Wednesday, November 2, 2011

3 Approaches for Life Stages in Men’s Life

One winter's day, during a severe storm, a horse, an ox, and a dog came and begged for shelter in the house of a man. He readily admitted them, and, as they were cold and wet, he lit a fire for their comfort; and he put oats before the horse, and hay before the ox, while he fed the dog with the remains of his own dinner. When the storm abated, and they were about to depart, they determined to show their gratitude in the following way. They divided the life of man among them, and each endowed one part of it with the qualities which were peculiarly his own. The horse took youth, and hence young men are high mettled and impatient of restraint; the ox took middle age, and accordingly men in middle life are steady and hard working; while the dog took old age, which is the reason why old men are so often peevish and ill tempered, and, like dogs, attached chiefly to those who look to their comfort, while they are disposed to snap at those who are unfamiliar or distasteful to them (Aesop).

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There are multiple theories, trying to apply the psychological approaches to the life of the man, dividing the entire life period into several stages, which can be characterized by the particular period of the personal development. In this post, we would like to review several theories of the man’s life staging. Why that may be important? When you see your life as complex of the unrelated random events, some - happy, another – sad, you may lose the global perspectives and general direction. As in all journeys, the map, even rough and schematic, may help you to navigate through the problems, misfortunes, and personal mistakes, you may fall in, and may help to get a feeling of the life purpose and values.

Some people find the core in religion, other – in taking care of their offspring, or in their carrier. But time comes, when religion does not give answers to your questions, your kids are leaving the house, and do not need you anymore, and retirement is inevitable in the near future. That is a period of life, when many people revise their views and beliefs, that is a period of time, when your medical problems may scream for relief, that is a time, when families fall apart after long-term seemingly healthy marriage.

Remember, you are not alone. Your problems and concerns might look unique to you, and they partially are. But ask any therapist, and you will be surprise how similar are people’s stories, problems, and worries. Try to understand what is going on now, and what will be happening with you soon, and you will be able to prepare yourself as much as possible for the future, and be able to enjoy your life regardless of the stressful life events on your way.

Season’s of Man’s Life (Daniel Levinson)

In his classic book, The Season's of a Man's Life (1985), Daniel J. Levinson outlines a series of development stages which he feels are universal to the life experience of all men.  The stages are outlined in the slide below.

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He argues than men go through major life phases.  Within these phases are times of stability, generally lasting about 6-10 years and transitional periods which may last about 4-5 years.  The primary task of every stable period is to build a life structure, to make key choices, form a structure around them and to pursue goals and values within this structure.  This may be a tranquil or stressful times as options are weighed and choices made.  A transitional period terminates existing life structures and creates the possibility for a new one.  "The primary tasks of every transition period are to question and reappraise the existing structure, to explore the various possibilities for change in self and world, and to move toward a commitment to crucial choices that form a basis for a new life structure in the ensuing stable period."

As men complete a development phase called "settling down", they enter into a life period which Levinson calls "Becoming One's Own Man" (age 36-39).  A man becomes a senior member in his own world, he speaks with his own voice, and he has a greater measure of authority.  He carries the burden of greater responsibilities and pressures.  He gives up more of the "little boy within".  Hopefully, he fulfills his "Dream."   Many men do not complete this settling down in terms which are satisfactory to them.  They do not achieve their "Dream", they find themselves trapped in dead end occupations, their marriages are no longer the Hollywood fantasy of perfection and they enter into Mid-life with unresolved developmental issues. 

Others, while quite successful in their lives, still struggle with the new developmental tasks of mid-life since this is perfectly normal.  He will still ask "what have I done with my life?  What do I really get from and give to my wife, family friends, etc.?"  He yearns for a life in which his actual desires, values, talents and aspirations can be expressed (and often he doesn't know what they are).  Much of this developmental turmoil may be "below the surface" since many men are only marginally aware of their own disquietude and/or do not communicate what is really happening to others.  However, it breaks through in strange ways and behaviors-- often being precipitated by acute crises or events in his life.  Since clinical depression is a common hallmark of repressed anger, ambivalence, and unresolved inner turmoil, a typical characteristic of this time in a man's life is depression which clinically appears far differently in man than women.

A man has several major tasks to work on during this transition. Awareness of this by others may provide one tool for assistance so that this transition is not too destructive. He must terminate early adulthood.  He has to review and reappraise this era of his life. He often has to discover who he really is-- not the "self" of social expectations, parental scripts, corporate environments, etc.  He may begin to modify negative elements of his existing life structure.  This may require experimentation and even failures until the redefinition is clear.
He has to deal with the polarities of his life.  There are:
·         Young/Old--the mid-life male is caught between poles.   "Young" symbolizes birth, growth, possibility, initiation, openness, energy, and potential.  "Old" symbolizes termination, fruition, stability, completion, and death.  Young can be heroic, fragile, and impulsive.  Old can be senile, tyrannical, and unconnected.  The task of mid-life is to reintegrate these poles-- to seek new energy for creation but with wisdom and balance.  One of the major problems here can be the inappropriate "quest for immortality" and all the destructiveness this can lead to.  Another aspect of this polarity is man's quest for a "Legacy"-- what he passes on to the next generation. This may take the form of satisfaction from children, work with charitable organizations, mentoring, recognition for professional work etc.
·         Destruction/Creation--as a man reviews his life, he becomes aware of how destructiveness everywhere inhibits creativity.  He needs to understand the destructiveness in his own life..  He needs to take responsibility for his own destructive capabilities.  He needs to resolve issues of guilt, ambivalence, old anger, and grief over lost opportunities.  A man's new creativity in middle adulthood comes in part with the relationship with his own destructiveness and from intensification of the loving, life-affirming aspects of self.
·         Masculine/Feminine--these polarities-- strength vs. weakness
·         Attachment/Separation-- to be attached is to be engaged, involved, rooted, plugged in.  To be separated is to be more deeply involved in one's inner world.  Separateness promotes creative adaptation and inner growth.  During the mid-life transition, men need to reduce their heavy involvement in the external world.    To do the work of re-appraisal and disillusionment,   he must turn inward.  As he leaves the dependencies of his earlier life (and this may be a very negative and destructive act), he forms a more universal sense of good and evil driven by his own newly emerging values as opposed to that of the community.  He strives to find a better balance between needs of self and needs of society.  With increased self caring and self awareness comes self development and integrity.

Levinson states that as the mid-life transition begins to resolve and reintegration of the Self occurs, that the man effects changes in three components of the life structure:
·         The "Dream"--this symbolizes youth, omnipotence, illusion, inspiration, and heroic drama.  At mid-life, this imagery needs to be modulated and the conflicts engendered by this resolved.
·         Mentoring--As the man gives up the "Dream", so he also gives up being mentored, He must accept the loss and disappointment of being ejected from the youthful generation.  He much become the mentor and derive satisfaction from furthering the development of younger men and women--facilitating their efforts to form and live out their own Dreams.  Mentoring involves altruism, self-rejuvenation, and creativity.   The hazards of inappropriate control, exploitation, jealousy, and excessive involvement are well known.
·         Marriage--A man may come to recognize that his marriage was flawed from the start.   As he comes to know himself better, he comes to know his wife as a real person.    He needs to either recommitment to his marriage on new terms and, in doing that, accept some responsibility for his own motivation and character or enter into a new primary relationship.  Obviously issues with the Young/Old polarity create major problems here.

The Eight Stages of Life (Eric Erikson)

Eric Erikson is most famous for his work in refining and expanding Freud's theory of stages. Development, he said, functions by the epigenetic principle. This principle says that we develop through a predetermined unfolding of our personalities in eight stages. Our progress through each stage is in part determined by our success, or lack of success, in all the previous stages.

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Each stage involves certain developmental tasks. Although he follows Freudian tradition by calling them crises, they are more drawn out and less specific than that term implies. The various tasks are referred to by two terms. The infant's task, for example, is called "trust-mistrust." Erikson made it clear that there it is a balance we must learn: Certainly, we need to learn mostly trust; but we also need to learn a little mistrust, so as not to grow up to become gullible fools!

Each stage has a certain optimal time as well. It is no use trying to rush children into adulthood, as is so common among people who are obsessed with success. Neither is it possible to slow the pace or to try to protect our children from the demands of life. There is a time for each task. If this one of the stages of life is managed well, we carry away a certain virtue or psychosocial strength which will help us through the rest of the stages of our lives. On the other hand, if we don't do so well, we may develop maladaptations and malignancies, as well as endanger all our future development.

A malignancy is the worse of the two, and involves too little of the positive and too much of the negative aspect of the task, such as a person who can't trust others. A maladaptation is not quite as bad and involves too much of the positive and too little of the negative, such as a person who trusts too much.

  1. The first stage. The first one of the stages of life, infancy or the oral-sensory stage, is approximately the first year or year and a half of life. The task is to develop trust without completely eliminating the capacity for mistrust. If the proper balance is achieved, the child will develop the virtue hope, the strong belief that, even when things are not going well, they will work out well in the end. This ability, in later life, gets us through disappointments in love, our careers, and many other domains of life.
  2. Stage two. The second stage is the anal-muscular stage of early childhood, from about eighteen months to three or four years old. The task is to achieve a degree of autonomy while minimizing shame and doubt. If you get the proper, positive balance of autonomy and shame and doubt, you will develop the virtue of willpower or determination. One of the most admirable -- and frustrating -- thing about two- and three-year-olds is their determination. "Can do" is their motto. If we can preserve that "can do" attitude (with appropriate modesty to balance it) we are much better off as adults.
  3. Stage three. Stage three is the genital-locomotor stage or play age. From three or four to five or six, the task confronting every child is to learn initiative without too much guilt. A good balance leads to the psychosocial strength of purpose. A sense of purpose is something many people crave in their lives, yet many do not realize that they themselves make their purposes, through imagination and initiative. Perhaps an even better word for this virtue would have been courage, the capacity for action despite a clear understanding of your limitations and past failings.
  4. Stage four. Stage four is the latency stage, or the school-age child from about six to twelve. The task is to develop a capacity for industry while avoiding an excessive sense of inferiority. Children must "tame the imagination" and dedicate themselves to education and to learning the social skills their society requires of them. Ideally one will develop the right balance of industry and inferiority -- that is, mostly industry with just a touch of inferiority to keep us sensibly humble. Then we have the virtue called competency.
  5. Stage five. In the stages of life, Stage five is adolescence, beginning with puberty and ending around 18 or 20 years old. The task during adolescence is to achieve ego identity and avoid role confusion. It was adolescence that interested Erikson first and most, and the patterns he saw here were the bases for his thinking about all the other stages. If you successfully negotiate this stage, you will have the virtue Erikson called fidelity. Fidelity means loyalty, the ability to live by societies standards despite their imperfections and incompleteness and inconsistencies. We are not talking about blind loyalty, and we are not talking about accepting the imperfections. After all, if you love your community, you will want to see it become the best it can be. But fidelity means that you have found a place in that community, a place that will allow you to contribute.
  6. Stage six. The sixth of the stages of life is young adulthood, which lasts from about 18 to about 30. The ages in the adult stages are much fuzzier than in the childhood stages, and people may differ dramatically. The task is to achieve some degree of intimacy, as opposed to remaining in isolation. If you successfully negotiate this stage, you will carry with you for the rest of your life the virtue or psychosocial strength Erikson calls love. Love, in the context of his theory, means being able to put aside differences and antagonisms through "mutuality of devotion." It includes not only the love we find in a good marriage, but the love between friends and the love of one's neighbor, co-worker, and compatriot as well.
  7. Stage seven. The seventh of the stages of life is that of middle adulthood. It is hard to pin a time to it, but it would include the period during which we are actively involved in raising children. For most people in our society, this would put it somewhere between the middle twenties and the late fifties. The task here is to cultivate the proper balance of generativity and stagnation.

Generativity is an extension of love into the future. It is a concern for the next generation and all future generations. As such, it is considerably less "selfish" than the intimacy of the previous stage: Intimacy, the love between lovers or friends, is a love between equals, and it is necessarily reciprocal. Oh, of course we love each other unselfishly, but the reality is such that, if the love is not returned, we don't consider it a true love. With generativity, that implicit expectation of reciprocity isn't there, at least not as strongly. Few parents expect a "return on their investment" from their children; If they do, we don't think of them as very good parents!

Although the majority of people practice generativity by having and raising children, there are many other ways as well. Erikson considered teaching, writing, invention, the arts and sciences, social activism, and generally contributing to the welfare of future generations to be generativity as well -- anything, in fact, that satisfies that old "need to be needed."

Stagnation, on the other hand, is self-absorption, caring for no-one. The stagnant person ceases to be a productive member of society. It is perhaps hard to imagine that we should have any "stagnation" in our lives, but the maladaptive tendency Erikson calls overextension illustrates the problem: Some people try to be so generative that they no longer allow time for themselves, for rest and relaxation.

The person who is overextended no longer contributes well. An example is the person who belongs to so many clubs, or is devoted to so many causes, or tries to take so many classes or hold so many jobs that they no longer have time for any of them!

More obvious, of course, is the malignant tendency of rejectivity. Too little generativity and too much stagnation and you are no longer participating in or contributing to society. And much of what we call "the meaning of life" is a matter of how we participate and what we contribute.

This is the stage of the "midlife crisis." Sometimes men and women take a look at their lives and ask that big, bad question "what am I doing all this for?" Notice the question carefully: Because their focus is on themselves, they ask what, rather than whom, they are doing it for.

In their panic at getting older and not having experienced or accomplished what they imagined they would when they were younger, they try to recapture their youth.

Men are often the most flamboyant examples: They leave their long-suffering wives, quit their humdrum jobs, buy some "hip" new clothes, and start hanging around singles bars. Of course, they seldom find what they are looking for, because they are looking for the wrong thing! But if you are successful at this stage, you will have a capacity for caring that will serve you through the rest of your life.

  1. Stage eight. This last one of the stages of life, referred to delicately as late adulthood or maturity, or less delicately as old age, begins sometime around retirement, after the kids have gone, say somewhere around 60. Some older folks will protest and say it only starts when you feel old and so on, but that's an effect of our youth-worshipping culture, which has even old people avoiding any acknowledgement of age. In Erikson's theory, reaching this stage is a good thing, and not reaching it suggests that earlier problems retarded your development!

The task is to develop ego integrity with a minimal amount of despair. This stage, especially from the perspective of youth, seems like the most difficult of all. First comes a detachment from society, from a sense of usefulness, for most people in our culture. Some retire from jobs they've held for years; others find their duties as parents coming to a close; most find that their input is no longer requested or required.

Then there is a sense of biological uselessness, as the body no longer does everything it used to. Women go through a sometimes dramatic menopause; Men often find they can no longer "rise to the occasion." Then there are the illnesses of old age, such as arthritis, diabetes, heart problems, concerns about breast and ovarian and prostrate cancers.

There come fears about things that one was never afraid of before -- the flu, for example, or just falling down. Along with the illnesses come concerns of death. Friends die. Relatives die. One's spouse dies. It is, of course, certain that you, too, will have your turn. Faced with all this, it might seem like everyone would feel despair.

In response to this despair, some older people become preoccupied with the past. After all, that's where things were better. Some become preoccupied with their failures, the bad decisions they made, and regret that (unlike some in the previous stage) they really don't have the time or energy to reverse them. We find some older people become depressed, spiteful, paranoid, hypochondriacal, or developing the patterns of senility with or without physical bases.

Ego integrity means coming to terms with your life, and thereby coming to terms with the end of life. If you are able to look back and accept the course of events, the choices made, your life as you lived it, as being necessary, then you needn't fear death. Although most of you are not at this point in life, perhaps you can still sympathize by considering your life up to now. We've all made mistakes, some of them pretty nasty ones; Yet, if you hadn't made these mistakes, you wouldn't be who you are.

If you had been very fortunate, or if you had played it safe and made very few mistakes, your life would not have been as rich as is.

The maladaptive tendency in stage eight is called presumption. This is what happens when a person "presumes" ego integrity without actually facing the difficulties of old age. The malignant tendency is called disdain, by which Erikson meant contempt of life - one's own, or anyone's.

Someone who approaches death without fear has the strength Erikson calls wisdom. He called it a gift to children, because "healthy children will not fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death."

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The Seven Stages of Human Life (Talmud)

Seven times in one verse did the author of Ecclesiastes make use of the word vanity, in allusion to the seven stages of human life.

The first commences in the first year of human existence, when the infant lies like a king on a soft couch, with numerous attendants about him, all ready to serve him, and eager to testify their love and attachment by kisses and embraces.

The second commences about the age of two or three years, when the darling child is permitted to crawl on the ground, and, like an unclean animal, delights in dirt and filth.

Then at the age of ten, the thoughtless boy, without reflecting on the past or caring for the future, jumps and skips about like a young kid on the enameled green, contented to enjoy the present moment.

The fourth stage begins about the age of twenty, when the young man, full of vanity and pride, begins to set off his person by dress; and, like a young unbroken horse, prances and gallops about in search of a wife.

Then comes the matrimonial state, when the poor man, like a patient ass, is obliged, however reluctantly, to toil and labor for a living.

Behold him now in the parental state, when surrounded by helpless children craving his support and looking to him for bread. He is as bold, as vigilant, and as fawning, too, as the faithful dog; guarding his little flock, and snatching at everything that comes in his way, in order to provide for his offspring.

At last comes the final stage, when the decrepit old man, like the unwieldy though most sagacious elephant, becomes grave, sedate, and distrustful. He then begins to hang down his head towards the ground, as if surveying the place where all his vast schemes must terminate, and where ambition and vanity are finally humbled to the dust.

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