There is an epidemic that has been affecting people around the world way longer than the Coronavirus or swine flu. It’s an epidemic that just won’t seem to go away. It’s the loneliness epidemic.
It sounds dramatic to call loneliness an “epidemic,” but research on loneliness and health are pretty shocking. Some experts equate loneliness to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. People experience loneliness and social isolation at all stages of life, but one age is key, according to Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development: the intimacy vs isolation stage.
What Is Intimacy Vs. Isolation?
The sixth stage of Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development is the Intimacy vs. Isolation stage. This stage occurs throughout adulthood, and contains a crisis in which people search for intimacy in their lives. Without intimacy, a person may not be able to “move on” to later stages.
What Age Does Intimacy Vs. Isolation Occur?
This stage, also known as “love vs. isolation,” occurs once an adolescent has reached adulthood. It lasts for around 20 years, one of the longest stages so far! If the person has completed all five stages of development successfully, they have a solid foundation and a solid sense of who they are. Once they have this solid identity, they can begin to truly explore their relationships with other people.
What Is The Positive Outcome of the Intimacy vs. Isolation Stage?
Some of the most important events that take place during the intimacy vs. isolation stage is the formation of serious, romantic relationships. People in this stage are likely to meet partners who will be in their lives for years, decades, or until they die. Intimacy, in this stage, obviously doesn’t just mean physical intimacy. Romantic partners fulfill different roles in our lives: lover, yes, but also companion, co-parent, roommate, etc. Exploring these relationships and the roles that people fill in your lives can help you avoid people who are not right for you, and become more intimate with the ones that are.
Of course, romantic relationships are not the only ones that form during this stage. People in their 20s also start to close in their circles and take their friendships more seriously. Teenagers and college freshmen may not be so close with their parents as they explore their newfound freedoms. Young adults, however, may start to become closer to their parents.
The virtue that is gained during this stage is simple: love. Of course, people experience love before they are in their 20s, but exploring relationships during this stage deepens your love for the people in your circle. Most people start to take love seriously between the ages of 20 and 40, often for the first time in their lives.
Unfortunately, not every person hits 40 and is married to the love of their life with a solid group of friends and family around to fulfill them. If a person is not able to establish intimate romantic or platonic relationships with others, they are likely to become isolated.
As I mentioned earlier, isolation can be seriously dangerous for your mental and physical health. Humans are social creatures and often seek support from friends and people in their circle. Safety, security, and belonging are basic needs – being part of a friend group or family provides that. As you’ll learn later on, isolation can also prevent people from successfully completing the last two stages of Psychosocial Development.
Examples of Intimacy vs Isolation in Books
If you are looking to learn more about the crisis in this stage, look no further than famous novels and stories! This Reddit post contains some suggestions for books that explore this crisis, including the works of Dostoevsky, Goethe, and Gabriel García Márquez.
Tips for Avoiding Isolation
During the ages of 20-30, you might find yourself experiencing a “quarter-life crisis.” Many young adults are still figuring out who they want to be and what they want to do with their lives. Intimate relationships can help to support you as you continue to explore your identity. If you find that you are isolated, take some time to assess why and how you can grow closer to the people in your life:
- Talk to the people in your circle now about relationships and expectations. Open, honest conversations are the first step to a closer relationship.
- If someone isn’t providing you with the things you need in a friendship, consider prioritizing your time on people who will better appreciate you.
- Need to widen your circle? Join meetups or groups for people who share your interests. Don’t be afraid to reach out or set up a meetup of your own!
- Reach out to a relationship therapist. Issues from earlier stages may leave you with mistrust, guilt, or feelings of inferiority. This can have a serious impact on your ability to be vulnerable with others and become part of a group. A relationship therapist can help you unravel these past experiences and move forward.
Intimacy Doesn’t End at Age 40.
There are two more stages in Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development, but that does not mean people over 40 have to turn the page on intimacy and love. In fact, the next two stages can help to strengthen the bonds between two people who meet in their 40s, 50s, and beyond. During the last stages of Psychosocial Development, Erikson believes that people are really starting to contemplate their legacy and what they’ve accomplished in their life. Having confident answers to these larger questions in life can seriously benefit a person as they build new relationships or start dating.
Stay tuned for these last two videos. If you haven’t watched videos on the previous five stages, I recommend that you check them out!