Reflections on Aging: Erikson's Theory of Integrity in Older Adults

As individuals traverse the later stages of life, they often find themselves engrossed in contemplation, reflecting on their past with a depth and frequency that surpasses their earlier years. This heightened introspection is accompanied by a notable shift in the evaluation of past decisions, with older adults displaying a remarkable level of acceptance and understanding. Erik Erikson, a prominent personality theorist, delves into the intricacies of aging as a developmental stage, shedding light on the process of reflection that older adults undergo.

This essay explores Erikson's theory of integrity and despair, examining how this stage unfolds in response to life events such as retirement, loss of a loved one, or shifting social roles.

Erikson's Perspective on Late Adulthood

Erikson, in his theoretical framework, delineates the later stage of adulthood as a period characterized by the struggle between integrity and despair. This existential struggle is intricately linked to the older adult's attempt to comprehend their life journey in the context of their family and community's future.

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Retirement, the passing of a spouse or close friends, and evolving societal roles act as catalysts for this internal conflict, prompting a profound examination of one's life choices.

Within the integrity versus despair dichotomy, older adults engage in a pivotal process known as life review. This process entails a reflective examination of the events and experiences that have shaped their lifetime. Erikson posits that the key to achieving integrity lies in coming to terms with the entirety of one's life, embracing both the triumphs and tribulations.

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By accepting one's unique life narrative, individuals pave the way for self-affirmation and self-acceptance, crucial components of attaining integrity.

Embracing Ego Integrity: A Life-Affirming Involvement

The contemplation of one's mortality becomes intertwined with the realization that one's legacy will endure through the extended family. Erikson terms this understanding as a "life-affirming involvement" in the present. Ego integrity, according to Erikson, emerges when an individual achieves a harmonious synthesis of their life experiences, viewing them through a positive lens. Those who reach this stage of integrity tend to exhibit a sense of fulfillment and acceptance, embracing death as an inevitable part of the human experience.

Ego integrity, when attained, instills a sense of wisdom characterized by a "detached concern with life itself in the face of death." This perspective, Erikson contends, is the culmination of a successful journey through the various stages of life. It suggests a deep understanding of life's complexities and an ability to confront mortality without succumbing to fear or anxiety. In contrast, those who grapple with dissatisfaction and negative reflections on their life may develop despair, leading to a fearful apprehension of death.

Morrie Schwartz: A Living Manifestation of Integrity

A compelling exemplar of Erikson's integrity theory is Morrie Schwartz, whose life and reflections mirror the essence of the late adulthood stage. Morrie, despite battling Lou Gehrig's disease, demonstrated an unparalleled core of integrity. His profound statement, "We are much greater than the sum of our physical parts," encapsulates the essence of ego integrity. Morrie's perspective transcends the physical constraints of his illness, emphasizing the importance of values and thoughts in shaping one's identity.

As Morrie contemplates his own mortality, he underscores the significance of personal values and philosophical outlook in defining one's essence. His wisdom and acceptance of life's impermanence showcase a deep understanding of integrity, reinforcing Erikson's contention that a well-lived life leads to a peaceful acceptance of death. Morrie becomes a living testament to the idea that embracing one's unique life narrative fosters a sense of fulfillment, rendering the fear of death inconsequential.

Conclusion: The Essence of a Well-Lived Life

In conclusion, Erikson's theory of integrity and despair provides a valuable framework for understanding the complex interplay between reflection and aging in late adulthood. The existential struggle faced by older adults as they confront their past decisions and impending mortality offers profound insights into the human experience. Ego integrity, marked by self-affirmation and acceptance, stands as a testament to a life well lived. Through the lens of Morrie Schwartz, we witness the embodiment of this theory, reinforcing the idea that a thoughtful reflection on life leads to a harmonious acceptance of death.

Updated: Dec 01, 2023
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Reflections on Aging: Erikson's Theory of Integrity in Older Adults. (2016, Jun 07). Retrieved from

Reflections on Aging: Erikson's Theory of Integrity in Older Adults essay
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