According to Erikson, healthy growth of the personality depends upon the successful resolution of eight stages in ego development throughout the lifespan (Frick, 1991). Each stage unfolds a biologically predetermined sequence in the interaction with social forces and the requirements of the culture, and each represents a critical period of transition in the healthy development of the ego and evolution of the personality.
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As one follows this epigenetic principle of maturation, the healthy resolution of a given stage of development depends in a large measure upon the strength of the foundation established in the earlier stages. Each stage becomes a crucial building block in the developmental process and ego functioning (Frick, 1991).
Essentially, Erikson formulated eight major stages of development, each one posing a unique task and simultaneously presenting the individual with a crisis that he must fight against. As employed by Erikson, a crisis is not a threat of a catastrophe, but a turning point, a crucial period of increased vulnerability and heightened potential. According to Erikson, there are eight basic stages of development.
The first one is “trust versus mistrust”. This is the first stage of human life. During this stage, children decide themselves whether trust or mistrust other people depending on their own early life experiences. “Autonomy versus shame and doubt” is the second stage. During this period, children begin to walk, crawl, climb and explore the surrounding world. A new conflict confronts them.
When parents are patient and cooperative, the children gain a sense of independence, and if the child is not encouraged, he or she develops a sense of shame and doubt. “Initiative versus guilt” is another stage. During this time, the repertoire of motor and mental abilities that children can master expands greatly.
Parents who give their children freedom in running, sliding, bike riding, skating and roughhousing allow them to develop initiative. Parents who curtail their children’s freedom or even forbid to undertake such activities make their kids feel a sense of guilt.
Industry vs. inferiority is the next stage which indicates that children should be given an opportunity to exercise their abilities at a tender age because without some of them, they will not able to grow and develop. Now, let us take a closer look at the stage “identity versus role confusion”.
As children grow, they try to gain an understanding of who they are and how they should come to that understanding. If this is not achieved, then they become confused and are not able to gain a sense of control in their lives. This stage is followed by the next one called “generativity versus stagnation”. During this stage, Erikson states that one seeks to reach out to other people’s concerns which are beyond a person.
Generativity entails selflessness while stagnation is a condition in which individuals are preoccupied with their material possessions or physical well being. Lastly, the stage of integrity versus despair comes. It is a common feature of the old age. At this stage, one takes stock of their years. Some people despair while the others are grateful for their lives.
Personality development as illustrated by Erikson is clearly captured in a motion picture titled Finding Forrester. This is a movie which is based on a story about a New York High school student by the name of Rob Brown who is stared by Jamal Wallace (Gines, 2009).
This is a teenager who is intelligent and talented. This teen finds himself with an acclaimed writer William Forester who develops a friendship with him after the teen sneaked into his office on a dare (Frick, 1991).
Jamal is a young man who left his neighborhood school after being recruited by New York Prep for Prep, a New York City program for the students who are gifted and talented. Jamal is a student who excels in mathematics and science. He is also a gifted basketball player. This movie brings to the fore the realities of black teenagers who hide their love of books, their dreams, and their brilliance in order to fit in with their peers (Gines, 2009).
A major lesson the movie addresses is that of the reciprocal relationship between the teacher and the student (Mckinnon, 2005). Too frequently, teachers forget that the word “teacher” and its definition would not exist if there were no students. In other words, teachers need students as much as students need teachers. Jamal Wallace entered the home of a recluse writer on a dare taken from his friends.
However, he ran in fear, leaving his book bag, when Forrester appeared (Mckinnon, 2005). At that point, Jamal’s life changed irrevocably. Forrester, a famous writer, whose first and the only published novel made the same impact as Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, finds Jamal’s notebooks in the boy’s bag and examines his work.
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Though Jamal leaves his book bag in Forrester’s home, Forrester critiques the notebooks and throws the book bag out the window with such comments as ‘constipated thinking’. Jamal is not amused. He realizes that he met someone who can help him to develop his writing skills, a person who is a true writer and an inquisitive mind. That is why, he runs towards Forrester rather than away from him.
Once Jamal enters Forrester’s apartment, Forrester’s life as a teacher is also irrevocably changed. While Jamal is fascinated with the walls of, perhaps, the first editions of the books that he has read, Forrester tests the intellectual, emotional and ambitious parameters of the young black male in whose works he has seen the signs of greatness.
One of Jamal’s first lessons is that he learns how to write with his heart and revise later with his mind.
At his new school, Jamal has two obvious foes,: a young basketball peer and a literature teacher. The first one does not like Jamal because the young man of obvious parentage does not want Jamal to identify with him. The literature teacher, Robert Crawford, does not also like the boy because he is a failure as a writer, lacking the genius reflected in Jamal’s work (Mckinnon, 2005).
Uniquely gifted, Jamal is as skillful at playing basketball as he is at writing and remembering lines from different books of various authors he has read.
The young light skinned basketball player, who is described by a young woman who befriends Jamal as someone who craves the limelight, reminds the still unstudied phenomenon of a single black professor teaching in a predominantly White department or university (Mckinnon, 2005).
The word “adolescent” comes from the Latin word meaning “growing up” or “coming to maturity”. In one way or the other, virtually, all the students of adolescence regard its ultimate challenge as the establishment of psychological and social identity (Cassel & Bernstein, 2007).
In facing this challenge, the adolescents struggle against decisions about who and what they are as men, women, romantic partners, workers and members of families, ethnic groups, organizations and other cultural institutions. Adolescence is considered to be just the beginning of a period lasting throughout adulthood during which each person must resolve four crises.
The first one deals with identity, which means to learn to choose values, vocations, beliefs, family, lifestyle, and gender roles. The second crisis touches intimacy, which is achieving closeness with a romantic partner. The third one is called generativity that is having children and/or finding meaningful work or the other productive activity.
The last crisis is considered to be integrity, which means to be able to look back on life with satisfaction. Although various psychological theories assume that most adolescents actually succeed to establish their psychosocial identities, today’s behavioral scientists recognize that few of them achieve nothing and are left alone without their place in the world.
Accordingly, many teenagers are no longer expected to make all their vocational, marital, and life style choices by the time they are 20. Of those who go to college, many graduate with a degree, but have little or no certainty about what to do with or about it and whether they have chosen the right career.
Identity confusion including indecisiveness about what to do with one’s life can lead to many problems ranging from infrequent changes of romantic partners and job hopping to criminal behavior. Some of the choices teenagers make about how to spend their time can increase the likelihood of becoming involved in criminal activity.
This is especially true for those who enter adolescence burdened by the childhood risk factors for criminal behavior. They include poverty, weak conscience, poor moral values, contacts with criminal or drug abusing family members; low self esteem; school failure, poor social skills, parental abuse and/or neglect, bad conduct and/or attention deficit disorders, and early alcohol and drug abuse.
The more risk factors children experience, the greater the likelihood that they will engage in antisocial behavior and criminal acts as the adolescents and young adults. These risk factors can provide pathways to crime (Cassel & Bernstein, 2007). At this period, the character is going through a stage of identity vs. role confusion. Jamal comes from a background which is defined by lack of direction and despair.
The future is bleak for most of his peers, and seemingly, he trudges down that lane. However, he has a special talent and academic ability that gives him advantage over his fellow colleagues. Initially, Jamal does not seem to focus on his academics and possible future. However, his interaction with an author who spots his gift enables him to discover his potential and set his direction in life.
At this stage, the most important thing for a person like Jamal is to ensure that he has a role model who will guide him through the waves of life and enable him to excel in his area. From a counseling perspective, Jamal further needs career guidance so that he can be able to know which future career path will suit the skills and abilities which he bears best.
In addition, owing to the fact that this stage is largely characterized by peer influence, Jamal needs some intra and interpersonal skills to enable him to deal with the prevailing circumstances so that he can be able to withstand the challenges of peer influence. Essentially, there is a need to ensure that he has the ability to be assertive and set realistic and achievable goals.
What is identity? When does it form? What aspects of identity change over time? What features of identity remain the same over time? Can identity be ever lost? If so, can it be regained? How do early life experiences affect one’s later sense of identity? What roles do one’s family, friends, schools, places of work, houses of worship, and cultural values play in the development of identity?
These questions confirm one thing that identity is a complex entity that is to be defined accurately (Moshman, 2005). The need to define individual identity and show how identity leads one to find or not to find meaningful connections within a larger cultural milieu is common to all the pursuits.
Identity formation involves the emergence of a new, intra psychic structure. This new structure is more than the sum of previous childhood identifications rather than it is a configuration that now enables the holder to mediate rather than be mediated by these earlier identifications of childhood. Essentially, one might conclude that identity is present when other people’s opinions become something to reflect upon, rather than to live by.
There are several theories which have been fronted with regard to the development of identity. Key among these theories is Marcia’s theory of identity formation. Marcia’s approach is the concept of identity commitments. Mature identity, in his view, is a matter of having strong, self conscious, and self chosen commitments in matters such as a vocation, sexuality, religion, and political ideology.
Marcia suggested that individuals entering adolescence typically fall in one of the two categories. The identity diffused individual has no strong commitments and is not seeking any. Such individuals are satisfied to live day by day and simply see where life takes them. The foreclosed individual, by contrast, does have clear commitments.
Those commitments have been internalized from parents and other agents of culture; they are not self chosen, in that no alternatives have been seriously considered. It is possible for an individual in either of these identities to move into the other. As adolescence proceeds, a diffused individual may accept the ideas of those he is close to with regard to matters of vocation, sexuality, religion, and politics.
If these commitments become sufficiently strong, without being purposely chosen from a set of genuine alternatives, the individual now has a foreclosed identity.
Alternatively, a foreclosed individual may become increasingly dubious of his or her comments, yet have little or no interest in replacing these commitments with others. Such a decrease in concern with identity commitments would constitute a transition to identity diffusion.
It is possible, however, for an individual who is either foreclosed or identity diffused to move into an identity crisis, which Marcia referred to as a state of moratorium. For the foreclosed individual, this consists of questioning the specific commitments one has learned, seriously considering alternative possibilities and seeking to construct new commitments of one’s own.
For the diffused individual, although there are no current commitments to be displaced, the transition to moratorium also involves an active effort to consider possibilities and form central commitments. Regardless of how one gets there, moratorium is a state where one has no current identity commitments, but seeks to make such commitments.
Unlike identity diffusion and foreclosure, which may continue indefinitely, moratorium is a relatively unstable state. The individual is likely to resolve his or her own crisis in one or two ways. The positive outcome is to make commitments, thus leading to a state known as identity achieved.
The negative outcome is to give up the search for identity, thus becoming identity diffused. It is important to note that once one genuinely considers alternatives, foreclosing is no longer a possible status. One either makes commitments and becomes identity achieved or fails to do it and becomes identity diffused.
Based on Marcia’s analysis, Jamal is a teenager who is going through the motions of life as he tries to identify who he is and what he is capable of doing. This is based on a background which is characterized by uncertainty. At some point, he seems to be struggling with what life has to offer. Though he faces stiff competition, he is not dissuaded from pursuing his goal of playing basketball and writing.
This is based on the fact that he has been exposed to a person who enables to create an image of who the boy wants to be in future. Before Jamal bumps into Forrester’s life, he was not sure of what he wanted to become. This is characterized by the fact that he leaves his books behind upon being bumped into by Forrester. Furthermore, he decides to get involved in groups which do not seem to add any value to his life.
It is worth noting that at this age, Jamal shows the frustrations and emotions of being a normal New York black teenager. As he struggles against negative perceptions in his school, he trudges on until he makes room for himself.
This is a trait of a person who has moved from a state of lack of self understanding to a state when he is able to forgo some pleasures based on the fact that he understands what he is doing. In addition to this, Jamal’s character also impresses Forrester and makes him change his attitude towards being black.
Cassel, E., & Bernstein, D. A. (2007). Criminal behavior. New York: Routledge.
Frick, W. B. (1991). Personality theories: journeys into self : an experiential workbook. London: Teachers College Press.
Gines, A. (2009). Developmental Psychology. Florentino: Rex Bookstore, Inc.
Mckinnon, J. A. (2005). Black studies as human studies: critical essays and interviews. New York: SUNY Press.
Moshman, D. (2005). Adolescent psychological development: rationality, morality, and identity. New York: Routledge.