Integrity Versus Despair

A person's final identity crisis is integrity versus despair. At the end of life, the dys-tonic quality of despair may prevail, but for people with a strong ego identity who have learned intimacy and who have taken care of both people and tilings, the syntonic quality of integrity will predominate. Integrity means a feeling of wholeness and coherence, an ability to hold together one's sense of "I-ness" despite diminishing physical and intellectual powers.

Beyond Biography Who was Erik Erikson? For information on Erikson's lifelong search for his own identity, please go to our website at

Ego integrity is sometimes difficult to maintain when people see that they are losing familiar aspects of their existence: for example, spouse, friends, physical health, body strength, mental alertness, independence, and social usefulness. Under such pressure, people often feel a pervadhig sense of despair, which they may express as disgust, depression, contempt for others, or any other attitude that reveals a nonacceptance of the finite boundaries of life.

Despair literally means to be without hope. A reexamination of Figure 9.2 reveals that despair, the last dystonic quality of the life cycle, is in the opposite corner

Chapter 9 Erikson: Post-Freudian Theory 261

from hope, a persons first basic strength. From infancy to old age, hope can exist. Once hope is lost, despair follows and life ceases to have meaning.

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