You are on page 1of 10



V. PUBERTY AND ADOLESCENCE ( 11-20):Identity vs Role confusion-Fidelity

Adolescence, the focus of the fifth stage in Eriksons chart of the life cycle,
is regarded as highly significant in the individuals psychosocial development. Eriksons
theoretical interest in adolescence and the problems accompanying it have led him to
present a more elaborate analysis of this phase than of any other stage of development.

With the advent of puberty, childhood proper comes to an end and youth
begins. The adolescent, no longer a child but not yet an adult, is confronted with various
social demands and role changes that are essential for meeting the challenges of adulthood.
Developing a sense of identity is the main task of this period. For this they start
questioning the role models and identifications of the past and try out new ones.
Developing a new sense of identity implies the individuals ability to integrate past
identifications with present impulses, aptitudes and skills, and with opportunities offered
by society and culture. The growing and developing youth, faced with the physiological
revolution( rapid body growth and the new addition of genital maturity) within them and
the tangible task ahead of them are primarily concerned with what they appear to be in the
eyes of others as compared with what they feel they are, and with the question of how to
connect the roles and skills cultivated earlier with the occupational prototypes of the
day(Childhood and society, p.253).

The crisis characteristic of this stage has a sense of ego identity at the
positive end and a sense of role confusion at the negative end. The task confronting the
adolescence is to consolidate all the knowledge they have gained about themselves (as
sons, students, musicians athletes) and integrate these self-images into a personal identity
that shows awareness of both a past and a future that follows logically from it. The term
identity crisis refers to the transitory failure to form a stable identity, or a confusion of
roles. He stresses the psychosocial nature of ego identity focusing not on conflicts between
psychic structures but rather on a conflict within the ego itselfof identity versus role

confusion. The emphasis is on the ego and the way it is affected by society, particularly
peer groups.

The formation of identity involves three elements. First, individuals must

perceive themselves as having inner sameness and continuity. i. e. they must, over time,
experience themselves as essentially the same persons they have been. Second, the persons
in ones social milieu must also perceive a sameness and continuity in the individual.
This means that adolescents need confidence that the inner unity they have developed
earlier will be recognized in others perceptions of them. In so far as adolescents may be
uncertain about both their self-concepts and their social images, then feelings of doubt,
confusion, and apathy may counteract their emerging sense of identity. Finally, their self-
perceptions must be validated by appropriate feedback from their interpersonal

The maturation of the adolescent encompasses new ways of appraising and

evaluating the world and their relationship to it. They can conceive of ideal families,
religions, philosophies, and societies which they can compare and contrast with the
imperfect persons and institutions of their own limited experience. The adolescent mind
becomes an ideological mind in search of an inspiring unification of ideas. A diffusion of
ideals results from the failure to find enduring values in ones culture ,religion, or ideology.
The person who suffers from identity diffusion has neither reevaluated past beliefs nor
achieved a resolution that leaves him free to act.

An appropriate adult sex role is essential for the development of a sense of

personal identity. Doubts about ones own sexual attractiveness and sexual identity are
common at this stage. Erikson indicates that where adequate feminine and masculine
identifications takes place, the personality develops a healthy and harmonious blend of
sexually defined qualities. Failure to achieve an appropriate sexual identity weakens the
overall ego identity.

According to Erikson, the foundation of a successful adolescence and the

attainment of an integrated identity originate in early childhood though it is significantly
affected by social groups with which they identify. He also stressed how overidentification

with popular heroes-movie stars, superathletes- or counterculture groups cuts off a budding
identity from its milieu. Likewise ego identity may be harder for certain groups of people
to attain ( minority group members).

The successful resolution of the crisis results in fidelity. During this difficult
time, the youth seeks an inner knowledge and understanding of himself and attempts to
formulate a set of values. The particular set of values that emerges is what Erikson calls
fidelity. It is the ability to sustain loyalties freely pledged in spite of the inevitable
contradictions of value systems.(Insight and Responsibility, p125) It enables a young
person to act in terms of an ideology despite its contradictions and limitations. It represents
the young mans capacity to perceive and abide by the social mores, ethics and ideologies
the society. Here ideology refers to an unconscious set of values and assumptions reflecting
the religious, scientific, and political thought of a culture. The purpose of an ideology is to
create a world image convincing enough to support the collective and the individual sense
of identity. Ideologies provide young people with oversimplified but definite answers to
the basic questions with identity conflictWho am I ?,Where am I going? Inspired by
ideology adolescents come forward either to fight for the values they find relevant or to
fight against the established ways of a culture through riots, revolutions, and protests.
Adolescence is thus a vital regenerator in the process of social evolution, for youth can
offer its loyalties and energies both to the conservation of that which continues to feel true
and to the revolutionary correction of that which has lost its regenerative
significance.(Identity Youth and Crisis p.134).

The crisis of identity or role confusion results from a failure to develop a

personal identity because of unfortunate childhood experiences or present social
circumstances. This role confusion is often characterized by an inability to select a career
or pursue further education. Incapacity to assume a role, running away in one form or
other, dropping out of school, leaving jobs, withdrawing into strange moods are some
specific examples of this identity confusion (Identity Youth and Crisis p.132). Many
adolescents experience a profound sense of futility, personal disorganization, and
aimlessness. They feel inadequate, depersonalized, alienated, and sometimes even seek
negative identities-an identity which is opposite to the one prescribed for them by their

parents and peers. Some delinquent behaviors are interpreted by Erikson in this way.
Failure to establish adequate personal identity does not necessarily mean a life of perpetual
failure. For life is constant change. Resolving problems at one stage of life is no guarantee
against their reappearance at later stages -or against the discovery of new solutions to
them. Ego identity is a lifelong struggle.

Societies generally grant adolescents special delays in the assumption of

adult roles and commitments. He coined the term psychosocial moratorium to denote
these intervals between adolescence and adulthood. Often this is institutionalized in the
form of higher education that enables young people to explore a number of different social
and occupational roles before deciding what to do with their lives. In other cases many take
recourse to wandering, joining cults, or exploring alternatives to traditional marriage.

The ritualization of this stage is that of ideology. The perversion of the

ideology of ritualization that may occur is totalism-the fanatic and exclusive preoccupation
with what seems to be unquestionably right or ideal.(Hall and Lindzey, p.97 )

VII. YOUNG ADULTHOOD(2140) :Intimacy vs Isolation or Self-absorptionLove

It marks the formal beginning of adult life. It is generally the period when a
person becomes involved in courtship, marriage, and early family life and settles down in
an enriching occupation. It is only now that a person is genuinely ready for social as well
as sexual intimacy after attaining a relatively firm sense of identity. Intimacy is the
capacity to commit himself to concrete affiliations and partnerships and to develop the
ethical strength to abide by such commitments, even though they may call for significant
sacrifice and compromises. (Childhood and Society, p.255). Merging ones own identity
with that of another person without fear of losing something oneself is seen by Erikson as
essential for the establishment of a meaningful marriage. This level of intimacy is
significantly different from the earlier sexual exploration and falling in love which were
largely attempts to explore ones ego identity through the use of another person. Referring
to the connotations of intimacy, Erikson writes ( Identity Youth and Crisis p.132):

Sexual intimacy is only part of what I have in mind ,for it is obvious that sexual
intimacies often precede the capacity to develop a true and mutual psychosocial

intimacy with another person, be it in friendship, in erotic encounters, or in joint

inspiration. The youth who is not sure of his identity shies away from interpersonal
intimacy or throws himself into acts of intimacy which are promiscuous without
true fusion or real self-abandon.

Erikson quotes Freuds view that a normal person must be able to love and
work. Similarly, he believes that meaningful work, procreation and recreation within a
loving relationship represent utopia. The question of whether a celibate is capable of
developing a sense of intimacy is relevant here. The answer is yes since Erikson believes
that intimacy involves more than just sexuality; it may also include the deep relationship
between friends or a commitment to ones fellow human beings .

The successful resolution of the crisis of intimacy versus isolation leads to

the psychosocial strength of love. Man in addition to erotic attraction has developed a
selectivity of love which serve the need for a new and shared identity. This love implies
an attitude of care, respect, and responsibility toward another. Love as mutual devotion
overcomes the antagonisms inherent in sexual and functional polarization and is the vital
strength of adulthood. It is the guardian of that elusive and yet all-pervasive power of
cultural and personal style which binds into a way of life the affiliations of competition
and co-operation, production and procreation.(Youth Identity and Crisis p.137). At this
stage one notices a transition from an I feeling to a sense of we.

The danger of this period is isolation i. e. the avoidance of contacts which

commit to intimacy. The intimacy of sexual relationships, friendships and all deep
associations are not frightening to the person with a resolved identity crisis. In contrast,
the person who reaches the adult years in a state of continued role confusion is unable to
enter into intense and long-term relationships and social involvement. They insulate
themselves against any type of real involvement because they are threatened by the
demands of intimacyoffspring and care. Self-absorbed people may seek interpersonal
encounters which are purely formal(employer-employee) and superficial(bridge clubs).
They are likely to have attitudes of futility and alienation about their vocations. Erikson
believes that social conditions (difficulty of achieving intimacy in a mobile, impersonal,
technological society) may hinder the establishment of a sense of intimacy. Without a

friend or a partner in marriage, a person may experience feelings of social emptiness and a
person may become self-absorbed and self-indulgent; as a result a sense of isolation may
grow to dangerous proportions-antisocial personality who lack any ethical sense, who
manipulate and exploit others without feeling remorse.

Here the ritualization is the affilative - a sharing together of work,

friendship,and love. The corresponding ritualism elitism is expressed by the formation of
exclusive groups that are a form of communal narcissim.

VII. MIDDLE ADULTHOOD(4065) : Generativity vs StagnationCare

During the decades that span the middle years of life, the adult chooses
between generativity and stagnation. Generativity not only concerns a persons having or
raising children but also includes a vital interest outside the home in establishing and
guiding the oncoming generation or in improving society. The creative and productive
elements of generativity are personified in everything that is passed from one generation
ton the next in the form of technological products, ideas, books, and works of art.
Childless people can be generative, if they develop a sense of altruism and creativity. Even
where philosophical and spiritual tradition suggests the renunciation of the right to
procreate or to produce, monastic movements, strives to settle at the same time the matter
of its relationship to the Care for the creatures of this world and to the Charity which is felt
to transcend it. (Childhood and Society, p.259). But most persons, if able, want to continue
their personalities and energies in the production and care of offspring. Wanting or having
children ,however, does not ensure generativity. Parents need to have achieved successful
identities themselves to be truly generative. For the ability to lose oneself in the meeting
of bodies and minds leads to a gradual expansion of ego-interests and to a libidinal
investment in that which is being generated.

A successful resolution of the crisis leads to the virtue of care. Care is a

quality essential for psychosocial evolution, for man is a teaching species. (Insight and
Responsibility, p.130). Care is the widening concern for what has been generated by love,
necessity, or accident; it overcomes the ambivalence adhering to irreversible obligation
(Insight and Responsibility p.131) In this stage a man and woman must have defined for

themselves what and whom they have come to care for, what they care to do well, and how
they plan to take care of what they have started and created(Gandhis Truth, p.395).

Those who fail to establish a sense of generativity slip into a regression to

an obsessive need for pseudointimacy and a state of self-absorption in which their
personal needs and comforts are of dominant concern. Individuals often begin to indulge
themselves as if they were their own one and only child. Where conditions favor it, they
develop early invalidism, physical or psychological, which becomes the vehicle for self-
concern. They cease to function as productive members of society, often with a pervading
sense of stagnation, boredom and interpersonal impoverishment. This is commonly
known as the crisis of middle age-a sense of hopelessness and feeling that life is

At this stage adults ask the question, What do I really have to pass on? As
they try to answer, they may discover in themselves not generativity but stagnation. It is
the feeling of having failed to make a contribution to life in my age. Then a crisis of
meaning may occur. I had these dreams and they never got fulfilled. I am not doing the
things I really want to do. I have not put my stamp on anything. Time and energy are
running out. I have to take a different direction or my life will continue hollow and empty.
This search for a meaningful and deeper way of living often involves a confrontation with
inner darkness, as it did for Gandhi before undertaking fast unto death.(Linn, p.184).

The ritualization of this stage is generational, which is the ritualization of

parenthood, production, teaching, healing etc.; they are roles in which the adults act as a
transmitter of ideal values to the young. Distortion of this ritualizatioin is authoritism- the
seizure or encroachment of authority incompatible with care.

VIII.MATURITY( Ego Integrity vs Despair)Wisdom

In the final phase of adulthood, there is a definite shift in a persons

attention from future to past life. It is a period when individuals reflect upon their nearly
complete efforts and achievement. So this stage is not so much marked by the appearance
of a new psychosocial crisis but rather by the summation, integration, and evaluation of all

the preceding stages. He has integrity who can, in the evening of his life, say It is
finished(John 19:30).

Only in him who in some way has taken care of things and people and has
adapted himself to the triumphs and disappointments adherent to being, the originator of
others or the generator of products and ideas -only in him may gradually ripen the fruit of
these seven stages. (Childhood and Society, p.259). The sense of ego integrity thus arises
from the individuals ability to glance back on his life in full perspective marriage,
children, grandchildren, job, accomplishments, hobbies, social relationshipsand affirm,
I am satisfied. He finds that every experience of life has mutual relation and all together
brings beauty. Each chip is important. Even apparent tragedies are seen as opportunities for
growth. This is the integration of mature life. Death is no longer feared since such persons
see their own existence continuing through either their offspring or creative
accomplishments. A new edition of identity crisis at this stage may be stated in the words,
I am what survives me. (Identity Youth and Crisis p.141).

Wisdom, then, is detached concern with life itself, in the face of death
itself (Insight and Responsibility, p.133) It takes the form of wisdom in all its connotations
from ripened wits to accumulated knowledge, mature judgment, and inclusive
understanding. It includes a feeling of oneness with the rest of mankind and an acceptance
of ones life, significant ones without wishing that he or they should have been different.
At the other extreme are the individuals who regard their lives as a series of
unfulfilled opportunities and missed directions. They experience despaira regret for what
one has done or not done with his life. They realize that it is far too late to start over again.
The lack or loss of ego integration in such a person is marked by a hidden dread of death, a
feeling of irrevocable failure and an incessant preoccupation with what might have been.
Erikson observes that there are two prevailing moods in the embittered and disgusted old
person: a regret that life cannot be lived over again and rejection of ones shortcomings by
projecting them on the outside world.

The ritualization of old age may be called integral; this is reflected in the
wisdom of ages. In search of a corresponding ritualism Erikson suggests sapientism: the
unwise pretense of being wise.

Eriksons discussion of the Eight Ages of Man represents his most original
and important contribution to personality theory. It is perhaps the most complete and
influential synthesis of Freudian concepts of developmental changes and instinctual drives
with the emphasis placed on the social environment by Adler, Horney and others. His effort
to combine clinical insight with cultural and historical forces in explaining personality
organization and behavior has provided fresh and genuine advances in understanding
many major problems that confront humanity today. This placing of the ego in a cultural
and historical context is one of Eriksons most creative contributions to ego theory. Erikson
introduced the method known as psychohistory. He defines psychohistory as the study of
individual and collective life with the combined methods of psychoanalysis and history.
He took a giant methodological step in the study of historical figures when he envisioned
that it was possible to apply the same methods used for reconstructing the past of a patient
in psychoanalysis to reconstructing the past of a historical person. Case history becomes
life history.

Though Erikson is credited with developing a life-span psychosocial

development from infancy to senility, he left out prenatal period. Erikson has been
criticized for his overly optimistic view of humans just as Freud was criticized for his
pessimistic view. He has been reproached for watering down Freudian theory by
concentrating on the strengths of the ego, the rational and the conscious at the expense of
the id, the irrational and the unconscious.

Though his theory is based on personal observation, it lacks empirical data

to support it. But his formulations do provide a rich source of hypotheses that can be and
are being quantified and tested experimentally.


1. Erikson, E. H.(1965) Childhood and Society. Great Britain: Penguin Books.

2. ___________(1968) Identity Youth and Crisis. New York: W. W. Norton &Company.
3. ___________(1964) Insight and Responsibility. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
4. ___________(1969) Gandhis Truth. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

5. Hall, C. and Lindzey, G.(1978) Theories Personality. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
6. Hjelle, L. A. and Ziegler, D. J.(1986) Personality Theories. McGraw-Hill Company.
7. Kaplan, H. I. et. al, (1994) Synopsis of Psychiatry. U. S. A.: Williams &Wilkins.
8. Limpingco, D. and Tria, G.(1990)Personality. Quezon City: Ken Incorporated.
9. Linn, M. et al., (1988) Healing the Eight Stages of Life. New jersy: Paulist Press.

Manuel Joseph