Ego Integrity vs. Despair

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  • 0:02 Late Adulthood
  • 0:47 Ego Integrity vs. Despair
  • 2:55 Ego Integrity Tasks
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

During late adulthood, many people reflect on their lives. In this lesson, we'll examine the crisis of ego identity versus despair that people face in later life, including the three tasks that must be accomplished to reach ego identity.

Late Adulthood

Gia just turned 70, and it really made her think about her life. She's been going back through the important moments of her life and her accomplishments. She wonders if it's a life that she should be proud of or if there was more that she could have accomplished.

Gia is in late adulthood, or the time of life after age 65. During that time, many people begin to reflect back on their lives as they approach the end of it. For some, this reflection leads to satisfaction, but for others, this reflection can lead to negative feelings.

Let's look closer at a central conflict in late adulthood: 'Ego Integrity vs. Despair' and the three things that must be done to reach ego integrity.

Ego Integrity vs. Despair

Remember Gia? She's reflecting back on her life, and she's wondering whether to be happy or upset about her life's accomplishments.

Psychologist Erik Erikson formed a theory that at each stage of life, people face certain psychological conflicts. For each conflict, there are two possible outcomes: a positive one and a negative one.

In late adulthood, Erikson said that the central conflict is 'Ego Integrity vs. Despair,' which involves coming to terms with one's life. Like Gia, many older adults reflect back on their lives and what they managed to accomplished. Coming to terms with those things is the conflict that Erikson described.

On one hand, Gia is proud of some aspects of her life: she raised two kids and worked a job, too. That's something to be proud of! But, at the same time, Gia isn't sure about other parts of her life. For example, one of her children is a drug addict, and Gia wonders if that was her fault. She also never got promoted to a management position at work, so maybe she wasn't so good after all.

The way Gia resolves that conflict of pride and disappointment will determine how she resolves the conflict of ego identity and despair. On one hand, if she is able to find satisfaction with her life and achievements, she is likely to find ego integrity, or a feeling of being whole and complete.

On the other hand, if she's never satisfied with her life and feels like she's made many wrong decisions and doesn't have enough time left in life to correct her course, she will most likely end up in despair, seeped in regret and depression.

Of course, it's not an all-or-nothing enterprise. Gia can feel proud of some parts of her life and not as proud of others; everyone has things they're proud of and things they'd rather erase from their past. But Gia's overall feelings about her life are what dictate whether she ends up with ego integrity or in despair.

Ego Integrity Tasks

So how can Gia get to a place of satisfaction? Psychologist Robert Peck took Erikson's theory further, and proposed that there are three tasks that people must accomplish in order to end up in ego integrity.

1. Ego differentiation. Because most people spend 40 years or more in a career and 20 or more raising a family, many people have their identity locked up in those things. As people enter older adulthood, though, things change. Gia is now retired from her job, and her children are grown and don't need her as much.

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