Sociology Meets Disability

There are eight developmental steps/stages in Erickson’s theory. Each of these steps involve changes in the instinctual, physical, cognitive, and sexual areas; these work together to begin an inner response that results in either psychosocial success, or lack of success. The steps that are completed fully become virtues. The first stage is trust vs. mistrust. This stage goes from birth to eighteen months. This stage involves the infant and parent/caregiver relationship. The parent or caregiver is able to anticipate when the infant will awaken and get a bottle ready, get a new diaper etc. The parent or caregiver goes right in when the baby awakens. A parent or caregiver who expresses joy at seeing him will most likely have a happier infant with an ever growing and secure bond. Consistency like this will develop trust in the infant if his needs are met. Consistency and affection are the key factors here. A child who has little or inconsistent care will begin to develop the seeds of mistrust. R. Feldman (2011 pp. 342 – 343).

Stage two is autonomy vs. shame and doubt. This step builds the foundation of a self – concept from eighteen months to three years old. The little one is beginning to see that she can affect her environment. She pushes a button and Jack pops up and out of the box. This may cause the eyes to become big in surprise. Often, the caregiver laughs, and she will too. He will fall quite a bit as he learns to walk and run.  She cries and the parents run to provide her comfort. Stage two is very important because it has a lot to do with how she sees herself in the world. If her needs are mostly ignored, she will be ashamed and doubtful. Berger (2011 pp. 186 – 187).  She should be full of confidence in her abilities in a good, positive environment. Otherwise, the toddler may develop deeply held fears of persecution. Indications of an unhealthy or unfinished transition in this second stage are: inability to cope with crisis and daily annoyances, fear of failure, perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Being late to work may have a negative impact on the whole day (Feldman 2011, p. 286 – 287).

The third stage is initiative vs. guilt. This stage lasts from about ages of three to six. This child has a sense of confidence – that she has competence, and the ability to accomplish what she sets out to do. She begins to feel useful.  Her ability to express herself greatly improves during the pre – school stage. If not, the guilt shame, and feelings of incompetence deepen.  (Feldman 2011, p. 286 – 287).

Industry vs. inferiority is the fourth stage of development from about six to thirteen years old. Children are in school for longer periods of time – up to six or seven hours per day.  At this stage, the sexual feelings are not very active, latent. Children attempt to become more confident and competent. Otherwise, feelings of inferiority become more intense.  Inferiority means that the child does not feel not as good as or feels not as important as others. She may feel like an outsider, not a part of any group or clique.  (Feldman 2011, p. 286 – 287).

The fifth stage is adolescence is from thirteen to twenty – one years old.  At this stage, the young person is asking many questions about herself: Who am I? What are my virtues and talents? What kind of job/career should I strive for? Does it require a college degree?  At the same time, parents are probably losing much of their influence; cohorts have much more influence on their thoughts and behaviors. They begin to form more adult bonds and relationships.  (Feldman 2011 pp. 286 – 287). This is also the stage where late teens and emerging adults tend to explore their spirituality. It leads to maturity and empathy for others. (Long 2012 pp. 11, 13). However, according to Hoare (2009 p. 183), Erikson has a spiritual aspect to his identity and self-concept theory. He called this the moral-ethical, spiritual human.

The sixth stage is early or emerging adulthood. This stage may goes until at least the middle twenties. At this stage, problems may well come up when trying to form lasting relationships. This leads to a feeling of lack of belonging, loneliness and isolation.  Successful completion of this stage means that one has a better chance to have a long, healthy relationship. (Feldman, 2011, p. 348).

The seventh stage is Generativity vs. stagnation. This stage covers roughly thirty years from about thirty – five to sixty – four It is the willingness and capability to pass on stories, family history and knowledge to children, grandchildren etc. Hobbies, work and volunteering brings a person much joy, and satisfaction. Stagnation leads to a person feeling as though she is failing; she has made no meaningful contributions to her family, community or society, (Feldman, 2011, p.348).

The final step is integrity vs. despair. A person is fairly happy with the way things have turned out in her life. She has accomplished most of her potential and her bucket list.  One who is dissatisfied with her life makes do over statements: “I wish that I could do _____ over! However, it is much too late to do anything about it. Too much time has passed.” (Erikson, 1994 pp. 26 -28).

Carl Rogers

Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers founded the humanistic theory. Their theories are similar in that the goals are to attain esteem and self – actualization. Carl Rogers and Maslow followed similar paths in many ways. They both had planned to go into the ministry before they had a change of heart. They both looked at the commonalities in all people, not the differences. (Berger, 2011 p.52).  Rogers believed that every person deserved respect and compassion. Everyone has the ability to do good things; he believed in the inherent goodness in everyone. Rogers strongly advocated the person centered approach. He also made the term “client” popular. (Kirschenbaum 2004).  He was also the first therapist to fully record sessions. That does not mean that he agreed with everything the person or client said, but he was not judgmental about it. He believed that one is capable of solving his own problems with some guidance. He believed that only the client knew his deep hurts and which direction to take the psychotherapy/counseling. He was also the first to fully record the sessions with the client. Rogers’ goal was to bring out the person’s strengths or virtues in order to maximize them. He had three core principles:

  1. Prizing or, valuing the client. Kirschenbaum (2004 pp. 118 – 119).
  2. Empathy, the therapist’s ability to understand the thoughts, conflicts and feelings of his client. 3. Congruency, balance or in accordance with his clients. He developed the concept of “Self” theory. Sometimes, something happens that that throws us off the track; it is inconsistent with the sense of self that causes the conflict, (Kirschenbaum 2004 pp. 118 – 119).

The Synthesis

            Both Erikson and Rogers believed that virtues were important. I believe that spirituality played a key role in the theories. Erikson thought that many late teens and emerging adults explore spirituality as part of stage five. This continues throughout the lifespan. (Long 2012 pp. 11, 13) and (Hoare 2009 p. 183). Since Rogers studied for the ministry, he believed the idea that everyone was good and could attain fulfillment with appropriate help, (Kirschenbaum. 2004 pp. 118 – 119).


            I need to provide some context here for purposes of clarity. The first seven years of my life were not like that of most children. I was born at twenty – nine weeks. I had no human contact at all for six weeks. I remained in an incubator. My parents saw me only from a nursery window. Most babies did not survive at this stage of gestation in 1964. I started school at three years old, unusual for that era; this school was for disabled children. It offered physical therapy for an hour a day as well. Everyone was loving and supportive, so it was easy to flourish there. I attended first grade for two classes with able children. By second grade, I was placed full time in my neighborhood school with able kids. While the children were never mean to me, they usually played with the cohorts who could run and play ball with them. From birth to adolescence, I was a very sickly child. I had many lung infections. Mom limited my time outside of home and school because of it. I was very sheltered. I had many surgeries in an attempt to improve my mobility during this time. This meant months in bed during the summers and painful physical therapy, from the ages of three to nine.

I believe that due to my disability, my illnesses, and my surgeries, I had a difficult time developing a sense of autonomy, (Feldman 2011, pp. 287 -288). There were so many things I did not have control over that most kids do. I could not get up on my own power. I needed help with so many things that most kids could do without thinking of it i.e. holding a pencil, or a spoon.  Because my mom dressed me, she often selected my clothes, the ones that would easily fit over leg braces. I had to learn to accept failure and be willing to try over and over while trying to control intense frustration that boiled up inside me. What two or three has mastery over that? I was expected to be a big girl and always do my best. Mom always reminded that there were kids worse off than me, so I was to keep a cheerful attitude. That made me ashamed of failure and led to my perfectionism. (Feldman 2011, pp 287 -288).

Erickson and others may see my perfectionism as a maladaptive strategy, but is it? I think there is a very positive side to it. I know that I cannot finish things quickly, but if my work or task is easier to read, more detailed and more complete than the others, that is my version of selective adaption. When I worked as a cashier, some still would come through my line because I was more pleasant and polite than the others, selective adaption. (Berger, 2111, p. 52).  To put it into Erickson’s terms, I made the most of my virtues of kindness and a strong desire to do a job well.  (Feldman 2011, p.287).

There can be negative sides to the perfectionism. I will awaken from a dead sleep and wonder how I should make this paper better. This can be annoying, but I have come up with good ideas late at night. Rogers would probably say, “So, your perfectionism is keeping you from getting a good night sleep, is that right?” He would probably help me come up with strategies to get more quality sleep. While I take breaks from studying, I rarely take an entire day off from school. I have to compensate for the fact that it takes me longer to do things.

Most maladaptation can be used for a positive purpose. Perfectionism can be a great motivator to do well and be successful. On the negative side, it has interfered with my sleep; this can lead to health problems. To synthesize the two theories, I feel that Erikson and Rogers would both encourage me to find more balance in life. Rogers would probably ask if I need a bit more congruence in my life while still maintain the virtues of hard work and a quality work product.

This leads right into stage three, the inferiority vs. guilt. I was not inferior in school. I was a bright child, except in Math. I struggled a bit there. This bothered me a great deal since I was labeled a gifted child. I was just average in that subject. Socially, I had friends, but I still felt different. I could not participate in many fun games. I never let it show because I did not (and still do not) want kids or adults to feel pity for me. I felt socially inferior, but it was nobody’s fault for my circumstances. If Erikson and Rogers were looking at the situation, perhaps they would have found ways to better include me. In the 70’s, adaptive play and adaptive physical education were not in place for me until 1977, the middle school years. I participated as much as possible. Those years were easier for me as the principal and vice – principal believed in inclusion. I was in choir and they helped me onto the stage so I could be with my choir cohorts, Inclusion is very important. Adolescence and high school were years of isolation. The boys ran away from me when the word dance was mentioned, and the principals did not make sure that I was included. I was very confused about how I was supposed to find my identity in high school. I also went through the questioning stage that most late teens and young adults go through: Who am I? Can I succeed at college? At work? Will I be ever be able to have a family of my own? Will I be able to succeed at life in spite of my limitations?

I married and had a daughter in spite of my physical limitations and challenges. When I married, it never occurred to me for more than five minutes that I could handle both hats of being a wife and a student. I loved and still love being a wife and mother. But, I felt stagnant. Erikson would call it Generativity vs. stagnation. Family history, advice and stories have always been something that I have passed on to my daughter.  But I wanted to accomplish something, something left undone. People would say that I was such an inspiration to them. How was I an inspiration? I was just a wife, just a mom. There was nothing that seemed particularly inspiring about it to me.  I decided to go back to school.

I still fight with the old feelings of doubt, inferiority and whether I belong in the professional world. Maslow and Rogers would call it esteem issues. I still fight to deserve worthiness. Will someone in human resources agree that I can make a worthwhile contribution to his organization?  I am not only fighting my own insecurities. I am also fighting the stereotypes that disabled people always fight. The very word disabled means not able or physically and/or mentally limited. This stereotype is just as much a reality in my world as ageism is to people in late adulthood. I think that Carl Rogers would understand and appreciate my fears. Proving myself in school and on the home front is one thing, but getting an employer to open the door in a tight economy is a different matter. However, I feel Erikson would tell me to keep looking for that position for optimum mental health. If not, I will soon be stagnant once again. On the other hand, Rogers will be certain that someone will notice my passionate desire to help others and offer me a position.

This leads into the Integrity vs. Despair stage. I hope that I will look back at my life and know that I helped and brought comfort to people in my chosen profession. I pray I will bring my husband and me greater financial security in our late adulthood. I pray that my daughter will be happy and healthy. I hope there may be a grandchild or two in my future, so I can pass on the stories, family history etc. to a new generation. This will make me very fulfilled and self – actualized. I will look back on my life with contentment. I will have completed the important things on my bucket list.

Possible Flaws and Thoughts

Carl Rogers’ greatest virtue may be also be his greatest weakness, according to some. As you may recall, he was going to into the ministry before he changed his mind and studied psychology. This may be the reason that he believed in the inherent goodness in people. The Christian belief says we are created in the image of God. I feel this is why he believed that with the help and guidance a person was more than capable of solving her own problems. This disregards pure evil as well as selfishness. Some feel that his client/person centered approach does little more that scratch the surface of the problem.