In a previous article, I talked about the first four stages in a person’s life.  After the first 13 years, the stages stretch out as fundamental challenges of humanity are resolved.  The later stages involve challenges of mastery and relationships.  Here we discuss these stages.

Stage Five: 13 years – 21 years: Identity vs. Role Confusion

During the adolescent stage of life, children gain greater responsibility as they transition to adulthood.  They also develop a basic sense of who they are and what characteristics give them definition.  Interestingly, the American Medical Association recommended extending this stage to an older age of about 28-32 because our modern American society allows for a longer period of identity development.

Successful completion of this stage results in a sense of knowing oneself and being able to rely on clear features or characteristics such as being agile, strong, or intelligent.  This can develop into more complex features such as being a good father/mother, leader, or handyman.

Failure to achieve this stage leads to a confused sense of oneself and one’s abilities.  They may have a poor sense of their strengths and weaknesses as well as an unstable view of who they are.  They may shift frequently in their jobs, appearance, and hobbies due to a poor base of how to define themselves.

Stage Six: 21 years – 39 years: Intimacy vs. Isolation

This is the primary stage and age-range for relationship development.  During this stage, adults explore the degree to which they will be connected in relationship with others.  Friendships and lovers are discovered in this stage.  Further, the level of connection with these people is also explored and discovered.

People who successfully complete this stage find a sense of ability to connect with others and develop meaningful and enduring relationships.  They discover they are able to develop a loving relationship with a partner and sustain it over time.  They emerge from this stage of life feeling they are not alone.

Failure to complete this stage results in a sense of isolation from others.  These people may feel they have poor friendships, no lover, or a disconnected marriage.  They emerge from this stage feeling unable to connect with others in a meaningful way.

Stage Seven: 40 years – 65 years: Generativity vs. Stagnation

During this later stage of life, Erikson observed that people shift attention to their meaning and contribution in life.  They look at their careers and in their homes where they focus on developing, contributing, and leaving a legacy.  Goals for this stage of life are to give back after years of learning and developing skills.  People focus on making an impact on the world and in the lives of others.

Successful completion of this stage results in feelings of care and contribution.  By giving back to their community, people feel a sense of reciprocity in the world.  They feel that during their turn to carry the torch, they achieved something of value.

Failure to accomplish this stage of life leaves a person feeling that they were unable to make use of their gifts and opportunities.  They leave this stage feeling unaccomplished and cynical.  They tend to feel like they do not fit into society as they serve little purpose and have little importance or impact on their world.

Stage Eight: 65 years – End of Life: Integrity vs. Despair

The final stage of life takes place during retirement years.  It is a stage of reflection.  During this stage of life, people look backwards to review their contribution to the world to see if they lived a meaningful life.  Looking back they review each stage and ask if they lived life to its fullest or as best as possible.

Successful completion of this final stage results in peace about their purpose and time in this world.  They feel fulfilled and at ease, knowing they did all they could.  Typically, they feel successful completion of all or most of life’s previous stages and gain a sense of wisdom about life.

Failure of this final stage results in despair, as individuals feel they have wasted their lives.  They become bitter, regretting many decisions.  They replay their lives over wishing they had done things differently.  People who fail this final stage of life tend to be angry and resentful about life and everything in it.

Erickson provided many valuable insights about life with these eight stages.  They do not always flow within strict time parameters.  Also, even though they generally follow this outline, some people find stages going in a different order.  This is not a strict map for life but rather a way of understanding how our priorities tend to shift over our lifespan.

(To read about the first four stages of life, click here.)