Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Early Adulthood (19–40)

What are the developmental tasks of early adulthood according to Roger Gould?

Roger Gould (1935–) is a psychoanalytic writer who has written a good deal about adult development. In fact, the popular book Passages by Gail Sheehy was based heavily on his research. Like Levinson, Gould conceptualized adult development as unfolding in a series of predictable stages. Gould was particularly interested in the way adults understand their life choices and how that changes across the lifespan. Gould proposed that the early adult years (age eighteen to thirty-five) were characterized by several psychological illusions that are slowly relinquished over time. He was particularly interested in the illusion of absolute safety.

One of the cardinal experiences of all human beings involves the fear of death. Our drive is toward life and we are terrified at the prospect of the annihilation of life, of death. In childhood, the illusion of absolute safety is maintained through dependence on idealized parents who are seen as omnipotent protectors, all-powerful guardians against death. In early adulthood, the illusion of absolute safety is transferred to the fantasy of the one right path. This path will lead to “the prize,” to absolute safety. Young adults anxiously and desperately seek this one true path, ever fearful of making a mistake, of going down the wrong path. It is only in midlife, when mortality becomes an emotional as well as an intellectual reality, that the illusion of the one right way can be abandoned.


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