Passages II

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Advice for the demon-worn

Many academics have earned more than $75,000 in author's royalties, but U.C.L.A. Psychiatrist Roger Gould, 43, may be the first to make that much from someone else's book. Since 1969 Gould has been studying "adult life stages" in an effort to show that all men and women go through similar phases of psychological development. Manhattan Journalist Gail Sheehy, in preparing her 1976 bestseller Passages, borrowed enough from Gould's unpublished research that the psychiatrist sued for plagiarism. The suit was settled out of court, with Gould receiving $10,000 and 10% of Sheehy's royalties.

Why did Gould let Sheehy beat him into print with his own ideas? "I thought I would write a book in about three or four more years, after I had thought about the problem more." The product of his pondering is Transformations (Simon & Schuster; $9.95). Though clearly more serious than Sheehy's pop-psych success, the book is unlikely to quell skepticism about research on adult cycles.

That research derives from Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, who wrote a few cryptic pages on the subject, then invited others to flesh out adult stages. As Gould charts them, the stages—for men and women—break down as follows:

16 to 22. Youngsters are "condensed energy looking for a direction" and looking for rules to break. The problem is to break away from parental control. Romance, and all intimacy, is an attempt to cut loose from parents without losing a sense of safety and belonging.

22 to 28. Optimism, determination and confidence are high. Careers are pursued without much introspection. The young adults wrestle with the false assumption that "rewards will come automatically if I do what I am supposed to do."

28 to 34. This is a time of disillusionment and soul searching. Life is viewed as complicated and unfair. Says Gould: "Discovering that 'life is a struggle' is like rediscovering the wheel."

34 to 45. Tumult is caused by the unresolved problems of the 30s and the first emotional awareness that time is running out and death will come.

Over 45. Life settles down; one becomes less competitive, more inner-directed. The post-mid-lifer is calm and accepting; there is a sense that "we are whoever we are going to be."

Most people are unlikely to find such observations very convincing or useful. Worse, Psychoanalyst Gould applies a heavy dose of Freudian pessimism: every child is born with an "insatiable biological drive" to have what it cannot have, the total attention and love of its mother. The failure to satisfy this drive, he believes, produces anger and protective devices that dominate every stage of adult development. Says Gould: "Mental life seems to have an unconscious goal—the elimination of the distortions of childhood consciousness and its demons and protective devices that restrict our life."