Ego integrity vs despair (3 insights)

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This blog post will explore what the last stage of psychosocial development- Ego integrity vs despair is according to Erikson. 

We will also explore what each component is, what is the virtue that must be attained as well as what the other stages of development are according to Erikson’s theory. 

What is ego integrity vs despair?

Ego Integrity vs despair is the last psychosocial stage that begins approximately at age 65 and continues till death. 

This stage involves a retrospective look into one’s own life experiences, how one has lived till date, as well as what were some positives as well as negatives that one has gone through. 

This stage requires a person to tackle the problem of mortality- and the onset of this stage often occurs along with milestones such as retirement, loss of a partner, deaths of friends,a s well as chronic illnesses and other medical conditions that develop at this age. 

At this stage, a person who is trying to complete this stage successfully must be able to reflect on their lives and accept it for what it was and how they have lived life- both the good and the bad which will eventually give way to their acceptance of their deaths. 

This stage also involves finding meaning out of the life they have lived as well as acknowledging the missed opportunities and losses- the reality that life didn’t go according to how they had once planned it. ‘

Other than the ways in which they have lived life, it is also imperative that they are able to accept and come to terms with the relationships that they have had with others as well as with themselves. 

If this form of acceptance and acknowledgement is not achieved, the individual will not have gained the virtue or wisdom and would have said to be in a state of despair that is marked with despair, dittereness, and resentment.

A person who has successfully achieved feelings of integrity at thai age will experience a sense of peace and fulfilment with their lives, form a detached concern regarding their mortality and hence face death, and finally pride and satisfaction with themselves. 

What is ego integrity?

Integrity in this case, refers to one’s ability to look back, reflect on their lives, and feel a sense of accomplishment and life satisfaction. 

Integrity often involves a sense of wholeness, acceptance, peace, and a feeling that one has lived life successfully while being able to move past regrets. 

This form of integrity involves having supportive relationships within family and outside of family while also being able to see that what you have done- career wise- gives you a sense of pride. 

People who have also made valuable contributions to the world around them, that outlast them, can also lead to this sense of integrity. 

What is despair?

Despair in this case, refers to reflecting back on one’s life and experiencing regret, shame, and disappointment over the life and choices one has made. 

It often involves bitterness, regret, rumination over negatives, a sense that one was not productive, and a feeling of hopelessness over one’s inevitable death.

Despair can have serious consequences not only in the way one lives out the remainder of their days but also in their overall well-being. 

Despair can be tied to experiencing symptoms of depression, regret, and which ultimately will affect their existing relationships, the way they live life and see themselves. It can make their acceptance of their death and mortality especially difficult. 

What is the importance of the virtue of wisdom?

At this final stage of life, the virtue that one attains when this stage is successful is wisdom. 

This virtue is what allows people of this stage to strike a balance between a sense of success as well as the regrets that exist because not all of one’s life would have been good and easy. 

This wisdom is what allows people to accept their choices that have caused them despair and still see the positives that they have accomplished in their lives as well as the impact their regrets had on their lives. 

This acceptance is representative of the wisdom that one gains in their ability to make use of the skills and talents that one might have acquired in the other stages of their life so as to live the remainder of their days with a sense of fulfilment. 

What are the Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development?

Psychoanalytic psychologist Erik Erikson maintained the theory that personality develops in a predetermined order- an order that consists of 8 stages from infancy to death. 

According to his theory, each stage is presented with a conflict which is psychological in nature and this conflict depends on the needs of the person vs the needs of the larger world.

He notes that completion of each stage determines the outcome of one’s personality- if one completes the stages successfully, it leads to the development of a healthy personality and the acquisition of basic virtues which are characteristic strengths to resolve crises in each stage.

The theory also posits that failure to successfully complete a stage can result in a reduced ability to complete further stages and lead to unhealthier personality. However, these stages can later be completed and the crisis be resolved later. 

Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development include:

Trust vs. Mistrust

This stage begins at birth and lasts through around one year of age where interactions with others must lead to the development of trust through reliable care and affection.

Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of hope and the infant can have hope that other people can be a source of support when they are faced with a crisis. 

Failing to acquire the virtue of hope will lead to the development of fear and carry this mistrust to other relationships and struggle with insecurities and anxiety. 

Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

Autonomy versus shame and doubt is the second stage which occurs between the ages of 18 months to approximately 3 years. 

According to Erikson, children at this stage are focused on developing personal control over their own body and a sense of independence as they walk around and interact with people other than their immediate parents. 

Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of will born out of encouragement and perceived support to explore more and become independent. They also become more confident in their own abilities to survive in the world alone. 

If they fail at this stage due to over controlling parents and no encouragement to assert themselves, they might become overly dependent upon others, lack self-esteem, and feel a sense of shame or doubt in their abilities.

Initiative vs. Guilt

Initiative versus guilt is the third stage of Erik Erikson’s theory where children assert themselves more frequently.

Children at this age- 3 to 6 years old play and do other social interaction with other people who are of their age or older and learn or explore their interpersonal skills. 

If given this opportunity and they are successful, children develop a sense of initiative to lead and feel secure in their ability to make decisions.

When they fail at this stage, and their assertiveness or inquisitiveness is shut down by adults and other peers- then the child may have feelings of guilt for “being a nuisance”.

Too much guilt can make the child more socially awkward, develop a lower sense of self esteem, and inhibit creativity. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of purpose.

Industry vs. Inferiority

Erikson’s fourth psychosocial crisis, involving industry (competence) vs. Inferiority occurs between the ages of five and twelve.

Here they are at the age of learning under a teacher in a formal setting. Peer group plays an important role in the development of the child’s self esteem. 

If children are encouraged for their initiative, they begin to feel industrious or competent in their own abilities and thus, feel confident in their ability to achieve goals. 

If this does not happen, then the child begins to feel inferior- doubting his own abilities and therefore leading to a lower sense of self and lower self esteem. 

Similarly if the child is not encouraged to develop specific skills they feel society is demanding (e.g., being athletic or outgoing and social) then they may develop a sense of Inferiority.

Identity vs. Role Confusion

The fifth stage of Erik Erikson’s theory identity vs. role confusion, and it occurs during adolescence, from about 12-18 years. 

During this stage, adolescents search for a sense of self through an intense exploration of personal values, beliefs, and goals.

It is during this stage that the adolescent will try to find out exactly who he or she is in terms of the sexual and the occupational.

Erikson believed that it is at this age that the person begins to experience the “identity crisis”-a sense of self. 

Identity crisis involves the physical self, personality, potential roles and occupations. It is influenced by culture and historical trends- and the peers around the individual. 

If a person is successful in this stage, they will be able to proceed with their other stages with surety and the ability to establish healthy boundaries between them and the world as well as learn acceptance of themselves and others. 

Intimacy vs. Isolation

Intimacy versus isolation is the sixth stage of Erik Erikson’s theory which takes place during young adulthood between the ages of approximately 18 to 40 yrs. 

During this stage, the major conflict is forming intimate, loving relationships with other people. A person who is able to share themselves with others more intimately, learning how to maintain long term commitments with others apart from family is considered successful, earning the virtue of Love.

Successful completion of this stage can result in happy relationships and a sense of commitment and belongingness. 

Failure at this stage will lead to avoiding intimacy, fearing commitment and relationships which can lead to isolation, loneliness, and depression. 

Generativity vs. Stagnation

Generativity versus stagnation is the seventh of eight stages of Erik Erikson’s theory which takes place during middle adulthood (ages 40 to 65 yrs).

During this stage a person experiences a need to create or nurture things that will outlast them, often having mentees- in the form of their own offspring- or creating positive changes that will benefit other people.

Success in this stage leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment and earning the virtue of care while failure results in shallow involvement in the world where people feel disconnected or uninvolved with society as a whole. 

Ego Integrity vs. Despair

Ego integrity versus despair is the final stage of Erik Erikson’s stage theory and it begins at approximately age 65 and ends at death.

This stage is full of contemplation about personal accomplishments and regrets. A person who is able to reflect on their life and having accomplished all stages successfully might feel satisfied and thus develop the virtue of wisdom. 

This wisdom will be what helps them accept their mortality, the life lived, and accept death. However, Individuals who reflect on their regrets and feel like they have not achieved their goals will experience feelings of bitterness and despair.


This blog post has explored what the last stage of psychosocial development- Ego integrity vs despair is according to Erikson. 

We have also explored what each component is, what is the virtue that must be attained as well as what the other stages of development are according to Erikson’s theory. 

FAQ related to Ego integrity vs despair

What is the most important event in Ego Integrity vs Despair?

The most important event at the stage of Ego Integrity vs despair is to be able to accept one’s life for what it was and what it is in a positive manner while also coming to terms with mortality.

What does integrity mean in Erikson’s theory?

Integrity refers to when a person is able to reflect on their life and feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfilment according to Erilkson’s stages. It is when a person feels whole towards the end of their life, and is able to accept their life for what it is and what it has been. 

What is the virtue for late adults?

The virtue that people attain or that emerges during late adulthood is the virtue of wisdom. 

What does Erikson say about late adulthood?

According to Erikson, late adulthood is the stage of integrity vs. despair where people reflect on their lives at this age and either feel a sense of life satisfaction or a sense of failure over what they have done in their lives. 


Erikson: Integrity vs. Despair. ER Services. Retrieved on 23rd December 2021.

Cherry.K. Integrity vs. Despair in Psychosocial Development. Verywell well. Retrieved on 23rd December 2021.

McLeod, S. A. (2018, May 03). Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Simply Psychology.

Lane, Thiera & Munday, Cheryl. (2017). Ego Integrity Versus Despair. 10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_582-1. 

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