Arlene’s personal take on Erikson’s Eighth Stage.
Life can be a pain in the neck. Literally. An MRI will show whether I need steroid shots (ouch) to give me more flexibility, but in the meantime I have a pad of lidocaine taped to the back of my neck. So I’m feeling a bit philosophical these days as I ruminate on how life has been treating me — and how I have been treating life.
All-in-all I have concluded that when my body doesn’t have the strength it once had and when I have to decline business opportunities that require more effort than I can give, I am smack dab in the middle of Erik Erikson’s Late Adulthood phase of growth. This runs from about 55 to 65 until death.
Since I’m in my seventies, I am certainly in that stage, although until recently I kept saying I was “middle-aged.” My oldest daughter insisted I was a member of the old-age club because she was middle-aged.
This is the time when development of the ego results either in “Integrity” or in “Despair.” And if the stage is negotiated effectively, the person has “Wisdom.” I hope I express more of the latter than the former.
This is what I wrote about the time of life in which I find myself:
Erikson felt that much of life is preparing for the middle adulthood stage and the last stage is recovering from it. Perhaps that is because as older adults we can often look back on our lives with happiness and are content, feeling fulfilled with a deep sense that life has meaning and we’ve made a contribution to life, a feeling Erikson calls integrity. Our strength comes from a wisdom that the world is very large and we now have a detached concern for the whole of life, accepting death as the completion of life.
On the other hand, some adults may reach this stage and despair at their experiences and perceived failures. They may fear death as they struggle to find a purpose to their lives, wondering “Was the trip worth it?” Alternatively, they may feel they have all the answers (not unlike going back to adolescence) and end with a strong dogmatism that only their view has been correct.
The significant relationship is with all of mankind — “my-kind.”
The nice thing about my life at this stage is that I no longer (or at least very seldom) want to be someone who I am not.
However, whenever I feel a little jealous of the accomplishments of others, I remind myself that I am no different than billions of other people. We are all quite insignificant when compared with the whole universe and the billions and billions of worlds floating in the vastness of space.
And when I look up at the stars at night, I am reminded of astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s thoughts on The Most Astonishing Fact of the Universe. As he points out, the very substance that makes the stars is inside me — and inside everyone who shares this planet.
I know my ego can’t compete with any of it. That is why I have become comfortable with my infinitesimally small corner of the universe, where I don’t have to do more than I can in order to be myself. In fact, I can’t do more than I able to do, which isn’t much in the whole scheme of things.
Nevertheless, these days I feel a connection with all the other souls who struggle to find a place where they can be themselves, where they don’t need to try and be someone they aren’t in order to feel important in the face of such insignificance.