Generativity vs Stagnation (A Complete Guide)

Almost every one of us is familiar with Erikson’s work on psychosocial development and the theory he presented in this regard.

There were a total of eight stages in Erikson’s theory and all of these stages tell us about how a person developed over the course of his life.

Erikson’s theory was essentially a reaction to the infamous psychosexual theory of development by Freud. Erikson’s theory was based on psychosocial development.

This article will tell you about the seventh stage of the above-mentioned theory and this stage is called generativity vs stagnation.

This stage named generativity vs stagnation tells us about the fundamental conflict of adulthood.

Erikson explains how a person after spending a lot of his life feels about himself in this stage of generativity vs stagnation.

In simpler terms, people either feel generative or stagnant during generativity vs stagnation.

Before going into further details of generativity vs stagnation, let’s first discuss Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development. 

Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development

Erikson was a stage theorist who was born in 1902. He was an opponent of Freud’s theory of psychosexual development and viewed Freud’s work as controversial.

His response to Freud’s theory was his own theory of psychosocial development.

Ego seemed to be the main focus of Erikson’s work too but he considered ego as the important aspect because of mastering skills, ideas and attitudes at every stage of development.

This mastery is the most helpful for children to develop into healthy adults in society. Moreover, every stage of development in Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development comes with its own conflict and this conflict needs to be solved appropriately.

The conflict remains between two conflicting concepts and mastery will come in the form of resolving the conflict between these two ideas.

Every stage has its own conflict, virtue and purpose. If the conflict is resolved appropriately a child will develop into a healthier and well-adjusted adult in society.

Otherwise, unsuccessful resolution of conflicts can lead to a children’s non-adjustment to society, interpersonal and relationship problems and other social issues.

Erikson’s work also comprised cultural influences on these stages of development.

According to his findings, different cultures respond in different ways to resolutions of conflicts at every stage because of different survival and cultural needs. Below is a summary of Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development. 

Approximate AgeVirtuesPsychosocial crisisSignificant relationshipExistential questionExamples
Infancy (Under 2 years)HopeTrust vs. MistrustMotherCan I trust the world?Feeding, abandonment

Toddlerhood (2–4 years)
WillAutonomy vs. Shame/DoubtParentsIs it okay to be me?Toilet training, clothing themselves
Early childhood (5–8 years)PurposeInitiative vs. GuiltFamilyIs it okay for me to do, move, and act?Exploring, using tools or making art
Middle Childhood (9–12 years)CompetenceIndustry vs. InferiorityNeighbors, SchoolCan I make it in the world of people and things?School, sports
Adolescence (13–19 years) FidelityIdentity vs. Role ConfusionPeers, Role ModelWho am I? Who can I be?Social relationships
Early adulthood (20–39 years)LoveIntimacy vs. IsolationFriends, PartnersCan I love?Romantic relationships
Middle Adulthood (40–59 years) CareGenerativity vs. StagnationHousehold, WorkmatesCan I make my life count?Work, parenthood
Late Adulthood (60 and above) WisdomEgo Integrity vs. DespairMankind, My kindIs it okay to have been me?Reflection on life

Each stage has its existential questions and significant relationships. It is important to achieve milestones at each stage.

Each stage is followed by the successful completion of the previous stage.

Thus, it is important to understand the milestone of each stage and its requirements. 

Now we will discuss generativity and stagnation in detail.

Generativity and Stagnation are in the 7th stage.  

Generativity vs Stagnation

It is the seventh conflict of the ‘8 seasons of man’ of Erikson. Generativity vs Stagnation is characterised by Erikson as the fundamental conflict found in adulthood of a person.

It comes in middle adulthood and the age ranges from 40 to 59 years old. At this stage, the adult person is trying to nurture or create things which are going to last even after they are gone.

Some of the examples are parenting their children or contributing to something positive which will benefit other people even after the person making the change is gone from this world.

Contribution toward society’s betterment while thinking about the advantage of future generations is one of the most important aspects of the generativity vs stagnation stage of development. 

What is generativity?

It is concerned with establishing and guiding future generations. Generativity can be defined as a concern of a person for a generalized population and it happens when a person shifts his energy to care for a change which will help the generations to come.

Parenthood is considered to be the obvious motive of generativity. Intimations of mortality by the self are also considered another motive.

It is also viewed as a selfish act by Kotre who thought that its fundamental task was to outlive the self and a form of investment.

Generativity is also defined as ‘making your mark on the world by caring for others and accomplishing something beyond yourself to making this world a better place.

Generativity is now mostly seen as encompassing many aspects like commitment, productivity, interpersonal care and even creativity. 

What is stagnation? 

Generativity vs stagnation is on two opposite poles as stagnation is on the other side of generativity. Stagnation refers to a lethargic feeling and lack of energy and enthusiasm.

People who are stagnant feel low energy and less involvement in both communal and individual affairs. These people have an underdeveloped sense of self and sometimes an overblown self of narcissism.

‘Rejectivity’ is also a term used for severe stagnation by Erikson. Stagnation is also referred to as failure to find a way in order to contribute to society.

These individuals are often feeling uninvolved or disconnected from society or from a community. 

Overview of Generativity vs Stagnation

  • Important Event (s) during generativity vs stagnation: Parenthood and Work

  • Major Question: ‘How can I contribute to the world?’

  • Psychosocial Conflict: Generativity vs Stagnation

  • Basic Virtue during generativity vs stagnation: Care

According to Erikson, people who are successful at the generativity vs. stagnation stage of psychosocial development feel that they have contributed to the world to make it a better place.

They think they are contributing actively in their home and in their community. 

On the other hand, people who fail to achieve this skill at generativity vs stagnation feel uninvolved and unproductive towards the world around them.

They do not feel fulfilled and often feel unhappy. 

Important tasks of Middle Adulthood

Central tasks to middle adulthood in the generativity vs stagnation stage are those tasks which will help the person achieve generativity.

If a person does most of these tasks he will achieve the virtue of this stage and feel fulfilled. Moreover, the major question of this stage can also be answered using and doing the tasks given below.

The existential question of this stage is ‘can I make my life count?

This question is answered if the person tries to fulfill the need for generativity by doing some tasks and actually doing it for the sake of others without being selfish and careless. 

  1. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and life patterns is important. 
  2. Expressing love without having to develop sexual contact.
  3. Help children to grow into more responsible adults and useful members of society. 
  4. Accepting children’s friends and mates is also important.
  5. Developing a sense of unity with your friends is also important. 
  6. Creating a comfortable home around can also be one of the most important aspects of care for a person. 
  7. Creatively use the free and leisure time in your hand and make it count.
  8. Accomplishing civic, mature and social responsibilities with grace.
  9. Contrary to popular belief, relinquishing the main role in the lives of your grown-up children can also be very fulfilling for generativity. 
  10. Adjusting to physical changes you face during middle age and accepting those changes.
  11. Role reversal with parents who are constantly ageing. 
  12. Being proud of your own or your spouse’s accomplishments can also be very important at this stage. 

Elaboration of Generativity vs Stagnation

The primary conflicts of generativity vs stagnation were further elaborated in research published in 2003.

Some of the other characteristics of the conflict were also mentioned in the paper published and those characteristics are given below. 

Pride vs. Embarrassment

The pride that a person takes in his family and children and it is sometimes a representative of a stage of early childhood namely autonomy vs. shame and doubt. 

Parenthood vs. Self Absorption

Reaching out and contributing to the next generation is based on this aspect of generativity vs stagnation.

The main source to get this aspect is parenthood.

However, not everyone who produces children reaches this level successfully and sometimes people without children reach this stage successfully and contribute to the next generation successfully. 

Inclusivity vs. Exclusivity

This is based on giving care to people and how much an individual is willing to include in his life.

This aspect is also representative of the trust vs. mistrust phase of early childhood.

Responsibility vs. Ambivalence

It represents if people take responsibility for the happenings in their life or otherwise.

The initiative vs. guilt stage of early childhood is much similar to this aspect of the conflict. 

Honesty vs. Denial

It represents if a person has self-knowledge and self-understanding as it is important as life moves towards the end. 

Productivity vs. Inadequacy

 A person’s feelings of fulfilment and pride toward his work can lead to a sense of accomplishment and productivity in a person.

This mirrors the industry vs. inferiority stage of childhood. 

FAQ about Generativity vs Stagnation

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about generativity vs stagnation psychosocial stage of development.

What are some of the elements for a positive outcome at this stage?

A person who is involved in tasks for betterment of future generations or nurturing children is known to have all the elements for positive outcomes of this stage. 

How could care for the future lead to a positive outcome?

An adult who is concerned about issues like the future of this planet and its environment and the world we are going to leave for future generations is doing the seventh stage of generativity vs stagnation completely right. 

What are some of the elements for negative outcomes at this stage?

All the issues related to a person should be solved till this age or he or she will face stagnation in later life. 

  • References

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