After reading about defense mechanisms like regression, I have to admit that I am fixated somewhat at an oral stage of development, according to Freud. Whenever I have exams or have to read, I cannot help but chew my nails. It is amusing to see my 7-month-old daughter also working through this stage, as she puts nearly everything in her mouth as a way of interacting with it. I appreciate Erikson’s suggestion that this stage represents the desire to incorporate the outside world into oneself. Around the time of my conversion to Christ, I spent many, many hours devouring the Holy Bible, trying to incorporate the character of God into myself.
After taking the Psychosocial Development Test by Gwen Hawley, I was pleased to discover that in stages 2-4, I lacked growth but that in stages 5-7 I had clear gains; this I attribute to my conversion experience at the age of 23. I think prior to that (besides the first stage) I was wanting in coherent structures and positive experiences. Acceptance of Christ and identification with His body, the church, provided necessary structure and led to ego coherence in some middle Eriksonian stages.
I have hope that further challenges in the more advanced stages may allow sufficient disintegration and re-formation in terms of previously unmet tasks. Thus the earlier unfulfilled ego strength of initiative, attained by charting the challenges of purpose versus shame, may yet be found, when further progress in other stages (e.g., stage 7, generativity versus stagnation) allows revisiting older structures. In this respect, Erikson’s psychosocial theory serves to mitigate the despair of failing tasks earlier on.
Freud, too, in his idea of positive defense mechanisms, offers hope for those struggling with frustrated drives. His suggestion that rather than biting one’s nails, one can sublimate one’s ‘psychosexual’ energy and choose to serve humanity, perhaps as a missionary, opens new frontiers for change. In this scheme, even humour is a healthy way to let off steam.
In the context of spiritual journey, both theorists offer plenty of material which one may extrapolate to one’s life, bringing various challenges of ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ into more distinct and well-defined terms.