Life span inevitably includes issues of death, dying, and grieving. The way people perceive them depends on their psychological development during the whole existence. The principal attitudes to the matter include positive acceptation and negative denial of mortality. The understanding of the two polar points and their significant causes finds its complete mapping in Erikson’s theory of phasing mental growth.
The perception of death, dying, and grieving is formed during phases of mental evolution. According to E. Erikson and J. Erikson (1998), they include: “Trust vs. Mistrust”, “Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt”, “Initiative vs. Guilt”, “Industry vs. Inferiority”, “Identity vs. Confusion”, “Intimacy vs. Isolation”, “Generativity vs. Stagnation”, and “Integrity vs. Despair”. These periods are related to different ages and should be studied chronologically.
The first stage, “Trust vs. Mistrust”, is infancy, when a person is completely dependent on caregivers. During this period feelings of trust and hope or mistrust and despair are shaped. The second stage, “Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt”, occupies early childhood and is built on achieving the feeling of control. The third stage, “Initiative vs. Guilt”, takes preschool years, when children need to show their personalities via such interactions as games. The fourth stage, “Industry vs. Inferiority”, happens during the early school years, when the sense of pride is to be developed via encouragement.
The fifth stage, “Identity vs. Confusion”, is between the ages of 12 and 18, when fidelity is formed. The sixth stage, “Intimacy vs. Isolation”, takes adulthood, when the well-being of a person depends mostly on the level of intimacy and confidence in romantic and sexual relationships with other people. The seventh stage, “Generativity vs. Stagnation”, marks middle adulthood between the ages of 40 and 65. The quality of parenthood and work shapes commitment to others, family relations, and abilities to take care of others. The eighth stage, “Integrity vs. Despair” is the final psychosocial stage of old age. During this time, people, shaped by all the previous phases, reflect on their past and their satisfaction with their life span.
The positive development within a stage forms successful outcomes of the next one. Consequently, the nontraumatic perception of death, dying, and grieving is being created during the whole life-span. According to J. Santrock (2020), the results of infancy enable a human to get feelings of safety and confidence or to shape a fearful and anxious personality scared of changes and, potentially, death. The second stage develops independence or insecurity that can transform in the absence or presence of fears of unknown and undone, including the concept of the afterlife. The third and the fourth levels of development build ambitiousness and competence or self-hate and ambivalence that influence the level of motivation and decisions that form the satisfaction with life in the future.
During the fifth stage, an individual focuses on self-exploration, meanwhile, influenced by peers, social conditions, trends, and popular culture. His conscious and subconscious attitudes to death, grieving, and dying depend on outside opinions. The sixth level of development predetermines the critical rate of life contentment. The negative results can include stress, cardiovascular diseases, depression, and suicide. The seventh stage brings wisdom that the feeling of success will follow during the eighth stage, or makes a human self-centered, lacking the desire to accept the course of events, and prone to grieving. Consequently, the last point is marked either by prosperity or despair and the fear of dying without reaching the desired.
Summary of Erikson’s theory of psychological development shows that concepts of death, dying, and grieving are gradually formed during the whole life span of a person. The phasing character of their evolution stems from the fact that mental growth may be logically divided into stages, each with its potential influence on feelings of happiness and perception of mortality. Meanwhile, all levels of development lead to the final one when either satisfaction or frustration can be achieved, followed by acceptance or fear of dying.
Erikson, E.H, and Erikson, J.M. (1998). The Life Cycle Completed. W. W. Norton & Company.
Santrock, J.W. (2020). Life-Span Development 18th Edition. Mcgraw.