What Else You Don't Know About Erik Erikson's Intimacy Vs Isolation

By Danni Peck

Updated December 20, 2018

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A person normally undergoes adversities in life, called developmental conflicts. If these conflicts are not resolved, a person will continue to struggle. If one resolves such matters, he or she can achieve psychological skills that are embedded for the rest of his/her life.

There are different psychoanalytic theories of psychosocial development, and Erik Erikson formulated eight stages from infancy to adulthood. People experience different psychosocial crisis according to each stage and can either have a positive or negative effect on the personality of the individual.

Individuals between ages 19 to 40 undergo a stage called Intimacy vs. Isolation Stage. Men and women under this age range start to explore their relationships with someone other than their family member. This is the period where people start to share themselves intimately more with others. Some may find themselves longing for someone to spend and share their sorrows and successes. However, some avoid intimacy or engaging in relationships and retreat in isolation.

At any point in life, the mental health problem is a concern to at least 1 in every 4 persons. Social isolation and loneliness are harmful to health. Lacking social connections can be as damaging to one's health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to research.

The Uniqueness of the 6th Stage of Psychosocial Development

People pass through chains of stages centered on social and emotional development. This is the proposition of Erikson's theory of psychosocial development wherein a person encounters developmental conflicts that must be resolved. He believed that close and committed relationships are vital to people when they enter adulthood. Often, these relationships are anchored on romantic in nature, but friendships were as important as the former.

Leading successful relationships means that they have resolved conflicts; however, those who have experienced failed relationships result in loneliness and isolation. They struggle to form or develop close friendships or romantic relationships.

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According to this theory, the psychosocial stages focus on how people change and grow across his or her lifetime. This was a big factor that differentiates Erik Erikson's theory from the other developmental theories.

Focused Conflicts

The major conflict under the intimacy versus isolation theory of Erik Erikson centers on forming loving and intimate relationships with other people. Intimacy pertains to good emotional and physical health wherein a person's perspective now moves from an "I" to a "We" perspective. You want to be intimate and commit to a partner. Erikson defined intimate relationships as those characterized by love, honesty, and closeness.

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Isolation, on the other hand, occurs when that person fails to find a partner. They now feel alone and might create a feeling of inferiority. This may lead to self-destructive tendencies since insecurities may surface or re-surface. However, some hesitate to form close ties. They fear that they might lose their identity and that they might be compared. They feel threatened by closeness, and this is the manifestation of isolation or loneliness.

Risk Factors for Loneliness or Social Isolation

Loneliness is a subjective experience of isolation and is not about simply "being alone." A lot of people is facing loneliness even in the middle of a crowded area. However, persistent loneliness has an impact on both mental and physical health. Cardiovascular function, stress hormones, and immune function are affected by chronic loneliness leading to anxiety and depression.

Unhappiness is a result of a gap between the relationship you have and those you desire. Different areas of life contribute to loneliness. Age is a factor especially when you are at your 20's to 40's. This is the intimacy vs. isolation stage where you value that sense of belongingness. You want to be connected or be part of someone else's life may it be intimate love relationship or work relationship. If one is not able to achieve these, one might question if he is likable or not.

Another contributing factor is gender. Women are more likely to have a clinical diagnosis of depression than men due to loneliness or isolating themselves, especially after giving birth.

Other circumstances include separated, divorced or widowed. Fear of the past also causes social Isolation. This pertains to the person avoiding putting himself in bad situations they faced when he was still a child. One might have been neglected at home or did not get enough attention.

Lastly, deprivation which pertains to the socio-economic status of a person. The damaging lack of material benefits such as basic needs leads to social isolation. People in this situation, have fears of establishing closeness which result in loneliness.

Impact of Social Isolation and Loneliness

Social isolation can be a vital factor in loneliness which leads to depression. Loneliness is both a cause and a consequence of mental health. Once you feel depressed, low self-esteem and feelings of anxiety lead people to remove themselves from their circle of relationships or friendships.

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Researchers identified an array of physiologic, functional, and psychosocial effects such as daytime function and disrupted sleep. Others experienced diminished physical activity, altered immunity, increased systolic blood pressure, impaired mental and cognitive function. Increased mortality and functional decline due to loneliness caused greater concern. People who describe themselves as lonely also contribute to their social isolation. They tend to neglect to secure emotional support or engaging with others. Loneliness may also diminish self-discipline, which more likely leads to self-destructive behaviors.

When the need for social relationships is not met, people fall apart physically and mentally. Both the body and brain are affected. Unmet social needs take a serious toll on one's health like creating high blood pressure, impaired memory, and learning, and eroding arteries. Awareness of a deficiency of relationships brings distress or emotional discomfort known as loneliness. The feeling of emptiness due to longing for intimacy makes on person feel deprived, isolated and distanced from others. All these attacks the well-being of a person.

Loneliness is viewed as a normal reaction or feeling. However, chronic loneliness is a different occurrence. Children may feel like an outcast and drop out of school, while some develop delinquency or other forms of anti-social behavior. In adults, varied medical conditions occur that compromise one's health. Circulatory system works harder and may lead to damage to blood flow. Lonely individuals have higher levels of stress even when they are relaxing as compared to non-lonely people exposed to the same stressor. People who are lonely perceive some social cues negatively and goes thru the mindset of self-preservation. Loneliness becomes contagious because the people around him pull away as he withdraws from his social circle.

Early social interaction or environment affect the kind of level of social connection people learn to expect and feel comfortable with. If expectations about those relationships are not met, the body reacts and alerts if something is wrong thru stress hormones or the feelings of anxiety. Emotions associated with loneliness may be difficult to regulate if loneliness persists.

Social Isolation as Modern Plague Leading to Depression

Increasing number of people who have no meaningful social support are increasing in number. Social isolation has been considered as a growing epidemic. More people become isolated and vulnerable to mental illness such as depression. The prevalence of depression has doubled over the past decade.

A person who is depressed will always want to avoid people. They want to stay isolated. Some people might think that introversion causes social isolation. Recent studies started to show that introversion itself might be a form disorder that causes social isolation.

Depression may be present if someone seems socially withdrawn, has declining physical health and somehow lethargic. Emotional symptoms of depression can be observed when there is a feeling of inadequacy and self-loathing. Loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies and withdrawal from socializing are strong indicators as well. He or she projects constant pessimism and becomes irritable and sad.

Physical symptoms may also suggest depression such as loss of appetite, headaches, back pains, muscle aches and constant fatigue. Sometimes these symptoms are taken-for-granted dismissing them as symptoms of another condition and not depression.

If you lack sleep and develop insomnia or hypersomnia leading to fatigue and being lethargic, this is considered as short-term depression. But if malnutrition takes place due to not eating enough or obesity takes place due to eating too much, these develop into a long-term type of depression. Studies showed that more than fifty percent of suicide cases have depression as one of the main factors.

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Seeking Help

Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of love. However, fearing commitment, relationships and intimacy can lead to loneliness, isolation and sometimes depression. Depression can develop slowly and sometimes it is not being realized or acknowledged by the person or even the family right away. If you feel sad from time to time is normal, however, if this persists or starts to affect everyday life, this is something you may want to look into. If you believe you are experiencing problems with stage of intimacy versus isolation, loneliness, or are starting to isolate oneself, make sure that you talk to your doctor or seek professional help. Reach out to us. Click on the link.


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