Integrity Versus Despair Essay

Integrity versus despair is the eighth and final stage of Erik Erikson’s stage theory of psychosocial development. This stage begins at approximately age 65 and ends at death. Psychologists, counselors, and nurses today use the concepts of Erikson's stages when providing care for aging patients.

Erikson’s theory suggests that people pass through eight distinctive developmental stages as they grow and change through life.

While many developmental theories tend to focus purely on childhood events, Erikson was one of the few theorists to look at development across the entire course of the lifespan. He was also one of the first to view the aging process itself as part of human development.

At each stage of psychosocial development, people are faced with a crisis that acts as a turning point in development. Successfully resolving the crisis leads to developing a psychological virtue that contributes to overall psychological well-being. At the integrity versus despair stage, the key conflict centers on questioning whether or not the individual has led a meaningful, satisfying life.

An Overview of the Integrity vs. Despair Stage

  • Psychosocial Conflict: Integrity versus despair
  • Major Question: "Did I live a meaningful life?"
  • Basic Virtue: Wisdom
  • Important Event(s): Reflecting back on life

The integrity versus despair stage begins as the aging adult begins to tackle the problem of his or her mortality.

The onset of this stage is often triggered by life events such as retirement, the loss of a spouse, the loss of friends and acquaintances, facing a terminal illness, and other changes to major roles in life.

During this period, people reflect back on the life they have lived and come away with either a sense of fulfillment from a life well lived or a sense of regret and despair over a life misspent.

Successfully resolving the crisis at this stage leads to the development of what Erikson referred to as ego integrity. People are able to look back at their life with a sense of contentment and face the end of life with a sense of wisdom and no regrets. Erikson defined this wisdom as an "informed and detached concern with life itself even in the face of death itself."

Those who feel proud of their accomplishments will feel a sense of integrity. Successfully completing this phase means looking back with few regrets and a general feeling of satisfaction. These individuals will attain wisdom, even when confronting death.

Those who are unsuccessful during this phase will feel that their life has been wasted and will experience many regrets. The individual will be left with feelings of bitterness and despair.

An Example of the Integrity vs. Despair Stage

June just turned 65 and recently retired from her job as a school teacher. As she begins to reflect back on her life, she finds that she experiences both feelings of satisfaction as well as a few regrets. In addition to a career as a teacher that spanned over three decades, she also raised four children and has good relationships with all of her kids.

She feels proud of her years educating young children and being around her young grandchildren leaves her with a sense of pride.

On the other hand, her youngest daughter bounces from job to job and regularly has to ask June for financial assistance. June wonders at times if there is something she could have done to set her daughter on a better path. June also feels pangs of regret that she never pursued a graduate degree and moved into an administrative role.

Like most people, June looks back on her life and sees both the things she is proud of as well as the things she might regret. How she resolves this crisis determines whether she will achieve ego integrity or if she will be left only with feelings of despair.

While she realizes that there are some things she might have done differently if she had the chance, June feels an overall sense of pride and accomplishment in her life. She made valuable contributions to society, successfully raised a family and every time she thinks of her grandchildren she realizes that she has given something to the world that will ultimately outlast her.

As she faces the end of her life, June feels a sense of being complete and is able to look back and face what is ahead with a sense of wisdom and peace.


Erikson, E.H. (1982). The Life Cycle Completed. Norton, New York/London.

Giblin JC. Successful Aging. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services. 2011. doi:10.3928/02793695-20110208-01.

Perry TE, Hassevoort L, Ruggiano N, Shtompel N. Applying Erikson’s Wisdom to Self-Management Practices of Older Adults: Findings from Two Field Studies. Research on aging. 2015;37(3):253-274. doi:10.1177/0164027514527974.

Erik Erikson

Integrity V.S Despair

Is there a point in a human's’ life when developments stop, whether it be psychological, social or biological , or is it a process that is ever evolving and changing throughout one’s lifespan. For many years several theorist viewed development in the limited time span of one’s early formative years and not something that occurred over the duration of one’s life. Starting with the theorist Erik Erikson , development and the aging process within itself was examined over one entire lifespan and how these different stage of development plays a role in the individual's overall psychological well being and construct . Central to all stages of development is the resolution of some form of internal conflict and ultimately acceptance of the strive created by this conflict. In their research article , researchers , Rylands and Rickwood(2001) , one of the pivotal strengths to the development of the later life process of ego-integrity in aging adults is “acceptance”, acceptance of the past.

For mature aging adults this conflict (hence development) is triggered due the delegation of more free time (due to such factors as retirement) to deliberate and ponder about their life and their past . It is at this phase of their life that the aging adult either feels gratification for the ultimate outcome of their life has or despair at the goals and pursuits that has not come to fruition. “Mom” who is in what Erickson categorize as the eighth stage of her life cycle , like many other aging individuals she faces adversities related to the aging process such as : physical, social and psychological limitation. “Mom” has been fortunate enough to only experience a very miniscule effects of the aging process on her physical and cognitive abilities, she remain fiercely independent. According to researchers , Ryland and Rickwood(2001),Critical to acceptance in elderly adults is a strong social support,physical dependency and positive affectivity.

“Mom”, just as many other individuals in her age group , appears to be far less decisive now on choices that she has made years ago versus how she felt about these choices at that time. At times “ Mom” recalls aspirations that she had and how close she came to achieving them. This procedure of contemplation of one desires vs. their reality is central to Erickson theory of integrity vs. despair this process is pivotal in helping elderly individuals come to terms with their lives. In her research article , Helping the Elderly Person Resolve Integrity vs. Despair, Nancy Peachy(1992) states , “ when individuals have lived so fully that the prospect of personal death feels less important than the secure knowledge that they have built a future for their children and society. They have achieved some measure of ego integrity. Transcendence beyond despair becomes possible when the elderly are able to build and vicariously enjoy a future that they will not personally see(1992)”.

“ Mom” recalls fondly her role as a mother and vital her role as a mother is to not only her identity but how she determined her legacy, her pride is that she is a good mother and she raised well rounded children, ensuring that her future generation in theory should be raised well. In the aging individual according to Erikson, there is an internal response which occurs to the many different changes that the aging individual faces ie., retirement, the death of a spouse , and the change of one’s social roles. There comes a equilibrium which occurs in the elderly individual , where there own impending deaths is viewed through the understanding that they will live on through their extended family (Kezel and Fariba 2004).

Erikson categorizes this discernment as a “life-affirming involvement” to the current moments. Within the integrity versus despair schema, older adults view their lives in review. This process by which the aging adults reflects upon the series and experiences of their lifetime in a positive view they are on there way to achieving Ego Integrity.In a study conducted by Kezel and Fariba (2004) which examined the key difference between Ego Integrity v.s Ego Despair ,is the role of one support systems. For “ Mom” , she has become in someone who deeply in-sync with her family, they have become her social anchor with regular visit from them has created a sense of contentment with her life .

According to Kezel and Fariba(2004), “the most important event at this stage is coming to accept one’s whole life and to view their lifespan in a positive light. In order to achieve integrity, the individual must come to terms with the choices and events that have made his or hers life unique, and accepting one’s life for what it is”. A crucial variable to Erickson , final stage of development is the judgment that the individual's life has been worthwhile and good. It is very evident in speaking to “ Mom” that she has achieve on some level Ego Integrity, this is evident in such simple decision not to remarry, after her husband she was content and fulfilled with the life that they had shared together in return content with her life.

When the individual gains a sense of fulfillment about the life that they have life and accepts whatever shortcoming they life has had and ultimately that death is an unavoidable part of reality they can gain peace. Those people who can look back on their lives with happiness and decide that they have lived a well rounded and fulfilling life will gain ego integrity and will not be fearful of death. "People develop ego integrity and accept their lives if they succeed, and develop a sense of wisdom a "detached concern with life itself in the face of death itself"(Erikon's Psychosocial Stages of Development, 2009).

Erickson Critique

Erikson's model of biopsychosocial development is by far the most well defined, in depth , complete theoretical development concept, in its exploration of the individual's entire lifespan this is a strength that is unique Erikson's theoretical perspective. There is a level of complexity to Erikson's stages of psychological development but inherently there remains a level of accessibility. This is due to the fact that Erikson's eight stages of development is something that everyone will ultimately go through even though their day to day experiences may differ. One critique of Erikson’s theory would be that, there is an emphasis


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