Prior to entering the adult world it is well that the adolescent achieve a sense of what Erik Erikson titled Identity: a sense of one’s own self, a sense that one’s values, politics, passions, and taste in music are one’s own and not one’s parents. Only then can the young adult move on the next stage of life, Intimacy, and forge close reciprocal emotional bonds with a mate.
The task of living with another person in an interdependent, reciprocal, committed, and contented fashion for a decade or more often seems neither desirable nor possible to the young adult. Initially this task involves expanding one’s sense of self to include another person.
Mastery of this task involves expanding one’s personal identity to assume a social identity within the world of work. On a desert island one can have a hobby, but not a career; for careers involve other people. Individuals with severe personality disorder often manifest a lifelong inability to work.
Mastery of the fourth task involves the demonstration of a clear capacity to unselfishly guide the next generation. It reflects the capacity to give the self – finally completed through mastery of the first three tasks of adult development – away.
Keeper of the Meaning
Mastery of this fifth task is epitomized by the role of the wise judge. Again, Erikson obliquely refers to the importance of this task, but in his writing he assigned parts of the task to Generativity and parts to Integrity.
This is the last of life’s great tasks. Erikson described Integrity as “an experience which conveys some world order and spiritual sense. No matter how dearly paid for, it is the acceptance of one’s one and only life cycle as something that had to be and that, by necessity, permitted of no substitutions.”
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