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Levinson Developmental Tasks

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According to Levinson, what four developmental tasks must middle-aged adults confront in order to rebuild their life structure? Provide examples to illustrate all four. What are possible selves, and why are they important in middle adulthood?

Levinson’s seasons of life theory depicted adult development as a sequence of qualitatively distinct areas separated by transitions (Berk, 2014, pg 470). A key concept in Levinson’s theory is the life structure (Berk, 2014, p470). The life structure is the underlying design of a persons life, consisting of relationships with significant others; individuals, groups and institutions (Berk, 2014, pg 470). According to Levinson, to reassess and rebuild their life structure, middle-aged adults must confront four developmental tasks, each requiring the individual to reconcile two opposing tendencies within the self, attaining greater internal harmony (Berk, 2014, pg 535). Those four tasks are young-old, destruction-creation, masculinity-femininity, and engagement-separateness.

Young-old middle aged person seeks new ways of being both young and old (Berk, 2014, pg 535). Giving up certain useful qualities, transforming others, and finding positive meaning in being older. Physical aging is the most sensitive area for balance between young and old. The older woman is concerned with appearing less attractive as the older man is concerned with the challenge related to work requiring physical strength.

Destruction-creation focuses on the way he or she has acted destructively (Berk, 2014, pg 535). Past hurtful acts toward parents, intimate partners, children, friends and coworkers are countered by strong desire to participate in activities that advance human welfare and leave a legacy for future generations (Berk, 2014, pg 535). The middle-aged person acts with a greater awareness of mortality (Berk, 2014, pg 535). Not only do adults confronting this task try to make amends with those affected by destructive behaviors from early in life, they try to create a legacy for themselves through charitable gifts, volunteer service or mentoring young people (Berk, 2014, pg 535).

Masculinity-femininity tasks the middle-aged person must find a better balance between the masculine and feminine parts of their self (Berk, 2014, pg 535). For men this means a greater acceptance of nurturing and caring; while women open to masculine characteristics of autonomy and assertiveness (Berk, 2014, pg 535). This task is also portrayed early childhood in creating an androgynous gender identity. Androgynous individuals are more adaptable, able to show masculine independence or feminine sensitivity depending on the situation (Berk, 2014, pg 276).

The fourth task is the engagement-separateness. The middle-aged person must forge a better balance between engagement with the external world and separateness. The internal shift away from ambition and achievement to self satisfaction and gratification happens during this task. Successful career orientated middle-aged adult may scale back on career in order to focus on interpersonal relationships and family involvement. Women have been devoted to child rearing or an unfulfilling job feel compelled to move in another direction (Berk, 204, pg 536.) Many men find compensating rewards in moving to the senior senior generation of their families (Berk, 2014, pg 536).

Possible selves are the temporal dimension of self-concept, what the individual is striving for and attending to avoid. Possible selves maybe an especially strong motivator of action in midlife as adults attach increased meaning to time. As we age, relying less on social comparisons in judging our self-worth and more on temporal comparisons how well we are doing in relation to what we had planned (Berk, 2014, pg 538).

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