What are the stages of social development in adulthood that impact our personalities and make us the people we are? Let’s find out…
The transition of a child to an adolescent and then to an adult is accompanied by a lot of changes in the personal, physical, emotional, and social domain. Grappling with these changes can be quite taxing. After all, everything cannot be taught; certain things are learned through experience. It is only when exposed to such social situations that various individuals attain various experiences and develop into unique adults. While there is no specific manner in which an adult may acquire certain behaviors that guide her/his conduct in the social domain, there are certain theories that suggest the stages of social development in adulthood, that most individuals go through. A prominent theory is that of Erik Erikson, a well-known psychologist, who has proposed the psychosocial theory of development. According to him, there are very specific stages of social development that an individual goes through in his transition from an adolescent to a young adult, a middle-aged adult, and then an old adult.
Fidelity: Identity vs. Role Confusion
The transition from a child to an adolescent is defined by the search of an individual identity, and the perception of oneself in relation to society. Adolescents often find themselves asking questions such as ‘who am I and where am I going?’
This stage creates a certain amount of confusion regarding one’s expected role as they grow older.
At a stage where they are allowed to make certain decisions on their own, adolescents are likely to start experimenting with their behavior and may engage in activities that help them discover their roles and identities.
This is a stage marked by what Erikson called the Identity Crisis.
Adolescents may also face conflict with adults and those in society as they develop unique ideologies regarding various domains.
They are also required to make career choices that may have to deal with interference from adults.
These choices may be completely personal or based on adult and societal views. As such, the teenager has to make a choice that has been colored by varied perceptions.
These radical changes are further heightened by the physical changes that adolescents undergo due to puberty. They tend to perceive the world to be a hostile place to live in, and their selves are challenged by this development.
Adolescents also discover their sexual identity at this age and are willing to explore areas that will help them discover their sexuality.
Finally, this stage is also marked by the need for adolescents to ‘fit in’ to a particular norm or type due to peer pressure, in the process of discovering themselves.
Love: Intimacy vs. Isolation
Certain traits of the previous stage continue into this stage as these young adults try to fit into the roles they desire or are seeking to fit into.
This is a stage where young adults seek partners but also fear rejection (and an attack on their egos), which is when they tend to start feeling isolated.
Their main fears revolve around their doubts about ever being wanted by someone, or that they may have to spend their lives alone.
During the middle years of this stage, however, young adults are keen on meeting people and establishing a solid group of friends as well as a network that will boost their careers.
It is also during these years that young adults more or less find their identities and are willing to enter committed relationships. It is, however, important to note that in today’s day and time, the age at which people actually enter committed relationships and get married is much later than what was established when Erikson proposed this theory.
Once identities have been established, marriage and close relationships are entered into, and emotional bonds develop that can ask for sacrifices and other demands.
In some cases, in spite of finding their identities, young adults may not be able to develop long-lasting committed relationships, leading to a sense of isolation from society.
Care: Generativity vs. Stagnation
The biggest social contribution of an adult in this stage is to help the growth and development of the subsequent generation.
This is done by starting and raising a family, which then leads to a sense of accomplishment.
If this stage lacks this aspect of growth an adult is likely to feel inactive and inconsequential.
It is during this stage that adults experience their children leaving homes thereby causing a sense of emptiness and leading to what is known as the mid-life crisis.
At this time, changes are sought, which may also involve changes in career or the choice of a new direction such as towards spirituality.
Significant relationships are developed within the family and the community.
Not being able to fulfill the aforementioned desired aspects of this stage (generativity) may cause stagnation.
Wisdom: Ego vs. Despair
This stage is marked by a considerable reduction in productivity and is when a person enters the retirement phase.
In this stage, adults tend to look back upon their lives to figure whether they have indeed led a successful life. If so, a feeling of contentment and what Erikson called integrity prevails on the adult.
This reflection, if not positive, leads to a state of despair where nothing can be done to turn back time and change. It can also be marked by regrets.
A prominent aspect of this stage is also the fear of death, which contributes to the hopelessness that becomes apparent at this stage.
An adult’s values at this stage are set and firm, and nothing can change the thought process or the perception with which she/he now views the world.
It is important to note that this proposed theory by Erik Erikson is generic and that every individual may have different experiences in childhood that will mark their journey into, and experiences of social development into adulthood. As such, the process of social development is different for each individual, and it is not necessary that you be able to identify with every stage mentioned here.