Running head: LIFESPAN TIMELINE ANALYSIS 14
Lifespan Timeline Analysis
Part II: Timeline Analysis
Lifespan development is one of the most important topics mental health clinicians need to be knowledgeable about. Regardless of a counselor’s specialization and area of expertise, he or she will undoubtedly come across a wide variety of clientele of all ages, from children to older adults. Therefore, a counselor must be able to fully conceptualize and understand all stages of human development as well as the behavioral changes that take place from infancy to late adulthood (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). The science behind lifespan development ultimately strives to explain human behavior, as well as how and why individuals of all ages tend to react to life events and personal experiences (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). Identity becomes a crucial part of the process of growth from childhood to adolescence, as young people seek to figure out their individuality and uniqueness. It is also in a state of constant flux (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).
The personal change model, which explains human growth, has to do primarily with the acquisition and progression of specific skills from birth to childhood (Sameroff, 2010). In addition, it also concerns itself with cognitive functioning, early attachments with parents, as well as the rapport children develop with people outside of the home, such as teachers and peers. However, another key component in the change process is the contextual model, in which life experiences serve to further shape an individual’s identity (Sameroff, 2010). Therefore, culture, environment and educational institutions are also significant factors in human growth (Samaroff, 2010). The study of lifespan development has helped me to reflect carefully on my own life with regard to identity and growth, especially the experiences that have had an impact on my growth. Therefore, in this paper I will describe 6 main life events that have influenced my identity development from childhood through to adulthood and explain their significance through the lens of various developmental theories. This is particularly beneficial to understanding client issues as a mental health practitioner.
Life Event I 1980: Start of elementary school education
The beginning of my formal education began in 1980, at the age of 5. This was an age-graded event, as it was an inevitable and expected occurrence at this point in my childhood (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). This was a significant time in my life, as it represented a developmental challenge for me academically and emotionally. The transition into the school years is complex at this stage of the lifespan. Children have to cope with a more rigid schedule than in pre-school, and develop more intricate skills in core subjects such as Math and English (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). I personally found it difficult to deal with an entirely new structure to my day; one in which I was introduced to multiple subjects in the span of 6 hours. I also remember feeling as though I lagged behind my peers in numeracy skills, as I did not grasp mathematical concepts easily. Jean Piaget theorized that cognitive development is divided into stages. The preoperational stage, which occurs between the ages of 2 and 7, is a time when children are able to communicate thoughts, recall events that they have recently experienced, and use symbols to represent ideas – (for example a broom for a horse) – (Piaget, 1962, as cited in Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). However, their thought process does not show logic and they can only concentrate on one idea at a time (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). My relative difficulty in understanding mathematical problems at the age of 5 could be explained as “domain specific” progress. This means that a child’s ability to process concepts in various fields of study, such as numerical concepts, does not always evolve similarly to another child’s nor does it occur simultaneously. Thus, development occurs at differing rates (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).
Starting formal schooling was also an emotional adjustment, as I was quite close to my mother. The first day of school caused some separation anxiety, in that I felt lost in a new and strange environment with people I was not familiar with. I longed for my mother’s reassuring presence, especially because she separated from my father shortly after I was born and was therefore the only parent I knew, loved, and trusted. This illustrates attachment, which is crucial to a child’s psychosocial development. John Bowlby defined it as a need to feel close to a specific person during times of stress, and an enduring emotional connection that is needed in order to survive (Bowlby, 1988, as cited in Seven & Ogelman, 2012). In addition, I was painfully shy and had difficulty communicating in my first year of elementary school. One of the skills that school-age children must learn is how to alter their style of oral communication in order to adequately participate in the classroom (Christie, 2012). Thus, this was a learning curve for me, and I found it daunting to raise my hand and speak in front of my teacher and a big class. This major event changed me psychologically and socially because I was forced to develop better coping and communication skills without my mother present in order to adapt to a new learning environment. Navigating through elementary school influenced my identity through my lifespan, as I was able to take more initiative and more risks in my high school and university years. This is related to Erikson’s “initiative versus guilt stage”, when children attempt to behave in more adult ways (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015 p. 12).
Life Event II 1986: Maternal grandmother’s death
In the fall of 1986, my grandmother passed away of a heart attack. This was a nonnormative event, because it was not something that my family expected to happen (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). Her passing had a significant impact on my development, as, along with my mother, she was instrumental in helping to raise me from birth until the age of 11. Cherlin and Furstenberg (1986) conducted over 500 phone surveys with middle-class grandparents of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. They explained that there are 3 grandparenting styles, which are “involved, companionate, and remote” (Cherlin and Furstenberg, 1986, as cited in Watson, Randolph & Lyons, 2005, p. 345). The results indicated that African-American grandparents played more of a hands-on role than those who identified themselves as European. In addition, they were inclined to take on a more parental role with their grandchildren and correct inappropriate behavior (Cherlin and Furstenberg, 1986, as cited in Watson, Randolph & Lyons, 2005). I think there is definitely a cultural similarity between African-American, and Black Bermudian grandparenting styles, as these characteristics reminded me of my own grandmother, who had a rigid, authoritarian disciplinary style and who was definitely involved in almost every facet of my life.
I clearly remember the events that led up to my grandmother’s death. I was with one of my cousins, and suddenly saw nurses running frantically in a panic through the doors of her ward. After about 10 minutes, my mother came out and broke the devastating news to me. I was in shock, as this was my first real experience with death and I did not have the ability to process it emotionally. Therefore, this tragic life event affected me psychologically, as I felt somewhat traumatized and disoriented in the days that followed. Studies have shown that young children can become upset and overwhelmed due to traumatic experiences. As a result, their psychological well-being is at stake, because they are still developing cognitively and physically. In addition, they have not established sufficient coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma, and depend a great deal on their main caregiver to keep them out of harm’s way (Carpenter and Stacks, 2009; Lieberman 2004; Lieberman and Knorr, 2007, as cited in De Young, Kenardy, & Cobham, 2011). With time and reflection, the associated change from this experience impacted my identity development because of the moral values that my grandmother had instilled in me into adulthood. In Kohlberg’s moral development theory, the example of resisting the act of stealing can be seen as protecting the honor and reputation of one’s family. Thus, the dialogues that children have with their caregivers and cultural values can influence moral judgment (Haste & Abrahams, 2008).
Life Event III 1991: Medical diagnosis of type II diabetes
Perhaps one of the most frustrating and stressful life events I have experienced was my diagnosis of type II diabetes mellitus when I was 16 years old. This was a nonnormative event that decreased my self-esteem. I did not like to talk about my disease with people, because I felt ashamed and also felt that there was a stigma attached to being diabetic. The beginning stages of diabetes can destabilize the connection between the psyche and the body. Therefore, young diabetics and their families must develop strategies for managing the disease and cope with its emotional side effects (D’Alberton, Nardi, & Zucchini, 2012). Individual counseling for diabetics can be beneficial, and parents should also be encouraged to take part in family therapy once their child has been diagnosed (D’Alberton, Nardi, & Zucchini, 2012).
Lamentably, I did not have the opportunity to receive therapy; however, despite my struggles with this disease, it was significant to my identity development as I became more responsible with the choices I made into early adulthood. It was my responsibility to take insulin injections twice a day and check my blood sugar regularly. This reminds me of Erikson’s fourth stage of development, in which young people between the ages of 12 and 20 are faced with choices as they enter adulthood (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). Living with diabetes has changed me cognitively, as I am much more aware of the symptomology, what causes hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic attacks, and how I can adjust my diet and exercise regime to maintain healthy blood sugars. I am also more sensitive to any negative physiological and emotional responses to this chronic disease and can therefore make immediate changes in my daily lifestyle to get back on track.
As I struggled to come to grips with my diagnosis, I also experienced issues with my self-image. I would always compare my physical appearance to that of my female peers and was unnecessarily hard on myself. In addition, I was always reminded of the media’s portrayal of the perfect body in magazines, commercials, and movies. In the U.S., an estimated 24% – 46% of adolescent girls are not happy with their bodies, compared to 12%-16% of adolescent boys (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2002; Presnell, Bearman, & Stice, 2004; Stice & Whitenton, 2002, as cited in Paxton, Eisenberg, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2006). This experience changed me psychologically, as with time, I found a way to mentally let go of things I could not control, and focused on eating more healthily and getting more involved in physical activities, such as dance and running.
Life Event IV 1992: Beginning of university undergraduate studies
In 1992, I accepted an offer to study at a reputable undergraduate university in Canada. This was an age-graded event in my life. I did not expect to get in, given the large number of yearly applicants and the competition. The move to Canada signified a major step in my independence in later adolescence, as it was the first time I had lived in a different country away from home. Late adolescence is also called “emerging adulthood”. In this stage of lifespan development, young people start to view themselves as adults who can make a meaningful difference in society (Arnett, 2000, as cited in Vernon, 2010). In addition, they are less reliant on their parents, and thus become more self-sufficient (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006, as cited in Vernon, 2010).
I was quite anxious and nervous about the academic and social pressures that awaited me at university. Furthermore, I questioned my identity as a young Bermudian with no world life experience, and worried whether I would survive the rigors of university and be able to eventually join the work force. In some ways, I equate this phase with the fifth stage of Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development, “identity versus role confusion” (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015 p. 12). This occurs when adolescents who enter the emerging adulthood stage face moral choices and decide on career aspirations (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). I went through several cognitive changes in my first year of university, as I moved into Piaget’s formal operational stage. I was able to think abstractly and in a more logical fashion, and weigh the pros and cons of specific situations, (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). The associated change that came with this stage of my life was an increase in confidence about my identity as a young, Black woman, and I was less afraid to voice my opinions.
Life event V 2003: Father’s death
My father passed away in the spring of 2003 in Montreal, Canada, and his death was a nonnormative event. The year prior, I had moved to Montreal to be closer to my boyfriend, who, at the time, was a nursing assistant at the long-term care facility where my father resided. Unfortunately, he was not the same person I remembered as a teenager, as he had aged significantly and had suffered memory loss and epilepsy, which had deteriorated his cognitive functioning.
I did not have a close relationship with my father in childhood and adolescence; he was a heavy drinker, had a very loud and intimidating voice, and was abusive to my mother early in their marriage. Thus, I had a rather low opinion of him, as did other members of my family. I was therefore not as emotionally attached to him as I was to my mother. In addition, he did not live with me in Bermuda during my childhood and adolescence. Children who do not reside with their fathers often deal with social problems, which may negatively affect their behavior and performance at school (Hawkins, Amato, & King, 2007). Fathers who do not live with their children, however, can prevent these situations from happening by cultivating a warm and close rapport with their offspring (Hawkins, Amato, & King, 2007). My father’s death signified the end of my living relationship with him. Although I was shaken by his loss and the thought that I would never see him again, this affected my identity development in a positive way, because it made me want to get to know the cousins on my father’s side of the family that I had never met. After his death, I made contact with them and I now enjoy a close relationship with one of my male cousins, who lives in the U.S. with his family.
Life Event VI 2006: Marriage to husband
My marriage to my husband Steve, an age-graded event, was a very special time in my life, and, although this may sound pessimistic, I did not expect to find a life-partner with whom I was completely comfortable and compatible. Having an absent father who was not involved in all aspects of my life affected my relationships with men, as I was constantly searching for love, attention and someone who really understood my identity, beliefs and values. My marriage signified the sixth phase of Erikson’s psychosocial stages, which is called “intimacy versus isolation” (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015 p. 12). This occurs in young adulthood when an adult is prepared to “share identity with others and to commit to affiliations and partnerships” (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015 p. 12). This event was significant to my development as an adult, because it meant that I had entered into a life-long, committed relationship with someone I love very much. In addition, it represented a secure attachment. In addition to security, adult pair bonds require emotional and physical intimacy as well as mutual caregiving in order to maintain good psychological health (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). My marriage subsequently influenced who I am as a person, in that I established the added identity of becoming a wife, which was an important role to me.
To conclude, an individual’s search for identity is a life-long process that starts in childhood and continues well into adulthood. The 6 major life events I have described have been pivotal to my identity as well as my psychological and emotional development. For example, formal schooling influenced my academic self- concept in diverse subject areas both positively and negatively (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). In elementary school, I found it difficult to excel in all subjects; however, once I got to university, I was able to major in something I was passionate about and this immediately changed my academic self-concept. My chronic illness influenced my nonacademic self-concept, which is comprised of factors that are “social, emotional and physical” in nature. (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015 p. 247). This is because my struggle with weight and eating healthily affected my self-perception and my self-esteem. In addition, I considered myself different from my peers who did not suffer from diabetes. The death of my grandmother affected my identity as it made me reflect on moral influences and my father’s passing motivated me to learn more about the history of my own lineage.
Lastly, this introspective outlook on major events throughout the various stages of my lifespan will help me to conceptualize and understand the challenges, frustrations, and also the joys that clients will experience at each stage of their own lives, through the lens of developmental theory. In his book for children, Love You Forever, Robert Munsch implies that life does indeed come full circle. In later adulthood, people become as vulnerable and reliant on a caregiver as they did in infancy. (Munsch, 1986 as cited in Vernon, 2010). Thus, as a future counselor, I will have the privilege and honor of guiding and assisting young and older clients in their journey through their own unique lifespan development, and I look forward to being a part of their process of self-discovery (Vernon, 2010).
Broderick, P. C., & Blewitt, P. (2015). The life span: Human development for helping professionals (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
D’Alberton, F., Nardi, L. & Zucchini S. (2012). The onset of a chronic disease as a traumatic psychic experience: A psychodynamic survey in type I diabetes in young patients. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 26(4), 294-307.
De Young, A. C., Kenardy, J. A., & Cobham, V. E. (2011). Trauma in early childhood: A neglected population. Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review, 14(3), 231–250.
Haste, H., & Abrahams, S. (2008). Morality, culture and the dialogic self: Taking cultural pluralism seriously. Journal of Moral Education, 37(3), 377–394.
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Sameroff, A. (2010). A unified theory of development: A dialectic integration of nature and nurture. Child Development, 81(1), 6–22.
Serdal, S. Ogelman, H. (2012). Attachment stability in children aged 6 to 9 years in extended and nuclear families. Early Education and Development, 23(5) 766-780.
Vernon, A. (2010). Human development through the lifespan. In B. T. Erford (Ed.), Orientation to the counseling profession: Advocacy, ethics, and essential professional foundations (pp. 245–268). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Watson, J., Randolph, S., Lyons, J. (2005). African-American Grandmothers as Health
Educators in the family. International Journal of Aging and Human Development 60(4)
1986 1991 1992 2003 1980 2006
CHILDHOOD Start of elementary school education
ADOLESCENCE Medical diagnosis of type 2 diabetes
ADULTHOOD Father’s death
CHILDHOOD Maternal grandmother’s death
ADOLESCENCE Beginning of university undergraduate studies
ADULTHOOD Marriage to husband
Part I: Timeline
1986 1991 1992 2003 1980
Start of elementary
Medical diagnosis of
type 2 diabetes
Part I: Timeline