Resting vs. Regrowth: the Post Retirement Task
For the last 80 years, Erik Erickson, a psychological developmental theorist, has been relied upon to explain psychological and cognitive development of the human species. In other words, this developmental scientist, through his vast studies of individuals of different ages, found a way to explain why we think the way we think and why we do what we do. Erickson developed a set of 8 stages that he believed a person goes through from birth to death. According to Erickson’s theory, each age group has a task that they are accomplishing to resolve different life crisis. Finding new ways of thinking that resolve the crisis assists an individual to become a complete and successful individual.
This theory has assisted countless individuals in the fields of teaching, physical medicine and the behavioral sciences to understand changes throughout the lifespan. This theory has paved the way for a greater understanding of what we as humans work toward accomplishing.
Erickson did his research in the 1930’s and 1940’s. These contributions are still used today but other theorists have developed other ways of explaining human cognitive and psychological behavior. Much work has been done in understanding the stages between birth and middle adulthood. Understanding and explaining the changes in aging has not been as extensively studied.
In Erikson’s theory, the 8th stage of development and thus the developmental task of aging individuals is named “Integrity vs Despair”. Erickson theorized that persons 65+ years were in the stage of reflection, whereby an individual looks at his or her life and decides what he/she has contributed to the world. Through his review, a person could reflect on his life’s contribution. If one saw it as significant, he felt satisfied and positive whereas if an individual reflected on his life and felt he didn’t accomplish much, that person would fall into a state of regret and despair for what he believed he did not accomplish.
Although this theory still is accepted today, much has changed in the field of aging from the 1930’s and 1940’s. It is true that individuals enter a reflective period to assess their life contribution but there is a difference in looking at when that actual process begins. In the 1940’s the average life expectancy of males was 62 and females 67 with Afro-American males being 52 and AfroAmerican females being 55. It makes sense that Erickson would define his last stage of development as beginning at 65+ years in the 1940’s and talk about end of life reflection. However the world has changed drastically since the 1940’s. Knowledge of the aging process physically and cognitively has grown immensely. Medical science has made it possible to live to an ever advanced age. Socially, the world’s acceptance of the role of older individuals and their societal contributions have changed. Life expectancy in the United States today for women is 84 and men 80.
We now tend to view aging as not an end to life’s work, but rather a time to switch gears from, “What did I use to do?” before retirement, to “What do I want to try now?” in post-retirement. This has opened up a whole new way of viewing our life task at 65+ years.
Retirement is a time to explore other aspects of self as well as acknowledge the transition and gratitude for past work experiences. A friend once said that retirement is ”not something you move away from but rather something that you move to”. Age 65 can begin a new developmental stage in which one reopens himself and rediscovers a sense of excitement and regrowth, a movement toward creative exploration rather than reflection of accomplishments before end of life.
The stage of “Integrity vs. Despair” still occurs, but not until we have taken the opportunity to live life to its fullest during the retirement years.
McCleod, S. “Erik erickson’s stages of psychosocial development” updated 2018 Developmental Psychology (http://www. simply psychology .org/developmentalpsychology.html)/Erickson .
National Vital Statistics Reports, 1900-2000: Changes in life expectancy In united States., seniorliving.com. VOL. 49 N0. 12 “Deaths, preliminary data for 2000, US Census Bureau P23-190 Current Population Report: Special Studies 65+ in the United States”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Mental Health Practitioner
Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor
- Dorothy Molczyk, LMHP LADC, provides individual, family and group therapy at Wholeness Healing Center. She is experienced in serving children, adolescents and adults. Her areas of specialty include substance abuse/dependency, healing from traumatic events, recovering from loss, and behavior disorders in children and adolescents.
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