I personally am a big fan of the usefulness of Erickson’s theory in relationship to foster care youth/alumni, particularly when it comes to the “Intimacy vs. Isolation” stage.
Erikson Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation relates directly to the transitional stage of foster care.
The social task of the young adult (within this model) is to create strong, long-lasting bonds of friendship and love. Those that fail in this task risk remaining isolated for the rest of their lives.
The ability to relate to other people is affected by personal exposure to trauma. This impact is felt most deeply in an intimate relationship but also has a “ripple effect” that affects every other relationship in that person’s life.
Research demonstrates that adults with the highest rate of broken relationships are those who shy away from emotional investment, reject any neediness in their romantic partners and withdraw during times of emotional distress.
When young people age out of foster care, they are vulnerable. Emotionally abusive relationships might seem familiar. Predators might come to them, offering to help – and then wanting something in return. Or foster care alumni might try to isolate themselves and take on life as a “Lone Ranger.”
If the very first emotional / physical support systems of your life disappoint you, the logical response might very well be to depend upon yourself. This will often get you through the short-term, and ensure your physical survival.
But, if at some point, you want to commit to another person, to love and be loved by them, that might be hard. Because, in loving them, you are vulnerable to them... and that means that since they are human, there will be moments when they disappoint you. And at those times, having them fail you might bring to the surface the memories of every other time that someone from your past has failed you.
And what do we ultimately want for foster care youth and alumni? We want them to establish interdependent lives. We want them to build and maintain healthy relationships. We want them to learn to trust, to develop autonomy, to be industrious (aka productive), to know their worth (vs. feeling inadequate) to figure out their own identity, and to create lives of connection, rather than isolation.