Integrity vs Despair: 10 Examples (Erikson’s 8th Stage)

integrity vs despair examples and definition

Integrity vs despair is the eighth and final stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, occurring during late adulthood, typically beginning around 65 years old.

This stage is marked by individuals reflecting on their lives and evaluating the meaning and purpose of their existence.

According to Erikson’s psychosocial development, individuals who have effectively gone through the seven preceding stages are likely to possess a profound sense of integrity in this stage.

These people view their life experiences as meaningful and feel a sense of satisfaction, insightfulness, and acceptance towards the end of life.

They have an overall feeling of completeness despite physical or mental aging issues that may arise.

Conversely, individuals who have not been successful in their progression through previous psychosocial phases might face feelings of hopelessness at this step. They may feel ineffective, regretful, and disconnected from the world.

Overview of Integrity vs Despair Stage

Integrity vs despair is the eighth and final stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. It typically occurs during late adulthood, from the age of 65 and onward (Erikson, 1963).

At this stage, individuals are faced with the task of looking back on their lives and reflecting on the extent to which they have achieved a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

According to Erikson, the central conflict is between integrity and despair.

So, the main question asked is:

“Did I live a meaningful life?”

(Erikson, 1963)

Individuals who have successfully navigated previous developmental stages and have achieved a sense of identity, purpose, and intimacy are more likely to develop a sense of integrity during this stage.

They feel a sense of pride and contentment in their life’s achievements, accept the inevitability of death, and are able to face it with dignity.

Conversely, those who have suffered traumatic life events or gone through difficulty in the early stages of development may experience intense feelings of helplessness and hopelessness (Erikson, 1963).

They may perceive their lives to be failures, that they haven’t accomplished anything meaningful or realized their full potential.

The basic virtue of this phase is wisdom, which reflects the accumulation of knowledge and experience throughout life. Wisdom is a combination of reflection and acceptance, which should be acquired to reach this phase (Orenstein & Lewis, 2021).

Besides, an important event that can take place during this stage is reflecting back on one’s life and accomplishments. It enables individuals to gain insight into their successes and failures, achievements and disappointments, to gain wisdom.

10 Integrity vs Despair Examples

  • A retired individual reflects on their life and feels a sense of satisfaction and contentment, believing they have lived a good life and positively impacted others.
  • An older adult reflects on their life and witnesses the undeniable growth they have experienced, they are overwhelmed with a sensation of accomplishment and bliss.
  • A senior citizen looks back on their life with fondness, they can’t help but feel grateful for the hardships and proud of all their accomplishments. Their reflection is filled with humility and grace, as these experiences have shaped them into who they are today.
  • Even though their mental faculties may be waning, a person with dementia can still remain connected to the world and savor moments of joy, love, and appreciation while reflecting on their life.
  • An elderly person who did not connect with their family members during their years can now look back on that period with regret and a wish for a second chance. Such a person develops a sense of despair from not achieving the fulfillment they had hoped for.
  • An individual who has experienced significant loss and adversity in their life but has found a way to integrate those experiences into a sense of wisdom and acceptance.
  • As senior citizens are nearing the end of their lives, they find comfort in looking at photos and memories of the people they love. In addition, they can take pride in their accomplishments and their impact on others.
  • A person who has been unsuccessful in their career may feel a deep sense of guilt or inadequacy as they or reflect on their life. If they cannot accept their shortcomings and find positive points, they may remain in despair.
  • An elderly person who actively seeks to pass on their knowledge and wisdom to younger generations, recognizing the importance of legacy and continuity.
  • Someone who has lost their physical or mental abilities and cannot do the things they used to enjoy may feel a sense of despair since they no longer feel capable or valuable.

Factors Causing Individuals to Succeed at Integrity vs Despair Stage

Healthy relationships, meaningful work, forgiveness, contributions to society, and a positive attitude can all help individuals succeed in the integrity vs despair stage (Erikson, 1963).

Here are detailed factors that contribute to a successful outcome in the integrity vs despair stage:

  • Healthy Relationships: Having supportive relationships with family, friends, and community can provide a sense of purpose, belonging, and fulfillment in later life. If individuals have built and maintained good relationships throughout their lives, they will be more likely to enter the integrity vs despair stage with a feeling of satisfaction.
  • Meaningful Work: Engaging in meaningful work or hobbies can provide seniors with a sense of accomplishment and pride. Whether they are retired or still working, finding opportunities to improve the world can foster feelings of satisfaction and success.
  • Forgiveness: Letting go of past grievances and forgiving oneself and others can lead to a greater sense of peace and integrity. Being able to accept one’s own mistakes and having the strength to forgive others will provide a feeling of unity and completion.
  • Contributions to Society: Becoming involved in community activities, giving back to others, and making a lasting impact on society can create positive meaning in later life. Knowing that one has left the world in a better state than it was before brings a feeling of pride and purpose.
  • Positive Attitude: Adopting a positive attitude towards life and viewing it as an opportunity to learn and grow can lead to a sense of happiness and success. Keeping an open mind, accepting the present moment, and looking forward to the future can provide a feeling of satisfaction and completion in later life.

Integrity vs Despair Positive Outcomes

The success of developing integrity has several positive consequences for individuals, such as a sense of accomplishment, increased self-awareness, better mental health, a greater sense of purpose, and enhanced relationships.

Successfully completing the integrity vs despair stage can give individuals a sense of accomplishment as they look back on their lives and feel a sense of pride in the way they have lived (Perry et al., 2015).

Moreover, through a thorough examination of their lives and by being truthful with themselves regarding past experiences, those who have gained integrity may gain heightened self-awareness as well as an improved comprehension of their identity.

By making peace with prior conflicts and accepting their history, those who have fostered a sense of integrity may discover enhanced mental health and revitalized emotional balance (Chen et al., 2021).

Furthermore, developing integrity can help individuals find a greater sense of purpose in life as they identify the values and beliefs that are most important to them and strive to live following those principles.

Finally, successfully developing integrity can also lead to improved relationships with others, as individuals may be more open and honest in their interactions and better able to communicate their thoughts and feelings (Westerhof et al., 2017).

Factors Causing Individuals to Fail at Integrity vs Despair Stage

Lack of meaningful relationships and accomplishment, illness or disability, isolation, mental health issues, and difficulty with self-awareness can all contribute to an individual’s failure in the integrity vs despair stage (Erikson, 1963).

  • Lack of Meaningful Eelationships and Accomplishment: Individuals who have not established meaningful relationships or achieved personal accomplishments may struggle with feelings of worthlessness and find it difficult to reflect positively on their lives.
  • Illness or Disability: Physical or mental health conditions can limit an individual’s ability to engage in activities that promote a sense of purpose or connection, which can lead to feelings of despair.
  • Isolation: Being isolated from family and friends can lead to feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, hindering an individual’s ability to reflect positively on their life.
  • Mental Health Issues: When experiencing mental health difficulties, such as depression or anxiety, it may be hard to view one’s life in a constructive light and create an internal sense of integrity.
  • Difficulty with Self-Awareness: People who battle inner reflection may struggle to recognize their successes, define their values and build a sense of self-integrity. If individuals are unable to gain insight into their lives, it will be hard to look back on life and feel satisfied.

Integrity vs Despair Negative Outcomes

The consequences of failing to develop integrity during the later stages of life can result in feelings of despair, regret, and dissatisfaction, which can lead to a sense of hopelessness and a negative outlook on life. 

At this point in life, feelings of despair can manifest as a low mood, hopelessness, melancholy, and an overwhelming sense of worthlessness – the same symptoms accompanying depression (Westerhof et al., 2017).

As a result, individuals may become withdrawn from life and experience strained relationships with family and friends. They may struggle to find meaning in life and cannot identify any source of joy or happiness.

Moreover, individuals who fail to develop a sense of integrity may remain stuck in a cycle of negative thinking, rumination, and self-destructive behavior, leading to further emotional distress and mental health issues (Westerhof et al., 2017).

Those who view their life with disappointment are usually preoccupied with contemplating the missteps they have made and sorrow for their life’s path. In extreme cases, such thoughts may lead to suicidal ideation.

Other Stages in Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory

StageAge RangeKey QuestionDescription
Trust vs. MistrustInfancy (0-18 months)“Can I trust the people around me?”The child develops a sense of trust in their caregivers if their needs are consistently met, or they develop mistrust if their needs are not met.
Autonomy vs. Shame and DoubtEarly Childhood (1-3 years)“Can I do things myself, or am I reliant on the help of others?”The child develops a sense of autonomy and control over their environment, or they develop shame and doubt about their abilities.
Initiative vs. GuiltPreschool (3-6 years)“Am I good or bad?”The child learns to take initiative and plan activities, or they feel guilty and anxious about their actions.
Industry vs. InferiorityChildhood (6-12 years)“How can I be good?”The child learns to feel competent and confident in their abilities through school, sports, and other activities, or they feel inferior and incompetent.
Identity vs. Role ConfusionAdolescence (12-18 years)“Who am I?”The teenager explores and develops their personal identity, or they experience confusion and uncertainty about their role in society.
Intimacy vs. IsolationYoung Adulthood (18-40 years)“Will I be loved, or will I be alone?”The young adult forms close relationships with others, or they experience feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Generativity vs. StagnationMiddle Adulthood (40-65 years)“How can I contribute to the world?”The adult develops a sense of purpose and meaning in life through work, family, and community involvement, or they feel stagnant and unproductive.
Integrity vs. DespairLate Adulthood (65+ years)“Did I live a meaningful life?”The older adult reflects on their life and experiences a sense of fulfillment and acceptance, or they feel despair and regret over missed opportunities.

Conclusion

Integrity vs despair is the final stage in Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, occurring during late adulthood, from the age of 65 and onwards. Individuals in this stage reflect on their life and evaluate their meaning and purpose. 

Erikson’s theory suggests that individuals who have effectively gone through the preceding seven stages are likely to possess a profound sense of integrity in this stage. 

On the other hand, individuals who have not successfully progressed through the previous stages may feel hopeless in this stage. 

The basic virtue of this stage is wisdom, which is acquired through reflection and acceptance of one’s life experiences. 

A successful outcome in the integrity vs despair stage can be achieved through healthy relationships, meaningful work, forgiveness, societal contributions, and a positive attitude. 

References

Chen, P.-Y., Ho, W.-C., Lo, C., & Yeh, T.-P. (2021). Predicting ego integrity using prior ego development stages for older adults in the community. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health18(18), 9490. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18189490

Erikson, E. H. (1963). Childhood and society. Vintage Digital.

Orenstein, G. A., & Lewis, L. (2021). Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556096/

Perry, T. E., Ruggiano, N., Shtompel, N., & Hassevoort, L. (2015). Applying Erikson’s wisdom to self-management practices of older adults. Research on Aging37(3), 253–274. https://doi.org/10.1177/0164027514527974

Westerhof, G. J., Bohlmeijer, E. T., & McAdams, D. P. (2017). The relation of ego integrity and despair to personality traits and mental health. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences72(3), gbv062. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbv062

Viktoriya Sus

Viktoriya Sus (MA)

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Viktoriya Sus is an academic writer specializing mainly in economics and business from Ukraine. She holds a Master’s degree in International Business from Lviv National University and has more than 6 years of experience writing for different clients. Viktoriya is passionate about researching the latest trends in economics and business. However, she also loves to explore different topics such as psychology, philosophy, and more.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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