Recently, I was talking with a therapist at my internship site about my therapy group in the hopes that she might share a few curriculum ideas. One interesting subject matter she threw by me pertained to Erik Erikson’s “Eight Stages of Man” (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 9). Erik Erikson proposed a theory of personality development that includes eight stages. In each stage we face developmental crises in order to develop a sense of identity alongside interpersonal beliefs through interactions with significant others (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). Since Erikson’s theory focuses on attitudes about the self and others, it provides a useful social context to human development (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). According to Erikson, in eight stages of these psychosocial stages, two potential outcomes can result depending on how we address and resolve each developmental crisis:
“Individuals are pushed through these life stages by biological and social demands…Individuals will experience conflicts as they progress through these stages, but it is how the individuals handle these conflicts that will indirectly impact their lives…The unsuccessful resolution of conflict…will influence how subsequent stages unfold…These stages build upon [& this] impacts the rest of development (Wurderman, 2015, p. 5-6).”
Interestingly, while I do recall reading about Erikson way back in my human development, this insight never fully clicked. I remember reading, and thinking about my two young boys. However, the utility of its insight as a means to describe my own unique life course, never occurred to me. Below, I reflect upon key stages in Erikson’s theory that resonate with my own life history & the early arrested development
Industry vs. Inferiority
Around ages 6-12 Erikson stated that a feeling of competence is critical (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). Labeling this stage “Industry vs. Inferiority”, Erikson states that the “child needs to learn important academic skills and compare favorably with peers in school.” (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). As a bullied child, I always felt very inferior to my peers. I remember loathing recess, since I had nobody to play with. I recall lingering by the front door, hoping would notice me out of fear they would call me a loser or something. The shame of complete friendlessness was overwhelming. Inevitably, the nuns noticed me and encouraged me to stop lurking by the doorway & “get some exercise”…
As time progressed, things never did get better, I was the girl with the cooties. I clung to the few friends who were willing to associate with me and was grateful for some form of meaningful interaction. My grades never did go above a “C” average. Everybody knew about my abysmal performance in this small private Catholic school. One of my first bullies liked to wear this t-shirt to school with the “I’m with Stupid” logo on it. Since he sat right next to me, everybody thought it was hilarious.
Developmental Consequences: Insecurity, Poor Self-Esteem & An Inferiority Complex…
Identity vs. Role Confusion
“…during early to middle adolescence…the crisis of identity versus identity confusion…represents the struggle to find a balance between developing a unique…identity while still being accepted and ‘fitting in.’ Thus, [a] youth must determine who they want to be, and how they want to be perceived by others. (Oswalt, 2010).“
During the ages of 12-20, individuals enter the Identity vs. Role Confusion Stage. During this stage we develop a sense of identity: a sense of who we are, and where we fit in the world. Broderick & Blewitt, (2010) describes the positive outcome of this phase as “fidelity”. I associate this concept with the idea of commitment, or an ability to commit to something greater than yourself. I suppose its not surprising that I have difficulty opening up to others & tend to isolate myself.
It’s also worth noting again Erikson’s assertion that each stage builds on an earlier one. As a bullied child, I left the previous stage with an Inferiority Complex. Against this developmental backdrop, I entered a new stage of development only to lose my best friend who moved out of town at the end of sixth grade. With her gon, I was now alone and completely friendless, “The Girl With the Cooties”. My sister thrived as the popular girl, my parents were focused on their careers as doctors. All were emotionally MIA. I retreated into my own world…
“Ego Identity means knowing who you are and how you fit into the rest of society. Too much ego-identity can result in fanaticism [i.e. my sister] where the child believes his way is the only way, and no one is allowed to disagree…A lack of identity can result in repudiation [me]
Intimacy vs. Isolation
During this stage, I notice a an intriguing turnaround. Broderick & Belwitt, (2010) describe this stage as involving a willingness ‘to share identity with other[s] and commit[ing] to affiliations and partnerships”. During this stage of my life, I had met “IT”. After a horrendous four year F-D up relationship, I left and never looked back. My personal development took a “turn for the better” as I entered counseling, and eventually met my husband. I guess this just goes to show that just because one stage goes bad, that doesn’t mean they all do……
….As I reflect on these stages of my life, I’ve had to come to terms with a loss that’s hard to describe: arrested development….
Coming to Terms w/ “a loss”
There are times when this arrested development “rears its ugly head”. There’s something called “normal” that I just can’t do. I missed so many opportunities socially and in terms of my sense of competence and identity. I have worked to fill in the pieces in adulthood, but still. I’m not quite like those who never had to deal with this sort of arrested development. Its hard to explain, but maybe I’m like a blind person. You can’t describe purple to a blind man. I’m like the blind man, and the “normal’s” are trying to tell me how great purple is. I looked at them perplexed, not knowing what the hell they are talking about…..
….and as I continue with this forward motion in life, the big question on my mind is, how does this affect my future career development????
All of who I am comes out in my efforts as a therapist. The “Kathleen-ness” of my nature is inevitably there at some point. I can’t hide it. Can I possibly catch up in some way that allows me to be as effective as those who didn’t get a full 14 years of stagnation??
Broderick, P. C., & Blewitt, P. (2010). The life span. Human development for helping professionals. Upper Saddle Creek, NJ: Pearson.
Oswalt, Angela. (2010, November, 17). Erik Erikson and Self-Identity. Retrieved from: https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/erik-erikson-and-self-identity/
Wurdeman, M. (2015). Impact of Abuse Throughout a Child’s Psychological Development. Retrieved from: https://www.winona.edu/counseloreducation/Media/Impact%20of%20Abuse.pdf