Life-Span Development and Personal Life Experiences

Subject: Psychology
Pages: 9
Words: 2266
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: College


Background of the study

Life-span development involves all the stages of development of human beings from conception to death. It encompasses several intermediary stages such as birth through infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and late adulthood to death. However, not all changes that occur in the life of an individual can be considered as development. Therefore, development involves a continuous and systematic pattern of changes that can be grouped into three broad categories. These changes include; physical development, cognitive development and psychosocial development (Sigelman & Rider 2006, pp. 2-3). Developmental psychologists are involved in the study of any of the three branches of developmental psychology.

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Each of these three domains in development involves various changes. An individual is said to have developed physically when there are observable changes such as aging, growth of body parts and organs, development of physiological functions such as sex characteristics among other physical changes. Cognitive development involves changes in the mental capabilities of an individual such as memory, thoughts, decision-making and problem-solving abilities, perceptions and emotions. On the other hand, psychosocial development involves those changes that are carried from one stage of life-span development to another also known as personal development and those that occur as a result of a developing individual interacting with the external environment such as family members and one’s society. The psychosocial changes include interpersonal relationships, emotions, personality development, egocentrism among other real-world skills and experiences (Sigelman & Rider 2006, p.3).

The research done by most developmental psychologists aims at describing and explaining the various characteristics in an individual which are perceived to remain the same or change along the lifespan developmental stages relative to the various factors that lead to continuity or discontinuity of life (Bornstein & Lamb 1999, p.4). Currently, it is documented that in addition to describing and explaining the aspects of change, psychologists are involved in assessing the various theoretical issues related to such changes. They are now more into explaining how and why human beings change. Therefore, two psychologists are bound to look at the same theoretical issue from different angles. The empirical and tentative explanations of various developmental psychologists have been documented and upheld (Bornstein & Lamb 1999, p.4). These studies are regarded as theories and concepts that try to explain human developmental phenomena.

This essay is based on the life experiences of an individual who was raised by an alcoholic mother and a violent dad. This individual developed into adulthood only to face many problems in life. Due to the unmet emotional needs and lack of trust during the early life stages of this individual, he grew up lacking trust in society thereby facing many relationship problems, low self-esteem, and an overdeveloped superego among other emotional challenges. This essay is based on various theories and concepts put forward by Freud, Erikson, Bowly, Ainsworth, and Sugarman who were developmental psychologists. Emphasis is directed to the attachment theory, the life-span development theory, the psychosocial theory, and the psychosexual theory in trying to describe and explain the mechanisms behind the challenges facing the individual referred to in the current case.

The Theories and Concepts in Life-Span Development relative to the current case

John Bowly and Mary Ainsworth’s Attachment Theory

In order for an infant to develop from infancy to childhood and other stages in life, it was discovered that there has to exist a bond between the infant and the parent or the caretaker. This explanation is the basis of the parent-child attachment theory developed by the two psychologists, Bowly and Ainsworth in 1991 (Goldberg, Muir & Kerr 1995, p.45). The theory was meant to describe and explain how and why a link develops between the infant and the caretaker and the consequences of an unhealthy attachment. Attachment involves a process that develops during the first stages in an infant’s life whereby the infant develops an emotional bond with the parent or the caretaker (Snyder & Lopez 2007, p.298).

In the current case, with an alcoholic mother and a violent dad, the kind of attachment that can be experienced by the infant is unhealthy. Parental behaviors are said to be very influential in determining the emotional behaviors and experiences that a child develops. This observation was noted by Bowly while working with orphaned children at a clinic. He came up with two categories of parental behaviors which include; adaptive and maladaptive behaviors (Snyder & Lopez 2007, p.299). When the parental responses towards the behavioral signs of an infant are inconsistent, love and trust do not develop between the infant and the caregiver. These are the consequences of maladaptive parental behaviors such as violence from the dad and alcoholism. The infant raised by such parents may finally become detached and withdraw from that relationship.

The effects of maladaptive parenting were also demonstrated by Ainsworth in an experiment involving a toddler subjected to alternating normal and strange situations. The toddler’s reactions can be divided into three categories which include; avoidant/Type A attachment, secure/positive/Type B attachment and finally resistant/Type C attachment. The current case gives a situation involving maladaptive parenting. The individual, in this case, developed Type A/Avoidant attachment. Under this relationship, there is a complete detachment between the child and the parent when the response from the parent is inconsistent (Goldberg & Muir 1995, pp.60-65). Later studies indicated that children showing avoidant attachments are said to suffer from depression and mood swings in their later life. This relationship replicates itself even within relationships involving grown-ups (Snyder & Lopez 2007, p.10).

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Leonie Sugarman’s Life-span Development Theory

In his theory, Sugarman tries to look at the human developmental phenomenon from a different perspective. It is argued that development involves value-oriented changes that occur in an individual that are aimed at improving the prevailing situation (Sugarman 2001, p.4). An individual is said to have developed when he/she is able to fulfill personal needs in a manner that does not jeopardize the freedom and rights of others in their respective societies and also when one is able to achieve the fulfillment of responsibilities that are within his/her capabilities. Moreover, these individuals should be able to develop capabilities and physical characteristics that allow them to be recognized in the society in which they are living in, without being treated in a manner meant to deprive them of their basic rights (Sugarman 2001, p.4).

This is contrary to the situation prevailing in the current case. When an individual is an alcoholic, there are not so many responsibilities that he or she can achieve in order for one to be considered as developed. On the other hand, violent acts particularly displayed by caregivers deprive the infant of the basic rights and freedoms that are important for it to grow to other stages in human development. Chaplin (cited in Sugarman 2001, p.5) argues that the process of development does not follow a linear path that leads to a defined end-point but it rather follows a spiral path involving revisiting of the ideas learned in the previous stages of development. This is the basis of the current challenges observed in this case. If an individual is exposed to acts of violence at a crucial stage in life such as adolescence or the midlife stage, he/she will grow up trying to re-visit what was taken away at any given stage and thus one may end up overindulging in acts of violence.

Under Sugarman’s theory, infancy is defined as the age 0-2 years old. This stage is characterized by attempts from the infant to interact with the real world through sensory and motor senses. There is the development of language, attachments, communication of feelings and personality development among other changes. The theory concurs with the attachment theory at this stage as it documents that the behavioral and emotional experiences of the infants are dependent on the kind of relationship existing between the infant and the caregiver (Sugarman 2001, p.57). Therefore, the prevailing experiences may help in the development of the infant or fail to achieve it as in the case mentioned here. The early childhood stage is 2-6 years which is characterized by better language, exercising of the experiences learned independently though being under the control of parents thereby individuals get to control their emotions and expand their sense of self and others.

Schooling begins at age 6-12 years or middle childhood. Further development gives way to adolescence at age 12-18 years. This stage is marked by rapid physical changes including changing relationships between an individual and other people in the society (Sugarman 2001, p.58-59). Early adulthood is the stage 18-40 years which is characterized by the development of positive psychological characteristics such as intimacy, love, commitment and hope among others. 40-60 years represent the middle adulthood stage which is characterized by the emergence of aging characteristics in an individual. Finally, late adulthood is the stage at 60-75 or more years when most of an individual’s responsibilities begin to decrease. This process assumes a cyclic path that involves egocentrism, assimilation, accommodation and setting of equilibriums. These four major steps must occur in each developmental stage in order for an individual to move from one stage to another. They are equally affected by the prevailing familial and societal experiences.

Freud’s psychosexual stages of development

This incorporates the theory of personality development whereby it is documented that the development of sexual characteristics does influence an individual’s psychological functions and the problems related to these changes must first be solved before an individual develops from one stage to another. It is argued that an individual must meet most if not all of the needs that arise at each step in the developmental process before moving to the next one. Stevenson (1992) uses the example of a child who denied saying nursing attention at an early age. This is the situation met in the case considered above. This child is bound to overindulge in these needs when given a chance at any stage in life and it is hard for the child to move from that stage to the next one.

When an individual overindulges in a certain need, frustration and fixation arise. This leaves the person with little potential to move from one immediate stage to another. Under this theory, there are five major stages in human development that are affected by psychosexual issues. These are; oral (at infancy), anal (1.5-3.5 years), phallic (3.5-5.5 years), latency (5.5-12 years), and genital (adolescence). A toddler is able to move from one stage to another depending on the relationships prevalent within the family context (Slee 2002, p.227). A fully cared-for child feels content with others in his/her later life. It is also observed that when the child commits less energy to resolve the psychosexual issues, the better the development of positive attachments with persons of the opposite sex. Stevenson (1992) argues that, if by bad luck the child remains fixated at any one of the previous stages, he/she will face problems trying to adjust to the real world in later life stages, which serves to explain why and how the individual in the current case is emotionally challenged.

Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory

This theory is also based on personality development. Erikson, an ego psychologist and Freud argue that personality development occurs through a number of steps. However, unlike the previous theory of Freud, Erikson’s theory posits that social issues have an impact on the development of a human being (Erikson 1968, p.1 of 3). Through social interaction, Erikson (1968) argues that an individual is able to develop ego id by solving a number of crises that face him/her in life. This ego id keeps on changing as an individual keeps on interacting with the external world and gaining new experiences with the virtue of competence playing a role in orientating one’s actions and behaviors. Erikson developed his theory on the basis of eight steps each of which is characterized by competence and mastery of the immediate situation before an individual move to the next level (Erikson 1968, p.1 of 3). When one step becomes perfectly handled, an individual feels a sense of mastery and confidence which is also regarded as ego strength/quality. Failure to achieve the targeted results instills feelings of mistrust in an individual.

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Unfortunately, the individual considered in the current case was deprived of the chance to experience mastery and competence in life experiences. Lack of motherly love and trust in addition to living under the influence of a violet dad left the individual with little potential to develop ego strength.


The essay gives an extensive account of the phenomenon of life-span development in human beings in relation to the case involving an individual faced with a number of challenges as a result of unresolved issues during the period of life-span development. Life-span development represents all the stages in the life of an individual from conception to death. A number of theories and concepts have been developed to try and describe or explain this phenomenon. These include; the attachment theory, the lifespan development theory, the psychosexual theory and the psychosocial theory all of which have been documented by various psychologists in the field of developmental psychology. The challenges that are observed in the current case can be attributed to deficiencies that occurred during the process of lifespan development. It is therefore imperative to take into consideration the various stages and their respective issues into consideration in one’s daily activities. Moreover, the theories and concepts as documented by various authors offer an extensive resource base that can be utilized by parents, guardians, caregivers, clinicians, teachers and society in general. In this way, children will get the necessary guidance in life.

Reference List

  1. Bornstein, MH & Lamb, ME 1999, Developmental psychology: an advanced textbook (4th ed.), Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Mahwah, New Jersey.
  2. Erikson, EH 1968, Identity: Youth and crisis, Norton Publishers, New York.
  3. Goldberg, S, Muir, R & Kerr, J 1995, Attachment theory: social, developmental and clinical perspectives, The Analytic Press, Inc., Hillsdale.
  4. Sigelman, CK & Rider, EA 2006, Lifespan: human development (5th ed.), Thomson Higher Education, Belmont.
  5. Slee, PT 2002, Child, adolescent and family development (2nd ed.), Cambridge University Press, New York.
  6. Snyder, CR & Lopez, SJ 2007, Positive psychology: the scientific and practical explorations of human strengths, Sage Publications, Inc., California.
  7. Stevenson, BD 1002, Freud’s psychosexual stages of development, Brown, Brown University.
  8. Sugarman, L 2001, Lifespan development, Publishers Psychology Press Ltd, Hove.