Of all the personality theories we read about this week, I felt that Erik Erikson’s view that adulthood was a continuing developmental process made of various stages (identity formation and ego crises) was the most modern approach to assess personality development. The eight stages of the ego crises are trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus shame and doubt, initiative versus guilt, industry versus inferiority, identity versus role confusion, intimacy versus isolation, generativity versus stagnation, and ego identity versus despair.
There are some aspects of personality development in today’s society that caused me to choose this particular theory. In my personal experience and observations, as children grow and undergo both physical, emotional, and psychological changes, they seem to face the same conflicts and choices in varying degrees that they must overcome. The same holds true for teens and adults. There are times when someone will be perplexed that a peer seems to either be “behind the curve” because they behave immaturely, or haven’t caught up to the same milestones and hallmarks of adulthood as those of similar age…or “ahead of the curve” since they seem more successful, enlightened, or mature than most adults their age. Perhaps these individuals have not successfully worked though one or more of the stages as Erikson outlined.
Erikson’s term of “identity crisis” seems to be a common topic in modern society, as teenagers try to find their way in the world, and even more young adults continue to live at home while they try to become more independent and self-sustaining in today’s world–“finding their way”, so-to-speak. It seems that Erikson’s term could also be paralleled to the idea of one having a “midlife crisis” that could typically occur anywhere between the 40’s to 60’s in age. Perhaps that person will undergo a drastic change in physical appearance, will make one or more extravagant purchases, or make other drastic lifestyle changes such as quitting their job, changing religious affiliations, travelling more, and other indicators that would suggest that they want to rediscover themselves, reinvent themselves, or change their life path before its “too late”.
It seems that the “intimacy versus isolation” stage is a common theme in television, movies, and magazines these days. Some people have difficulty forming strong social or emotional ties with others, or opening up to others to share their “truest self” in the interest of companionship and intimacy. There is a common character portrayed in the media of the “loner”, the “player”, and the “extreme introvert”, which indicates a difficulty in moving successfully through this stage of the ego crises, and makes for interesting plots and conflicts in a story.
Also, many adults would like to think that they are on the positive side of the “generation versus stagnation” stage. People might derive great satisfaction and pride in giving their time, money, or efforts towards others in a positive, productive way, be it through volunteering, donating to a good cause, helping their friend or neighbor, or otherwise giving back to society rather than focusing solely on themselves and their own goals.
Erik Erikson developed an idea that furthered the, then popular, Freudian notion of development of the personality. Rather than discontinuing the growth of personality after childhood, Erikson proposed that personality was an aspect of humanity that continued to develop throughout an individual’s entire lifespan. The Freudian theory may have been appropriate for the industrial era, Erikson’s idea, which eventually became an accepted theory, is what best describes modern society.
Erikson’s theory relies on the basis of identity formation being a lifelong process. This process is comprised of eight “crises” that occur throughout childhood, adulthood, and into the final years of life. These “crises” occur in sequence and are “conflicts or choices” that must be resolved before continuing into the following stage. Unlike the theories of Erikson’s predecessor’s, Stage theory allows for an individual to change. This is an American view point that also suggests that an individual has responsibility over his or her life (Friedman, 2010).
The first of the eight crises presented by Erikson is Trust vs. Mistrust. This beginning stage coincides with Freud’s oral stage (Friedman, 2010). At this time the infant’s main focus is on eating, remaining at a comfortable temperature within differing environments, and defecating regularly. Infants usually rely on their mother’s to provide these needs. Erikson suggests that if the mother successfully provides the needs for the infant, the infant will develop “a sense of trust and hope” and if the needs are not achieved by the mother, the infant will develop “feelings of mistrust and abandonment” (Friedman, 2010). Trust is an issue that currently goes unresolved in many individual’s today. Take for instance, a business man who always assumes the deal will fall though or that his associates are going to take advantage of him. While it may be true that not everyone can be trusted, an over-exaggeration of this notion could be explained by Erikson’s stage theory.
The fifth stage in Erikson’s theory is Identity vs. Role Confusion. This stage corresponds to Freud’s genital stage (Friedman, 2010). During this conflict or choice the individual enters with multiple identities learned from previous stages and emerges as one cohesive individual who has successfully meshed the identities to form one, singular personality (Friedman, 2010). The ideal outcome is an individual with a ” clear and multifaceted sense of self”, while an individual who is unable to successfully complete this stage develops a self-consciousness, “an uncertainty about one’s abilities, associations, and future goals”. Erikson called this “Identity Confusion”. This is a crucial stage in Erikson’s theory and one that is not often achieved in contemporary society. Many individuals graduate from high school and begin college who are still in an identity crisis. They are unsure of who they are and who they would like to become. A new environment leaves them feeling insecure and inadequate. Many college students struggle to discover themselves and merge their previously learned personalities with the reborn self they are striving to achieve. Some individuals are able to complete this stage before they graduate from college and others continue to struggle to figure out who they are.
The final stage of Erikson’s theory is Ego Integrity vs. Despair. This occurs near the end of the lifespan, a time that was not acknowledged as a developmental stage of personality by Freud. At this stage the individual must find wisdom from previous life experiences and is able to look back on his or her life and see “meaning, order, and integrity” (Friedman, 2010). Ideally, the individual’s reflections are peaceful and pleasant, and the individual can continue to pursue their goals that they have built upon for many years (Friedman, 2010). Should this reflection not occur in this manor the individual will be left with a sense of despair. They would feel as if they had not accomplished their goals in life, and would feel as if there were not enough time left to do so (Friedman, 2010). This is a pivotal, final moment of growth for an individual. The successful completion of this stage would yield a continuation of a content sense of self, while they later could be irreversibly devastating. Elderly individuals in modern society undergo a gigantic life change when they enter retirement. When the elderly person is content with their accomplished life goals, he or she continues to be a productive part of the family unit and interacts and offers words of wisdom to grandchildren. They may not always be happy, but generally they are at peace with who they are and what they have done. An elderly individual who enters retirement who has not successfully completed this stage may lash out at family members and avoid social activities all together. They reminisce about times that have gone by and rather than enjoying the memories while remaining in the moment, they got lost in what could have been, or should have been.
A balance of each positive and negative outcome is optimal for a well developed personality according to Erikson. At each stage, one of the two characteristics should be dominant, ” but true maturity includes rather than excludes the other pole” (Friedman, 2010). This notion of balance is incorporated in everyday life, nature, and most philosophies spanning the generations of humanity.
Erikson’s theory is not simply a stagnant outline for changes in personality at defined ages. Erikson emphasized the importance that culture and society play on the individual (Friedman, 2010). This is what allows the stage theory to remain current and to still have the greatest use in understanding and explaining personality development in contemporary society.
I think Alfred Adler’s individual psychology theory is the most useful in understanding personality development in contemporary society. Adler’s theory talks about how people have their own special motivations that vary between individuals and that an individual’s “perceived niche” is rather important (Friedman 2010). The basis of Adler’s theory is that when people are often in situation in which they cannot control their surroundings or what is happening to them, they develop an inferiority complex; an individual with an inferiority complex does not apply themselves due to the belief that they are incapable of succeeding. Inferiority complexes may give rise to superiority complex in order to compensate for the low self-esteem, which can lead to poor relationships and connections. Adler’s theory includes an aspect regarding aggression in which he claims that “an individual is driven to lash out against the inability to achieve or master something, as a reaction to perceived helplessness” (Friedman 2010). According to the individual psychology theory, a child is born inferior because they must rely on the care of others to survive, and as the child ages they work toward becoming more independent, therefore superior.
Alder also believed in four temperaments, choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic, which are learned young. I chose this theory of development because I feel that it is a good picture of our current society. As infants, we can not function on our own and must rely on our parents to survive; as we grow older we start to slowly gain independence from our parents. The problem pops up when something happens to hinder the transition from childhood (inferiority) to adulthood (superiority). Adler’s theory arose from his experience as a sickly child, but the theory may apply to a range of circumstances. Someone who is disabled may develop an inferiority complex, likewise someone who is bullied frequently may fall victim to it. I think that this theory of development makes way for differences among people, therefore can be widely used. I also believe that Adler’s approach to development is very successful at explaining ambition and the lack of.
Growing up I was bullied because I am on the bigger side, which led me to have poor self-esteem; as I got older I started to feel like everybody else was better than me because they were thin. Now that I am an adult, I no longer feel inferior to everyone else, but I did have a hard time coping with the inferiority complex that I held as a teenager. My story is just one way in which Adler’s theory is relevant in today’s society, but the basis of the it is the variation from one individual to the next. I think this theory accounts for why a lot of people develop strong ambitions and why others do not seem to try. I think the one thing that is lacking in Adler’s theory is that it only focuses on feelings of inferiority and superiority when it comes to one’s personality. The others theories in our text this week could be used to explain modern developments in personality, but this one seemed to fit the best.