Integrity vs. Despair in Psychosocial Development | Practical Psychology

Intentions, expectations, hopes, and wishes are all directed toward the future, yet they also influence our thoughts and behaviour in the present. As the rate of time passing by seems to speed up, the future becomes increasingly uncertain, and what constitutes a realistic expectation of hope or desire becomes more complicated, and we can be lost and confused.

Expectations may not be fulfilled, hopes may be shattered, and dreams can become frustrated. All of these may lead to feelings of discontent that can fluctuate and evolve throughout the life cycle. In Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development, the eighth stage, which is the final one, is known as Integrity versus Despair.

The stage starts around the age of 65 and reaches the time of death. Psychologists, counselors, and nurses today use Erikson’s stages concepts in their care of elderly patients.

What is Integrity vs. Despair?

Integrity and. despair involves looking back at life and choosing to feel that the life you lived was a good one (integrity) or regretting missed decisions and opportunities (despair). To understand the difference between these two states, it is crucial to understand the meaning of what Erikson was referring to with respect to integrity and despair.

Integrity (Ego Integrity)

Also called ego integrity, it is the ability of a person to look back over their lives with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

The characteristics of Ego Integrity are:

  • Acceptance
  • A feeling of completeness
  • Remorseless and unrepentant
  • Peaceful and relaxed
  • A feeling of satisfaction
  • The sense of wisdom 


According to Erikson, the term refers to reminiscing about the past with regret, shame, or displeasure.

Characteristics of despair are:

  • Bitterness
  • Regret
  • Ruminating over mistakes
  • The feeling that your life was wasted
  • Feeling ineffective
  • Depression
  • Hopelessness

Integrity versus Despair Stage 

Starts when the aging adult faces the challenge of their mortality. The first sign of this stage can be brought on by life events like retirement and death of a partner or a friend, loss of acquaintances and friends, battling the possibility of a terminal illness, and others that alter the roles of a significant person in life.

Resilience is an essential personal quality to nurture and develop integrity, which gives people the psychological power to withstand extreme stress and suffering. It’s that mental reserve of power individuals can call upon in times of crisis to get through the day without breaking. Psychologists believe resilient people can face challenges and recover their lives even after trauma.

Love and work form the two pillars of humanness; Our families and jobs/careers are the two most important aspects of our lives, and in old age, we might ponder about them all and the meaning they have given to our lives. It is not a good idea to dwell on the past for too long; however, reminiscing about the past can be important as we consider our life’s significance.

Factors Causing Individuals to Succeed at Integrity vs. Despair Stage

Healthy relationships, meaningful work, forgiveness, contributions to society, and a positive attitude can all help individuals succeed in the integrity vs despair stage (Erikson).

Here are the specifics of what can be used to ensure a positive outcome during the integrity vs. despair stage:

Healthy Relationships

Building strong relationships with friends, family, and the community can give you the feeling of purpose, satisfaction, and belonging when you reach the end of your life. If people have formed and maintained positive relationships throughout their life, they’ll have a greater chance to reach the stage of integrity vs. despair and feel a sense of satisfaction.

Meaningful Work

Engaging in meaningful hobbies or jobs will give seniors feelings of pride and satisfaction. If they’re employed or retired, looking for opportunities to enhance the world can bring a sense of fulfillment and achievement.


Letting go of old anger and allowing forgiveness for oneself and others can give one a higher feeling of peace and honesty. Accepting one’s mistakes and forgiving others will provide a sense of unity and fulfillment.

Contributions to Society

Engaging in community events, giving back to others, and creating an impact on society for the long term can have positive repercussions in the future. Saying that one has been able to leave the planet in a better place than before can give an elation and a sense of purpose.

Positive Attitude

Positivity towards life and recognizing it as a chance to grow and learn will give you a feeling of fulfillment and happiness. Maintaining a positive outlook, embracing the present, and looking forward to the future may bring a sense of satisfaction and pride in the years to come.

Factors Causing Individuals to Fail at Integrity vs. Despair Stage

The inability to form meaningful accomplishments and relationships and courses, disabilities, illness, depression, loneliness and psychological health concerns, mental health issues, and struggles recognizing oneself can all contribute to a person’s failing in the integrity vs. despair stage (Erikson).

Lack of Meaningful Relationships and Accomplishments

People who haven’t built significant relationships or have not attained personal achievements may be struggling with feelings of being unworthy and struggle to reflect positively about their lives.

Illness or Disability

Physical or mental health conditions can limit an individual’s ability to engage in activities that promote a sense of purpose or connection, which can lead to feelings of despair.


Being distant from family and friends may result in feelings of isolation and despair, limiting the ability of a person to be optimistic about their life.

Mental Health Issues

When experiencing mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, looking at one’s life as a positive experience and developing an inner feeling of integrity can be challenging.

Difficulty in Self-Awareness

People who struggle with inner reflection might find it difficult to acknowledge their accomplishments, define their goals, and create a sense of self-integrity. If they are not able to understand their own lives, it’ll be difficult to look back at life and feel content.

Benefits of Integrity

There are many benefits to getting a sense of integrity at this point in life. The benefits include:

Ego integrity

Successfully resolving the crisis at this stage leads to the development of what Erikson referred to as ego integrity.

Fulfillment and peace

People can look back on their lives with a sense of satisfaction and look forward to the end of their lives with confidence and without regrets.


Erikson identified this knowledge as an “informed and detached concern with life itself even in the face of death itself.”

Those who feel proud of their achievements will experience a sense of authenticity. Achieving this stage will leave you with no regrets and overall satisfaction. 

Consequences of Despair

The effects of despair can be devastating to a person’s health and well-being when they approach the end of their life. Studies have shown that the ego’s integrity and despair are significant indicators of development in the life space of well-being.

Some of the repercussions of despair can be:

Depressive symptoms are more severe

The feeling of despair that is common in this time of life may be accompanied by feelings of depression, pain, hopelessness, sadness, and feelings of unworthiness, which are also signs of depression.

Increased regret

People who look back at their lives in despair tend to dwell on their mistakes and regret the lives they’ve led.

Decreased life satisfaction

If people feel depressed at this point, they are also less likely to be content with their life going forward. This may have a negative impact on the way they deal with stress and reduce their resilience.

People who fail in this stage will believe their lives have been wasted and will face several regrets. The person is likely to be left with feelings of despair and bitterness.

How to Develop a Greater Sense of Integrity

When you think of integrity, many people think of it as something you possess or not. However, you can build your integrity through small changes to your daily life. Here are some ways to develop a stronger conviction and sense of integrity:

Start early 

What you do in middle age can influence your attitude and life as you age. Make sure you do things to help you maintain your emotional health as you age, become more involved in your community, and enhance connections to ensure a solid social support system.

Build character integrity

Be aware of what is important to you, and make sure your actions reflect your values. If you speak one way and do something else, you will likely lose trust, and your integrity will be damaged.

Take responsibility

Be accountable for your actions, and don’t be a victim of the mistakes or problems arising from your actions or choices.

Be honest

Be open about who you are and what you value most, and don’t try to appear like an individual you’re not because it’s easier or may give you what you desire at first; eventually, people will be able to see through your facade and lose confidence in your own words.

Don’t give room for dishonesty from others

Don’t allow dishonesty to be a part of your life. If people are honest, they isolate themselves from people who would otherwise be supportive by being open about their wants and needs instead of putting on a show of goodwill or kindness that benefits them until they’re caught out.

Seek meaningful relationships

Quality relationships with those you cherish and who will care for you are essential. Concentrate on these relationships and work to make peace with those relationships that might not be as strong.

Reframe your thoughts

Instead of pondering regrets or hoping to alter the past, concentrate on rethinking your thoughts about the incidents. For instance, you could focus on the lessons you have gained from the experience instead of thinking about what you could change.

Practice gratitude

Make sure you focus on the good aspects of life rather than focusing too much on the negative.

Read More: The Pain of Discipline or The Pain of Regret?

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How to Decrease Despair

The emotion of despair, described as deep sadness, isn’t a good thing. We must stay clear of it as it could harm our lives.

If you’re experiencing a lot of sadness and do nothing to alleviate it, it could be why you’re dissatisfied in your daily life. If you’re feeling depressed with age, there are steps you can adopt to improve your health. The steps you can consider are:


If you’re looking to move past your sadness, take it easy, do not fight it. Try to understand why you are feeling this way. Identifying the cause of your despair makes it easier to identify positive ways to deal with the issue.

Write down your thoughts and feelings

Write down your thoughts and emotions in a journal or diary. This can help you organize your thoughts and allow you to express emotions that could otherwise frighten you if stored in your mind.

Share your feelings with others

Sharing your feelings with others can make you feel better and give you the confidence to move forward. When you cannot find someone to talk to about the issues in your life, you can join an online support group for those who share similar problems or concerns.

Focus on the positive

Consider the memories and experiences that gave you feelings of happiness and pride.

Experience new things

Look for activities that bring pleasure and happiness right now.

Take care of yourself

Be sure to take care of your body by eating healthy food, getting adequate sleep and exercising and doing activities you enjoy, spending time with your friends and family members who are there for you, and taking good care of your body in different ways.

Be kind to yourself

Don’t be harsh on yourself; accept the mistakes you made in the past or perceived flaws in your character. Don’t judge yourself against other people; everyone is unique and has strengths and weaknesses.

Get involved in spiritual practices

Explore ways to discover your spirituality, which can assist in bringing happiness and peace.

Stop ruminating 

Rumination occurs when you continuously contemplate negative events that have occurred in your life and worry about what you might experience in the near future. If you’re contemplating and ruminating, try distracting your mind with a hobby or engaging in a productive task.

Get help

If you are still struggling with depression, consider speaking to your physician or mental health specialist. You could be suffering from disorder symptoms, such as anxiety or depression. The doctor can suggest treatments to aid you.


According to Erikson’s theory, people don’t always feel disintegration or sadness. Instead, most healthy people have a sense of the balanced state of both as they start understanding their life. Knowing the elements that affect the integrity of a person vs. despair can assist people in achieving their best health in the final years of their lives.

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