Erikson’s psychosocial development theory consists of eight stages of development from childhood to adulthood with most of them concentrating on the childhood. The eight stages mark growth and change in a person’s life. The stages include infancy, early childhood, pre-school age, school age, adolescence, early adulthood, and adult hood.
In Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, adulthood (Ego Integrity V Despair) is the last stage that exists between 65 years to death. In the adulthood stage, which is the last stage of development, a person is faced with a crisis or conflict of answering the question about whether they lived a meaningful life or not. The psychological virtue developed in the adulthood stage is wisdom. Erikson’s (1974) outlined that crisis of ego integrity appears later in adulthood life where ego integrity represent a successful phase and acceptance in life experiences. On the other hand, despair represents unsuccessful resolution or achievement of life goals which leads to disdain. Whitbourne, Sneed & Sayer (2009) observed that ego integrity can develop earlier in life where one reflects on life already lived and find successful resolutions.
When an adult is faced with reality of near mortality, they ponder on the question of what they did with their life. The question of accomplishment can be triggered by age but also by hallmarks of ageing such as retirement, terminal illness and loss of a loved one. When one successfully resolves the crisis in this stage, it leads to development of ego integrity which Haight et al. (2000) equates to psychological well-being, life satisfaction and well-being. People who reflect about their life and feel a sense of fulfillment, contentment and little regrets develop a sense of wisdom. Previous researches have indicated that the use of life review intervention has increased the satisfaction of people in the adulthood stage (Cook, 1998).
When people look back and they don’t feel a sense of contentment and accomplishment then they develop despair. Despair is a feeling of underachievement, life full of regrets and time wasted, leaving an adult in melancholic and depressed state at the face of mortality. Haber (2003) asserts that depression is a common mental disorder among the elderly which is over-looked. Maercker & Bachem (2013) observed that life-review interventions, which are psychotherapeutic techniques, have been employed in elderly people with depression. Medication is the other alternative intervention that can be used to treat adults with depression even though it is more expensive.
Here is an example of the last stage of psychosocial development. Mark has 67 years old and has retired from his engineering career which has spanned for about four decades. Mark has been part of major projects as a leading engineer with few disappointments of time and cost overruns. Mark has a wife with two children. The two children have completed their tertiary education and now both are working. Her wife is a career woman in nursing and she is nearing retirement. Despite having an exceptional career, Mark’s children are struggling in their career paths because they both did business related courses at the college and did not get a high paying job like their father. Sometimes one or both of the children have to ask for financial assistance from their father. Mark bought his house years ago so he is not bothered with rent.
When Mark reflects at his life, he sees accomplishment in his career despite the setbacks. Looking at a family, he feels remorseful that he did not do enough to set his children in a better career path. Having to resolve this crisis, Mark knows he did his best in taking his children to school and supported them in their education. Mark feels a sense of accomplishment because as much as he feels he could have done more for his children it was more or less impossible if his children couldn’t do more for themselves. As Mark faces the end of life, he develops a sense of wisdom.