand, Erikson argued, do not fully achieve a sense of identity until they have found a potential husband – ie: the woman’s sense of identity will partly depend on the man she marries. Iris Sangiuliano (1978) found that women often subjugated their development of identity to family responsibilities – often putting off identity formation until early middle age. (Although she conducted in-depth interviews with her participants, it should be noted that Sangiuliano’s sample size was rather small and some caution needs to be exercised in generalising from it.) J W Hodgson & J L Fischer (1979) found similar patterns between male and female undergraduates in the relationship between identity and intimacy. 19/21 women rated as identity achievers were also rated as showing intimacy in their relationships; but 15/29 not rated as identity achievers showed intimacy. Of the men studied, only 3 showed intimacy without identity. According to Roger Gould (1978), the major task of women in their mid-40s is to deal with the persisting assumption that they need a ‘protector’ to survive. In the first decade of the 21st Century, where many young(-ish) women in the Western world are career-oriented and see having a family as an option rather than a predetermined fact, Erikson’s assertions about women and identity – and Sangiuliano’s and Gould’s – are vulnerable to the criticism of historical bias. However, trends regarding the aspirations of women vis-a-vis their multiple roles are still in far too much a state of flux to be sure that Erikson’s assertions in this respect are obsolete.

Social class, in addition to gender, may affect progress through the stages. Bernice Neugarten (1975) provided clear evidence that key developmental changes tend to occur earlier in life for working-class men than for middle-class men. Working-class men tend to get married, have children and a full-time job by their early 20s; but middle-class men often wait to settle down until their 30s.

Another controversial aspect of Erikson’s work is his agreement with Freud that personality differences between the sexes are biologically based, originating in the possession of or lack of a penis. Erikson (1968) based this conclusion on research with children in a study in which boys and girls from age 10 to 12 constructed various scenes with toy figures and wooden blocks. Such claims can be supported at least partially by Hans J Eysenck & Sybil G B Eysenck’s (1976) concept of Psychoticism – the reservation in this is that Erikson does not recognise gender differences in tendencies to impulsiveness and compulsiveness as Eysenck & Eysenck do.

Of course, Erikson’s theory does not lend itself to cause-and-effect laboratory experiments. Researchers can only hope to find correlations amongst factors intra- and inter-stage. This is what Stephen Kahn et al (1985) did in a longitudinal study; they looked at students’ identity scores in 1963 and then their marital status 20 years later. They found that women with low identity scores were likely to be divorced or separated whereas men with low identity scores were more likely to have remained single. Based on concurrent, retrospective and prospective self-reporting questionnaires and administering personality scales (including 2 linked explicitly to Erikson’s concepts) to a young adult group, a middle-aged group and an old-aged group, Carol Ryff & S G Heincke (1983) found that all 3 groups perceived themselves as being more generativity-oriented at middle age and having higher integrity at old age.

Critics of Erikson’s theory say that it is more applicable to boys than to girls and that more attention is paid to infancy and childhood than to adult life, despite the claim to be a life-span theory. However, many have found Erikson’s theory offers a useful framework for analysing developmental histories  and it has stimulated much research. In Integrated SocioPsychology it is particularly useful for looking at patterns of vMEME development in children.

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