Opening Words from Sun. July 21 by Susan Hurt

Good morning, my name is Susan Hurt, and I’m fairly new to the Ethical Society. Prior to becoming a psychiatrist, I was introduced to the theories of Erik Erikson in college, and this is what I want to talk about today.

Erik Erikson was a developmental psychologist who maintained that personality develops through eight stages of psychosocial development, beginning in infancy and lasting throughout adulthood.

Based on Erikson’s ideas, the field of psychology re-conceptualized the way that the later periods of life are viewed. They are now considered active and significant times of personal growth.

I’m going to skip over the first 6 stages of development that Erikson described and review the 2 later adult stages, as this is my area of focus today.

Generativity vs. Stagnation is the seventh stage of Erik Erikson’s theory. This stage takes place during ages 40 to 65 yrs.

Generativity refers to “making your mark” on the world through creating or nurturing things that will outlast you as an individual.

Examples include raising children, productive work, and involvement in community organizations.

Those who fail to contribute during these years may feel unproductive, disconnected, or uninvolved with their community – don’t worry, there’s hope if you have difficulty in this stage.

Ego Integrity vs. Despair is the eighth and final stage and begins at age 65.

It is during this time that people slow down, contemplate their accomplishments, and develop integrity if they believe that they have led a successful life.

If individuals see their lives as unproductive or feel guilt about their past, they may be dissatisfied with their lives and despair.

Erik Erikson’s wife Joan had much to say about stage 8 when she was in her nineties.

In particular, Joan stressed the great value of the elderly given their wisdom and the considerable contributions they can make when successfully integrated into society. She worried that the elderly today are too much cut off from others, and that this marginalization is harmful to everyone.

Now, I wanted to talk about Erik Erikson today because he addresses all ages, including adults of advancing years. And here at the Ethical Society we have this month’s theme as “Bring out your Best.” Well, I think it’s a great theme, because we don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that we the have the best – those with wisdom and memory – right here amongst us.

It’s important also to realize that, according to Erikson, if any of his 8 life stages are not completed successfully during its specified age range, it can be completed successfully at a later time. It just takes a supportive community – which we have right here – and the inspiration that personal growth is always possible. I think this gives hope to us all.

Thank you.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.