As you have probably noticed, most theories of development focus on childhood to adulthood, then have little to say about how adults develop. Yet the desire to develop is part of human nature. Adult psychological development, therefore, is often a result of individual intention and effort. Other factors affecting it are change, which introduces new influences, needs, pressures and adaptations, the desire for fulfilment, which urges the individual to find means of self-expression and achievement that meet his or her particular desires, and the influence of others, such as one’s group, friends, social groups etc. each of which has its own expectations, ways of doing things and attitudes that will influence the individual’s development.

Schlossberg (1984) believes that it not age that determines how we develop, but life events and our experience of them. He identified the following issues as critical issues at any stage of our lives:

  •     belonging
  •     feeling valued
  •     autonomy
  •     competence
  •     identity
  •     intimacy
  •     commitment
  •     renewal (personal energy).

As these issues arise in our lives, we may be motivated to develop new skills, knowledge, attitudes, and to develop new behaviours in order to resolve them. Although they say “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, the fact is, the old dog can learn new tricks when motivated to do so. Human beings can develop psychologically at any stage of life, even on their death beds.

Erikson’s Later Stages – The Transition to Adulthood

Erikson suggested a series of developmental stages through childhood and adolescence, leading up to a developmental stage where a person transitions from adolescence into adulthood.
This stage generally covers 18 to around 30 years of age and can see the following occurring:

  1. Psycho-Social Crisis occurs where intimacy versus isolation
  2. Significant Social Relationship(s) develops sich as partners in friendship and sexual relationships
  3. Favourable Outcomes involve an ability to form close and lasting relationships, to co-operate and share resources, also to make career commitments
  4. Unfavourable Outcomes are social and personal isolation, fear of intimacy and sharing

The stages in the adult stage are more fuzzy than the children’s stages and people may differ from each other more dramatically.  The task is to achieve intimacy, rather than isolation.  Intimacy is the ability to be close to others as a friend, lover and participant in society.  You know who you are and do not need to fear “losing” yourself as adolescents may.  Fear of commitment at this stage is a sign of immaturity.  This may not be so obvious today, as in many societies people are putting off getting married and having families.  For example, I’ll leave having children until I have progressed in my career or I won’t get married until I own my own house etc. etc.

The young adult does not need to “prove” themselves so much anymore.  Younger adults may not feel the need to be in a couple, whilst others may try to establish an identity though being a couple e.g. “I’m her boyfriend”.  So two independent egos are forming something that is larger than themselves.  

For younger adults, there is often an emphasis on careers, urban living, splitting relationships due to mobility and the nature of modern life can make it hard for people to develop intimate relationships.  This can mean that people move often throughout their lives and do not develop a sense of community.  Erikson calls the maladaptive form promiscuity. This is the tendency to become intimate too freely and easily and without any depth of intimacy. This does not just mean the physical intimacy. This may be friendships/relationships with neighbours and friends as well as with lovers.  
The malignancy is called exclusion which is the tendency to isolate yourself from friendships, community and love, and also to develop a “hatefulness” to compensate for your loneliness.   If you are able to negotiate this stage successful, you will develop the virtue that Erikson calls love. Love means being able to put aside differences and antagonisms through “mutuality of devotion.” This means loving friends, neighbours, lovers, co-workers and so on.