A Spiritual Look at Erik Erikson’s Theory of Personality Development Part 3 of 8
“Guilt is regret for what we’ve done. Regret is guilt for what we didn’t do.” ~Unknown
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” ~George Bernard Shaw
By looking at Erik Erikson’s Theory of Personality Development through the lens of a spiritual path in addition to its psychological model, we can garner a deeper understanding of our soul’s path. Without including a sense of spirituality in our psychosocial development, we miss a key ingredient in our life experience. So far I’ve looked at the first two stages of Erikson’s theory, Trust vs. Mistrust and Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. In this issue, I’ll reflect on stage three, Initiative vs. Guilt.
The third stage of Erikson’s theory is characterized by the statement: “Can I do things on my own? If “guilty” about making his or her own independent choices, the child will not function well. Erikson has a positive outlook on each of his stages, and relating to this one he states that most guilt is quickly compensated by a sense of accomplishment. This stage is marked by the ages 4-6 and leads to the virtue of purpose.
A child’s foray into independence involves taking the initiative through experimenting with items around the house that an adult might deem as inappropriate and thus the child may be scolded with guilt being inferred from the experience. Of course, this is a natural part of life, that there are limits and boundaries. So a nice way for a parent to balance this out is to provide ample areas and freedom where it is okay for them to explore. Guilt may also arise when an experiment at this age does not yield the desired result. Perhaps a child attempted to make his own cereal in the morning but didn’t count on spilling the milk everywhere, small potatoes for an adult but perhaps a failure to a child.
Since a child is likely to undertake risky behavior at this stage, redirecting it can be an important aspect of this stage due to the ensuing guilt. If a child experiences incessant frustration due to their caregiver’s response or a continued sense of failure by their own efforts, it is possible that aggressive behavior may develop such as hitting, yelling or throwing things. A sense of “barbaric” independence may be directed to the parent.
Initiative means being adventurous and experimenting with your independence. However, without the cognitive awareness of right/wrong, compassion and safety, we can’t help but witness and absorb fear from our parents regarding “dangerous” things we may be trying. In addition, it’s quite possible we may be putting others in harms way or impacting them negatively, which requires corrective action. Depending on the nurturing or criticism a parent displays during this stage can determine the extent of guilt and thus the growth or lack thereof of our initiative.
In essence, guilt is anger you don’t feel the right to have. For a child, being angry with their caretaker not only induces more guilt, but it’s an anger that doesn’t have too many places to go since they are so dependent on their caregiver for survival. Therefore, guilt has the potential to replace healthy self-motivation. It can work like an imprisoning sedative causing us later in life to look at life’s tasks as obligations and using guilt to get them done thereby squashing any real inspiration.
The virtue that results from this stage is purpose. This is where our spirit ties into this stage. Without a sense of purpose, our connection to spirit and other people is compromised. In fact, it may be avoided all together to spare our repeated experience of guilt. The level of guilt is related to the level of parenting a child received. Some guilt is necessary or it wouldn’t be included in such foundational developmental studies. However, extreme, toxic levels of guilt can be debilitating and lead to life long challenges that must be addressed during our adult years.
On a spiritual path, initiative is a necessity. It certainly can be the catalyst of someone seeking something bigger than themselves and developing Faith. Without initiative one might wait to be spoon-fed all of their beliefs in life which is potentially dangerous. Without being able to think for oneself, we fall prey to faulty beliefs that might include risky and hurtful behavior and blind faith in a person or organization instead of a higher power. Standing up for what you believe in requires initiative whether it’s a spiritual, political, cultural, international, national or local cause. Standing your ground in the face of opposition for what you believe in is rooted in this stage of development.
Since this stage is when the child decides whether they are good or bad, we can see how instrumental this stage is in developing a relationship with a higher power. If we feel we are bad, our ability to cultivate that relationship is sullied by our “knowledge” of being bad. How can “God” love me if I’m so bad? Therefore, the virtue of purpose is lost and may cause the wandering, meandering “child” to be numb to their reality and coast through it as if by chance instead of choice. As always, Erikson realizes that experiencing either spectrum of the stage will ultimately lead you to the spiritual virtue as we cannot truly “fall off” our spiritual path. Human nature is to seek better solutions for the purposes of growth and acquiring our preferences and needs in life. Therefore, a lack of purpose can catapult one on a search for something greater leading to self-inquiry, therapy, religion, spirituality and education in an effort to heal the breach of this stage.
For myself, I’m certainly attempting to circumvent any of the pitfalls inherent in the developmental stages with both of my daughters. However, I am still human and their lives are not 100% in my hands. Their own spiritual paths are one of the determining factors in how they perceive their experiences and thus internalize the lessons of each development stage. Some of the lessons are quite simply part of the deal of being human and others are lessons their spirit wants to learn as a part of their growth and mission on the planet. With that said, my response to my mistakes as a parent can certainly make a difference in addition to being willing to discuss things later in life when they are cognitively mature enough to express buried feelings that can only surface when they are able to handle it.
On a broader scale, the guilt we experience as the result of our initiative is symbolic of the birth of the ego and thus our separation from One Source. Something in us intrinsically fears that separation. The choice to want to experience something separate from the oneness is at the root of the “guilt” and depending on the prior two stages our initiative can be stunted as a lack of purpose or an overly developed sense of ruthless ambition where the ego runs the show instead of our Spirit. Of course, this may not show up until adulthood but shades of it can be seen in this seedling stage such as the barbaric independence and acting out discussed earlier.
In our process as adults, replacing guilt with character and integrity paves the way to a sense of purpose. By not medicating with guilt we have an acute awareness of our impact on others and can take the initiative to make healthy choices and decisions in our life that are for the highest good of all concerned. Understanding that each and every one of us has a purpose on the planet imbues a sense of respect and dignity for all life and can be a key ingredient in creating a true spiritual warrior; one who possess a quiet determination and dignity. Every living thing deserves that especially the children!
WHAT GUILT DOES TO YOU: • Paralyzes • Turns into resentment • Numbs you to reality • Fosters Self-Pity, Self-Punishment and Denial • Takes the place of healthy self-motivation (use guilt to get things done) • Keeps you stuck in the past (guilty about the past, what you’ve done, what you haven’t done)
WAYS TO TRANSCEND GUILT • Work to heal the Child and Adolescent • Own any payoffs you may be garnering • Recognize the anger underneath it in order to transcend it • Develop character, integrity and self-determined rules • Dream: Imagine, Desire, Expect • Laugh • Be of service to others authentically out of a sense of joy instead of obligation: this is one of the best ways to FEEL the difference between guilt and initiative.
MEDITATION TO RELEASE GUILT • Go to your safe place, somewhere in nature • Once comfortably in your safe place, ask for the help of the unseen friend of your choice: your Higher Self, Ascended Master, Guide, Angel or Counselor. • When they arrive, greet them and check in to see if they have any initial message for you about your guilt. Trust the message you get. • Then invite your child of 4-6 years of age to join you. • Let them talk about this stage, what they experienced, perceived and remember. • Allow your unseen friend to work energetically on your child to heal the wounds of this stage. • After this healing, let your child frolic in your safe place and enjoy the new found lightness, freedom and joy that comes from this healing. • Your unseen friend now turns their attention to you and with your permission will release the heaviness of guilt and replace it with the healthy sense of initiative. In the meditation you may sit in a chair or lie down for the healing. Trust what happens. • Let this happen and take note of any symbols, feelings or physical sensations that occur during this process. • When the healing session is complete, your unseen friend will share with you a hand gesture that you can use anytime you feel guilt. There is no wrong way to interpret this. Once you receive your gesture, you’ll be free to use it in any situations you are feeling guilt. Repeated use of this technique will reprogram your cellular memory and solidify the healing. • Thank your unseen friend and proceed to frolic in your safe place with your child before you exit your meditation.
About The Author: Jesseca Camacho is a writer, teacher, spiritual counselor, wife and mother. She is a graduate of the Clearsight Clairvoyant Program, completed a 2-year channeling program with world renowned channeling teacher, Shawn Randall and received her Massage, Reflexology, Energetic Medicine and Reiki I & II Certification through the Institute of Psycho-Structural Balancing. Jesseca has a B.A. in Early Childhood Education and completed the Parenting from the Heart Program. In addition, she incorporates the ancient systems of numerology and enneagram into her spiritual counseling sessions to facilitate awareness and healing on a soul level. She is also the co-author of the Children’s Spirit Animal Cards with Dr. Steven Farmer.