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Erikson’s Theory: Stage 8

This is the eighth and final post in a series about Erik Erikson’s Stage Theory of Psychosocial Development. If you would like to know more about this series, go here. To see the second post on stages 1 and 2, go here. To see the third post on stage 3, go here. To see the fourth post on stage 4, go here. To see the fifth post on stage 5, go here. To see the sixth post on stage 6, go here. To see the seventh post on stage 7, go here.

Stage 8: Ego Integrity vs. Despair

(Age 65+)

Remember When?

One of our favorite things to do during family get-togethers, holidays, birthday is reminisce.

As a child I thought our family had all the jokes, but thankfully and beautifully, I grew up and found out every family has their own stories and jokes that are both hilarious and heartwarming.  It is beautiful to sit with any family during a meal and hear not only the updates of how everyone is doing but to go back in time and experience an old story for the first time or for the hundredth time and giggle away.  Watching everyone get excited about sharing a forgotten detail is fun; listening to people add emphasis to an impossible happenstance or outcome is hilarious.  These are some of the best ways to connect with family, whether they are your family or someone else’s.

As adults mature, reflection time can be a gratifying activity.  Looking back on accomplishments can bring a sense of pride, feelings of contentment and satisfaction.  Gratitude usually follows, just for the experiences, places visited, and especially the relationships and connections encountered.

At the age of 65, adults enter into Erik Erikson’s Final Stage of PsychoSocial Development, Maturity.  Maturity or late adulthood carries a conflict between integrity and despair.  The pinnacle of this stage is looking back on one’s entire life – all of the experiences, situations and relationships, in a positive light.  Erikson posits that coming to terms with and accepting oneself fully, helps create a sense of integrity and completeness.

Living a life of acceptance for the self, assuming responsibility for one’s life, without the possibility of undoing any decision or action, and being okay with it all is crucial to satisfaction with self and with life.

For those unable to achieve this; feeling regret or wishing for second chances to do something over, leads to despair.  Feeling that life is unfinished, incomplete or that the self is unrealized can lead to a fear of death.  Failing to resolve life’s challenges can leave a person with unfulfilled desires which can lead to a blaming stance.  Sometimes bitterness or even disgust are felt.

When a person has successfully faced life’s challenges or has learned through his or her mistakes, they may realize in late adulthood that what they went through, gave them wisdom.  They own their decisions, their emotions, and have no regrets, which in turn brings peace of mind.

In therapy, the counselor would help the person in this stage resolve any previously unsuccessful psychodevelopmental stages using a variety of theoretical approaches – existential, psychodynamic, trauma-oriented, and attachment oriented, to name a few. Resolving old issues helps make the person in this stage more free to embrace a hopeful and satisfied stance at the end of life.

Posted in: Awareness, Counseling, Michelle Browning

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Counselors Are Just People

Counselors and therapists are simply people that have spent time working on their emotional and mental health. The work of looking inward can impart wonderful healing, which compels counselors to share that gift with the world.  It’s a beautiful cycle…

One can find healing in a friendship, a counseling relationship, a spiritual journey, or even through reading a book in which the reader identifies with the hero or heroine and adopts healing by proxy.

Healing creates a “pay-it-forward” cycle.  “I was healed and now I want to bring others to such a point.  In turn, I hope their healing will affect those around them.”

Counselors are just people.  They have families and friends that they love and sometimes argue with. They may have inner conflict about a situation and worry about it or get frustrated with it. Counselors have learned many tools to cope with difficulties, but prior to using those tools, they are human and experience the same human emotions as everyone else.

I wrote this piece because sometimes clients feel as if I have all of the answers, that I never experience anger or anxiety, and that my life is easy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Counselors are just people that want to help people with being… “people”.

Posted in: Counseling, Michelle Browning, Relationships

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Write letters for Valentine’s Day

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved sending and receiving mail. I didn’t fully understand the concept of mail until I was in 3rd grade. My grandmother worked at the first Hallmark store in our little hometown and she always gave the perfect card with her gifts. In her cards, she took a moment to write a little something, a special message from her to the recipient. Her writing intrigued me. Her thoughtfulness was so special.

When I went away to college, “Momo” became my pen pal. She wrote every 2 weeks, asking how I liked school and telling me about home. I don’t think she ever knew how special her letters were to me. It was like I had a private part of her, secret conversations that would never be spoken out loud. I cherished the letters even more once her hearing began to fail.

She taught me how people communicate through writing. She taught me to respect anyone willing to share themselves through a silent, ink-filled voice. Holding the paper that she wrote on meant something. I imagined her stopping in the middle of her day to write to me, which made me feel special.

If you could write a short note to someone, what would you say? What if it made their day? What if they cherished it? What if they marveled that the paper they were holding was once in your hands? If you could write, “You are special”, or “You make me smile”, to your child, niece, nephew, sister, husband, neighbor, or someone small, so they could read it as many times as they wanted, would you do it?

In marriage and family counseling, I often find myself suggesting letter writing. When a client has lost someone, we discuss writing a letter to that person to say the things that they didn’t get to say. When a couple is at an impasse, we practice writing in a shared journal to communicate more deeply. When a teenager is at odds with his parents, we write a structured letter, organizing feelings from desires.

Consider your relationships – all of them. To appeal on a grander scale allow me to ask, what would be your last conversation with one of those persons be about? If you somehow knew that circumstances were about to change and you would not be able to say another word to someone, what would you say? It might be something really wonderful and special. My grandmother had no idea she touched my heart at such a young age. She merely wanted to have a connection with me.

I think about her letters every Valentine’s Day.

Posted in: Michelle Browning, Relationships

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