Ego Integrity vs. Despair

Writing time has been limited of late as I have tended to gardens, and prepared for the book launch. However, these activities have not stopped me from trying to define my elderly female characters in The Memory Boxes  more clearly. They are always at the edges of my mind. The result is that I have been “clipping” items from the Globe and Mail, Macleans and the Economist and filing them, and reviewing theories about human development.

The theory that I am returning to for the moment is Erikson’s stages of development as it applies to the stage called Maturity (age 65 to death). The basic conflict that an older adult wrestles with is ego-integrity vs. despair. It is important for the older adult “to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair.” 1

The prospect of someone dying with regret, bitterness and despair is unsettling. Is it because in looking back at life one is trying to reconcile events and relationships? Is the despair because the events or relationships were challenging? Were the opportunities to address the challenges evaded by turning a blind eye, by turning down, by assigning blame, by leaving the country, by leaving the relationship, by……?

Would regret, bitterness and despair necessarily be the outcomes if, from the distance of decades later, one asked “What if…?”

I am thinking that if one could acknowledge the past crisis of conscience, or failure to act and resolve to “learn” from the prior experiences, and then from that moment forward conduct each day with positive intent, then wisdom could be the outcome.

Perhaps one can prevent regret, bitterness, and despair by developing insight and resolve. I certainly hope so.

1. http://psychology.about.com/library/bl_psychosocial_summary.htm

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