Ego Integrity vs Despair | Erikson's Psychosocial Development Theory

Sasha Blakeley, Natalie Boyd
  • Author
    Sasha Blakeley

    Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University and a TEFL certification. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for seven years.

  • Instructor
    Natalie Boyd

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

What is ego integrity vs despair? The Erikson ego integrity definition and criticisms of Erikson's theory provide insight into human psychosocial development. Updated: 04/08/2021

Table of Contents


What is Ego Integrity vs. Despair?

What is ego integrity and despair? Erik Erikson (1902-1994) was a German-American psychologist who developed the theory of ego integrity vs. despair to describe a particular psychological pattern found among older adults. Erikson believed that people at different stages of life are likely to experience similar and relatively predictable psychological conflicts and that the conflict of ego integrity vs. despair is one of those conflicts.

In those entering late adulthood, Erikson argued, there is a tendency to reflect on one's life and choices and to respond to those memories with either a sense of pride and satisfaction or a sense of despair. The ego integrity definition includes those individuals who feel a sense of peace and happiness with the choices they have made in their lives, while those who cannot reach ego integrity typically fall into despair. Erikson proposed ways for individuals to attain greater ego integrity with a variety of thought experiments and actions. One of the main elements of ego integrity, according to Erikson, is the establishment of ego differentiation, meaning the creation of identity that is not related to a career or to child-rearing. This is particularly important for older adults.

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Erik Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development

Erikson ego integrity and despair theory is actually just one part of a broader concept of psychosocial states of development. Erikson argued that in all people, there are eight points of life in which particular psychological states arise. In each of these states, either a positive or a negative outcome can be reached depending on a person's individual circumstances and approach to each new challenge. The states are as follows:

  1. Trust vs. Mistrust: This is a state that lasts from birth until 18 months in which infants must learn to trust or mistrust their caregivers based on whether they receive the care that they need.
  2. Autonomy vs. Shame: Between 18 months and 3 years, children either develop increased independence and personal skills or develop poor self-esteem and a sense of shame and doubt surrounding their abilities.
  3. Initiative vs. Guilt: Children aged 3 to 5 learn to play with other children, develop social skills, and ask a lot of questions. They will either experience success in these endeavors (leading to confidence and initiative) or they will have their efforts stymied, leading to guilt.
  4. Industry vs. Inferiority: Between the ages of 5 and 12, children spend much of their time in school and typically develop a sense of self, rooted either in industry and academic and social success, or in inferiority if their efforts are not successful.
  5. Identity vs. Role Confusion: From 12 to 18, adolescents are trying to find their place in the world and develop a sense of identity. Failure to form a coherent identity can lead to role confusion and a lack of ability to create a meaningful future.
  6. Intimacy vs. Isolation: The longest stage, this lasts from 18 to 40. It is the psychosocial challenge of forming meaningful and intimate connections with others; those who fail in this stage tend to experience isolation.
  7. Generativity vs. Stagnation: From 40 to 65, Erikson argues that people need to feel that they are leaving their mark on the world (generativity) and not falling behind (stagnation).
  8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair: This final stage occurs from the ages of 65 onward and can be one of the most challenging steps to conquer. It also involves accepting death as a necessary reality.

Someone who has already had successful outcomes in most or all of the previous seven stages may have an easier time attaining ego integrity, though the process will be different for everyone.

What Are Some Examples?

Understanding the conflict of ego integrity vs despair can be easier with some concrete examples. First, consider an individual who succeeds in experiencing ego integrity, and then someone who falls into despair. Each example can help elucidate the concept in greater detail. While the individual circumstances of a person's life are important when it comes to overcoming psychosocial challenges, Erikson's theory also leaves a lot of room for people to experience ego integrity or despair depending on their personal approach to their own lives.

Example of Ego Integrity

Ego integrity means a clear sense of self and an acceptance of life experiences
Ego integrity is the last of the eight stages

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