Woohoo! We’ve made it to the final stage in Erikson’s psychosocial development theory. This is the stage of ego integrity versus despair. I know, sounds depressing, but there is hope. I promise.
This is from about 60-65 years old until the end of life. What is the big milestone that happens at this age, or at least used to be in this area? Preparation for and retirement. If people have found a way to leave their legacy for future generations, they can make this transition into retirement a little easier. Then they spend their time reflecting on what they have accomplished and incorporate that into their sense of self. Erikson said the characteristic of wisdom is what comes from this self-reflection and feeling of accomplishment about one’s legacy.
However, this transition can be a significant blow to one’s ego, particularly if the sense of identity had been tied in to one’s job, or if there is no sense of a positive legacy being left behind. These things can feed into feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, which lead to depression. Unlike other stages, there is not as much pressure to resolve this one to continue development. There is no next stage to move on to address.
So, how can you use this for character development? You could create older characters who are struggling with coming to terms about the final stage of their lives. Or you could set up circumstances where someone is forced to address this stage of life prematurely for some reason. What if someone had to resolve this developmental task to be able to die and move on? While the possibilities do not seem as endless at first, twist your world around some and you may find some interesting ways in which you can use this developmental stage to help your characters grow.
I hope this exploration of Erikson’s psychosocial development theory has been helpful for your character development. Stay tuned and we’ll cover other concepts in psychology and how they apply to writing. As always, let me know how it goes!