During the time I have spent in this course, my knowledge has been broadened by many psychological theories as to the development of personality. As I review the various theories, Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development exposes many possible conflicts with the central questions posed during each stage that have went unaddressed throughout my life due to my disability and unfortunate events. Erikson believed that “the conflict must be addressed, though not necessarily resolved, within the given stage … before [an] individual may move to the next stage” (McAdams, 2006, p. 347).
Many would say that from the time I was eight months old, I have had to struggle with a great disadvantage. My father, Clark was stationed on a marine base in 29 palms, California, which left my mother and me in a trailer park near the vicinity of the base during the day. I had just started pulling up on and walking around our furniture. In March of 1982, my mother, Kim was not expecting to be faced with a frightening encounter of the magnitude she experienced around noon of this day. Upon waking me in my crib, my mother recalls that there was a red swollen knot at the end of my right eyebrow, above my eye; shortly after, my mother sat me on the couch and soon came to realize that I was unable to sit up on my own. Panicked, my mother ran for the phone to contact my father at the marine base; I can imagine how panicked she was because all of her family lived back in Port Arthur, Texas, therefore the only supportive family figure was my father. My father was out in the training field, so the length of time it took her to contact him probably seemed like hours due to intense worrying and concern for my well-being. Apparently, from her anxious emotional arousal I became distressed and began crying, but my mother said that there was no sound coming from my emotional response. I was rushed to a team of doctors that began running various tests to determine the cause of my paralysis. The final diagnosis was encephalomyelitis which mosquitoes can carry; the doctors proclaimed that the red knot was an insect bite containing fluid that caused an inflammation of my brain and spinal chord; luckily, my brain was not greatly affected. Three years later I showed marked signs of improvement through the use of a physical therapist, Lee Roy Culver. I remember walking back and forth using parallel bars to support me while I walked one leg at a time to each end. I was close to a full rehabilitation, so close in fact that on September 7 of 1986, the Port Arthur Newspaper wrote an article on my perseverance headlined “Boy tries to overcome effects of disease as tot.” I had come so far as to take four to five steps without the use of any support. I played with only a few friends that I felt secure enough to be around, since many of the children my age liked to participate in activities that I was physically unable to do; when I was around an inconsistent group of two or more children, there would be random ideas shouted out as to what we should do that would once again remind me that I was not like everyone else, making me feel as though I was preventing them from doing what they really wanted. Therefore, the feeling that I was a bother influenced my decision to keep only a small circle of friends that understood my limitations, thereby becoming the determining factor in my trait of introversion (McAdams, 2006, p. 157). Following February of 1988, I was hospitalized for severe pneumonia three times in five months. My mother was informed by my doctor that it would be in her best interest to have a sinus surgery done to prevent my sinuses from draining into my lungs. The surgery left me immobile in a recliner every night and most of the day for two weeks while the use of a steroid aided in my recovery. Looking back at my childhood, Erikson’s first stage labeled infancy poses the central question of “how can I be secure?” that may not have been properly addressed in my life. Never being breast fed along with all of the previous misfortunes I endured may have sabotaged my “feeling or understanding that the world [was] safe, the environment [was] predictable, and life [was] trustworthy” (McAdams, 2006, p. 348).
When my parents went their separate ways, my mother was emotionally distraught from the separation along with the dilemma of how she was going to support me and closed her feelings off to every one. Around the time of adolescence, I recall my mother being highly stressed at many times throughout my life and this was not an emotional state that was receptive to the assertions of a child and I learned very quickly when I should and should not talk to her. My recollection of my mother’s past behavior brings to the surface a theory as to the difference of behaviors I exhibited between my mother and father. My mother would frequently comment “I do everything for you and you have more respect for your dad, even though he never comes around or does anything for you.” Before I present my theory as to why I had less respect toward my mother, it is worth mentioning that she worked very hard all her life to give me whatever I wanted only to find herself in debt and I hold the utmost respect for her struggles to support me. At the time, she was self-absorbed with the stress and worry of how to provide for me, which left her emotionally disconnected; I remember spending most of my time isolated in my bedroom in a fantasy life using action figures to play out the plots, roles, and scenes; to cope with the stress of being a single parent, my mother would frequently go out to night clubs, leaving me at home with someone responsible for the night. By contrast, when my father came around he made sure that he tried to spend every minute with me to make up for the time that he had not been around, therefore giving me more direct attention. During my adolescence, I have come to realize that I may have held some resentment toward my mother for not trying to spend more quality time at home with me, such as the time my father, that I missed so much, gave me when he came around. The differences in parental interaction are what influenced my different behavioral reactions; my mother assumed that providing for me was enough and that she spent enough time with me because I lived with her; as a child, it appeared as though she preferred to spend time with her friends doing other things, rather than try to see if I wanted to watch a movie or do something with her. My father and I rarely were able to spend much time together over the years following my parent’s separation, so he and I both seemed to cherish every minute that we were able to be around each other; even though these situations occurred rarely, the attention during those times he spent with me was directly centered on me, which was different and seemed more valuable to me than the kind of attention my mother gave me. The fact that I missed my father repressed any possible resentment I may have had for him leaving me, and left me to value and cherish the time I did get with him. By contrast, I viewed my mother as having many opportunities to spend with me, but passed them up to do things that seemed “better.” These past conceptions of my parents brought me to express a negative attitude towards my mother, which left Erikson’s third stage of childhood (play age) unaddressed until I reached young adulthood.
Struggle for Independence
Unable to express my repressed insecurities from childhood, possibly due to the defense mechanism of denial, my mother was unaware that there may have been psychological issues from being labeled disabled by our culture; with this label comes assumptions that question my ability to perform the actions of “normal” people; for example, when I am accidentally tossed out of my wheelchair, people rush to try and help me get into the chair that I maneuver in and out of many times a day. I am not the least bit ungrateful for their help and it is nice to know that there are people in the world that still care about others. My only objection here is that these people run to me with the assumption that I am weak and frail, thereby needing their immediate assistance. If a “normal” person was walking down the sidewalk, tripped and fell, how many people would rush to help him or her back up? If the public crowd realized that he or she was not getting up after a while, then they might attempt to offer their assistance. When I fall to the ground with my hands out to brace the fall and find myself in a crawling position, I rarely have the time to simply turn around and pull myself back up into my wheelchair before some one is racing to my aid. It is almost as if the public’s general conception is “Oh my god! He just fell out of his wheelchair; he must be hurt, let’s hurry and help him!” If people did not think that I was frail and weak, then they would not feel the need to rush to my aid before observing for at least 15 seconds if I actually might be able to get back in my chair on my own. I feel that this cultural misconception has made it difficult for me to address Erikson’s second stage of early childhood characterized by the psychosocial issue of autonomy versus shame and doubt; the central question formed in this stage is “how can I be independent?” It is hard to arrive at an answer to this question when our culture has created a stereotype that all disabled people cannot feel their legs and need help with simply getting in their wheelchair.
Finding my Place
Erikson’s fourth stage of childhood (school age) characterized by the psychosocial issue of industry versus inferiority poses the central question of “how can I be good?” According to McAdams (2006), a child in this stage comes to understand the proper modes and manners of conduct expected outside the workplace. As I mentioned earlier, the stereotype of a helpless disabled person is evident in our culture, thereby inducing greater levels of inferiority and less feelings of being good within my place of the industry compared with the average person. During the summer of my sophomore year in 1998, I feel that I resolved the question as to how to be good due to my change in attitude and perceptions. I lost all of the weight that I had gained over the years, became more sociable and active, and began to truly feel good about myself for the first time since my parent’s separation. During my senior year in 2000, I met my wife, Angella; with this new relationship came a new way of life that I had never experienced in the past. Angie’s mother, Cindy was in a fight with her husband, Angie’s father, and decided that she was leaving him for good this time. During the summer following my graduation in the year 2000, I decided I would move out of my mother’s apartment and in with Angie and Cindy in an attempt to form an identity by establishing a residence that I could call my own. Angie’s family was consumed by physical and mental abuse, dishonesty, deceit, and aggressive tension that slowly unraveled their relationships with one another; this did not change when Cindy, Angie, and I moved into our own apartment, it simply spread to a different location. Angie’s father, brother, mother, and little sister continued the chaos all around me, and during these chaotic occurrences I would become frozen and disoriented from not knowing how to handle these types of intense, conflicting situations. Less than a year later, Angie and I fell into an ecstasy addiction that would test the strength of our relationship over the course of the following year. Upon losing all that we had, friendships, two residencies, a new vehicle, etc, we were left with no other options. During the year of 2002, my mother was kind enough to allow Angie and me to move into her house, even though she did not like the idea of Angie and me living under her roof without being married. My mother’s religious values dictated her decision to make Angie sleep on the couch and me in the bed, or vice versa. Now Angie and I could have an environment filled with love, caring, and no aggressive tension; my mother provided a positive role model for Angie and the rest of my family began to regularly interact with Angie while expressing their acceptance for her. I recall Angie saying on several occasions, “I love being around your family because they accept me and make me feel like I am part of the family.” Angie was accustomed to her brother and dad frequently calling her a “bitch” and a “hoe,” and never experienced the real positive family interactions that I had been accustomed to throughout my childhood. In April of 2007, Angie and I decided it was time to get out on our own again, feeling more prepared this time from leaving an environment of positive influence. Things were spectacular, I was endowed with the strongest sense of confidence that I ever had; Angie and I were able to pay the bills with just the two of us and since Cindy was not living with us this time, the amount of negative influence from Angie’s entire family was non-existent. I was overcome with the guilt of Angie having to mostly support our home, experienced from an encounter with a life changing situation that inspired me to enroll in college to begin working on a way for me to share that burden and support. I made the decision to try and raise her pubescent sister in our healthier environment, and then the negative family interactions began gradually increasing over time. The first time I realized that it was happening all over again, was when I had stated to Angie that “I think we will do better in taking care of our responsibilities if we are not tempted to sit down in front of a T.V. all the time, plus we do not have the money to spend on cable.” A couple of weeks later, Angie’s brother and father deceitfully hooked up the cable by illegally splicing it off of our neighbor that was Angie’s best friend. I began to notice that the dominate influence was no longer in my control; from this point on, Angie and I let the influence of her family have control. After losing another residence, Cindy managed to squeeze her way back into the point of using our house as a temporary residence. Angie and I’s life slowly slipped out of our control with the presence of her entire family interactions being allowed to influence the choices in our life. We were left with the only option of moving back in with my mother once again, and a couple of weeks later, Angie and I found out that a neighbor across the street had called our landlord complaining about a dispute that involved Cindy’s disrespect for our house.
After only one year, in 2008 we were back in the comfort and security of my mother’s home, but this time something felt different inside of me. I was not as relieved as I was the first time we moved into my mother’s house in 2002. I was filled with regret and guilt from imposing on my mother yet again, not to mention the shame of not being able to secure and maintain my own household; as an adult, I had failed. Steadily working on my degree, I entered a period of questioning who I was and how I fit into the adult world. This is the central question of Erikson’s fifth stage of adolescence and young adulthood characterized by the psychosocial issue of identity versus role confusion. I began to review the past seven years of my life to see the ways in which I changed by moving from a negative influential environment into a positive influential environment; the ways in which I attempted to regain my childhood behaviors by moving in with the single most important person in the contribution to my past healthy behaviors, my mother; and the ways in which my mother’s positive behaviors lacked enough influence to prepare Angie and I to maintain our own home and secure the healthy behaviors we learned that started our positive home environment strong upon moving in April of 2007. I endured episodes of depression that brought back into question the central questions posed in each of Erikson’s stages. Reviewing all this material on a regular basis brought me to associate the common elements in my failed attempts at becoming an adult and found that Angie’s family’s negative influence may be that element. Not wanting Angie to feel that I wanted to keep her from her family, I kept it to myself. I continued trying to help and be a positive influence on her family, but my prior realization brought me to become quickly frustrated as I carefully observed the unchanging behaviors that had negatively influenced Angie and I’s path to becoming a responsible adult. With the understanding that Angie loves her family, we eventually made the agreement that she understood her family caused a great amount of stress, so she understood my decision to distance myself from them; I only concerned myself with the well-being of her 14-year-old sister whom I felt needed my help. Once her sister’s selfish behavior pushed me to the point of final frustration to my identity crisis, Angie stepped up to prove her commitment to my academics and our future, thereby resolving the psychosocial issue of identity versus role confusion; at that very moment I knew who Angie and I were, and how we would fit into the adult world. Previously, doubts as to where most of Angie’s loyalty and determination rested was uncertain; would she continue to be the backbone and the person her family wanted her to be, or was she going to move that loyalty over to the dedication toward our future as husband and wife in hopes of creating a family some day? In Erikson’s sixth stage of young adulthood the psychosocial conflict of intimacy versus isolation was leaving me toward isolation more than intimacy; the central question of “how can I love?” was being presented in my mind through the terms of future and present; in the future, how could I love by taking advantage like Angie’s family does to her; on the other hand, if I was to lean more to the isolated pole instead of intimacy, I would be able to remove all negative influences that keep me from loving properly, but Angie’s proven commitment to our future leaves no more questions as to the dedication that will be put forth in developing our life.
Erikson suggested “that a person may be unable to be truly intimate with others until he or she has first made considerable progress in addressing the identity issue” (McAdams, 2006, p. 359). The fact that it was Angie that resolved my identity crisis is the main reason I believe our bond has grown even stronger recently. I feel that all of my social bonds are beginning to strengthen as well. After trying so hard to help Angie’s family and failing, I began to question my reasoning and purpose for attaining my psychology degree. Now I realize that in order to help people, they must come to you with the dedication to want to make their selves better, otherwise it is simply a countdown until the next pity session. Psychologically revived, I feel that my purpose is to help all of those who need and truly want it. I believe that my dilemmas as a child prepared me to keep trying for the life I began imagining for Angie and I the moment we were engaged and vowed to build that life together. At one time, I questioned the effort Angie was willing to put forth due to her excessive need to support a family that did not want to support their selves, but like all the conflict in my life, it was overcome. Earlier it may have sounded as though I was frustrated about culture’s label of the disabled, but honestly it allowed me to have the understanding that many lack. The influence of societal stereotypes constantly reminds me that I am different, but it also reminds me to consider the ways in which others may feel that they are different. If I could change one event in my life, I would choose to change the situation that started my struggle at eight months old; it would allow me to do all the things I have thought about doing if I could walk, but honestly, this change may have made it to where I never met my wife and I would not trade that for fully functioning legs. I believe that the meaning of my life is to reveal the decisions that are detrimental to an individual’s well-being in attempts to reroute negative social behavior toward a fully functioning person, in hopes of developing a more productive standard for societal behavior.
McAdams, D. (2006). The person: A new introduction to personality psychology.
(4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.