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Thomas Maples

Psychosocial theory, like psychosexual theory, divides childhood into five distinct stages. Erikson’s fourth stage of development occurs during primary school years (6-12 years of age), centers on the psychosocial crisis of industry versus inferiority, and runs parallel to latency. During this stage, the superego further adapts to social expectations. Children during this stage learn the value of hard work and productivity that are taught through lessons common to cultural industry. The psychosocial theorist Erik Erikson stated:

Thus the inner stage seems all set for “entrance into life,” except that life must first be school life, whether school is field or jungle or classroom. This child must forget past hopes and wishes, while his exuberant imagination is tamed and harnessed to the laws of impersonal things – even the three R’s. For before the child, psychologically already a rudimentary parent, can become a biological parent, he must begin to be a worker and potential provider. With the oncoming latency period, the normally advanced child forgets, or rather sublimates, the necessity to “make” people by direct attack or to become papa and mama in a hurry: he now learns to win recognition by producing things. He has mastered the ambulatory field and the organ modes. He has experienced a sense of finality regarding the fact that there is no workable future within the womb of his family, and thus becomes ready to apply himself to given skills and tasks, which go far beyond the mere playful expression of his organ modes or the pleasure in the function of his limbs.

Erik Erikson (1963, pp. 258-259)

Latency primes a child psychologically to relate to others through learning the common tasks associated with the cultural industry that drives adult-life. Erikson (1963) believed that a child must learn the industriousness of a profession to become a potential provider for the next generation. Industriousness occurs by learning how to manipulate the technology at one’s disposal to provide for one’s personal and familial needs.

Cultural heritage dictates to a substantial degree the lessons taught to individuals. Cultural heritage and technological advancements also affects the way teachers impart lessons.

He [the child] develops a sense of industry – i.e., he adjusts himself to the inorganic laws of the tool world… In all cultures, at this stage, children receive some systematic instruction [emphasis in the original], although, as we saw in the chapter on American Indians, it is by no means always in the kind of school which literate people must organize around special teachers who have learned how to teach literacy. In preliterate people and in non-literate pursuits much is learned from adults who become teachers by dint of gift and inclination rather than by appointment, and perhaps the greatest amount is learned from older children. Thus the fundamentals of technology [emphasis in the original] are developed, as the child becomes ready to handle the utensils, the tools, and the weapons used by the big people. Literate people, with more specialized careers, must prepare the child by teaching him things which first of all make him literate, the widest possible basic educational for the greatest number of possible careers. (Erikson, 1963, p. 259)

The goal of education is to teach the underlying skills needed to function within the common industries of a culture. While pre-literate societies continue to exist, literacy is necessary in technologically advanced cultures due to the degree of skills needed to propagate a society based on technological advancement. Literacy is the key to efficiently educating people en masse. The ability to learn fast is imperative for technologically advanced cultures; this is especially true in a global economy where speed equates to greater productivity, more profits, and a technological edge amongst competitors. For these cultures, it is imperative that a child be broken of his or her individuality at an early age. This is the psychology of group processing, but comes at a high cost to the individual. This phenomenon is collective and occurs during primary schooling, although the means by which the education takes place differs amongst various societies.

Finding Atman: Siddhartha and Adolescent Development

As an adolescent, Siddhartha gave up all worldly possession, and searched for Atman through the ritual practice of Self-abnegation. Siddhartha learned the cultural industry of asceticism. However, asceticism is a lifestyle rather than a viable cultural industry. If Siddhartha pursued his brahmin lineage, he would have learned a viable industry from which to live his life and provide support for others. However, Siddhartha chose a bohemian lifestyle rather than adhere to social norms. In his pursuit to rid himself of the ego, Siddhartha chose an inferior lifestyle that would allow him to deny his familial lineage. Siddhartha ran from the shadow of his family lineage to pursue the life of an ascetic; by assuming an inferior position within the social caste system of India, Siddhartha was free to assume what he believed to be a more noble path. However, this choice proved only to perpetuate the primary narcissism he had towards other individuals, stunting his adolescent growth through the inability he had to establish intimate relationships.

Siddhartha was able to undertake cultural industry through his ability to read and write. However, he learned these skills through his early educational experiences as a brahmin, the noble caste he sought to escape during his years as an ascetic. This presents a paradox within the story, if Siddhartha stayed the course of his family lineage, then he may have been able to take part in the industry he eventually attained at a much younger age than he was within the story’s context. However, this also would have altered the course of the protagonist’s development, causing him to not hone the skills of waiting, fasting, and thinking that caused him to become a realized being. While Siddhartha eventually pursued an industry, it occurred in conjunction with his pursuit of a sexual relationship with Kamala.    

Sexual maturation of the genitals during adolescence assures reproductive capacity and the need to establish an intact identity from which to relate with others. Adolescence represents a transition period in which the physiology and psychology of the child assumes a more adult-like state. The psychosocial crisis common to adolescence is identity versus role confusion. Erikson (1963) believed that adolescence represents a “moratorium [emphasis in the original], a psychosocial stage between childhood and adulthood, and between the morality learned by the child, and the ethics to be developed by the adult” (pp. 262-263). The physical maturation of the adolescent leads to the development of an individual identity that is separate from the larger group.

In puberty and adolescence all sameness and continuities relied on earlier are more or less questioned again, because of a rapidity of body growth which equals that of early childhood and because of the new addition of genital maturity? The growing and developing youths, faced with this physiological revolution within them, and with tangible adult tasks ahead of them are now primarily compared with what they appear to be in the eyes of other’s as compared with what they feel they are, and with the question of how to connect the roles and skills cultivated earlier with the occupational prototypes of the day.

Erikson, 1963, p. 261

Because adolescents have the emergent physical capacity to put into action the lessons of cultural industry taught during middle childhood, social expectations warrant that adolescents begin to work those cultural industries to become independent.

Erikson (1963) believed that adolescence consisted of “more than the sum of the childhood identifications;” instead, adolescence acts as “the accrued experience of the ego’s ability to integrate all identifications with the vicissitudes of the libido, with the aptitudes developed out of endowment, and with the opportunities offered in social roles” (p. 261). The ability to integrate all identities leads to the development of an adult identity that can promote itself in numerous professional and interpersonal situations. This period of psychosocial development is similar to Jung’s idea of the persona representing the individual masks a person creates to adapt to specific environmental situations.

The adolescent ego becomes diffuse and permeable to outside social influences in its journey to mend itself into a permanent adult personality. That is why crowds, cliques, and gangs easily influence adolescents through their emerging ego. Experimentation with identity occurs because of an underlying need adolescents have for affirmation amongst their peer group. This helps the adolescent to make sense of the social values, ethics, and industries they will participate in during adult-life. However, to lose one’s identity during adolescence equates to having a diffused ego throughout adult-life, which is easily permeable to outside influences; this in turn affects the ability a person has to seek and attain future object relationships.  

Adolescence is a transitional stage. While particular dynamics underlie adolescence, it is also similar to young adult-life. Both developmental periods are reliant on relationships with other people outside of the family dyad. While adult-life differs from childhood, young adult-life is similar to adolescence. Both adolescents and young adults seek to fuse their egos with other individuals.

The strength acquired at any stage is tested by the necessity to transcend it in such a way that the individual can take chances in the next stage with what was most vulnerably precious in the previous one. Thus, the young adult, emerging from the search for and the insistence on identity, is eager and willing to fuse his identity with that of others. He is ready for intimacy, that is, the capacity to commit himself to concrete affiliations and partnerships and to develop the ethical strength to abide by such commitments, even though they may call for significant sacrifices and compromises.

Erik Erikson, 1963, p. 263

An intact ego identity allows an individual to merge their established adult identity with the adult identity of a life-mate.

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Erik Erikson’s theory of adolescent development differs from Sigmund Freud’s; Erikson viewed the common sexual tensions that arise between individuals as leading towards a state of loving (Erikson, 1963). Freud’s theory focused on the reduction of physiological tensions through the drives people present while Erikson’s theory focused on the construction of loving relationships. While the genital stage of development consists of the instinctual drive to relieve tension, Erikson clearly demarcates this developmental stage from that of adult loving relationships.

Strictly speaking, it is only now that true genitality [emphasis in the original] can fully develop; for much of the sex life preceding these commitments is of the identity-searching kind, or is dominated by phallic or vaginal strivings, which make of sex-life a kind of genital combat.

Erik Erikson, 1963, p. 264

Early sexual life is experimental. If an adolescent is unable to establish a stable identity from which to relate with others and begins to experiment with intimacy without having first mastered a sense of their own ego, serious “character problems” within the adult personality structure can emerge (Erikson, 1963, p. 266).

From a Freudian perspective, adolescents are ready to begin procreation through the act of “lieben und arbeiten” (Erikson, 1963, p. 265). However, an adolescent must replace his or her yearnings for sexual combat during young adult-life to develop a more realistic understanding of the specific nuances that becoming a loving individual entails.

Genitality, then, consists in the unobstructed capacity to develop an orgastic potency so free of pregenital interferences that genital libido (not just the sex products discharged in Kinsey’s “outlets”) is expressed in heterosexual mutuality, with full sensitivity of both penis and vagina, and with a convulsion-like discharge of tension from the whole body. This is a rather concrete way of saying something about a process, which we really do not understand. To put it more situationally: the total fact of finding, via the climactic turmoil of the orgasm, a supreme experience of the mutual regulation of two beings in some way takes the edge of the hostilities and potential rages caused by the oppositeness of male and female, of fact and fancy, of love and hate. Satisfactory sex relations thus make sex less obsessive, overcompensation less necessary, sadistic controls superfluous.

Erik Erikson, 1963, p. 265

This citation shows the power that occurs when two opposing forces unite in loving bliss to create a third entity. While Erikson does not draw attention to Jung’s concept of the anima and animus syzygy, its presence in this citation is clear. If a man has an inherently feminine soul, and a female has an inherently masculine soul, the same characteristics that a person brings to his or her relationships in the guise of sex also occur at the psychological level of the individual. We unite with the opposites psychologically to create a third entity that transcends the initial characteristics of the two separate entities. Jung provides an example of the internal union in his studies on the hermaphrodite and the god, Mercury. The same growth occurs as a male and female conjoin to form a loving relationship, which in turn assures the continuation of something new through the act of procreation.

Siddhartha successfully merged his adult identity with Kamala. However, this occurred during his adult developmental years. Hesse (2002) explained the emergence of Siddhartha’s sexuality as a compulsive yearning to discharge the pent-up libidinal energy that remained from the years of Self-abnegation Siddhartha practiced as an ascetic.  While Siddhartha developed an adult identity during his years as an ascetic, this identity mirrored the identity of a wayfarer that Siddhartha had already established as a young child. Siddhartha was a wanderer, and even though he was able to establish an adult identity by which he could relate with Kamala, he never learned how to develop an intimate relationship with another individual.

Many similarities exist between the developmental context of Jungian psychology and Erikson’s psychosocial developmental scheme explored in this section. Carl Jung drew attention to the masks that an individual develops within the ego to deal with social pressures. Carl Jung called these masks personae. Erik Erikson also explored the array of identities that adolescents assume in their developmental sequence. Both theorists also focused on the relational constructs that drive psychological development. Carl Jung focused on the internal representations the psyche forms to relate with individuals of the opposite sex. Erik Erikson focused on the external representations of love that develops between individuals as they begin to relate in a less genital fashion. Both theorists show how a third entity arises out of the union of opposites that transcends the strength that each entity had individually.

Siddhartha developed an identity. While his ascetic identity is inferior to the brahmin identity if viewed from the perspective of cultural industry, Siddhartha was able to work with the lessons of his early childhood to establish an intimate relationship with another individual. While Siddhartha learned the innate lessons associated with sexuality, he never learned to love the woman with whom he engaged his sexuality. Siddhartha, although caught in a primary sense of narcissism, was able to relate with others to meet his goal to become like the child people (Hesse, 2002). Although Siddhartha succeeded in establishing an identity, engaging in cultural industry, and forming an intimate relationship during his adult years, he failed to establish a secure attachment with any person.

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