Almost at the end of my series on Erik Erikson’s model of psychosocial development, today I am exploring the seventh stage, that of generativity or stagnation. Erikson suggests this is the core development for us in middle adulthood, which he suggested is the period from 40 to 65.
This development stage is all about contribution and caring. It’s about knowing that we are generating something, creating a legacy that will outlast and outgrow you, that there is meaning to your existence beyond yourself.
Generativity can be displayed in all sorts of ways. Parenting is perhaps the most obvious, but we can contribute beyond ourselves in friendships and in our communities, through mentoring, developing the next generation, intervening to make the world a better place and volunteering.
Stagnation occurs when we do not feel we are making a difference or find a way to contribute. This may result in a self-centredness, a lack of involvement or creation, and no interest in improving or developing as an individual. Unfortunately this way of being can reduce health and life satisfaction and impact the quality of our relationships.
Generativity arises out of our development through other, earlier themes of Erikson’s model. It calls for a sense of autonomy from which we can reach out and make a difference to others. It requires us to trust and to feel included, to be willing to give and go the extra mile for others. To be generative we need to show initiative and to feel a sense of mastery from our achievements, and to know we can make a difference and have an impact.
If you are feeling a sense of stagnation, reaching out to connect and contribute can be a powerful antidote. Where might you volunteer? Who might you mentor and help develop? What might you take on responsibility for? How might you make a difference?
Mid-life can sometimes be a time of regret, of looking back and forgetting to be present and active. If this is the case for you then consider how to re-engage anew, and if you feel talking about it would help, reach out for therapeutic support.