Intimacy vs. Isolation: Psychosocial Stage 6

Forming intimate relationships with others

Intimacy versus isolation is the sixth stage of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. This stage takes place during young adulthood between the ages of approximately 19 and 40. During this period, the major conflict centers on forming intimate, loving relationships with other people. Success at this stage leads to fulfilling relationships. Failure, on the other hand, can result in feelings of loneliness and isolation.

intimacy vs isolation in psychosocial development
Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee 

Overview

  • Psychosocial Conflict: Intimacy versus isolation
  • Major Question: "Will I be loved or will I be alone?"
  • Basic Virtue: Love
  • Important Event(s): Romantic Relationships

Understanding Psychosocial Development Theory

Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development proposes that people pass through a series of stages centered on social and emotional development. At each point in a person’s life, he or she faces a developmental conflict that must be resolved. People who overcome these conflicts are able to achieve psychological skills that ultimately last the rest of a person’s life. Those who fail to master these challenges will continue to struggle.

One thing that made Erikson’s theory unique is that unlike many other developmental theories, the psychosocial stages look at how people change and grow over the course of the entire lifetime. These adult stages continue to play an important role in each individual's development. This sixth stage of development begins in early adulthood and is centered on the formation of lasting relationships. Those who are successful at this stage are able to forge deep relationships and social connections with other people.

What Happens During This Stage

Erikson believed it was vital that people develop close, committed relationships with other people. These emotionally intimate relationships as people enter adulthood play the critical role in the intimacy versus isolation stage. Such relationships are often romantic in nature, but Erikson believed that close friendships were also important. Erikson described intimate relationships as those characterized by closeness, honesty, and love.

Success

  • Strong and deep romantic relationships

  • Close relationships with friends and family

Failure

  • Poor romantic relationships

  • No deep intimacy

  • Loneliness and isolation

People who are successful in resolving the conflict of the intimacy versus isolation stage are able to develop deep, meaningful relationships with others. They have close, lasting romantic relationships, but they also forge strong relationships with family and friends.

Success leads to strong relationships, while failure results in loneliness and isolation. Adults who struggle with this stage experience poor romantic relationships. They might never share deep intimacy with their partners or might even struggle to develop any relationships at all. This can be particularly difficult as these individuals watch friends and acquaintances fall in love, get married, and start families. Those who struggle to form intimacy with others are often left feeling lonely and isolated. Some individuals may feel particularly lonely if they struggle to form close friendships with others.

Important Tasks at This Stage

Learning to be open and sharing with others is an important part of the intimacy versus isolation stage. Some of the other important tasks that can play a role in success or failure at this point of development include:

  • Sharing part of the self with others while still maintaining a strong sense of self-identity.
  • Being intimate. This is more than just engaging in sex; it means forging emotional intimacy and closeness. Intimacy does not necessarily have to be with a sexual partner. People can also gain intimacy from friends and loved ones.
  • Making commitments to others. Part of being able to form strong relationships involves being able to commit to others for the long-term.
  • Caring about the needs of others. Relationships are reciprocal. Getting love is important at this stage, but so is giving it.

A Sense of Self Contributes to Intimacy or Isolation

While psychosocial theory is often presented as a series of neatly defined, sequential steps, it is important to remember that each stage contributes to the next. For example, Erikson believed that having a fully formed sense of self (established during the identity versus confusion stage) is essential to being able to form intimate relationships. People with a poor sense of self tend to have less committed relationships and are more likely to suffer emotional isolation, loneliness, and depression.

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Article Sources

  1. Mushtaq R, Shoib S, Shah T, Mushtaq S. Relationship between loneliness, psychiatric disorders and physical health? A review on the psychological aspects of loneliness. J Clin Diagn Res. 2014;8(9):WE01–WE4. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2014/10077.4828

Additional Reading

  • Erikson, EH. Childhood and Society. 2nd ed. New York: Norton; 1963.
  • Erikson, EH. Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton; 1968.
  • Erikson, EH. The Life Cycle Completed. New York/London: Norton; 1982.