Posts tagged ‘stagnation’

Generativity versus Stagnation

Generativity versus Stagnation is the stage of life most of us are in right now.  You can count on me to let you in on such “breaking news.” We are all so busy living day to day that we aren’t thinking about things we’ve learned which might actually help us to live with greater fulfillment and happiness. Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development shed a lot of light on how we live and help us understand why we feel and act the way we do in our everyday busyness. Remember: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”


I love the word “generativity.” I’ve never heard the word used anywhere else, but it‘s one of those words you can easily figure out. It looks like generosity and generate and even generator. So are we living generously, our lives running as though hooked up to a generator, which allows us to generate some production, some creativity, some results, or are we stuck and mired in the muck and living like a stagnant pool of water? This is the question we need to ask ourselves from time to time as we pass through adulthood: am I living a life of generativity or stagnation?


If we’re living in generativity, we’ll feel alive and exhilarated by life. We’ll have goals and plans and projects and purpose. We’ll feel like getting out of bed most mornings, and we’ll look forward to going to bed most evenings, because we’ll be tired from the work and accomplishment of our day. We’ll have to-do lists that we probably won’t finish every day, and we’ll have future goals, like, I’m going to learn how to knit, or, in my case, I want to go Zip Lining, which I really do.

My crooked little garden is a great source of generativity for me these days. I was outside last night until dark planting asparagus ferns, which won’t yield any asparagus for two or three years, and tiny little pepper plants which may or may not ever produce peppers, but the planting of fledgling, growing things and watching them develop is my salute to life and my belief in the future.


I heard a story in a sermon last Sunday which seems appropriate to re-tell. A woman was very dissatisfied with her life, so she decided to go to the mall to get herself cheered up. She wandered into a store and saw a man behind the counter whom she thought looked like the pictures she had seen of Jesus. She finally walked up to him and asked directly, “Are you Jesus?”

“Yes, I am,” Jesus answered.

“Do you work in this store?” the woman asked incredulously.

“Well,” he said, “This is my store.”

Then he invited her to look around and assured her she could have anything she wanted. He suggested she make a list of the things she saw that she would like and bring him the list when she was finished shopping. He would give her everything she asked for.

She did as he suggested and compiled a long list. Her list included such admirable choices as world peace, food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, health and healing for the sick, and many more truly wonderful and altruistic desires. She wasn’t thinking just of herself when she made her list, but she was thinking of the whole world and how she might make it a better place.

Jesus smiled at her, approving her list, and reached under the counter and drew out packages of seeds and handed them to her.

“But,” she sputtered, “these are seeds. I won’t even be around to see these seeds grow and develop.”

“That’s true,” Jesus affirmed. “You’re not planting them just for yourself.”

Confused and disappointed, she put the packages of seeds down on the counter and walked out of the store empty-handed.

I love this story, and I bet you do, too. I think it is a wonderful story about generativity versus stagnation.

My grandmother taught in a one-room school for four years in the early 1900’s. Once she married granddad she was no longer allowed to teach. At that time only single women or men (I don’t know if they could be married) were permitted to teach school. When Gram was in her seventies and living in the other side of our duplex, I remember a student of hers coming to visit her. This was fifty years after she had taught him in school. She was so thrilled. She saw what had become of one of the seeds she had planted.

Last week I wrote about the mud and the stars. What do we focus on, I asked? Perhaps we can expand on that thought by asking ourselves if our focus is big enough, broad enough, long enough, grand enough. Can we see beyond our limited life span? Can we work for things outside our awareness?


Once my brother and I were grown and out of the house and no longer draining the family budget, my dad sent money once a month to support a child in Latin America or Africa or Thailand or somewhere he’d never been and would never go. When I would come home to visit, there on his desk would be the picture of this young man or young woman who had shoes or school books because this man in rural Pennsylvania chose to live a life of generativity. He chose to plant seeds he would never see flourish.

You know these generative people. You live beside them or work next to them or, I suspect, are one of them. These people are the members of the Lion’s Club and the community band and the church choir. These people are the baseball coaches and the 4-H sponsors and the volunteers in the emergency rooms and the hospice centers. Some people who live generative lives are obvious by how they live.

Many others who live generative lives are not so obvious. We never know who is donating financially or working behind the scenes to plant the seeds for the future. We don’t see the grandparents who sit and read or the neighbors who give rides to those who can no longer drive. There are so many ways to live generous and vital lives.

However, for those who suffer from PTSD, anxiety and depression, it is all too easy to get stuck in the stagnation pool. Here are some feelings which might indicate you are living in stagnation: distrust, shame, doubt, guilt, inferiority, confusion, isolation, regret, despair. These are words Erikson uses to describe how people feel when they miss important elements of ego development. If any of those feelings apply to you, it is not too late. We can go back and see what we might have missed and why. If you were raised by impaired parents, you will have been denied the necessary elements for normal and healthy growth.

Think of my poor little seeds in the garden if I don’t give them fertile soil and an  environment where their little green shoots are safe from being trampled. Imagine those seeds denied the encouragement of the sunshine and the nutrients from the rain. Many of us as children did not receive all the essentials we needed to grow up healthy. Then we were at the mercy of adults who were either passing on the limited and stunted childhoods they themselves had received, or making poor choices without considering how their children and their children’s children would be impaired by those decisions. Whatever the case, now we are the adults. What do we choose? How are we going to live?


If we choose by default and fear to spend our days in stagnant ponds, we can expect some predictable results. Think of a stagnant pond in the woods. Who comes to visit? Snakes and mosquitos. How healthy is the water? It has no source of life and freshness flowing in, and it goes nowhere except back on itself. Things have to flow into us for us to be healthy – new ideas, good food, purposeful movement, laughter. Things have to flow out of us for us to be healthy – kindness, attentiveness, awareness. Did you see the moon last night? Did you notice the sunset? What kind of birds share space with you? Are you living in harmony with the planet?


Generativity is a choice. Like every other choice, it all begins with one baby step. I remember a woman who told her physician she wanted to start exercising. She mentioned that she lived near a park with one, three and five mile trails and thought that would be a good place to start. He shook his head, “No. Seven minutes,” he told her. “I want you to go outside every day and walk for seven minutes. Not eight. Not a mile. Seven minutes.”

Baby steps. Generativity can start (or continue or maintain) with one minute of deep breathing, one song belted out in the car which makes you feel energized, one smile bestowed or accepted. You don’t have to make a quilt. Just put in a stitch.

In the next weeks we’re going to return to Erikson’s stages of development and check on what we might have missed and how to make up for it now that we’re in control of our own lives. I think this will be empowering for all of us. We’ve all got little gaps in our ego development and how lovely it will be to head into the future with a lighter backpack. We’ll unload some of the distrust, shame, doubt, inadequacy, inferiority, confusion, isolation, stagnation and despair. It’s been a long time since some of us have sorted through that heavy load we carry on our backs. Anybody have back and shoulder pain, TMJ, Crohn’s, IBS, OCD?? That heavy sack might be taking its toll on your body and spirit. I expect my arthritis to improve when I unload mine.

Here’s our motto: Spring cleaning brings new meaning!!


Blessings and gratitude to Mary Ellen for the generativity she brings to this blog – and blessings and gratitude to each of you for your company on the journey – Susan

More support is waiting for you at manyfacesofptsd, manyfacesofdepression, manyfacesofanxiety and


April 25, 2015 at 8:37 PM Leave a comment

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