“Forty is when you get started as a woman in France. I think in my twenties I wanted to please so much, and at 40 you’re not in that same space. I feel I’m allowing myself to be myself.”
When I first read these words by Juliette Binoche in an interview a few years ago, I sensed there was something more universal in these words – a truth about women and our stages of development – that intuitive sense became the premise for this exploration. I hope this research into the Developmental Stages of Women, and the subsequent editions, will serve you and help you in the process of becoming yourself.
According to Erik Erickson’s Theory of Development, (Erik Erickson was a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychological development of human beings) each stage of life paves the way for following periods of development. In each stage, Erikson believes we experience a conflict that serves as a turning point in our development. If we successfully deal with the conflict, we emerge from that stage of life with psychological strengths that will serve us well for the rest of our lives. If we don’t deal with our conflicts effectively, we may not develop the essential skills needed for a strong sense of self. That said, it’s never too late to develop them. Therefore, it will serve well to look at what each developmental stage is asking of you so that you can assess the areas you need to focus on to fully become yourself. You’ll see from the diagram below the full spectrum of developmental stages, however in this introductory piece I am only going to focus on the last 3 stages.
Age Range: 19 to 40 years
Key Conflict: Intimacy vs Isolation
Virtue / Behaviour to Develop: Love
Area of focus: Relationships
In this stage the major question one works with is “Will I be loved or will I be alone?”.
The best way to prepare for this chapter is to form intimate, loving connections with other people so that you can have fulfilling relationships.
This stage is really about “developing deep and meaningful bonds – where there is closeness, honesty and love” and learning how to be open and share parts of your self with others while still maintaining a strong sense of self-identity. Isolation happens when you struggle to form intimacy with others and as a result you may feel emotional isolation (not just physical), loneliness and even depression.
Age Range: 41 to 65 years
Key Conflict: Generativity vs Stagnation
Virtue / Behaviour to Develop: Care
Area of focus: Parenthood and Work
In this stage the major question one works with is “How can I contribute to the world?”.
The best way to prepare for this chapter is to pursue meaningful work and endeavours and actively explore your purpose (not by thinking but by experimenting and doing) so that you can feel that you are contributing to the world by being active in your home, career and community.
This stage is really about “making your mark” on the world by caring for others as well as creating and accomplishing things that make the world a better place. Stagnation happens when you struggle to find a way to contribute and as a result you may feel unproductive, disconnected or uninvolved with your community, with society, and in the world.
Age Range: 65 to passing
Key Conflict: Integrity vs Despair
Virtue / Behaviour to Develop: Wisdom
Area of focus: Reflecting back on life
In this stage the major question one works with is “Did I live a meaningful life?” (sometimes the onset of this stage can be triggered not by age but by life events such as retirement, the loss of a spouse, the loss of friends and acquaintances, facing a terminal illness, and other changes to major roles in life)
The best way to prepare for this chapter is to establish a regular practice of reflection to learn and grow wiser so by the end of your life when you look back you come away with a sense of fulfillment from a life well lived.
This stage is really about “fulfillment” and feeling proud of your accomplishments and attaining a sense of integrity and wisdom, even when confronting the end of your life. Despair happens when you look back on your life and you feel life has been misspent, as a result you may be left with feelings of bitterness and despair.
In Summary: There’s so much to share about the developmental stages of women and how the awareness of these stages can help you navigate your next chapter with ease and grace – for now I’ve summarised it to the following 3 key elements:
1 – Developing Meaningful Connections – Sharing parts of yourself with others while still maintaining a strong sense of self-identity. Cultivating a strong sense of self.
2 – Making your Mark through Creativity + Care – Contributing to society and creating/doing things to benefit future generations. Cultivating a strong sense of purpose.
3 – Establishing a regular Reflective Practice – Pausing and meditating to reflect back on your life regularly so that you can learn and grow from your experiences. Cultivating a strong sense of wisdom.
Explore further: Stay tuned for the next part of my research into the ‘Developmental Stages of Women’ where we will dive deeper into what it really means to cultivate a strong sense of self. If you’re not already a subscriber, be sure to subscribe here to be one of the first to receive it when it’s published.