While everyone’s a little different, and individuals can be very individual in nature (thus, the name), culturally there does seem to be a common belief that a life can be broken up into segments, life stages, if you will.
There are a ton of jokes about midlife crisis, angsty teenage years, etc.
And personality and identity theorists have made many attempts to come up with a standard progression to describe these shifts.
One classic model is Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development.
Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development
In Erikson’s model, there are eight stages, each revolving around an existential crisis (for example, trust vs. mistrust) and virtue (for example, hope). Here they are, in order:
|Trust vs. Mistrust||Hope||0 to 1-1/2|
|Autonomy vs. Shame||Will||1-1/2 to 3|
|Initiative vs. Guilt||Purpose||3 to 5|
|Industry vs. Inferiority||Competency||5 to 12|
|Identity vs. Role Confusion||Fidelity||12 to 18|
|Intimacy vs. Isolation||Love||18 to 40|
|Generativity vs. Stagnation||Care||40 to 65|
|Ego Integrity vs. Despair||Wisdom||65+|
Joan Erikson would later go on to add a ninth stage to address one’s 80’s and 90s, when she herself was 93. Erikson stated that in the ninth stage a person confronts all of the previous eight stages once again — except this time they happen all at the same time.
Criticisms and Controversies Surrounding This Model
Critics of this model note that one major limitation is that Erikson’s research primarily focused on European American males. As such, it doesn’t account for how being part of other demographics can impact development and when a life stage occurs, whether due to cultural differences or economic challenges.
It’s also hotly debated among personality theorists whether or not the model should be considered strictly sequential and only occurring during the ages specified. Or whether a person can bounce back and forth between life stages.
Still others think the very notion of universal life stages is a real stretch. But it’s a pervasive idea in popular culture.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.
My new book is out!
Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).