Erik Erikson created the theory of psychological development to identify different stages in life. Starting with trust vs. mistrust, the stages go through an entire lifetime, culminating in life’s final stage: ego integrity vs. despair. The sixth stage in this theory is intimacy vs. isolation. This stage usually occurs in the adult years from about 19 years old to around 40 years old.
The main conflict that occurs within our psyche during this stage is forming intimate relationships with other people. This is a more complex process than we may realize, as a loving, healthy relationship needs trust, integrity, and much more to function.
Let’s look closer at what intimacy vs. isolation truly means, and how it will (or already has) affect your life.
Forming intimate relationships is the cornerstone of a fulfilling life. After all, the people around us help us grow, move forward, and prosper. Without healthy relationships, you can wind up feeling lost, alone, and isolated.
This is what’s meant by “intimacy vs isolation”. When you form healthy relationships, you develop a lasting sense of intimacy with those around you. It’s easier to trust, to love, to get closer to people. You’ve already got a solid base of loved ones around you because of your early investment in healthy relationships.
On the other hand, the sense of isolation occurs when you don’t experience success in forming relationships. You’ll begin to feel alone, lost even.
Success In The Sixth Stage: Success in Erikson’s sixth stage of development means you’ve developed strong and deep romantic relationships and friendships, as well as a close, healthy relationship with family members.
Failure In The Sixth Stage: Failure in this stage means you’ve neglected the relationships in your life or failed to create healthy, deep relationships with others. From this comes the sense of loneliness and isolation, and in some cases, even conditions such as depression.
The Importance Of Knowing Yourself
Some of us go through life putting all of our focus on external relationships and often forget about the most important one of all: the relationship we have with ourselves. Knowing yourself is the key to intimacy and trust, and an important liminal stage in life. There comes a time when you grow into a new person, and you must take the leap and get to know that new person before attempting to have an intimate relationship.
Do you know what drives you? What makes you happy? Sad? Angry? Fulfilled? Do you know what you want from life? What are your values, your morals? Do you follow a spiritual path? What are your boundaries? If you had trouble answering any of these questions, it’s time for some serious self-reflection.
If you can’t answer these questions, your partner will have difficulty understanding you. You’ll both be learning about you simultaneously, but you might come to very different conclusions! Know yourself before you seek intimacy.
Erikson discusses this concept in the “identity vs. confusion” stage. In this stage, you find who you are and where you fit into the world, or you find confusion. Finding the latter can only lead to isolation instead of intimacy, as you don’t know yourself well enough to have fulfilling relationships.
Intimacy Is A Beautiful Thing
When you truly know who you are, and you develop deep, long-lasting connections with other people, you’ll find a one-of-a-kind sense of fulfillment. Intimacy with other people is one of the most beautifully complex things that life has to offer.
When you experience true intimacy, you learn to trust. You learn what love feels, looks, and sounds like. You learn what it means to truly understand another person and to be understood and valued in return.
How To Come Back From Isolation
Because you’ve experienced the isolation instead of intimacy, you’re probably feeling a bit hopeless that you’ll ever experience true intimacy. The fact is, you can come back from the isolation stage and learn to have intimate relationships.
It all starts with getting to know yourself and addressing any trauma you may have experienced in the past. The more healthy and happy you are mentally, the more prepared you will be to accept intimacy as your new norm. Trust takes a lot of courage and a leap of faith, but it’s so rewarding in the end.
Intimacy vs. isolation; it’s all so complex, right? What it comes down to is knowing yourself and making the effort to grow. There are several stages before this one, and while you can’t control everything that happens to you, you can control how you react to it and how you let it shape your thought processes.
Remember that you can always come back from the isolation stage. You don’t have to remain trapped on your island; cross the bridge, take the leap, and move forward toward a better future.