By Jennifer Murphy Hall, MAMFC, LPC
The other day one of my clients asked, “Why do we need to dwell in the past and talk about how I grew up?” It was a great question and one I have thought a lot about as a therapist, a mother and a follower of Christ. God is the author of our lives, and He allows us to be the co-author of our story. Because we live in a fallen world we accumulate baggage from childhood, relationships, circumstances, trauma and even everyday stresses.
I firmly believe that you cannot begin the process of changing your future outcomes until you identify and process (wrestle with) your past. I spend time with all my clients in understanding more about past life experiences and development. This assists in recognizing predispositions when making current decisions and how you can start to see real change. It is very rewarding for me to have the opportunity to walk along-side people and help them figure out this life we get to live.
Erik Erikson has a model that I often use called the Developmental Life-stages. He examined more than 1,000 families and looked at life from birth to 65 and beyond. His conclusion was segregating the below developmental life-stages broken down into more detail.
Infancy (Birth-18 months)– At this stage, we are completely dependent and helpless. The conflict of this stage is Trust vs. Mistrust.
Early Childhood (18 months-3 years)– At this point, our crisis shifts to Autonomy vs. Shame. This can be a fragile stage, particularly due to our attempt to master skills.
Play Age (3 - 6 years)– Our crisis shifts to Initiative vs. Guilt. While we develop creatively, we also develop cognitively and begin to develop reasoning and morality. Our struggle becomes balancing our curiosity and initiative without feeling too much guilt to progress.
School Age (6-12 years)– This stage of life is all about expansion of one’s social circle and beginning school. Cognitively, we are growing and learning new skills and we are making things, which is why this stage’s crisis is considered Industry vs. Inferiority.
Adolescence (12-18 years)– According to Erikson, this is the first stage in our development that is determined directly by what we do as opposed to what we have had done to us. The crisis in this phase is Identity vs. Role Confusion.
Young Adulthood (18-35 years)– At this stage of psychosocial development, a person begins to search for a partner. The struggle of this stage is Intimacy vs. Isolation. Our most significant relationships are with partners and friends in this stage.
Middle Adulthood (35-55 years)– Erikson believed that much of our lives are spent preparing for this stage. At this stage, work is most crucial to our lives and we tend to be concerned with productivity as well as personal growth. This struggle is known as Generativity vs. Self-absorption.
Late Adulthood (55-death)– This stage is one that Erikson believed was a recovery from middle adulthood. The struggle is Integrity vs. Despair. Generally, a person who can reflect on their life with satisfaction and contentedness will feel integrity, where a person who does not feel accomplished or feel that they have not contributed will feel despair at their own failure.
All of the above life-stages have a defined developmental requirement and each person has to define their own timing and way to cross each threshold with varying difficulties with each. One of the life stages that I deal with most is the adolescence. It can be the most difficult stage to accomplish because asking a pre-teen and teen to develop who they are in the mist of puberty (hormone) changes is extremely difficult. We can conclude from Erikson’s life stages that each stage of our life is vitally important and deepening on what we experience in this life. We cannot greatly affect our psychological/spiritual current outcomes unless we wrestle with and understand the implications of our past life-stage experiences.