As we continue our series on the great minds of psychology, we take on the second part of Erik Erickson’s Stages of Development. Understand the development of the psyche through early, middle and late adulthood. We discuss:
- How to cultivate intimacy in relationships
- Why some people unconsciously choose isolation and rejecting love
- How we need to give back in order for us to feel balanced in middle adulthood
- The stage of wisdom and entering your later years feeling that you had a life well-lived
This podcast represents the opinions of Debra Berndt Maldonado and Robert Maldonado, PhD. The content here should not be taken as medical/mental health advice. The content here is for informational purposes only, and because each person is so unique, please consult your mental healthcare professional for your mental health questions.
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Debra Maldonado 00:28
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind. I’m Debra Berndt Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado. We’re excited to continue our series on the great minds of psychology. Last week, we talked about Erik Erikson and the stages of development. We’re doing part two of stages of development. Last week we talked about under 18, under 20. Today, we’re talking about adulthood.
Robert Maldonado 00:58
We go to the identity crisis.
Debra Maldonado 01:01
Before we begin and dive in, I want to remind you to subscribe to our channel, if you’re watching us on YouTube. If you are listening to us on one of the podcast services, please click Subscribe, so you won’t miss another episode. I also want to mention that if you are a life changer, you’re one of those people that are listening to podcasts, maybe you’re a coach or a therapist, or any kind of service professional, helping professional that you want to help others, and you’re really getting a lot of knowledge from this podcast, we have a Facebook group called The Art and Science of Changing Lives. It’s all about changing lives. If you want to be a life changer, we invite you to join the group on Facebook, just search for it, it’s our insights of changing lives. We’ll continue the conversation after every episode. Let’s talk about the identity crisis, we left off.
Robert Maldonado 02:02
Just to recap, we talked about children from birth to 18 years of age, all the stages that we go through as human beings and the skills that we develop along the way. Now, from 18 years of age onward, we are considered adults. There’s a big shift there.
Debra Maldonado 02:27
We’re in our 20s, we’re getting into college, starting our first serious job, maybe moving out and getting our own apartment. Right now, a lot of 20 year olds are still staying home with parents. This is my favorite stage because I started my career as a love coach, helping people find love. This is intimacy versus isolation. In grade school, you’re having peers, it’s more of a group experience. Then it starts coming down to who I’m going to meet with, it’s a different type of relationship. It’s more than making friends and fitting in. Now you’re moving toward, thinking about starting a family on your own, thinking about dating someone and getting to know someone on a one-on-one level. Maybe you started that in high school, but this is more serious, because the high school first love is— some people marry their first love, but most people move on. This is where you’re trying to figure out if you want to be intimate with someone emotionally or want to be by yourself.
Robert Maldonado 03:46
This is where we see this stacking of the pattern. You have to come to terms with a previous stage in order to fulfill the demands of the next stage. If you don’t have ego identity, or if you’re confused about your role, it becomes more difficult to choose a partner or to decide if you’re going to marry and settle down or be a single person now or just date. You’re confused because you haven’t dealt with that previous ego identity crisis.
Debra Maldonado 04:26
That brings up so much for me because I didn’t know who I was in my 20s, I was fun Debi, pretended to be fun, I abandoned my brainy self and thought that’s what men wanted. They wanted the carefree, non-serious girl. I was trying to be something for other people, instead of being true to myself and knowing who I was. If I don’t know who I am, why would I let anyone get close to me? You build walls when you don’t know who you are because if you don’t want people to find you out, you don’t want people to see behind the curtain what you’re trying to create. Intimacy is about you’re okay with what’s inside and you’re allowing someone to see that.
Robert Maldonado 05:14
Here he gets a little poetic, because he says the psychosocial modality here is to lose and find oneself in another. What he’s saying is that you have to be confident enough and sure enough of yourself to be able to lose yourself in another person, to give yourself completely.
Debra Maldonado 05:44
Even if you think about the act of sex, it’s opening to be naked with a person and connect with that person. In the sexual act, you’re losing yourself in that other person, you become one body. But then also we’re dealing with emotions and heart connection as well.
Robert Maldonado 06:08
Again, intimacy versus isolation. Now this is an important one because he’s talking about the spectrum that we neither want to go completely into intimacy because that would mean we’re dependent on the other person. We don’t want to go all the way into isolation either because that means we can’t get close to anyone. We want somewhere in the middle. The healthy way to approach relationships is in the middle, where you have your self-identity, your ego identity, you already solved that ego identity conflict, but you also are willing and able to open up to another human being entering your life.
Debra Maldonado 06:59
This is interesting, because I worked with so many clients over the years, people with love. One of the things I see, one of the patterns is falling in love after the first date and fantasizing in your mind. You’re just talking through texts, you haven’t even spoken to the person yet, and you’re already thinking, “This is the love of my life!”, jumping in really quickly. That’s the idea of opening up, maybe having sex too soon, because you just want that relationship. You’re almost too open that you don’t even know what you want. You’re putting your everything on that person if they like you back, jumping in too quick, love bombing, as they call it. That leads to the other spectrum, which is promiscuity. Too loose with everything, not selective.
Robert Maldonado 08:02
The opposite side of the coin is exclusivity. If you don’t find love, find a way to come to terms with love, with allowing another person to be important in your life, then there’s only this other maladaptive way of doing relationships where you’re either very promiscuous, going from relationship to relationship and not really bonding, or you’re too exclusive, no one’s good enough for me, I can’t find the right person, they’re flawed, I keep running into flawed people.
Debra Maldonado 08:46
You’re looking for this perfect person, they’re not out there, you don’t let anyone in. The extreme of everyone’s the one, they’re pretty attractive, so they’re the one or no one’s the one. What you want to do is have balance where you’re open to maybe this could be but also not jumping in too quickly and assuming, acting from that fantasy.
Robert Maldonado 09:17
He says this is an important stage in adulthood. If we don’t come to terms with this one, the next one, of course, is more difficult. But the next one — this is from the 20s all the way into your 50s, he calls it middle adulthood — is generativity versus self absorption. Generativity means to take care of others, to share your wisdom, to teach.
Debra Maldonado 09:55
And continue to grow too, moving forward, continuing to feel like you have value in the world, you’re growing, you’re not just stagnating.
Robert Maldonado 10:08
Let’s assume you do meet the challenges of the previous stage, you get married, you find your partner, you find your role identity, you’re settled and, in essence, an adult. Then the big challenge after that is your work life, your ability to work outside the home, and to contribute to society. That’s an important aspect of work, obviously, because it gives us our sense of purpose beyond our family life. It’s a big chunk of life, so we have a lot of time to figure it out.
Debra Maldonado 11:45
Is this also tied to your purpose of giving back and contributing? The opposite would be self-absorption, which is all about you, what you can get out of the world versus what you can give back. It’s a balance because if you’re all about giving, but you’re not giving to yourself, that’s not okay. If you’re all about just taking, that’s not okay. It’s about that balance of give and take that you give enough to yourself, so that you can give to others.
Robert Maldonado 12:23
Most of the students and the clients that we work with are in this stage. They’re in their 20s, obviously, they’re over 25, most of them, but certainly up into their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s. They’re in this stage of generativity, they’re finding their purpose, finding a way to connect to something bigger than just their family life.
Debra Maldonado 12:55
Is it because at that age, when you get older, you start to feel like you learned so many lessons that you want to share, you want to help and mentor? Even if you’re in the corporate world and have people working under you, maybe you’re 30 and have 20-year-olds that are the interns, you’re helping them along, using the wisdom of your years to share your knowledge.
Robert Maldonado 13:17
It’s a great time to be a teacher, a professor, a coach, a therapist, all these helping professionals, but even executives who are running companies and mentoring other people along. That’s the task, it feels rewarding, because you’re doing this important developmental stage of your life.
Debra Maldonado 13:49
The imbalance is overextension or rejectivity?
Robert Maldonado 13:54
The workaholism we see often associated with work life, this is where it plays in. People haven’t found a way to give back, so they’re pouring a lot of their energy into work without really understanding the purpose of this. They think it’s making money, or making more money, or getting the next promotion. It’s not very satisfying. It’s a maladaptive pattern, according to Erickson, that is not fulfilling the primary purpose of developing this connection, this care to others.
Debra Maldonado 14:38
You say they compound on each other. Let’s say, in adolescence, in high school, you don’t really know who you are. There’s still a lot of people out there that really don’t know who they are. Or it’s not that they don’t know but they’re afraid to step into it, they’re conformed to their social group and their persona, so they don’t know who they are. Then they get into their 20s. Since they don’t know who they are, they’re can’t really find the right person. If you don’t know who you are, the universe doesn’t know who to match you up with. So now you don’t know who you are, you’re not really having a meaningful intimate relationship. It doesn’t mean you’re not married, you can get married, but you still don’t have your own identity, you’re maybe this person’s wife or this person’s husband, you’re defined by that marriage or maybe the other person is successful and you’re riding their coattails. Then you get to the stage of generativity versus self-absorption. This is something I’ve noticed, they build upon each other, when you get to that stage, let’s say you decide you want to help people, I wanted to help people find love and change their life. I could see sometimes early on that I was overextending myself because I was trying to find my identity, to find this intimacy and love I have from my clients. You overextend because you don’t know where the boundaries are within yourself. Each stage you are bound, this happened for me, I know a lot of people that are in the healthcare industry, whether you’re a therapist, or coach, or a healer, or massage therapist, or hairdresser, overextending themselves because they haven’t fully balanced out this idea of who they are, what they stand for, understanding their ability to get their own love and tenderness without needing to constantly get it outside of ourselves. That is how they compound in each other. The ego identity is so important. If you didn’t get it in high school, that’s a question you should ask yourself. If you’re having trouble overgiving or not finding the right relationship, maybe you should say, “Do I know who I am?” That’s where Jung’s work comes in, we’re living our life on the persona level, we’re not knowing who we really are, this causes a lot of disharmony in our life. We don’t know who we are or even identifying with the ego, you need a strong ego to do individuation.
Robert Maldonado 17:43
Also think of how far back the purpose element goes, all the way to three to six years of age. If you did not get it right or come to terms with it, then it shows up much later in your life when you’re doing your important work. You can’t seem to find the meaning of what you’re meant to be doing.
Debra Maldonado 18:12
I think that between 20s and 50s, maybe even 60s, is the most important part of your life because you can work with those early developmental milestones in your life right now and complete those. You want to do it sooner than later, so you can live the rest of your years without feeling like you’re catching up again. None of us go through those stages perfectly. At the stage of 30 or 40 years we have to come to terms with all of that and find who we really are. After 50-60s, what happens? I think this may change because 100 years ago people only lived to their early 60s, now life expectancy can maybe move, it’s 80 now or 90, so these probably may shift a little bit, maybe there’s another level after this that we might have to add.
Robert Maldonado 19:06
Models are not perfect. There’s designed to help us understand psychological, psychosocial processes and give us a framework. Into the 50s, you get into integrity versus despair, according to Erik Erikson. He says here to be through having been to face not being. You’re facing now the big existential questions, Jung also talks about this. He was known for the second part of life, that it brings up a lot of the big questions in life. What is the meaning of my life? What did I leave behind? What do I think about life after death?
Debra Maldonado 20:04
People also talk about legacy, you’re conscious that you’re getting older, life is going by so fast, that feeling of “Did I accomplish what I needed to accomplish?” Questioning your spiritual ideals, whether there is a soul and I survive after death?
Robert Maldonado 20:30
He calls this psychosocial virtue wisdom. You want to gain wisdom at this stage, you want to feel that you’ve learned something from all these past experiences, all your stages of development and growth, that there’s been some wisdom gain through those experiences, otherwise, you fall into despair. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, of course, it’s a spectrum from integrity versus despair, meaning, you feel whole, complete, you’re on the right track. Whereas the despair there’s a little bit of anxiety, there’s a little bit of questioning, a little bit of uncertainty that prompts you to ask those questions and gives you that urgency. Again, you need both, but you want to balance them.
Debra Maldonado 21:32
If someone’s in despair, there’s these ideas that if you’re depressed, when you’re older, you lose your will to live, you can actually create illness in your body. My father was 69 when he was diagnosed with leukemia, I was asking him how he felt, and he said, “I lived a good life. I made a lot of mistakes, I know this is happening to my body because of what I did to my body” — he smoked for 40 years, but he said, “I lived a good life, I have no regrets.” That made me feel at peace. So many people when they get ill and when they get older, feel that despair of a wasted life. That’s the biggest fear everyone has, wasted opportunity. You don’t want to get to that stage feeling despair, because living the rest of your life in regret is not very fun to put it mildly. It’s painful.
Robert Maldonado 22:39
The maladaptive pattern, or the malignancies, as Erickson calls it, is falling into presumption. You see these older people, they’re closed, they say, “I can’t learn anything any anymore, life is not interesting to me anymore, I’m not curious anymore.” Or that despair we’re talking about, it feels so anxiety-producing to think about the end of my life, the closing chapters of my life that they can’t enjoy it. That’s in despair.
Debra Maldonado 23:22
My Nana was like that, my dad’s mom, she was very depressed. She was 40 when she had my dad, so she was old, in her 80s, when we were kids. I remember her being sad, my mom would tell me that she sees us going on vacation, she couldn’t do all those things she did as a child, she had a lot of regrets, hated the aging, resenting it. She got really sick at the end, it was sad to watch. I never saw her really truly happy, where my other grandmother, who had nothing, not a dime to her name, was the happiest woman. She was out there every day, in the community until the day she died, she was living her life every moment. That’s what we want to do. We don’t want to waste away, we want to have this rich life. Every second of our life should feel meaningful, not in an extreme way all the time but feel like we’re meant to be here and we’re enjoying life and the little things, the beauty of life.
Robert Maldonado 24:30
Carl Jung got to live into his 80s, I think he was 85. But there’s some great interviews BBC did with him, live in his home towards the end of his life. You can see how alive, how joyful and passionate about the work he’s been doing. That’s how we want to live, we want to live to the very end, full of passion, full of curiosity, enjoying our life, there’s no reason why we can’t do that. But it requires us to be able to examine these aspects of our life and to ask questions “Did I fulfill that or is it still unresolved? Can I go back and somehow come to terms with these stages of development?”
Debra Maldonado 25:29
If you’re not in your 50s yet, I’d say that it’s really good to appreciate your life, whatever stage you’re at, whatever you’ve accomplished or haven’t accomplished yet, to be in gratitude for yourself, your life wherever it is. If you could practice that now, when you get older and can’t move as fast as you can, you have pains in your body because you’re aging, you can’t run a mile anymore, you’re not in despair, because you’ve cultivated that mind of gratitude, that mind of curiosity. You want to start that early before you reach that edge or that milestone, you’ll be more prepared.
Robert Maldonado 26:14
Most of our students are in their 20s to 50s, generativity versus self-absorption stage. It’s a great time to be a coach because it hits that mark that you’re taking care of other people, you live in a creative, meaningful way. Also in our process you’re looking at yourself, that self-inquiry element we teach and train our coaches in. It hits all these marks perfectly. The other thing is that Erik Erikson himself lived into his 90s, 92, he died in 1994, fairly recently. He left a great contribution, that’s why we are talking about him today. A great mind contributed to psychology, to coaching, to child development in incredible ways. We want to carry the work forward. We invite you to help us test these models and bring them up to date. Now people live longer, life is different. What are we going to do with all this technology?
Debra Maldonado 27:41
You don’t have to go get a master’s degree in psychology, you can be a coach and be able to help high-functioning people that just want to understand how their mind works. This isn’t pathology, we’re not treating anything, we’re just educating people on their mind in themselves and their inner world, helping them live a happier life. Life isn’t happy or dictated by the things they have in life. Happiness and life is dictated by the state of mind that that person’s in. You can be in terrible circumstances, but if you always can control your mind, you have freedom. To help others find that freedom is really a beautiful thing.
Robert Maldonado 28:29
Again, thank you, we invite you to our Facebook group.
Debra Maldonado 28:37
The Art and Science of Changing Lives with CreativeMind.
Robert Maldonado 28:40
We hope to see you there, and if not, we’ll see you next time on this podcast.
Debra Maldonado 28:45
With another great mind of psychology. Before we go, don’t forget to subscribe to our channel here on YouTube, or on the podcast service that you listen to. We’ll see you next week.