Hillary Clinton is a well-known political figure, with many contradictions in her personality. This difficult Democratic primary election process has revealed interesting features of her personality, from her strong, resolute character, reflected in her perseverance despite political challenges, to her vulnerability, which she has shown in several moments, like that well-publicized tearful scene in the New Hampshire primary, in front of all the cameras. I chose Erikson’s theory of personality to help explain the development of Hillary Clinton’s personality.
Erikson proposes that an individual develops her personality by passing through various life stages, each marked by a specific area of conflict. Hence, I will apply Erikson’s stages to Hillary Clinton’s personality development and life events. Erikson’s first life stage is trust versus mistrust, followed by the second stage of autonomy versus shame and doubt. During Hillary’s infancy and early childhood, Hillary was born into a supportive family with a strong religious background. Her parents nurtured her emotional development. In such a supportive environment, her personality flourished, as she found her caregivers and family caring and reliable. Independence and self-reliance were encouraged at an early age in Hillary’s family.
Erikson’s third stage is the conflict of initiative versus guilt. Early in her childhood, Hillary was encouraged by her parents to be assertive. Personal drive was strongly encouraged, as she excelled early in school, and as she was encouraged to stand up for her rights. One popular incident was illustrated by Hillary’s mother when one time, Hillary came home crying because she was being bullied. After a long talk with her mother, Hillary came back to school, and punched her bully.
Erikson’s fourth stage of industry versus inferiority is a major period of success for Hillary Clinton. From the time of her early childhood to high school, she excels in school, graduating first in her class. Hillary develops a strong feeling of purpose and self-worth, which carries forward her ambitions later in life. Her sense of industry and accomplishment are further validated by her academic achievement in Wellesley College and Yale University.
Erikson’s fifth stage of identity versus role confusion is often matched to an individual’s teenage years, but this stage covers many events in Hillary’s personality development, extending beyond her teenage years. Hillary’s parents allowed her to gain her own voice. She was encouraged to break free beyond the traditional female roles of her time, to pursue higher education and a career.
Her political leanings radically changed, as she left her earlier registration in the Young Republican party, to join the Democratic Party. In her valedictory speech at Wellesley College, she embraced the strong sentiment against the Vietnam War and full support for the civil rights movement. Like many members of her generation that time, Hillary tried to find her identity in the turbulent society of the 1960’s. The sixth stage of Erikson corresponds to an individual finding love, in a struggle of finding intimacy versus isolation. As a law student at Yale University, Hillary met her husband, Bill Clinton. While Bill Clinton’s infidelity will challenge this relationship, the relationship between Hillary and Bill Clinton is a true partnership.
Despite the proposals of cynics that Hillary stuck with Bill Clinton because of his political connections, many sources still acknowledge that the love between Hillary and Bill Clinton has been genuine. This family unit, also built around their sole daughter Chelsea Clinton, has helped the Clintons weather political turmoil. Erikson’s seventh stage of generativity versus stagnation is a major question that keeps recurring in Hillary Clinton’s life. Hillary Clinton has worked hard on her legacy, and continues to do so. During her husband’s administration, Hillary took up active roles in formulating government policy, including an attempt at health care reform, far beyond the traditional roles of a First Lady. Not content after Bill Clinton left the White House; Hillary Clinton decided to pursue her own ambitions by running for the Senate.
Finally, as she attempts to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary strives to make history as America’s first female president. Perhaps, it is this driving force to leave a legacy which is the source of Hillary Clinton’s tenacity during the Democratic primary. The final stage of Erikson’s life development, involving ego identity versus despair, is an open chapter in Hillary’s life. If she fails to secure her lifelong dream of becoming the first American female president, will her personality turn to despair?
Or instead – will she instead be satisfied with her family and her political accomplishments? Time will decide how Hillary’s personality development will unfold. In summary, Erikson’s life stages of development offer a useful framework for understanding Hillary Clinton’s motivations and personality development. The various conflicts in Erikson’s theory highlight the life of Hillary Clinton, who faced many challenges to reach her current unique position of success and historical significance.