Erikson’s Integrity vs. Despair Explained

Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development is a theory of human development that emphasizes the social nature of human beings. According to his theory, each person passes through eight stages of psychosocial development, from birth to death. Each stage is marked by a conflict or crisis that must be resolved for the individual to move on successfully to the next stage of life.

The eighth stage of psychosocial development is integrity versus despair. This is the final, mature stage of Erikson’s theory, where he believes people can finally experience true happiness and fulfillment in life.

In the 8th stage of Erik Erikson’s theory, the individual develops a personal philosophy regarding the meaning of life. Its purpose is to make sense of an individual’s past experiences. This stage also blends previous developmental stages and adds personal identity to the list of things learned in infancy, childhood, and adolescence.

This is a crucial stage of development where there must be a conscious choice between establishing one’s self-identity or losing hope in achieving it. It can be one of the most important stages in human development or a significant life crisis full of sorrow and depression. The outcome depends on the success in completing a successful identity synthesis where one learns their strengths and weaknesses, surmounts their crises, and comes to terms with their imperfections.

What Does Integrity Mean in Erikson’s Theory?

According to Erik Erikson, integrity is the ability to see oneself as a whole person, a unified whole that includes all of one’s experiences and characteristics. For example, if a person can see herself as honest and kind, she has integrity. If she can only see herself as an honest person but not kind, or vice versa, she does not have integrity.

Integrity also implies wholeness in another way: The self-concept is congruent with reality. In other words, the self-concept represents what we are. If we believe ourselves to be kind people but act meanly toward others, then our self-concept is incongruent with reality and lacks integrity.

Characteristics of Integrity

The following are characteristics of integrity:

  • Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.
  • Integrity is about doing what you know to be right and not caring about the consequences.
  • Integrity means you have a strong sense of what is morally acceptable and refuse to compromise your values.
  • Integrity means having a set of ethical principles that guide all your actions and sticking to those principles even when difficult or unpopular.
  • Integrity means being honest with yourself and others under all circumstances.

What Are the Benefits of Integrity in Psychosocial Development?

Integrity is a crucial component of psychosocial development. Maintaining one’s values, standards, and beliefs in the face of pressure from the world around you signifies maturity and strength. The benefits of integrity in psychosocial development include:

  • It promotes self-esteem and self-worth. The more you can be true to yourself, the more you will feel good about yourself. This is especially important for children, who tend to have low self-esteem. If they have trouble being themselves, they may develop feelings of inadequacy or even self-loathing.
  • It helps us to build healthy relationships with others. People who are honest and sincere are much easier to get along with than those who are always hiding something or pretending to be something they’re not.
  • It helps us to overcome adversity and difficulty in life. We all face challenges when we feel like giving up or just “giving in.” Maintaining our integrity through these challenges gives us strength that we can draw upon again and again as challenges arise throughout life’s journey.

​​A person with integrity is more likely to:

  1. Be honest with others about feelings and needs, including parents and teachers.
  2. Take responsibility for their actions.
  3. Accept the consequences as part of life’s learning process.
  4. Maintain personal boundaries that allow them to feel comfortable in social situations without being exploited or taken advantage of by others.

Psychological Effects of Integrity

Integrity can help people feel good about themselves by allowing them to live following their values and beliefs. People with strong integrity are less likely to be depressed or anxious because they have an inner sense of peace and happiness.

When someone has integrity, they can make decisions based on what they believe is right rather than what others want them to do. They are more likely to stand up for themselves when facing difficult situations and can handle criticism from others better than someone who lacks integrity.

How to Develop a Greater Sense of Integrity?

When it comes to integrity, people often think of it as something you either have or don’t. But the truth is that you can increase your integrity over time by making small changes in your life. Here are a few ways you can develop a greater sense of integrity:

  • Focus on what’s important to you and ensure your actions match those values. If you say one thing and do another, people will lose your trust, and your integrity will suffer.
  • Take responsibility for your actions, and don’t blame others for mistakes or problems arising from your choices or actions.
  • Be honest about who you are and what’s important to you; don’t pretend to be someone else just because it’s easier or might get you what you want at first blush because eventually, people will see through your facade and lose trust in your words.
  • Don’t tolerate dishonesty from others; when people are dishonest, they cut themselves off from other people who would otherwise support them if they were honest about their desires and needs instead of hiding behind a façade of false goodness or generosity that only benefits them until they’re caught out.

Related Read: Generativity vs. Stagnation: What Are They, and How Can You Tell the Difference? 

What Does Despair Mean in Erikson’s Theory?

In Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, despair is the eighth stage of development. It is the point at which a person confronts the question of meaning and purpose in life. This self-reflection often occurs during adolescence when people begin to think about what they want to do with their lives.

At this stage, individuals may experience confusion or hopelessness. They may feel nothing left to accomplish or achieve in life. They may feel like they don’t fit in with others or don’t have a purpose in life. They may also experience anger, grief, shame, or guilt.

Erikson believed that if people successfully work through the crisis of despair during adolescence, they will emerge with a sense of purpose and direction in their lives. However, if they fail to do so, they may become depressed or withdrawn.

Characteristics of Despair

Defeatism: A sense that nothing can be done to improve one’s life.

Loss of hope for a better future: The person thinks that whatever has happened is beyond their control, and there is no point in trying to change it.

Anxiety: The person fears and worries about what will happen in the future (e.g., they might not have enough money to pay bills or buy food).

Hopelessness: The person believes they have no control over their life, so they give up trying to make things better or change them (e.g., they might stop working or attending school). They may feel like there is nothing left to live for because other people have abandoned them, so there is no reason to continue living (e.g., “My friends don’t want me around anymore because I’m boring and annoying”).

Social isolation: When people feel hopeless about their future, they may begin to withdraw from society altogether. This can lead to social isolation and loneliness.

​​Emotional numbness: To cope with the pain associated with a loss of hope, some people choose to emotionally numb themselves instead of acknowledging their feelings or dealing with them head-on. This coping mechanism often leads to depression and other mental health disorders like anxiety disorders and substance abuse problems.

Anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure): People who experience despair often lose interest in activities that used to bring them joy because they don’t see any point in investing time or energy in something that will not change their circumstances (for example, going out with friends when you feel like your life is falling apart).

What Are the Consequences of Despair in Psychosocial Development?

Despair is the opposite of hope. It occurs when someone feels like they have no control over their life, resulting in low self-esteem and feelings of helplessness. When people feel hopeless, they may experience feelings of depression. A person who feels despair often has a negative view of themselves and others. They may feel like they have no value and nothing can help them get better. This can lead to them feeling angry, frustrated, and irritable.

The consequences of despair in psychosocial development are as follows:

  • Failure to develop a positive identity: Despair can lead to the failure of children to build a positive self-image, which is essential for healthy self-esteem and feeling good about oneself.
  • Poor academic performance: The inability to have hope for the future can lead to poor school performance because students cannot see any value in their education.
  • Social isolation: Children who experience despair usually do not want others around them and prefer being alone, which leads to social isolation. This can also lead to loneliness, depression, anxiety, and drug use later in life.

How to Decrease Despair?

Despair, an emotion that can be described as a feeling of great sadness and hopelessness, is not a good thing. We need to try and avoid it at all costs because it can hurt our lives.

If you have a lot of despair and don’t do anything about it, it could be why you are unhappy and unfulfilled with your life. If this sounds like something you can relate to, keep reading to find out how to decrease despair in your life!

  • Talk to someone. Expressing your feelings to someone else may help you feel better and give you the strength to move on. If you don’t have anyone you can talk to about what’s going on in your life, consider confiding in a friend or family member. You could also join a support group for people who have similar issues or concerns as you do.
  • Write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal or diary. This could help clarify your thoughts and provide an outlet for emotions that might otherwise overwhelm you if they were all bottled up inside you.
  • Acceptance. If you want to get over your despair, accept it. Don’t fight it; try to understand why you feel the way you do. Once you know the source of your despair, it’s easier to find constructive ways of dealing with the problem.
  • Take care of yourself by eating healthy food, getting enough sleep and exercise, doing things you enjoy, spending time with friends and family who support you, and taking care of your body in other ways (e.g., going to the doctor).
  • Be kind to yourself. Don’t judge yourself harshly or beat yourself up over mistakes. Forgive yourself for past mistakes or perceived flaws in your personality. Don’t compare yourself with others; everyone is different and has strengths and weaknesses.
  • Focus on what matters most to you — your values — instead of trying to fix everything else first (or at all). For example, if someone says something unkind about you, instead of trying to change that person’s mind about everything else they believe about people like you, focus on what matters most — your sense of peace.
  • Stop ruminating. Rumination is when you constantly think about adverse events in your life and obsess about what might happen in the future. If you are ruminating, try to distract yourself with a hobby or activity that makes you feel productive and happy.

Related Read: What Does Erikson’s Trust Versus Mistrust Stage Mean? 

Final Thoughts

Erikson’s Psychosocial Development theory has been an outline for understanding psychosocial development in adulthood. As we look at each of his stages of development, we can start to understand how we develop mental and psychological processes as we go through life.

The eight stages of Erikson’s psychosocial development theory are vital to learning and mastering social skills. To develop a strong sense of self and identity, adults must work through the challenges of each stage to establish what is essential in their lives.


  • Hearn, S., Saulnier, G., Strayer, J., Glenham, M., Koopman, R., & Marcia, J. E. (2011). Between integrity and despair: Toward construct validation of Erikson’s Eighth Stage. Journal of Adult Development, 19(1), 1–20.
  • Lane, T. D., & Munday, C. (2017). Ego integrity versus despair. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, 1–3.
  • Perry, T. E., Ruggiano, N., Shtompel, N., & Hassevoort, L. (2014). Applying Erikson’s wisdom to self-management practices of older adults. Research on Aging, 37(3), 253–274.

Hi, I am Happy. I'm a professional writer and psychology enthusiast. I love to read and write about human behaviors, the mind, mental health-related topics, and more.