Creative Writing: Personal Portrait

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Personal Portrait

First, this is an interesting exercise and one that is sure to give a better understanding of self. My life has progressed much like many others for the most part, but there have been detours down which development past something was difficult. As happens with most lives, the path was not linear. However, I can see, after conducting some study on both theorists, that the ideas of both Erikson and Kohlberg have validity. The basic idea of both is that there are stages through which one must pass as they go through life. Although similarities do exist between different individuals, the way one becomes an individual (and not just another one of the cattle following the herd) is to progress at their own pace, through their own battlefields, toward the culmination of life. My journey has not been particularly easy, and there have been some interesting events, but it is my life and it has made me who I am.

To begin he discussion a few elements of the two theories have to be understood. Erikson is famous, and used greatly when it comes to developmental studies, Kohlberg does not have the same fame, and seems to have many more detractors. As a matter of fact, I have found that another theorist developed her theory based on the supposed gender inadequacies of Kohlberg's model. Be that as it is, the assignment is to cover Kohlberg and not Gilligan so whether he is right or not as it concerns women is not the issue here.

Erikson laid out eight stages of psychological and social (psychosocial) development through which people are thought to travel. The main gist of the theory is that people have choices when they come to a certain stage and they must successfully deal with what that stage of life has to offer or they will have difficulties as a result. The eight stages are: trust v. mistrust, autonomy v. shame and doubt, initiative v. guilt, industry v. inferiority, ego-identity v. role-confusion, intimacy v. isolation, generativity v. self-absorption, and integrity v. despair (Boeree, 2005). These stages are generally the same for everyone, but most are completed during childhood. As can be seen from the list, there is an outcome that most would see as good and one that most would see as bad. This dichotomy of outcomes is what makes the theory. However some authors have said that women and men progress through the stages differently. Caffarella and Barnett point to;

"Three major themes…on the psychosocial development of women: the importance of relationships as central to the overall developmental process of women; a need for women to have their own spirit of self, to be given recognition not just for who they are, but for their individual abilities and competencies; and, the idea that diverse and nonlinear patterns of psychosocial development are the norm for most women's lives, with a single developmental pattern being almost the antithesis of how most women live out their lives."

Because the average life of a woman in western cultures and men is markedly different, they would necessarily progress through those stages differently. In my own life, I can see that the research given above is correct.

Kohlberg believed that people also progress through stages, but they are stages through which they develop morally. This continuum is a six stage model that outlines what development of morals encompasses throughout a lifespan. As said above, this theory is a little more sketchy, but I found that;

"Fundamental to Kohlberg's enterprise is an invariant sequence of hierarchical, irreversible forms of moral thinking that develop over time and experience, and that represent three possible approaches to the resolution of hypothetical moral conflicts. These forms of thinking were seen as hypothetical stages describing how some individuals take a stand in moral arguments, how they manifest an effective sense of justice, and how they pursue the concept of the good through a formalized, reversible, rational process of thinking" (Linn, 2001).

A person can develop a moral stance that will lead them to make selfish choices throughout their life, but it is much more common to become less selfish over time as others become important. Some would see moral stance as a development through a specific religious doctrine or the values that one was taught by their parents, but this is only a small part of the process. One's entire lifelong environment shapes who they are and how they will determine the morality of decisions.

Those are the theories in a nutshell, and now it is necessary to discuss how my life and then how these two versions of development apply to me. When I look back on my life, I will usually say that I did not have a great childhood. I was the youngest of four children which is the beginning of issues. There are two primary difficulties for a youngest child when it comes to development. First, the baby is treated as such longer because they are the last. I can see throughout my life that this was true. Whether it was my siblings ignoring any thoughts I had on a matter, or my mother treating me like a child when I was an adult, being the baby is not always fun. The second issue is that you are the smallest. When it comes to playing games, you are either left out because you are too young, or you are chosen last. Older siblings do not like to have you around because you are the youngest, and parents are often overprotective or the exact reverse. This may all seem cliche, but it is true nonetheless.

One of the main reasons, though, that I say my childhood was not great is that there was a lot of domestic violence in the home when I was young. My father did not know how to control his anger, especially when he was drinking, and my mother caught the brunt of his frustration. Although it filtered through to the kids sometimes, he usually picked on my mother both physically and verbally. I can still remember the effect that the abuse had on me like it had happened today. There was always a feeling of unrest in the home. Even supposedly happy times were tinged with anxiety. Whenever my dad was out late we all supposed that he was going to come home angry about something. It is a true statement that we walked in eggshells around him. This difficult childhood probably stunted both my psychosocial and moral growth. Seeing the violence as a child, it was often easier to excuse it when I became an adult, or make excuses for an abuser. I may have known something was wrong, but having seen the violence I sometimes made wrong moral choices n my own life as a result. The psychological effects were long lasting also. I was probably more inclined toward guilt, inferiority and isolation (during the second, third and fifth stages) than was healthy because of the violence that I saw at home.

I was also expected to take on a lot of responsibility as a child. I will always tell people that I grew up too fast and that has actually given me some positive traits as I have matured. Maturing quickly was difficult when I was younger because I did not have the childhood I wanted, but it has made me more responsible as an adult also. During the generativity stage I have become more caring and that has probably led me to make the career choices that I have made. Now, I have a daughter, with whom I have a good relationship, and I am pursuing a degree that most would not venture to complete at my age. However, I see it as an extension of the development that my life has taken.

However, I have had some major developmental setbacks recently that have caused me to re-evaluate who I am, and what my moral code is. After my father died, I found out that he was not my biological father as I had believed. My birth father had died in 1982 as a result of suicide. This could have had something to do with the abuse also, but I do not know that for sure. The biggest difficulty for me has been grieving. I was 48 when my father stepfather) died, and I was believed that I was relatively mature. But Rasmussen and Brems (1996) did a study in which they looked at whether age or psychosocial maturity was a better predictor of death anxiety. They said;

"The finding that psychosocial maturity was a stronger predictor than age may help explain why previous studies have revealed only moderate correlations between age and death anxiety. It is possible that age alone cannot account for the decrease in death anxiety among the elderly.

Rather, it may be the combination of aging and the achievement of greater psychosocial maturity that serves to decrease death anxiety."

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