ERIC ERICKSON, A FAMOUS PSYCHOLOGIST, introduced the theory that everyone develops through eight phases. One of these is the stage of Generativity versus Self-absorption or at times described as Generativity versus Stagnation, which was the subject of recent discussion between my client and me.
She is in her mid-50s and had sought help for her troubled marriage. I shared with her that as she and her spouse had overcome the crisis of his infidelity, they now had to face the challenge of rebuilding their marriage. is would involve amongst other things, having to rediscover joint interests and aspirations.
Like many couples in their mid-life, they have long focused their energies around their work and their children. In the process, their relationship has been neglected and they have grown apart. As their careers plateau or become routine and their children leave home, like many 50-something empty-nesters they find themselves somewhat adrift and unsure of where to focus their energies.
This is when they will be confronted with the choice of whether to become more self-absorbed or to be more generative. Examples of individuals being more self-absorbed are those who begin to indulge in more personal pursuits and interests purely to amuse themselves. ey may become more involved in playing golf or acquiring a new wardrobe or an additional car, for instance.
It must be said that these pursuits are not bad in themselves. In fact, some might argue that after years of hard work, we may feel that we deserve the right to indulge ourselves. In this materialistic and consumerist world, we will also have no lack of voices telling us what we need or lack. But the paradox here is that no matter how much we acquire, we will still feel needful and the more needs we satisfy, the less satisfied we become. It is as if such pursuits are “chasing after the wind” as described by King Solomon.
Generativity, on the other hand, focuses on satisfying the needs of
others. We are seeking to build for and to leave something of value to others. These others may be our children or for the next generation. Examples of such pursuits are when we get involved in doing some community service or even when we reduce the pollution of our environment. The paradox here is that when we invest in the well-being of others, our lives become qualitatively richer and fuller.
The Bible has taught us this principle, that “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” – John 12:24 (KJV). It is as if in our dying to ourselves, only then will our lives be more productive.
As some of us ponder what to do with our lives and what legacy we want to leave behind, we may want to ask ourselves if it is a life lived in service of others or for ourselves. One path will lead us to fulfilment and the other, to trying to be full, but feeling never filled.
Benny Bong, a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, is a family and marital therapist.