Generativity vs. Stagnation

Part Seven of Eight of a Spiritual Look at
Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development

“Success is the progressive realization of worthwhile, predetermined, personal goals.” ~Paul J. Meyer

“Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation… even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind. “
~Leonardo da Vinci

According to Erikson’s psychosocial development theory, the 7th stage focus’ on the dynamic between Generativity vs. Stagnation and occurs during the approximate age range of 40-65. We start to consider whether we’ve contributed anything meaningful to the world and done anything worthwhile with our life. In addition, the impact we’ve had on those we love becomes magnified and any amends we wish to make might likely happen during this stage. Therefore and understandably, this stage’s virtue is caring.

As all of Erikson’s stages beautifully demonstrate, this is not merely a depiction of the human animals growth pattern but the maturing and emerging of the individual soul according to Spirit’s plan. Spirit always has a plan and soul always has a purpose. During this stage is where these flowers flourish, wilt or remain stagnant. Whichever occurs has some seeds based on the previous stages. Each stage has a level of health that might indicate a more pronounced growth in spirit or in ego. If the growth has been more defined in the ego structure due to survival needs, then the virtue of caring get lost in ruthless ambition instead.

At this stage we are cultivating our adult life and if we are doing so with a sense of spirituality then we are including and valuing intimate relationships, including a relationship with spirit and our service in the world as the most important aspects of this stage. Life expands beyond self-centeredness and includes a larger circle of concern.

However in order to truly be caring and cater to our service in the world and our intimate relationships, we must be coming from a healthy sense of self. Spiritual and emotional healing and self-care of our physical body can assist tremendously in “filling our cup” in order to give to others. If we are giving from an “empty cup” we are in jeopardy of martyring ourselves, becoming resentful and angry and lay the groundwork for an explosive meltdown.

I personally know this to be true. With two small children and a husband to care for in addition to running a business and nurturing my own dreams of writing and healing work, I often “burn the candle at both ends” If I don’t get sufficient rest, exercise, eat properly, meditate or express my honest feelings to my loved ones, it builds up and I’m grumpy, impatient, tired and prone to depression. When I do take care of myself, taking care of all of that is not only manageable, it brings me great joy!

Therefore, becoming a caring individual that has positive impact in the world requires a commitment to ourselves and to self-care. This commitment goes beyond a narcissistic approach to vanity. Such a regimen never considers others except for what they think of YOU. This is where the use of spiritual practice becomes of utmost importance. It is why self help books, therapists, spiritual leaders/gurus, and motivational speakers are sought after sometimes in desperation. People know there is something missing, something off but don’t know what it is. We are confused, particularly Americans, on how to cultivate self-worth and purpose without being narcissistic and need reminders on how to center that need in spiritual truth.

If we only maintain a superficial, narcissistic ambition at this stage, we most definitely will have negative impact on those around us whether they are family or co-workers considered rivals. We see the media littered with stories of dedicated service gone badly due to corruption, money and power. I, for one, believe most people get involved in public service for the right reasons but lose sight of the reasons as they go along due to disillusionment, discouragement or just plain weakness. This is why staying connected with our soul’s purpose and our spirituality is the only answer to keep our sense of purpose grounded in truth and love.

Quoted from the works of Erickson, here are the central themes of focus during this stage in order to achieve the virtue of CARING:

a) Express love through more than sexual contacts.
b) Maintain healthy life patterns.
c) Develop a sense of unity with mate.
d) Help growing and grown children to be responsible adults.
e) Relinquish central role in lives of grown children.
f) Accept children’s mates and friends.
g) Create a comfortable home.
h) Be proud of accomplishments of self and mate/spouse.
i) Reverse roles with aging parents.
j) Achieve mature, civic and social responsibility.
k) Adjust to physical changes of middle age.
l) Use leisure time creatively.
m) Love for mothers

Some suggestions to maintain a high vibration of spirituality for these central themes:

a) Helping others for the purpose of service and caring. For instance, bringing a meal for a sick friend, offering a ride to the airport, lending a sympathetic ear to a friend going through turmoil such as a divorce, a friendly “check in” call.

b) Eat healthy, exercise, reduce or eliminate vices and/or addictions, walk in nature, go to church, meditate, get massages.

c) Maintain intimacy in partnership through rituals, conversation, considerate acts, compromise and laughter.

d) Discontinue doing one or two things for your children, no matter what age, that they can do for themselves. For young children, perhaps they can now make their own lunch. For grown children, don’t pay their rent; let them come up with their own solution.

e) Stop checking on your children, offering unsolicited advice and judging them for their life choices. If they aren’t hurting anybody, accept and let go. It will be liberating. If you are worried, pray for them instead.

f) No one is perfect. Chances are you could find something wrong with just about any mate your children choose. Find several things you like about them instead.

g) Create a sacred space by working on your home as a work of art. Perhaps a garden, a meditation room, pleasing colored paints, flowers, special decorations with meaning, alters, etc.

h) Acknowledge with pride but not arrogance your contribution to the world, your family, your spouse, yourself and God. Bragging and acknowledging are two separate things. Own your value and be an example. You will inspire!

i) Nurture and care for your aging parents. Visit them, bring them food, bring them comfy clothes and provide them with things that might make their life easier. Get appropriate care for them if necessary. And….listen to their wishes. Don’t treat them like children. They are wise elders who have something to offer. You may have to do some inner child healing work to accomplish this but it will be well worth it.

j) Be of service to something you are passionate about whether paid or volunteer. Do you love animals, the arts, children, nature? Do you have a passion for assisting with dilemmas such as human trafficking, poverty, domestic abuse, AIDS? Get involved and watch your personal problems shrink.

k) Accepting the aging process is very difficult for the ego. What about you do you like that has nothing to do with your age? Remember that your spirit has no age. What is within you is timeless and ageless. Remind yourself of that often and notice it in others. Also mourn what once was and stay in the present by surrounding yourself with like-minded people.

l) Follow creative passions you perhaps never had time for: painting, sculpting, writing, etc. You can also meditate, work on a mandala, go on a spiritual retreat or just talk to God in your garden.

m) Forgive your mother. Forgive your mistakes as a mother. Celebrate the mothers in your life. Their contributions can never be measured and never be matched. They CAN be appreciated.

Whether offering service and teaching to your own children, your community, or the world at large, there is no doubt human nature is designed to be of service. Our spiritual purpose is biologically programmed into our DNA, the physical piece of God within us. When we don’t offer such teaching or service our lives are empty, we become ill, incapacitated, agitated, angry and despairing.

Our existence on this planet is not just one of ambition and materialistic gain, it is of meaningful relationships and that includes providing our love, compassion and assistance to not only those closest to us but any and all people we come in contact with to the best of our ability. We don’t have to be perfect we just have to have helpful intentions that are not solely self-centered. This includes compromising our owns wants and needs and sometimes “going with the flow” even if it is not how we’d normally do something if we were alone.

I always say, “if we were meant to be alone on the planet, then we WOULD be”. We are social, we are compassionate and we are spiritual, first and foremost. We don’t have to develop the virtue of caring through these stages; we just have to remember that’s who we are.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah S. February 26, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Hi, I enjoyed this reading about stage 7, generativity verses stagnation. I have to write a paper on this and found your list aboves as quoted from the works of Erikson very helpful. I was wondering if you could tell me how you found that list? Is it out of one of his books or is it from an article you read? I would like to use it in my essay but I need to put references as to where it came from. I don’t know if you can help but I though it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Thanks


Sherri O June 28, 2012 at 1:31 am

Thanks for a great read! I originally read this looking for examples of generativity vs stagnation but got so much more! I appreciate your perspective on self care of the whole person. I often overlook self while being of service or either get so self involved til I’m no good for anyone. Thanks for helping me in my search for balance!!!


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