I want to be ready, to have gathered everything together and sorted it out, as if I were preparing for a great final journey. I intend to make myself whole here in this Hell. It is the thing that is set before me to do. So, in a way, this path inward and back into the past is like a map, the map of my world. If I can draw it accurately, I shall know where I am – Caro Spencer in ‘As We Are Now’ (Sarton, 1973,p.1)
Coping with our phase of life or significant change may require us to consider a life review. Life review as a process is hypothesized to occur in response to the realization of our mortality or the more limited time remaining to resolve our issues. As individuals develop a sense of their own mortality, they naturally come to look back over their lives. The life review process has often been described as a form of reminiscence (Hausman, 1980). However, for Butler (1963), the life review process and reminiscence are not synonymous. Of particular importance to the life review are unresolved conflicts. These conflicts must be identified and their significance addressed. The life review process is seen as essential to the final reorganization and integration of the personality. The life review represents a final opportunity for the individual to resolve and come to understand the conflicts of earlier life. Butler proposes that our mortality can be accepted only through the resolution of conflicts and the resultant personality integration.
Butler’s theory parallels that of Erikson’s (1959). Erikson places life review within the context of his developmental stages and as a part of his overall theory of personality. Butler (1963) maintains that the life review can be done solely by the individual This can be contrasted with Erikson’s (1982) position that the life review is best accomplished with other significant individuals.
Erikson (1982) represents aging as a stage of development. According to Erikson’s theory, personality development goes through a series of eight, hierarchically ordered stages. Associated with each stage is a psychosocial crisis that the individual either successfully resolves or fails to resolve. Failure results in incomplete development of the personality, and inhibits further development of the personality.The crisis represented by this last life stage is ego integrity versus despair. Erikson (1982) proposes that this stage begins when the individual experiences a sense of mortality. This may be in response to retirement, the death of a spouse or close friends, or may simply result from changing social roles. According to Erikson (1982), this reminiscence or introspection is most productive when experienced with significant others. Ego integrity is the result of the positive resolution of the final life stage. Ego integrity is viewed as the key to harmonious personality development; the individual views their whole of life with satisfaction and contentment. The ego quality that emerges from a positive resolution is wisdom.