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We Will Watch Ourselves

June 10, 2011

Erik Erikson is famous in part for his work on the stages of development.  He believed there are pivotal junctures in each person’s life that need to be appropriately dealt with in order to live a healthy life.  He concluded that if any one stage is not successfully completed during the appropriate age that it would peak its little nasty head up as problematic behavior in adulthood.

When I look at Erikson’s work I gravitate toward his work on guilt, shame, and stagnation.  Those are most typical in my life and in the lives of my clients.  Yet, after a couple days at Don Miller’s Storyline Conference my eyes have been drawn to the latter stages, something more relevant to the baby boomers than to somebody like me.  The last stage of development is where Ego Integrity battles Despair and this just might be the most difficult crisis to face.  Erikson basically stated that we as humans do all the prep work early on for the production of our middle years and at the end of our lives we will fall on either the side of enjoying the lives we led or despairing over what we see.

There was a line from the conference that really stuck with me.  Miller stated that we are all characters in our own stories and that what we do and where we do it, is important.  He told us about a time when he was offered money under the table and was tempted to take it but decided against it because he didn’t want that kind of scene in his story.  After he said that I felt hope and fear simultaneously.  On one end, we have the ability to create a good story.  But on the other, it’s so scary to know there is no delete button.  No matter how much money we pocket, it is impossible to hire true editors to omit scenes and situations from our story.   Each day is written with a Sharpie and forever it will stay.

Erikson’s last stage is really about sitting back with some popcorn and Hot Tamales (good combo) and watching your own story from start to finish.  It’s the time in your development where life is too fast, technology has out-paced you and you just want a comfortable chair and air conditioning. It’s the perfect place and time where you sit back and reflect on your story lived out.  You look back and see the scenes you forgot about, the scenes that you love, and the scenes that you have tried to forget.  We will watch ourselves.  And Erikson’s stage of Ego Strength vs. Despair is defined by how you feel coming out of that movie theater.

If you have the privilege of growing old and watching your own story, how will you feel looking back on your current self?   Are you setting yourself up for despair or satisfaction?  Mind you, this despair and satisfaction have little to do with circumstances and everything to do with dealing with the pain in your life and pursuing what is good in life.

Live within the tensions of today and go after what you want despite the obstacles.  It means toward the end you won’t fall asleep watching your own story, unless it’s after 6pm.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 2, 2011 6:31 pm

    “The last stage of development is where Ego Integrity battles Despair and this just might be the most difficult crisis to face.”

    In conducting milieu therapy with seniors who have dementia, I’ve born witness to this last task. The grace and acceptance with which these people have accepted their path is humbling and thought-proviking. Americans are both youth-obsessed and aging.

    How, I wonder, will the next generation of elders (the boomers) handle this paradox?

  2. July 14, 2011 10:33 pm

    I bet you have amazing insight doing that work!

    I really like what you said about Americans being both youth obsessed and aging- I saw a woman in her late 60’s on the plane the other day reading ‘Best and Worst Beach Bodies” from People Magazine. Not trying to judge but there was something off about it.

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