Friday, September 17, 2010

The Use of Erikson’s Developmental Theory with Gay Men from Rural Communities – by Keith W. Beard, Psy.D. & Amy Hissam, M.A. - Marshall University – 2002



Gay men may not experience the same degree of resolution to the conflicts in Erikson’s stages of development. Macatee (1999) states that gay men have a more complex developmental process than heterosexual men. Specifically, gay men may go through a different developmental process of individuation and identity formation. These variations in development can negatively affect a gay man and his ability to adjust to peer culture, create issues with intimacy, hinder self-acceptance, and produce feelings of vulnerability.

Nomberg Silver (2001) provides further support for the notion that gay men have additional obstacles when developing their identity. Her study supports Erikson’s theory that individuals have various developmental tasks that need to be resolved as they develop. This resolution allows for coping mechanisms to be cultivated which assist in reducing anxiety. Prejudice directed toward gay men in our society may have consequences in regard to ego development, levels of anxiety, and related distress.

Age differences

Van De Ven, Rodden, Crawford, and Kippax (1997) found differences between older and younger gay men in terms of living alone, having children, and the likelihood of disclosing their sexual orientation. Additionally, gay men over 49 years old have less social attachment, cultural involvement, and sexual involvement.

These age differences may also be found with developmental tasks. We hypothesize that younger gay men of today will be able to proceed through Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development closer to the age ranges he established for each stage rather than “back tracking” through the stages. We suspect that middle aged or older gay men must revert to the “identity versus role confusion” and “intimacy versus isolation” stages when they begin to accept being gay as a part of their identity and begin engaging in intimate relationships. Middle aged and older gay men may have to re-evaluate the conflict for those stages and make new choices. Cornett and Hudson (1987) agree, stating that Erikson’s theory holds special promise for understanding and aiding gay men in mid-life development.

The reasons why we believe that there may be age differences are related to the changes that are occurring in our society related to gay issues. According to Gil (1999), the political and cultural changes that have occurred should impact how one understands adolescents today. Friedman and Epstein (1996) report that in earlier years, there were not many well-known people who were comfortable enough with their sexuality to come out publicly. Therefore, those growing up in the early to middle 1900’s did not have many role models to follow. It is very difficult to be comfortable with being gay, when there are no examples or possible outcomes to look to for assurance. Today, even though there are more media role models for those who are gay, it can still be very trying to develop a secure sense of one’s own identity.

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