Developmental Crises

Certain transitional periods throughout one’s life can be experienced as a crisis. As expanded upon by Erikson in his eight stages of psychosocial development, these transitions can be problematic and painful and impact all genders.  Very often during these crises we are required to give up cherished notions and old ways of doing or looking at things. These milestones can demand a lot, including letting go or giving up what we’ve outgrown.  Because this process can be excruciating, many may cling to their old patterns of thinking and behaving.  However, these crises are developmentally essential, and provide an opportunity to noticeably grow and to experience the joyful sense of rebirth that accompanies the successful transition into greater maturity.

Although, developmental milestones occur throughout the lifespan, three prominent crises are:

Quarter-life

The Quarter-life crisis is a relatively new construct in developmental psychology. In short, it is a period of significant unrest, angst, and frustration on the path to long term satisfaction.

From the time we enter kindergarten to the approximate age of eighteen we are generally in some form of educational environment. From the age of 17 or so to approximately 23 we are trying to gain entrance into the adult world. During these initial steps, we may be involved in activities such as serving in the military, working, attending higher educational institutions, or traveling. After some time spent in the period of young adulthood, it’s not uncommon to begin asking deeper questions about our true fulfillment and long-term happiness as a mature adult member of society.  This can be a life-changing phase; one in which we begin to differentiate ourselves. This time period is focused on long-term joy and can lead to a shift in career or substantial life change.

Mid-life

This is a period in which individuals become more aware of their own mortality. They may feel a general sense of confusion about the direction of their life and sincerely question past life choices. For many, the aging of parents, the unexpected death of a friend, the loss of job status, the empty nest, changes in appearance, or illness all conspire to assault the denial of mortality and time passing. The reality of this can cause significant difficulties coping.  Because of the challenges inherit in mid-life, some may regress to early stages of development, feel depressed or lost, or display unusual behavior.  Additionally, midlife demands a re-consideration of what has been and often a confused sense of what comes next; it can be a time of ambiguity, redirection, and experimentation. Furthermore, developmental crises at this stage of life often include significant others, friends, and children in the equation, thereby creating interpersonal shifts along the way. The task at this stage is to integrate and re-define oneself in ways that are congruent with the next life chapter.  Many who come devastated, confused, and bereft by the break-up of a marriage, loss of a parent, or personal hardship in midlife find ways to slowly integrate these types of losses and re-define themselves and their future in ways they would never have imagined previously.

Retirement

One of the final stages of development occurs in later adulthood (age 60 years and older). Erikson proposes that this stage begins when the individual experiences his/her inevitable mortality. This may be in response to retirement, the death of a spouse or close friends, or may simply result from changing social roles. No matter what the cause, this sense of mortality precipitates the final life crisis. The final life crisis manifests itself as a review of one’s life and career. During this stage, individuals often review their life to determine if it was a success or failure and become focused on legacy and age-defying relevance. This reminiscence or introspection is a crucial part of this process and can be most productive when experienced with significant others.  Peace and Integrity are the results of the positive resolution of this final life crisis, and when this stage is successfully navigated, the quality that emerges is greater peace and wisdom.  However, like the other crises, this developmental milestone requires a lot; including resolution of one’s fear of death, a sense that life is too short and working through potential grief and depression.