Written by Dr.Gabriel Yu
This section discusses possible psychological problems that people, whether female or male, may face during later middle to older age.
It is a good idea to start by surveying the stages of human life, from a psychological perspective. A well-known theory of life stages was described by Erik Erikson (1902-1994) in his book Childhood and Society (1950). He is a very prominent psychologist in the psychoanalytic school and has made a very significant contribution to the field. There are 8 stages, but we concentrate on the last 2 stages for obvious reasons. The other stages and the essential points are listed for completeness.
INFANCY: BIRTH-18 MONTHS OLD
Basic Trust vs. Mistrust – Hope
TODDLER / EARLY CHILDHOOD YEARS: 18 MONTHS TO 3 YEARS
Autonomy vs. Shame – Will
PRESCHOOLER: 3 TO 5 YEARS
Initiative vs. Guilt – Purpose
SCHOOL AGE CHILD: 6 TO 12 YEARS
Industry vs. Inferiority – Competence
ADOLESCENT: 12 TO 18 YEARS
Identity vs. Role Confusion – Fidelity
YOUNG ADULT: 18 TO 35
Intimacy and Solidarity vs. Isolation – Love
MIDDLE-AGED ADULT: 35 TO 55 OR 65
Generativity vs. Self absorption or Stagnation – Care Career and work are the most important things at this stage, along with family. Middle adulthood is also the time when people can take on greater responsibilities and control.
For this stage, working to establish stability and Erikson’s idea of generativity – attempting to produce something that makes a difference to society. Inactivity and meaninglessness are common fears during this stage. Major life shifts can occur during this stage. For example, children leave the household, careers can change, and so on. Some may struggle with finding purpose. Significant relationships are those within the family, workplace, local church and other communities.
LATE ADULT: 55 OR 65 TO DEATH
Integrity vs. Despair – Wisdom
Erikson believed that much of life is preparing for the middle adulthood stage and the last stage involves much reflection. As older adults, some can look back with a feeling of integrity — that is, contentment and fulfillment, having led a meaningful life and valuable contribution to society. Others may have a sense of despair during this stage, reflecting upon their experiences and failures. They may fear death as they struggle to find a purpose to their lives, wondering “What was the point of life? Was it worth it?”
This is a good context to understand the psychological problems that we at this age are likely to face. Later we shall discuss them in more detail and ways to cope and adapt.
The Life Cycle Completed (Extended Version) by Erik H. Erikson
Erikson, E. H. (1994). Identity: Youth and crisis (No. 7). WW Norton & Company.
Erikson, E. H. (1993). Childhood and society. WW Norton & Company.
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