The young adult has numerous stresses placed upon them through the route of development.
Erikson has theorised developmental stages of growth into tasks. Of Eriksons' theoretical tasks,
one task describes the theory of intimacy versus isolation. This task theory can be examined using
the normative crisis model. The knowledge of developmental tasks of the young adult can be
beneficial to the nurse especially associated with their ability to relate to the young adult.
One of the stages in life is the young adult, which suggests significant changes and an increase of
responsibility. This stage of development is described as between twenty and forty years, where
"...the potential for furtherance of intellectual, emotional and even physical development occurs".
(Gething, 1995, p.377). As people age the progress of the developmental stages can differ, so they
have formulated to assess the progression by using two principal crisis models. The first, are the
normative crisis model and the second includes the timing of events crisis model. The normative
crisis model has been powerful in shaping the psychology of the developmental stages as it has
allowed theorists to imply that stages of development can follow an age related time sequence.
The normative crisis model suggests that human development has a built in ground plan in which
crisis as describe by Erikson are seen as a requirement that must be resolved by the person before
successful progression from one developmental stage to another. Such achievement of this task
crisis should provide the young adult with the ability to challenge previous ideas held by the
adolescent about intimacy and isolation. This model is adapted for progression of the tasks to
follow the chronological age of the adult, while the related social and emotional changes progress
through a sequence that Erikson characterises in to eight specific crisis tasks over the life span.
(Kozier, erb, blais & wilkinson, 1995.).
The second crisis model depends upon the timing of events and is not dependant upon resolution
of crisis or a ground plan, but stresses the importance of each event that occur in the young
adults life. Life events that proceed as expected will encourage development, where as life events
that are unexpected can result in anxiety and a slow progression of development. (Gething,
The young adult according to Erikson's theory of personality should be progressing through the
psychosocial crisis of intimacy versus isolation. The tasks for this stage of life consist of courting
and selecting a "mate", marriage and associated choices, e.g. children and monogamous
relationship, career choices and lifestyle changes and furthering intellectual abilities to
accommodate choices. (Turner & Helms, 1987.). Some of the personal abilities that the young
adult must employ include decision making, career planing, understanding nature of increased
responsibility and being able to accommodate greater demands of self.
Erikson's theory describes the crisis of the young adults developmental stage being intimacy
versus isolation. This indicates the maturity of psychosocial development from the prior stage of
crisis of adolescence. Erikson's theory has been adapted and modified from Freud's psychosocial
theory to incorporate the entire life span, defining eight crises each with various tasks. (Kozier,
et al 1995). Erikson believes that "...the greater the task achievement, the healthier the personality
of the person", (Kozier, et al, 1995, P.572.) thus suggesting from his theory that failure to
achieve these tasks, will result in the inability to proceed to the next task or crisis. Erikson
believed that failure to achieve any given task could lead to a detrimental effect on the ego.
(Rapoport & Rapoport, 1980.)
One of the tasks of the theory of intimacy versus isolation, relates to courting and selecting a mate
for marriage. Courting usually starts prior to this developmental stage and may continue for an
undesignated period. The continuation of courtship is entirely reliant on the individual but the
development of issues such as independence and sharing associated within a serious relationship
should be initiated. A result of this task achievement should be that the individual has developed
or learned skills that are essential to relationships, e.g. sacrifice, compromise and commitment.
This task is considered a major issue that helps the individual to conclude their own feelings on
intimacy with another. (Gething, 1995.).
The union of marriage is dependant on the partners involved as to the reason to extend a long-term relationship to marriage. Some reasons for marriage can consist of a long-term commitment
to sharing, companionship, monogamous relationship and a desire to start a family. These
characteristics symbolise dedication, expression and development of the individual's identity.
Marriage is an opportunity to overcome Erikson's negative theory of isolation and to continue
through intimacy in a positive manner. (Turner & Helms, 1987).
These issues of marriage and courtship indicate a sense of achievement between identity and
intimacy as Erikson stresses it is important as "...before one can achieve intimacy, it is essential
to have a sense of identity, which should be achieved in adolescence" (Gething, 1995, P.401). As
this sense of identity and intimacy develop the young adult should also be generating their own
sense of moral values and ethics related to relationships. (Gething, 1995,P.401). Erikson also
considers marriage a mark of an adult and constantly refers to the developmental importance of
identity. With marriage, a change in "normal" lifestyle occurs, leading to greater demands,
responsibilities and development of identity. (Gething, 1995.).
The changes in a lifestyle from an adolescent to a young adult lead to adjustment of situations,
e.g. living arrangements, change of school to a career/job and coping abilities, e.g. financial
responsibilities. The establishment of this new identity can be stressful and demanding on the
young adult. These new changes require a considerable degree of maturity, which Erikson believes
will promote physical and psychological achievement. One change in lifestyle leads to a new task,
career preparation. This is an important part of a positive aspect of identity that plays a major role
in individual development. (Rapoport, 1980).
Career preparation and achievement assist the individual to achieve further personal and
developmental goals. The ability to maintain a job gives the young adult financial independence
and they are now at a stage where they can relate establishment of themselves as a worthwhile and
significant person to their choice of careers. (Turner & Helms, 1987.).
Career development fuses with many other facts of adult life. Erikson believes the gender of a
person affects the eventual career that the young adult, the abilities, interest and personality will
also play a role in the choice of career. The consequences of career choice are often voluntarily
but can be forced upon for any number of reasons, e.g. parental advice. (Gething, 1995.).
The young adults choice in career gives identity, self-respect, pride, values and ideas about the
world. According to Erikson this gives the individual a healthier personality if they achieve set
goals. The young adults first choice of career may not be the best choice, "...young adults are less
satisfied with their jobs, and are more likely to change later in life". (Rapoport & Rapoport, 1980,
P.393). In this task the young adult discovers that work is a consequence of life, and is bound
tight with their ego and self-image. Erikson expresses that if they are not successful with this task,
the ego will be affected. (Gething, 1995).
The nurse uses this information and knowledge about the young adult's developmental tasks to
assess the domains of health. These domains can include physical, psychological and emotional
and then intervene according to the positive and negative aspects of their health. Assessing and
intervention is for the well being of the young adult. To maintain the autonomy and sense of
achievement of the young adult the nurse should suggest positive alternatives as appropriate.
Erikson describes the development of depression, anger and failure or delay of intimacy as a result
of dysfunctional development. (Gething, 1995). As the nurse can assist with advice and positive
encouragement, he or she must also accept the decision made by the young adult, "...assisting
with necessary adjustments relating to health."(Kozier, Erb et al, 1995, P.843).
The young adult period is marked with many changes to the life of a person. The decision related
to career paths, development of relationships with peers and romantic relationships all places a
lot of pressure on young adults. Erikson's psychosocial theory of development describes intimacy
versus isolation to be the major issue for the young adult in personality development for the
person in the twenty to forty years age ranges. In the tasks of this stage the young adult must
resolve the issues to achieve growth and pass on to the next stage of development. The nurse
should posses the ability to asses the development of the young adult and appropriately provide
support and encouragement.