Older adults spend more time thinking and reflecting about their past than they use to. They also tend to be much less critical now of decisions made years ago then they do at that time. They often remember dreams they wanted and how close they may have come. Is this process of reflection something that older adults go through? This may be in response to retirement, the death of a spouse or close friends, or may simply result from changing social roles. According to Erikson (1982), a personality theorist who examined aging as a stage of development, this struggle comes about as older adults try to understand their lives in terms of the future of their family and community. As the older adult enters late life, they begin the struggle of integrity and despair, which is the process by which people try to make sense of their lives.
Thoughts of the older adults own death is harmonized by the understanding that they will live on through their extended family. Erikson calls this understanding a “life-affirming involvement” in the present. Within the integrity versus despair, older adults encounter a life review, the process by which older adults reflect on the events and experiences of their lifetime. The most important event at this stage is coming to accept one’s whole life and reflecting on that in a positive manner. Erikson believed that to achieve integrity, a person must come to terms with the choices and events that have made his or hers life unique, and accepting one’s life for what it is. He believed older adults that reached integrity become self-affirming and self-accepting, and they judge their lives to have been worthwhile and good. The adult feels a sense of fulfillment about life and accepts death as an unavoidable reality.
Those people who can look back on their lives with happiness and decide that they have lived a well rounded and fulfilling life will gain ego integrity and will not be fearful of death. “People develop ego integrity and accept their lives if they succeed, and develop a sense of wisdom a “detached concern with life itself in the face of death itself”(Erikon’s Psychosocial Stages of Development, 2009). If a person looks back on their life and remembers negative thoughts and dissatisfaction with life they will develop despair and experience a fearfulness and anxiousness about death. “Too much wisdom leads to presumption, too much despair to a disdain for life” (Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development, 2009). It has also been said that “children won’t fear life if their elders have enough integrity not to fear death.”(Psychological Theory- Erikson, 1995).
I think that Morrie Schwartz is a great example of Erikson’s integrity theory. Morrie’s basic core of integrity ran deep, more so than any one person. Morrie showed this when he commented on his own battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease “It was very important for me to make clear to myself that my body is only part of who I am. We are much greater than the sum of our physical parts. The way we look at the world is fashioned by our values and our thoughts about good and evil, things that go into making up who we are”.