AdultsErikson’s Psychosocial Theory of Development: Young Adults
The young adult has numerous stresses placed upon them through the route of
development. Erikson has theorised developmental stages of growth into tasks. Of
Eriksons’ theoretical tasks, one task describes the theory of intimacy versus
isolation. This task theory can be examined using the normative crisis model.
The knowledge of developmental tasks of the young adult can be beneficial to the
nurse especially associated with their ability to relate to the young adult.
One of the stages in life is the young adult, which suggests significant changes
and an increase of responsibility. This stage of development is described as
between twenty and forty years, where “…the potential for furtherance of
intellectual, emotional and even physical development occurs”. (Gething, 1995,
p.377). As people age the progress of the developmental stages can differ, so
they have formulated to assess the progression by using two principal crisis
models. The first, are the normative crisis model and the second includes the
timing of events crisis model. The normative crisis model has been powerful in
shaping the psychology of the developmental stages as it has allowed theorists
to imply that stages of development can follow an age related time sequence.
The normative crisis model suggests that human development has a built in
ground plan in which crisis as describe by Erikson are seen as a requirement
that must be resolved by the person before successful progression from one
developmental stage to another. Such achievement of this task crisis should
provide the young adult with the ability to challenge previous ideas held by the
adolescent about intimacy and isolation. This model is adapted for progression
of the tasks to follow the chronological age of the adult, while the related
social and emotional changes progress through a sequence that Erikson
characterises in to eight specific crisis tasks over the life span. (Kozier, erb,
blais & wilkinson, 1995.).
The second crisis model depends upon the timing of events and is not dependant
upon resolution of crisis or a ground plan, but stresses the importance of each
event that occur in the young adults life. Life events that proceed as expected
will encourage development, where as life events that are unexpected can result
in anxiety and a slow progression of development. (Gething, 1995.).
The young adult according to Erikson’s theory of personality should be
progressing through the psychosocial crisis of intimacy versus isolation. The
tasks for this stage of life consist of courting and selecting a “mate”,
marriage and associated choices, e.g. children and monogamous relationship,
career choices and lifestyle changes and furthering intellectual abilities to
accommodate choices. (Turner ; Helms, 1987.). Some of the personal abilities
that the young adult must employ include decision making, career planing,
understanding nature of increased responsibility and being able to accommodate
greater demands of self.
Erikson’s theory describes the crisis of the young adults developmental stage
being intimacy versus isolation. This indicates the maturity of psychosocial
development from the prior stage of crisis of adolescence. Erikson’s theory has
been adapted and modified from Freud’s psychosocial theory to incorporate the
entire life span, defining eight crises each with various tasks. (Kozier, et al
1995). Erikson believes that “…the greater the task achievement, the healthier
the personality of the person”, (Kozier, et al, 1995, P.572.) thus suggesting
from his theory that failure to achieve these tasks, will result in the
inability to proceed to the next task or crisis. Erikson believed that failure
to achieve any given task could lead to a detrimental effect on the ego.
(Rapoport & Rapoport, 1980.)
One of the tasks of the theory of intimacy versus isolation, relates to courting
and selecting a mate for marriage. Courting usually starts prior to this
developmental stage and may continue for an undesignated period. The
continuation of courtship is entirely reliant on the individual but the
development of issues such as independence and sharing associated within a
serious relationship should be initiated. A result of this task achievement
should be that the individual has developed or learned skills that are essential
to relationships, e.g. sacrifice, compromise and commitment. This task is
considered a major issue that helps the individual to conclude their own
feelings on intimacy with another. (Gething, 1995.).
The union of marriage is dependant on the partners involved as to the reason to
extend a long-term relationship to marriage. Some reasons for marriage can
consist of a long-term commitment to sharing, companionship, monogamous
relationship and a desire to start a family. These characteristics symbolise
dedication, expression and development of the individual’s identity. Marriage is
an opportunity to overcome Erikson’s negative theory of isolation and to
continue through intimacy in a positive manner. (Turner & Helms, 1987).
These issues of marriage and courtship indicate a sense of achievement between
identity and intimacy as Erikson stresses it is important as “…before one can
achieve intimacy, it is essential to have a sense of identity, which should be
achieved in adolescence” (Gething, 1995, P.401). As this sense of identity and
intimacy develop the young adult should also be generating their own sense of
moral values and ethics related to relationships. (Gething, 1995,P.401). Erikson
also considers marriage a mark of an adult and constantly refers to the
developmental importance of identity. With marriage, a change in “normal”
lifestyle occurs, leading to greater demands, responsibilities and development
of identity. (Gething, 1995.).
The changes in a lifestyle from an adolescent to a young adult lead to
adjustment of situations, e.g. living arrangements, change of school to a
career/job and coping abilities, e.g. financial responsibilities. The
establishment of this new identity can be stressful and demanding on the young
adult. These new changes require a considerable degree of maturity, which
Erikson believes will promote physical and psychological achievement. One change
in lifestyle leads to a new task, career preparation. This is an important part
of a positive aspect of identity that plays a major role in individual
development. (Rapoport, 1980).
Career preparation and achievement assist the individual to achieve further
personal and developmental goals. The ability to maintain a job gives the young
adult financial independence and they are now at a stage where they can relate
establishment of themselves as a worthwhile and significant person to their
choice of careers. (Turner & Helms, 1987.).
Career development fuses with many other facts of adult life. Erikson believes
the gender of a person affects the eventual career that the young adult, the
abilities, interest and personality will also play a role in the choice of
career. The consequences of career choice are often voluntarily but can be
forced upon for any number of reasons, e.g. parental advice. (Gething, 1995.).
The young adults choice in career gives identity, self-respect, pride, values
and ideas about the world. According to Erikson this gives the individual a
healthier personality if they achieve set goals. The young adults first choice
of career may not be the best choice, “…young adults are less satisfied with
their jobs, and are more likely to change later in life”. (Rapoport & Rapoport,
1980, P.393). In this task the young adult discovers that work is a consequence
of life, and is bound tight with their ego and self-image. Erikson expresses
that if they are not successful with this task, the ego will be affected.
The nurse uses this information and knowledge about the young adult’s
developmental tasks to assess the domains of health. These domains can include
physical, psychological and emotional and then intervene according to the
positive and negative aspects of their health. Assessing and intervention is for
the well being of the young adult. To maintain the autonomy and sense of
achievement of the young adult the nurse should suggest positive alternatives as
appropriate. Erikson describes the development of depression, anger and failure
or delay of intimacy as a result of dysfunctional development. (Gething, 1995).
As the nurse can assist with advice and positive encouragement, he or she must
also accept the decision made by the young adult, “…assisting with necessary
adjustments relating to health.”(Kozier, Erb et al, 1995, P.843).
The young adult period is marked with many changes to the life of a person. The
decision related to career paths, development of relationships with peers and
romantic relationships all places a lot of pressure on young adults. Erikson’s
psychosocial theory of development describes intimacy versus isolation to be the
major issue for the young adult in personality development for the person in the
twenty to forty years age ranges. In the tasks of this stage the young adult
must resolve the issues to achieve growth and pass on to the next stage of
development. The nurse should posses the ability to asses the development of the
young adult and appropriately provide support and encouragement.