Development is a person’s life; life is a person’s development. During the life each human being undergoes different periods, which are named development stages. The process can be observed from the prenatal period until late adulthood. Development is growth and change that “makes an individual better adapted to the environment, by enhancing the individual’s ability to engage in, understand, and experience more complex behavior, thinking, and emotions” (Steinberg, Bornstein, Vandell, & Rook, 2011, p.7). A theory of development investigates person’s life and its change over the lifespan. There are several theories of human development, considered from the psychoanalytic perspective (psychosexual, psychosocial, relational theories), the learning perspective (behaviorism, social-learning theory), the cognitive perspective (the cognitive-stage theory), and the humanistic perspective (Crandell & Bieger, 1995, p.3). A theory of psychosocial development refers to psychoanalytic theories. It was developed by Erik Erikson and occupies an important place among other theories. Erik Erikson was a follower of Freud. In his theory, he describes the progression stages (social and emotional) from infancy to late adulthood (Steinberg et al., 2011, p.11). Person’s development continuous through a lifespan and depends on the culture and society in which an individual lives. The problems in life are results of social interactions but not inner conflicts.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) is an American drama directed by Lasse Hallström. Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Darlene Cates and Leonardo DiCaprio are starring in the film. The movie is showing the life in Endora, the town somewhere in America, where the Grapes family lives. The family consists of four children, namely Gilbert Grape (the main character of the movie), his younger brother Arnie (the boy with some mental illness), two sisters Ellen and Amy, and their mother Bonnie. Bonnie is not leaving home for seven years. During this time she became stout and almost cannot move around the house. Thus, all the family serves her and has obligations connected with it. Simultaneously, each family member has their own interests, needs and desires. Each of them is on their own stage of development, have a crisis and need to resolve different tasks. This case study analyses and investigates such characters as Arnie Grape, Gilbert Grape and Bonnie Grape.
Arnie Grape. Early adolescence, 12 to 18 years. Identity versus Role Confusion.
Arnie Grape is a boy with mental illness. Doctors said that he had to die in his childhood. Now he is still alive and can die every moment. The current year he has his 18th anniversary, and all the members of his family are preparing for it. Arnie is on the fifth stage of development. It is a stage of early adolescence, 12 to 18 years. The crisis of this stage is Identity versus Role Confusion (Psychosexual Mode is Puberty) (Fleming, 2004, p.9-11). The main tasks of this stage are physical maturation, formal operations, emotional development, membership in the peer group, and romantic and sexual relationships. Central process of the stage is peer pressure. Prime adaptive ego quality is fidelity to others, which is the ability to freely pledge and sustain loyalty to others (Newman, B. M. & Newman P. R., 2011, p.77).
Arnie cannot resolve his life stage development tasks. Newman B. M. and Newman P. R. argue that “this stage is characterized by rapid physical changes, significant cognitive and emotional maturation, newly energized sexual interests, and a heightened sensitivity to peer relations” (Newman, B. M. & Newman, P. R., 2011, p.336). It cannot be referred to Arnie. Despite the fact he is almost 18 years old, he behaves like a child. He is always laughing and pulls faces. He plays games played by children. The most preferable game for him is hiding on a tree, when everybody is looking for him. Thus, he is not developed emotionally. The same can be said about romantic and sexual relationships. He communicates only with his family members. When his brother Gilbert communicates with women, Arnie escapes and climbs on water tower in the town. It was in cases when Gilbert had sexual contact with a married woman, and when he has romantic communication with Becky. It can be explained by Arnie’s internal desire for romantic and sexual relationships. On the other hand, it is possible to see the unconscious wish to be independent in these actions. Moreover, Arnie does not communicate with peers and is not a member of a peer group. Thus, Arnie cannot achieve the goals of his life stage and has no opportunity to do it. He has a mental illness from early childhood, and with time, it can only progress. Doctors said that he would hardly live up to ten years. What is more, they said that he could die every moment. Societal and cultural environment does not allow one to change this situation. Arnie needs professional help and the course of rehabilitation, but there is no chance for this help in Endora. The case of Arnie is a difficult one. He has a mental illness and no opportunity for rehabilitation. However, experts from outside can be invited. For example, with the use of psychoanalysis one can investigate the possibility of early childhood trauma and make some recommendations for help. Thus, the most important thing for Arnie is the help of a psychotherapist, and psychological support can be the additional one.
Gilbert Grape. Late adolescence, 18 to 24 years. Intimacy versus Isolation.
Gilbert Grape is the main character. He is living with his family and taking care about his younger brother Arnie. He is working in a local grocery store and has relations with a married woman. Gilbert is on the sixth stage of development. It is a stage of late adolescence, 18 to 24 years. The crisis of this stage is Intimacy versus Isolation (Psychosexual Mode is Genitality) (Fleming, 2004, p.9-13). The main tasks of this stage are autonomy from parents, gender identity, internalized morality, and career choice. Central process of the stage is role experimentation. Prime adaptive ego quality is fidelity to values, which is the ability to freely pledge and sustain loyalty to values and ideology (Newman, B. M. & Newman P. R., 2011, p.77).
Gilbert is about 21 years old. In his age, he is a mature and responsible person. He has no father, and his mother is not able to help him. On the contrary, he is forced to take care about her. Moreover, he is responsible for his younger brother Arnie who has a mental illness. Gilbert has to be always with Arnie, and he even helps him to have a bath. It influences Gilbert and gives him no freedom, which is immensely important at his age. Newman B. M. and Newman P. R. state that “This stage is characterized by new advances in the establishment of autonomy from the family and the development of personal identity” (Newman, B. M. & Newman P. R., 2011, p.336).
The societal and cultural environment has a deep influence on Gilbert. Since he lives in a small town, there is no place for progress. Gilbert has almost no opportunity for career development. He is working in a small grocery store, which has no competitiveness with a big supermarket nearby. Gilbert cannot change this work for a better one because of his moral principles. He cannot leave Endora and try to have a better future because of his family and Arnie. Moreover, he does not want to do it. It can be seen in the episode when Gilbert spent a night with Becky and in the morning came back home. When his mother asked him about the reasons of his return, he said that here is his home. On the one hand, it tells about his apathy towards changes. On the other hand, it tells about his responsibility and the development of such ego quality as fidelity to values.
One of the main tasks of this stage is gender identity. Gilbert successfully resolves it. He is about a year in sexual relationships with an elder married woman. In these relations, he identifies himself as a male. Moreover, Gilbert meets his love. He is falling in love with Becky who with her grandmother has a temporary stay in Endora. The girl differs from people whom Gilbert knows. She is calm and philosophical. She likes nature and sunsets and teaches Gilbert to do the same. In these love relationships, Gilbert finds intimacy, closeness and mutual sharing with another person. He tells Becky about internal things, about which he cannot tell others. For example, he is talking with her about his mother’s obesity and his father’s suicide. He goes to her when he feels bad. As a result, he develops the strength of the stage, namely the Intimacy.
The death of his father deeply influenced Gilbert. He has some fears about it. He is afraid of going to the cellar where his father hanged himself. In fact, this event could lead him to core pathology of the stage, which is Isolation. Meeting with Becky did not allow it and changed the things. With the help of Becky, Gilbert goes in the right way of his development process. In Gilbert’s case, one can use cognitive-behavioral therapy. He can study to control his emotions, understand his needs, and feel a connection with society. It would be good for him to enter the university and communicate with peers.
Bonnie Grape. Middle adulthood, 34 to 60 years. Generativity versus Stagnation.
Bonnie Grape is a woman who suffers from obesity. She is widowed since her husband hanged himself in a cellar seven years ago. Since that time, Bonnie had not left home and became fat. Bonnie is on the seventh stage of development. It is the stage of middle adulthood, 34 to 60 years. The crisis of this stage is Generativity versus Stagnation (Psychosexual Mode is “Generalized”) (Fleming, 2004, p.9-17). The main tasks of this stage are managing a career, nurturing an intimate relationship, expanding caring relationships, and managing the household. Central process of the stage is person environment fit and creativity. Prime adaptive ego quality is care, which is a commitment to concern about what has been generated (Newman, B. M. & Newman, P. R., 2011, p.77).
Bonnie is about 40 years old. “By this age a person begins take a reflective and evaluative look back at his or her life” (Fleming, 2004, p.9-17). The person takes into account positive and negative sides of their life. For Bonnie, this reflection was not positive. Before her death, she said to Gilbert that she was a burden for children, and Gilbert was her knight in shimmering armor. Thus, Bonnie feels despair, which results from unfulfilled potential. She could be good mother, caring about her children. In addition, she could be married another time and be happy as a woman. Moreover, she could have a good work and communicate with others. However, she has done nothing of it. Bonnie has the core pathology of the stage, which is disdain, and this problem has deep roots.
Bonnie was a happy and beautiful woman, who was married and had a family. Her husband built a house for the family, and they were happy together. From the movie, we know that before his death, her husband almost did not communicate with her and their children. Afterward, he hanged himself in the cellar. Thus, nobody knows the reason for this behavior since it could be relationships with Bonnie or something else. The movie shows consequences of it. Bonnie became another person. She did not resolve the tasks of work and lifestyle. She did not obtain the previous stage prime adaptive ego quality, namely love. The person whom she wanted to love betrayed her trust in him. Disillusionment influenced all her further life and extended not only on her but also on her attitude to social life and children. She stopped caring about children, communicating with people, and visiting public places. She does not work, and her children serve her. She has chosen “doing nothing” lifestyle, which led to depression and death. There is a possibility that she obtained core pathology of previous life stage, which is exclusivity, namely an elitist reticence. She was ashamed that her life went in a wrong way and family relationships were not as ideal as she wanted. She was beautiful and smiling. After the death of her husband, she did not want people see her not so beautiful and happy. Because of these fears she stayed at home, thinking that it is not for her to be a victim of circumstances since she was superior to it. She had everything, and in a moment, she lost it. She forgot about her social life and everything connected with it. Thus, the death of her husband had a deep influence on her. It was an unpredictable life crisis, and she had not resolved it. The combination of predictable and unpredictable crises had a negative influence on her. She tried to find a solution by herself, but the only solution she found was antisocial life. Bonnie fell into depression and was not able to overcome it. As a result, Bonnie cannot resolve her present stage developmental task. The task of career managing is not fulfilled by her. There are no chances for it since she does not manage the household, and everything is made by her children. The only task she is trying to resolve is expanding caring relationship. Bonnie loves her children, and the main person for her is Arnie. In fact, there was a chance to help Bonnie. Physical activity, social interactions, working and doing exercises would help her.
Arnie Grape, Gilbert Grape and Bonnie Grape are members of one family, where Bonnie is the mother, Arnie is a child, and Gilbert plays a role of father. They communicate with each other and share common home and food. Each of them is at their personal stage of development. The development of one family member influences the development of others. Thus, Arnie’s illness and inability to do things by himself influences everybody, especially Gilbert. He has no ability to live his own life because of caring about the brother. Nevertheless, he almost successfully resolves his development tasks. Furthermore, Bonnie’s inability to live normal life and her obesity influences family. Other family members are shamed of her. Moreover, they are forced to serve her, feed her, and make other connected things. As a result, it is harder for them to resolve their development tasks. When Bonnie died, the family life has changed. The older sister Amy has gotten a job offer, and the younger sister Ellen has switched schools. Consequently, this event let other family members, except Arnie, transit to the next development stages. Thereafter, Gilbert’s next stage is the early adulthood, from 24 to 34 years. At this stage, he can be married, have children, and work for his family. Despite his independence, he will be caring about Arnie, who will hardly be able to resolve his development tasks and go to another development stage.
The significant challenge related to wellness and resilience of this family is father’s death. He hanged himself in the cellar of their house seven years ago. As a result, his deed influenced everybody. For Bonnie, it was a high stress, with which she was not able to struggle. Thus, from a beautiful woman she transformed into an obese and apathetic person who is sitting at home and doing nothing. She communicated with nobody except for her family members. As for Arnie, this event aggravated his mental illness. He is always laughing on it and irritates others. For Gilbert, this death was also stressful. He is afraid to go to the cellar, ashamed of his mother, and can tell about his father’s death only Becky. At the same time, when Bonnie and Arnie have no resilience to this stress, Gilbert has one and struggle with it. The family became almost asocial and isolated. The community, in which the family lives, does not dispose of changing the situation. They are indifferent to people around them. In this case, it is preferable to use dual-process models of resilience, proposed by Tugade (2010). It includes two models. One of them is grounded on intersections between negative and positive emotions, while another focuses on the interplay between controlled and automatic processes. Positive emotions help a person to struggle with stress and be resilient to it. Thus, positive emotions can be used by the person strategically to struggle with stress, and this process can become automatized with time and practice (Tugade, 2010). Thus, this model of resilience can be proposed to many people, including the investigated above characters.
Psychosocial development case study analysis, provided in this paper, shows that a theory of psychosocial development is useful for practice. This theory let the counselor make an analysis based on stages of development, psychosocial crises, developmental tasks, and central process for resolving the crises. The influence of society and cultural environment is also important. As was observed, main characters of the movie What`s Eating Gilbert Grape are at different stages of development, have their developmental tasks and resolve their own crises. Each character`s development is connected with the other family members` development. Each character transitions to his/her next developmental stage impacts the functioning of the family unit. Society and cultural environment deeply influence them. It can be said that the analysis made with the help of psychosocial theory of development allows the counselor to find a right solution to client`s problem and provide the client with professional support.