Case Study 2: Applying Theories to Understand David
University of Texas at Arlington
Keywords: Adolescent, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Sexual Orientation, Erikson, Kegan, Levison, Bolivian,
Life is full of changes and challenges. In order to fully grasp the changes and challenges, one must be able to understand a person’s life span by being able to identify all aspects of the individual’s life. Depending on the complexity of the challenges that arise, an advocate maybe needed to assist in troubleshooting the issues. The purpose of this paper is to understand different theories when an adolescent struggle with disclosing his sexual orientation to his parents, his family, his friends and his school mates. David is a 17-year-old high school student that is struggling with such conflicting feelings and how they will affect the other relationships in his life. I will also explore social systems and institutions that promote or block David’s well-being.
Adolescence is an important and imperative period of transition to adulthood from childhood. It involves growth spurts in physical, mental and self-character development. Many would consider teenage years an exciting time of in an individual’s life. Theorist Erik Erikson divulged that people progress through a series of stages. He came to the conclusion that each stage resulted in developmental conflict. For example, when life stage identity versus role diffusion specifies an adolescent assumes a sense of identity, where they are going throughout everyday life or soon, they would be confounded about their character. Psychologist Keagan’s developmental stage affiliation versus abandonment focuses on adolescent searching for membership, and acceptance versus a sense of being left behind, rejected, or abandoned (Hutchison, 2015, p.235). Daniel Levinson developed a Theory of life structure: Novice phase including ages 17 to 33 in which young personalities continue to develop and prepare to differentiate from their family’s origin (Hutchison, 2015, p.276). Each of these theories is applied to David, a 17-year-old student who wants to come out to his parents. In this paper I will investigate and apply these theories to provide a clear comprehensive view of David’s life stage and the struggles he faces. I will likewise take a gander at various social frameworks and establishments advance or square David’s prosperity. I will also look at different social systems and institutions at hand promoting or blocking David’s well-being.
David C. is a 17-year-old student at Jefferson High School. He is on the varsity baseball team as a center fielder. His parents are traditional Bolivians. His dad David, Sr. teaches history and is the varsity soccer coach at Jefferson, his mom is a geriatric nurse. David has a younger sister Patti, who is in the 8th grade and attends a Magnet School. David refers to his sister as “Patti perfect” while he refers to himself as the freak of the family because his family thinks he is “different, arrogant, and stubborn”.
David has a difficult confession to make to his family and it is killing him holding it in. He is gay. To further complicate the situation, he has a crush on Theo who is a junior at his school but David doesn’t know how to approach him. There are a few seniors at Jefferson High School who have come out but most of them are not student athletes and he doesn’t spend any time with them. When David is around his teammates or other kids from his school, he conducts himself as if he is straight. He talks about girls and their bodies which is extremely difficult because he is not being himself. David admits at age 13, he had suicidal thoughts because he knew that men were supposed to be with women not other men. He was confused and felt like his feelings were not normal (Hutchison, 2015, p.223).
Erikson Theory of Development: Life Stage Identity Vs. Role Diffusion
Stage five in Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development is identity versus role diffusion. In this stage, adolescents between the ages of 12-18 begin to develop a coherent sense of self and individual character through a severe investigation of individual qualities, convictions, and objectives. During this stage adolescents are inquisitive about who they are, what makes them happy, and what they want to be; “failing to complete this task successfully leaves the adolescent without a solid sense of identity” (Hutchison, 2015, p.236).
The article Adolescence: A Literary Passage written by Adler and Clark illustrates and examines the depiction of adolescent development in honor books using Erikson and Gilligan’s theories. Findings indicated that most characters passed through stage five of Erikson’s theory and seemed to successfully transition, into roles and values which are established as essential, and the youth feels a sense of obligation and commitment to them. One challenge is the balancing of commitments which often make competing demands. The positive side of the struggle is a sense of identity (a sense of continuity and consistency of the self over time). The negative side is a sense of confusion about one’s identity or role. A positive resolution is also likely to entail the emergence of fidelity–“the ability to sustain loyalties freely pledged in spite of the inevitable contradictions and confusions of value systems (Adler & Clark, 1991).
The adolescence stage is a time of significant changes biologically, psychologically and socially. Applying Erikson’s theory identity versus role diffusion will offer insight and understanding of David’s emotional distress while keeping his secret undisclosed from family. At the age of 13 David was experiencing a sexual orientation confusion and was not quite sure if his feelings were accurate, which then lead him to experience self-doubt of normality and imbued his mind of suicidal ideations. During puberty, many lesbians and gays begin to recognize that they may be homosexual. In this period, lesbian and gay adolescents frequently experience confusion, because most children are encouraged by society to become heterosexual (Newman ; Muzzonigro, 1993). In David’s early adolescent years, he was in the process of developing a sense of identity and subsequently caused more stress on himself because what society taught him did not match with what he was feeling. Research suggest that sexual minority youth have a higher prevalence of emotional distress, depression, self-harm, and suicidal attempts than heterosexual youth (Hutchison, 2016, p.253). But despite his challenge with his mental health, David was able to navigate through Erikson’s stage of realizing who he is, had he not been successful, David would be at risk of denial, secured in severe psychological issues and locked into an identity crisis.
Levinson’s Theory of Life Structure: Novice Phase
In 1978 Daniel Levinson a psychologist, developed a comprehensive adult developmental theory of life structure. “He describes adulthood as a period of undulating stability and stress signified by transitions that occur at specific chronological times during life transitions” (Hutchins, 2015, p.276). The term “life structure” was coined by Levinson after performing research during the ‘depression’. It is derived from the facts on how a person’s life is shaped according to his social status and this environment. Levinson considered individuals ages 17 to 33 to be in the novice phase. Amid this stage youthful grown-ups leave the pre-adult stage and identities keep on creating, planning to separate from their family’s beginnings.
David grew up in a traditional Bolivian family home. Bolivian culture emphasizes family, children, marriage and community. Both parents are well educated with good jobs and his sister who he refers to as “Perfect Patti” (Hutchison, 2015, p. 223) attends a magnet school. David is aware that his sexual orientation is not part of his parents’ expectations and unveiling his secret puts his relationship with his family at risk of being more strained. Pistella, Salvati, Ioverno, Laghi, ; Baiocco (2016) discovered coming out to relatives has been identi?ed as a major test that could upset family connections; in specific situations, it is related with between parental con?ict and guardians’ psychological wellness issues. While David believes he is the family’s freak because of his personality and actions, he might be struggling more with how the relationship may become more strained after he comes out. David believes his parents want him to follow their family’s culture, by dating a girl and being in a heterosexual relationship. It appears that David has been hiding this secret for four or more years. He can no longer hide this identity and he believes that coming out will foster his psychological health. As I continue to examine David’s circumstance, I can understand why it is imperative for him to come out to his family, but I also understand the risk of him coming out. His family may not be receptive to him revealing his secret and could possibly disown him. “Coming out to one’s heterosexual family members always carries some risk of being disavowed and losing one’s ties to biological kin” (McCann, 2010).
Kegan Affiliation versus Abandonment
Psychologist Robert Kegan believes another stage should be embedded between Erikson’s psychosocial development model of middle childhood and adolescence. The word affiliation is characterized as a person who is closely associated with a group, party, association or individual while abandonment is feeling of dismissal and separation. Kegan suggested before a person works on psychological identity, early adolescents face psychosocial conflict of affiliation versus abandonment (Hutchison, 2015, p.236), which means acknowledgment or dismissal is a noteworthy worry during the adolescent years. During this stage a person’s main concern is feeling accepted by others or a group. Otherwise they become fearful of being rejected, abandoned, alienated or left behind.
Kegan’s theory focuses on early adolescent search of acceptance. David is considered a “jock” of his high school because of his affiliation with the baseball team, but he fears that he will be abandoned and rejected once he comes out to his peers. David is aware of other students who are gay but none are part of any organizations in which he is affiliated with. When David is around his teammates and other students from the school he puts on a mask and hides who he truly is by engaging in conversations about girls and their bodies. He mentions that it is extremely hard for him to portray to others the person he truly is. The article The Experience of Coming Out as a Gay Male Athlete, Fenwich and Simpson offers future insight in understanding the experience of gay male athletes coming out. “The study revealed that these athletes were in fact faced with prejudice and were witnesses of homophobic slurs among teammates, which affected their decision to come out” (Fenwich, Simpson, 2017, p.148), and caused them to feel lonely. While David seems to be happy about being affiliated with a group, he does not showcase his true identity while around them. The challenge for David is connecting with other students who also identify as gay and being able to comfortably hang around his teammates as himself instead of portraying himself as another person. Why would he not have fear of rejection and abandonment issues since he has yet disclosed this secret to his teammates and fellow classmates?
Social Systems and Institutions Promoting or Blocking Well-Being
As I work with David, I will explore social systems and institutions that “emphasize ways that impact his life” (Hutchison, 2015, p. 295). While looking at David’s environment, must consider how social systems promote or block his well-being in society. In David’s case, it seems that healthcare institutions will promote his well-being by educating David on safe sex and diseases that can be transmitted. David has a crush on Theo and wants to hang out with him. With education, David will be able to take the appropriate precautions to make sure they both are practicing safe sex if the relationship progresses in that direction. Since David is struggling with coming out to his family and peers mass media may be a useful platform in supporting those battling with coming out. “Research indicates that policymakers and producers should take into account how cultural contact through social media shape opinions and values all over the world. The Internet, Facebook, Instagram remain powerful socializing mechanisms through which younger generations come into contact with the current generation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning young people. But mass media can also block David’s well-being by impacting his self-esteem by causing stress and negative emotions or thoughts of others that are not so accepting. As I review these social institutions, I can fully comprehend how David influences can either promote or block his well-being in society.
Viewing David’s life from various theories: Erikson Psychosocial Development Theory, Levinson’s Life Structure: Novice Phase, and Kegan’s Theory, facilitated my comprehension of the struggles he is facing as a gay teenager in the “closet”. It is evident David has established a coherent understanding of who he is; but the primary issue is he has not been able to express who he is with others and his family. Since David has no outlet for his secret, he is experiencing emotional distress at a young age. This leads him to falsify who he is around family and his schoolmates, which results in him having a difficult time identifying with people. Should David reveal his secret, he is aware that he will be at risk of strained relationships and in some cases abandoned relationships. However, if David utilizes the social systems and institutions around him in society, his relationships would be effected in a positive and accepting way.
Adler, E. S., & Clark, R. (1991). Adolescence: A Literary Passage. Retrieved from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uta.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=4&sid=386569c6-964b-4027-8463-6ffb06621a0d%40sessionmgr101&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=1992-19251-001&db=psyh
Fenwick, D., & Simpson, D. (2017). The Experience of Coming Out as a Gay Male Athlete. Journal of Sport Behavior, 20(2), 131-156. Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uta.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=fc167e94-a3d4-453d-a2d9-c7788f2f591b%40sdc-v-sessmgr03
Hutchison, E. D. (2015). Dimensions of Human Behavior Person and Environment (5th ed.). California, United States of America: Sage Publications.
Hutchison, E. D. (2015). Dimensions of human behavior: The changing life course (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
McCann, D. (2010). Commentary on ‘Coming Out Tales’: Adult Sons and Daughters’ Feelings About Their Gay Father’s Sexual Identity. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT), 31(4), 338-339. doi:10.1375/anft.31.4.338
Newman, B. S., & Muzzonigro, P. G. (1993). The effects of traditional family values on the coming out process of gay male adolescents. Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uta.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=7&sid=fc253a25-3815-4756-93e9-e8fe9c051ac7%40sdc-v-sessmgr02&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=1993-25239-001&db=psyh
Pistella, J., Salvati, M., Ioverno, S., Laghi, F., & Baiocco, R. (2016). Coming-Out to Family Members and Internalized Sexual Stigma in Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay People. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25(12), 3694-3701. doi:10.1007/s10826-016-0528-0