Developmental processes are fundamental to the human life course. In particular, psychosocial development is a continuous process that involves the creation of specific competencies for managing life’s challenges. One broad category of developmental outcomes is generativity vs. stagnation.
Erik Erikson developed the concept of generativity versus stagnation to describe the psychosocial development of middle adulthood. Between ages 40 and 65, this period is characterized by the conflict between generativity (nurturing the next generation) and stagnation (failing to leave a lasting impact beyond yourself).
Erikson created it in the sense of optimal growth and maturation of an individual. It attempts to show how people progress through various stages in their lives. This blog post will briefly review these two counteracting tendencies in person-environment interaction, emphasizing the more humanistic side of the discussion.
What Is Generativity?
By definition, generativity involves contemplating and planning for the welfare of future generations. Psychosocial development focuses on raising one’s children and contributing to society by creating a better world for their progeny. In this chapter, we can look at generativity from two different angles: first, as a unique personality characteristic that contributes to well-being during adulthood, and second, as a set of activities and values that predict successful parenting.
Generativity theory claims that individuals need to make a positive difference in the world and should actively contribute to shaping their environment and improving future generations. This concept has significance for our general understanding of human functioning in large and more intimate areas, such as marriage and family.
In a family setting, generativity can be described as an expression of love and responsibility over time. Generativity can be seen through parenting (of both children and grandchildren) or grandparenting and caring for younger siblings or cousins while caring for aging parents.
Tasks associated with generativity include:
- Making plans for the future
- Becoming involved in one’s community
- Forming an identity and being true to it
- Striving for excellence
- Creating something new or leaving a lasting impact on the world
People high in generativity possess several characteristics. They see themselves as part of something larger than themselves, have a sense of responsibility toward others, and feel they have something important to contribute to their relationships with others. These individuals are willing to help their children and any needy group.
Additionally, the following are some of the essential characteristics associated with generativity:
- Mental flexibility. The person finds it easy to adapt to change and new experiences.
- Positive attitude toward life. The individual is optimistic and has a positive outlook on life.
- Significant contributions to society. Generativity is associated with social activism, making tremendous contributions to the community, and humanistic endeavors.
- Social awareness. The person encourages altruism and empathy in others as well as in themselves.
- Healthy ego identity. The individual has a well-defined sense of self and confidence about their societal place.
How Does Generativity Manifest?
Generativity versus stagnation is the sixth of Erick’s eight stages of psychosocial development. Psychologists believe that this conflict occurs during the mid-40s and 50s when people begin to ask themselves whether they have lived a useful life. If they have not, they tend to experience a crisis, which may manifest itself in several ways:
- They become less interested in generativity and more focused on themselves. They lose interest in having children or helping younger people reach their potential.
- They experience a loss of social skills and an overall lack of empathy for others.
- As they age, they become more self-absorbed and narcissistic because they can’t fully understand younger generations’ values and perspectives.
- They act like “elders” rather than mentors, advising without considering the younger person’s feelings or needs.
Benefits of Generativity
- Improved health and greater motivation
Generativity is associated with intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy (the belief that one has the power to succeed). The experience of autonomy and relatedness can also motivate people to participate in healthy behaviors. People who experience these emotions are more likely to develop a strong sense of purpose in life and may try to constructively channel their energies toward things that will benefit the larger community, such as exercise or nutritious eating.
For example, people may be more likely to quit smoking if they believe their behavior will inspire others to quit. Also, if you’re trying to lose weight for yourself, staying active might not be enough to keep you motivated. If you want to lose weight to be an example for your kids, that could make a big difference in your motivation level.
- More positivity in building relationships
There are many different ways of contributing to the world and developing a sense of generativity. In many cases, parenting is a key factor. By helping someone else develop, it is possible to facilitate one’s development. Erikson’s theory explained how people develop over time, but he also believed certain stages were essential for specific demographic groups.
For example, people with a strong sense of generativity often have had children or helped raise others. This allows them to contribute to making them feel like they are making a difference in the world. Similarly, those who were part of older generations might find that helping their children become adults helps them gain feelings of generativity in their later years.
- Better productivity
Generative adults tend to focus on developing others. They take active roles that enable them to mentor others, teach skills and knowledge, or be productive contributors. Generative adults are also effective listeners who care about others’ opinions and desires.
They are engaged in activities that foster a sense of community and that contribute to society through meaningful actions that benefit themselves and others.
- Better fulfillment
People with a greater sense of generativity are more likely to be happier than those with a lower sense of generativity. They also tend to be more satisfied with their lives and their ability to make decisions about things in general.
People who feel a greater sense of generativity can see their place in the world and take comfort in knowing they will leave an imprint behind when they are gone. This comfort level with life can help these individuals realize that what they do matters today, and it helps them find fulfillment in their daily lives.
How to Improve Generativity?
Generativity is all about creating a legacy or contributing to the next generation. One way to encourage generativity is to participate in your community, creating a sense of meaning and purpose. Trying to make the world a better place may not be as easy as it sounds, but it’s always worth a shot. Here are some ideas for how you can get involved:
- The best way to build generativity is to involve your local community. Whether through volunteer work, attending a town hall meeting, or just engaging with your neighbors, being involved in the community can help you feel that you’re contributing and making a difference.
- Take up a hobby. Generativity isn’t just about helping others; it can also involve developing yourself by learning new skills and pursuing hobbies that improve your quality of life. Being generative helps you find meaning in your life.
- Trying new things can improve generativity because it gets you out of your comfort zone and challenges you in new ways. And when you’re feeling good about yourself and your work, it’s easier to feel that sense of purpose that comes with generativity.
What Is Stagnation?
Stagnation in psychosocial development refers to the relative absence or paucity of movement in an individual’s psychological or emotional well-being. Psychosocial stagnation can be thought of as a complete cessation (or diminishment) of progress in an emotional sense at any point in time and is characterized by passivity on the part of the individual and dependence and/or interdependence on the individual others.
This state is characterized by a lack of desire to grow, unwillingness to change the situation, the inability to solve problems, the inability to make decisions, fear of responsibility, and so on. Further, characteristics can also include:
- Inability to cope with external stresses or internal conflicts.
- Apathy, boredom, depression, and/or listlessness.
- Failure to meet social expectations or fulfill one’s expectations.
- Lack of motivation and desire to change.
- Extreme emotional sensitivity.
- Lack of awareness of the problem due to low self-esteem, denial, or avoidance.
- Long-term refusal to seek treatment.
Consequences of Stagnation
Stagnation is a feeling of being stuck, of not progressing in life. When you are stagnant, you feel like your life is motionless and not going anywhere. You may stagnate in one aspect of your life, such as a job or relationship.
However, it can be stagnant in multiple aspects of your life, including work, family, and personal relationships. Stagnation can result into:
- Lack of confidence: If you feel like you’re not moving forward in your career, this can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment.
- Trouble with decision-making: Stagnation can make it hard to make necessary decisions at work.
- Slow professional development: People who aren’t progressing professionally might feel less valued by their employers or less competent than their colleagues.
- Lack of motivation: This can lead to decreased productivity and lower quality work.
- Lower self-esteem: Self-esteem is strongly influenced by how we perceive our competencies and value as a person. A lack of professional success can harm our sense of worth and belonging.
- Feeling stuck or lost: When we’re not moving forward in life, it’s easy to begin to feel like our dreams are slipping away from us. This can predominantly negatively impact our ability to face everyday challenges.
How to Decrease Stagnation?
While these feelings may seem inevitable to those experiencing them, some things can be done to improve feelings of stagnation in life. The following are some steps that are helpful when trying to move away from stagnation into generativity:
- Create a list of hobbies you enjoy.
Pick the ones that excite you the most and start exploring them. You shouldn’t just think about the things you’ve always enjoyed doing but also things that might give you a new perspective on life. Hobbies are supposed to be fun, so don’t choose something that feels like work.
- Learn something new.
You might not realize it, but there is so much out there that you have yet to learn. Most people don’t take the time to learn anything new because they are too busy focusing on the tasks at hand. But knowing something new can inspire you in so many ways that it is worth taking the time out of your day for it.
- Create a list of goals that inspire you.
When we think about the future and what we want to achieve, we are more likely to feel inspired by our dreams. This list should include both long-term goals and short-term goals.
The distinction between generativity and stagnation in psychosocial development is not ascertained. It is important to examine the characteristics of these two phenomena before discussing their implications for psychosocial development. Understanding generativity versus stagnation also sheds light on an adolescent’s worldview and capacity for self-help.
To deal with generativity versus stagnation, some people take on mentoring roles to pass their knowledge on to young people to help them succeed. Others find purpose in work that has implications for future generations, like conservation efforts or addressing climate change.
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- Carlson, M. C., Seeman, T., & Fried, L. P. (2014). Importance of generativity for Healthy Aging in older women. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, 12(2), 132–140. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf03339899
- Cheng, S.-T. (2009). Generativity in later life: Perceived respect from younger generations as a determinant of goal disengagement and psychological well-being. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 64B(1), 45–54. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbn027
- Navarro-Prados, A. B., Serrate-Gonzalez, S., Muñoz-Rodríguez, J.-M., & Díaz-Orueta, U. (2017). Relationship between personality traits, generativity, and life satisfaction in individuals attending university programs for seniors. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 87(2), 184–200. https://doi.org/10.1177/0091415017740678