Eric Erikson, an ego psychologist, expanded Freud’s theory to develop his psychosocial development theory. Eight stages make up his theory, right from infancy to maturity. He added three extra steps from Freud’s psychosexual theory. Generally, he emphasized the importance of culture in motivations and parenting practices and described the impact social experiences have across the lifespan. Erickson’s main interest was to determine how human relations and social interactions contribute to the development and growth of human beings. In general, Erikson believed that humans are consciously aware of what motivates them through life (Walker & Bobola, 2017, p. 30).
Moreover, Erikson believed that the ego guides our actions more than the id (Walker & Bobola, 2017, p. 30). Humans make conscious choices in life, and these choices do not focus on meeting biological needs, rather cultural and social ones (Walker & Bobola, 2017, p. 30). Erikson has divided his psychosocial development theory into eight stages. Each stage builds on the preceding step and contributes largely to a person’s development. In every phase, humans experience a significant crisis to overcome or a psychological task to complete, which builds on their psychological strengths.
James is an enthusiastic young adult in his college years. James has had trouble with self-disclosure and trust issues since his adolescent years. After studying Eric’s theory, James realized that he had experienced six of Erickson’s psychosocial stages. However, two of them caught his attention: stage 5, Identity vs Role Confusion (adolescence), and stage 6, Intimacy vs Isolation (young adulthood). Primarily, Identity vs Role Confusion concerns teenagers, whereby they attempt to attain a sense of belonging as they are exposed to various ideas, beliefs, and roles (Walker & Bobola, 2017, p. 30). This psychosocial stage is essential in developing a sense of personal identity, which influences a person’s behaviour and development for a lifetime. Therefore, teenagers need to create a sense of self and identity. A sense of self and personal identity will help them stay true to themselves and avoid role confusion.
Regarding self-identity, James has had trouble with his identity even as he transitioned into a young adult. On the other hand, Intimacy vs Isolation concerns people in their twenties and thirties (young adulthood) (Walker & Bobola, 2017, p. 31). Normally, this group attempts to establish long-term intimate relationships and commitments (Walker & Bobola, 2017, p. 151). James has had personal experiences with stages 6 (Intimacy vs Isolation), and he learned a lot from these experiences.
Stage 6: Intimacy vs Isolation
This stage occurs during one’s young adulthood and adulthood when humans explore personal and intimate relationships. As youths transition into adulthood, they become interested in developing long-term intimate relationships (Orenstein & Lewis, 2020). Consequently, establishing intimate relationships becomes a primary concern in their lives (Orenstein & Lewis, 2020). James Had a strong desire to have a romantic relationship and form deep, meaningful connections at this stage. Although he had close and enduring friendships, he still desired a close and loving relationship which is a primary concern for young adults at the intimacy stage. Intimacy involves both platonic relationships with friends and romantic relationships with mates. When humans attain a strong and reasonable sense of identity, their next step is to share this identity with other people to establish successful intimate relationships. Having attained a strong sense of identity from his previous identity stage, James was ready to engage in an intimate relationship. Commonly, when two people decide to create an intimate relationship, the relationship adopts a unique identity (Orenstein & Lewis, 2020). Moreover, the two individuals maintain their unique identities even when in a relationship.
Forming loving and intimate relationships acts as the central and primary conflict at this intimacy versus isolation phase. Like many other young adults exploring this stage, James’s main concern was whether he would be loved or alone at the end. He also did not know if he will attain the main virtue of love. Commonly, when one fails at this stage, they experience isolation, loneliness, and depression. Conversely, triumph at this phase will lead to the establishment of fulfilling relationships (Newman & Newman, 2017, p. 425). According to Erikson, these difficulties may stem from an earlier failure to develop a strong identity. However, he argues that although other forms of intimacy are part of normal development, it is only possible to experience genuine intimacy with another person after a reasonable sense of identity with oneself has been established.
At this intimacy versus isolation stage, a successful resolution results in the virtue of love. This virtue helps to form meaningful and lasting relationships. According to Erikson, it is crucial to develop committed and close relationships with others. Erikson asserts that such kinds of emotionally close relationships help develop and improve an individual’s emotional well-being. Adults who fail at this stage experience weak social support, poor romantic relationships, lack of connections, lack of intimacy, and few or no friendships (Newman & Newman, 2017, p. 456). Genuine intimacy can be achieved by one becoming oneself before meeting the condition of twoness. Thus, people should always strive to succeed at this stage to avoid a life filled with solitude and segregation.
During James’ young adulthood years, he realized that he would leave college and enter the job market in a few years. The next step in his life would involve starting a family. Therefore, James needed to form a romantic relationship that would eventually lead to marriage, and hence, he started dating his high school sweetheart. James was struggling with his identity at that time, and as a result, forming an intimate relationship was difficult (Walker & Bobola, 2017, p. 162). According to Erikson, having a solid sense of identity is essential for establishing intimate relationships. James has self-disclosure issues and had struggled with expressing his feelings and being open about himself to others. However, James decided to cohabit with his partner as a way of testing the relationship before marriage. Nevertheless, this relationship did not last as they separated two years after they started dating. Due to a lack of openness in the relationship, committing to the relationship became impossible.
James learned a lot from this experience and separation from his high school darling. First, he realized that failure at this stage leads to isolation and loneliness. Since the moment they quit the relationship, James rarely spent time with friends. Moreover, he was not willing to start a new intimate relationship. James also learned that success at this stage leads to solid relationships. His peers who completed this stage successfully have established loving families. Studying lifespan development helped James understand this experience better. For example, he realized that proper mate selection is vital in this phase. Learning about lifespan development helped James get a deeper understanding of his experience. It taught him the importance of a strong sense of self and self-awareness and how they contribute to forming healthy adult relationships. Lifespan development also helped him get helpful insights into overcoming isolation and loneliness from a failed relationship. It helped him build on his social skills, evaluate situations carefully and also helped him practice self-disclosure, as they are important when working towards creating new relationships. Moreover, James learnt that the best component of love is commitment and not passion or intimacy (Walker & Bobola, 2017, p. 156). Lastly, an H-frame relationship has a small chance of survival.
To summarize, it is evident that personality development occurs in stages. Regarding Stage 6: Intimacy vs Isolation, humans concentrate on exploring personal relationships. James knew that he would be leaving school and establishing a family in a few years. However, he failed to complete this stage successfully, and as a result, he was greeted with loneliness as he never had a partner. James’ personal experiences in this stage helped him learn valuable information concerning his identity. Lastly, his involvement in lifespan development helped him understand these experiences better, focus on the future and make good choices while still exploring his identity.
Newman, B. M., & Newman, P. R. (2017). Development through life: A psychosocial approach. Cengage Learning.
Orenstein, G. A., & Lewis, L. (2020). Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Web.
Walker, N., & Bobola, F. (2017). Psychology 127 Developmental Psychology (1st ed.). College of the Canyons.