Some time in my first year of degree, I had taken PSY1011 as an elective. I got a pretty mediocre grade out of it but the syllabus itself was rather fun. One thing I did remember though was Erikson’s 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development. TLDR: the theory states how a person experiences a psychosocial crisis may possibly have a negative or positive impact on the development of their personality, and that “successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality and the acquisition of basic virtues.”
Now, I’m not going to dive in much deeper, simply because I have very little recollection as to what had gone down in PSY1011 besides the fact that I was dreading every single assignment. However, from a surface level understanding, it’s safe to assume that we are constantly changing and evolving, not only on the basis of a quantitative measure such as age but also on the environment where we grew up in. The basic virtues that we are bound to acquire after the completion of each stage should assist us in dealing with future issues. By age 1 ½ , I would have learned of hope, I would have understood the basics of a sense of purpose by 5, and fidelity by 18.
Generally speaking, the majority of us (I trust most people reading this are between the ages of 18-40, yes?) are currently in Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation; this is the period where our major concern centers around the formation of intimate, loving relationships with others. Successfully completing this phase would mean to establish happy, long-term and committed relationships. I know for a fact that 2 out of 3 of those things just made a part of you die a little bit on the inside, though perhaps all 3 did, knowing how serious some of you can be with your self deprecation. Failure, however, would mean isolation, loneliness and the displeasure of not attaining this phase’s virtue: love.
But what exactly does Erikson mean by love and how definitive it is? What if you’re put under the impression that you’ve successfully navigated your way from your late teens all the way to your 40s only to realize that the lifelong companionship you had long worked towards was one that was fleeting? That marriage binds you to someone whose face eventually becomes that of a stranger and not of the person who had once been at the receiving end of your vows?
I say this as I grew up, watching long-term couples sit in a room, in complete and utter silence as there was nothing for them to say to the other without an argument ensuing. This wasn’t because they had ran out of topics to discuss; rather, their union was now merely a legal obligation, a societal expectation. Having the other person be there was part of an everyday routine that had now been deeply ingrained within their idea of normalcy, their presence was now the standard. Together but separate, that was the sort of relationships I had been exposed to. Divorce was rarely ever an option, especially here. It’s true that you really do end up marrying more than just the individual when you’re Asian; there is absolutely no escape from their entire family.
Love to me had taken the form of tolerance which may be synonymous to some but didn’t exactly align with my personal definition. Love wasn’t about constantly posting pictures of the two of you together on every social media site. It could not be captured in a hashtag. Love to me was not about pretending that your marriage isn’t deteriorating nor was it about holding onto something toxic for the sake of your children. Love is far from perfect and tensions rise, but is it still love if that tension continues on an upward trajectory, never again meeting the ground? Love was never about constant gratification but it also didn’t mean tolerating someone to the point of resentment.
You see, Erikson talks about growing as a person and having that growth be stemmed from how well you have developed your relationship with others. But I’ve learnt that the most dangerous thing you can do is to completely depend on another person to provide you the love you feel you deserve. You cannot guarantee that someone will be there for you forever, regardless of how many times they’ve made you that promise. People are as kinetic as the tides that wash up on shore, flowing inwards and outwards, never static. You cannot hold them down because they are as equally stuck in one of Erikson’s stages, just as you are. So it made no sense to me for your personal growth to be largely dependent on those around you.
The person that would never leave your side under any circumstance. The one who eventually drags your ass out of bed every morning after every dismissal of your alarm clock. The one who has to spend the rest of their lives paying your taxes and does your laundry and tells you that you can stuff your face with ice cream when you’re feeling like absolute garbage so long as you pick yourself back up eventually. Those closest to you can help you do all of these things, but at the end of the day, only one person truly understands what’s best for you.
To me, true, concrete love can only come in the form of one person and one person only: yourself.