Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Letter E - ERIKSON, ERIK H.

Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

5. Identity Versus Confusion (adolescent age). As adolescents develop the cognitive ability to think of infinite hypothetical possibilities, society requires that they learn to fill specific adult roles. These two changes are synchronized in an adolescent's psychosocial task of achieving a sense of identity and working out what he or she should do with their lives. Achieving a favorable balance of identity over identity confusion, according to Erikson, leads to the strength of fidelity-a sense of commitment to a self-chosen value system and the capacity to maintain loyalties freely made in spite of the unavoidable contradictions of value systems. Identity formation often socially takes the form of a search for a political, religious, or moral ideology that provides a durable set of values on which an inner coherence can be based.

Conversion experiences often characterize religious development during this stage. Such experiences answer the question, "Who am I in relation to God?" and shift religious ideas to the center of the person's identity.

Each of the childhood and adolescent developmental stages and resulting virtues are reworked during the subsequent three stages of adulthood:

6. Intimacy Versus Isolation (young adulthood). For example, as young adults move to Stage 6, balancing intimacy versus isolation gives rise to the virtue of love. Those who lack a clear sense of their identity will find it difficult to realize an intimate relationship because they fear losing "who they are" as they fuse long-term relationships.

7. Generativity Versus Stagnation (middle adulthood). Adults at Stage 7, generativity, avoid excessive personal stagnation by creating and caring for the next generation. By parenting, mentoring, volunteering, and creating, they achieve the strength of care. Generative teachers of religious traditions support development through a genuine sense of concern and care. Generative adults take on the responsibility of the life cycle by bringing children through the first five stages of their lives.

8. Integrity Versus Despair (older adulthood). At Stage 8, which characterizes old age, the person's attainment of a greater ratio of integrity over isolation gives rise to the final strength of wisdom. A religious community's mature oldest adults often serve as wise elders, contributing to the stability of a congregation.


The concept of identity was central to Erikson's work. He coined the term, identity crisis, which became a prominent concept in adolescent studies. This crisis involves a renegotiating of one's values, as they are oriented around other individuals and society at large. Erikson's notion of identity is always framed by social values and norms. Each person's ethnicity, gender, physical characteristics, and social class all affect a young person's sense of identity.

As each person renegotiates his or her values in relation to society, personal religious affiliations and spiritual development are deeply affected. Erikson's essay on Jesus' teachings and his major work on Martin Luther both showed the way in which religious beliefs and actions are developed through the identity development of the individual. According to Erikson, Jesus' sayings in Galilee were spoken as he struggled through establishing his own sense of "I." He renegotiated the values of his given religion by reframing God as "Abba"-not a revengeful distant judge, but a gentle caring parent. With his strength of autonomy, Jesus reframed the notion of care to include all of humanity. Luther, suffering from a severe crisis of meaning and identity in the youthful years, used his autonomy and initiative to speak out against a religious tradition with which he could not identify. He trusted his faith in God and his own moral voice to break with the conventional values. In renegotiating his values and working out his identity, Luther enabled a society to speak out during its own crisis of meaning and identity. Just as Jesus' views on his identity spurred his society to a new religious identity, so were Luther's views the impetus for his generation's reformation.


Erikson's life-cycle approach to personality development, particularly his charting of psychosocial and ethical development, is evidence of his own generativity. Erikson's writings also developed, over the years, an insightful understanding of the importance of religion for supporting development during each period of the life cycle. Further, the model has strong appeal to the virtue orientation of religious traditions.

Erikson also showed how the life cycle of an individual and the life history of a society are held together by generative adults and religious communities, which provide the necessary developmental conditions for the next generation.