This case report analyzes the life of Michael Jackson, known as “ The King of Pop”’. Two theories of lifespan development are used; Erikson’s (1963) theory of psychosocial development and the Engel’s (1980) biopsychosocial model. The main sources for this report are his interviews, his books, sources on the Internet, documentaries about him and Michael Jackson’s own movies about
his life. I will argue that the biopsychosocial model is superior to Erikson’s 8-stage model.

Outline of the case

Michael Jackson was the son of Joe and Katherine, born in Gary in Indiana on August 29 in 1958 as the 7th child of a nine-member family. In 1964, Joe set up “The Jackson 5”. Joe was a strict father who would physically and emotionally harass his children during the rehearsals. Michael was only 8 years old when he became famous and this put him under intense public scrutiny.
While becoming famous he was not able to have his own childhood pleasures as his other peers, and effectively lost his childhood. At the beginning of the 1970s, Michael first went through nose surgery then had a lot of aesthetic surgery to change his appearance. Later, he had to change his skin color due to the vitiligo disease, known as skin pigment disease. Michael Jackson married with
Lisa Marie Presley, in 1993, but their marriage lasted two years. Michael had his second marriage with Debbie Rowe, and from this marriage, they had two children named Paris and Prince, and Michael had another son called Blanket from a surrogate mother. Michael’s marriage ended with divorce in 1999 Michael Jackson was judged in 1993 and 2005 because of sexual harassment towards boys but was later acquitted. Michael Jackson died of cardiac arrest on 25 June 2009 due to drug use (Passe,
Eliason, Jackson, Maldonado, Marguide & Arthur, 1992; Gongaware, Ortega, Phillips, & Ortega, 2009).

Erikson’ s Eight-Stage Model of Psychosocial Theory

Erikson’s psychosocial theory (1963) is a stage theory and considers the influences of external factors, parents and society on personality development from childhood to adulthood. Erikson’s (1963) trust and mistrust stage stated, during childhood, a reliable, compassionate and affectionate caregiver needs to look after the child in order to create a feeling of trust. Micheal
said within the interview “He [my father] was very strict, he beat me. Just a look would scare you” (Maio and Goodman, 2013). Based on Michael’s interview and Erikson’s (1963) theory, Michael neverhad the kindness, the compassion and the trustworthy caregiver, who would inspire him to feel trust. Michael’s doctor Murray stated that “Michael trusted no one” (Graham, 2013). Because of his
relationship with his father he was never able to develop a feeling of trust to anyone around him and even himself.
According autonomy and shame stage, early childhood is defined as a time when children can develop a sense of personal control over their own skills and feelings of independence. Success at this stage results in autonomy while failure results in shame and doubt (Erikson, 1963). According to his interview, Michael was constantly under pressure from his father and never able to have his own independence (Shaw, 2003). “He practiced us with a belt in his hand and if you miss a step he tears you up” (Shaw, 2003). Based on the theory these problems, which Michael underwent in childhood, did not allow him to be independent and he was a shy person in adulthood.

From the point of the initiative and guilt stage, preschool is described as a period during which children feel the requirement to assert control and power over the environment for the first time. Success achieved in this stage is thought to lead to a sense of purpose. On the other hand, when a child tries to exert too much power, he or she most probably faces with disapproval, which in turn results in a sense of guilt (Erikson, 1963). In the previous quote we can clearly see that, it was nearly impossible for Michael to learn to deal with initiative and guilt because his father constantly was controlling his actions, things Michael wanted to do were blocked and his father was making all his decisions for him.

The industry and inferiority stage is where the children compare inferior feelings in late childhood with other children at school. Success brings a sense of competence while failure brings a sense of inferiority (Erikson, 1963). In the interview Michael mentioned that “ I was doing my schooling with the 3 hours tutor than going to recording studio or performing” and he continued with said “I was mostly with adults” (Maio and Goodman, 2013). As a result, he really was not able to compare himself to his peers, so later in life when these connections to others needed to be made, he was lacking this key characteristic that most people develop much earlier.

According to the identity crisis and role-confused stage, adults in this period become aware of how their own external appearances are seen by other people, and in addition they may encounter identity problems (Erikson, 1963). Michael mentioned, “ I was teased by my father and my environment because of my facial features and skin” (Maio and Goodman, 2013). This attitude caused Michael to never effectively develop beyond this stage. It led to aesthetic surgeries Michael had done in adulthood, and we can clearly see the anxiety of Michael having an identity problem (Erikson, 1963). This identity issue is further exacerbated regarding role confusion, in the interview he admitted “When I was a kid, I was denied a childhood my childhood was completely taken away from me, … not a normal childhood, nor the normal pleasures of childhood those were exchanged for hard work, struggle and pain” (Maio and Goodman, 2013). As a result, his continued adolescent behavior in adulthood; he built the Never land Ranch, living with
childhood mentality and his statement “I am always Peter pan in my heart” (Shaw, 2003) is a reflection of his issues in role confusion.

Young adults feel the need to establish intimate, loving relationships with other people around them during the intimacy and isolation stage. While success in this stage results in the establishment of strong associations, failure is known to direct them to loneliness and isolation (Erikson, 1963). Michael stated, “I did not really have a girlfriend”… “ I was so lonely” (Maio and
Goodman, 2013). Based on Erikson’s (1963) theory Michael was never able to build the skills needed to acquire this type of relationship, it became a struggle. We could see this with his short-lived celebrity marriage to Lisa Marie Presley and his second marriage with Debbie Rowe (Boteach, 2009). Basically Michael was trying to fill this gap in his identity. However it was not completely genuine because he was not capable of forming a normal loving relationship.

Adults are in need of creating or nurturing things that will outlast them in the generativity and stagnation stage, which often come true in the shape of having children or creating improvements that, bring benefit to other people. While success opens the door to the feeling of usefulness and accomplishment, the result of failure is shallow involvement in the world (Erikson, 1963). Michael actually seemed successfully developed at this stage, by the concerts and performances to raise money for the starving children across the globe and said “…I feel really bad for these kids…” (Jackson, 1992). Although he was caring about his own children,
Jackson hung his baby over a hotel balcony in Berlin; later in an interview he described it as a “terrible mistake” (Sullivan, 2014). Jackson was also obsessed about masking the faces of his children to hide their identity and protect their privacy in a way that he was not able to enjoy as a child (Winfrey, 2012). There is a point of contradiction for the theory. When we consider
Michael’s care for the children we clearly see that he has been successful in completing this phase, on the other hand, his inconsistent attitude towards his own children demonstrated that he was not able to successfully complete this phase of the theory.

Biopsychosocial Model

Engel’s (1980) biopsychosocial model addresses the biological, social and psychological factors and their complex interaction to understand health, illness and the health service. Within the interview Michael said, “He [my father] was very strict “ and “He was beaten me” and he continued with saying “There’s been times when he’d come to see me, and I would get sick.” (Maio and Goodman, 2013). From this interview we can clearly see that Michael’s relationship with his father had an impact on Michael’s psychology and increase is anxiety and fear. These psychological feelings of Michael could have an impact on his amygdala, which is the part of the brain related to fear conditions (LeDoux, 1992).

In childhood, Michael was teased by his peers around his environment and especially by his father because of his facial features – his big nose. During the interview with Ophra he said that his father and some of his cousins teased him by saying, “Look at that big nose on your face,” “… Big nose.” Against this attitude of his father and his neighbor, Michael said: “It was pretty embarrassing”, “It used to hurt me” and that attitude led Michael to have a shy personality (Maio and Goodman, 2013). According to research, individuals who appear to be shy show high level of activity in the brain area called amygdala (LeDoux, 1992).

During his childhood, Michael was not only fighting with his father’s dictatorship and his biologic features that he was not happy with. He was also missing the opportunity to be a child. His father pushed Michael to just focus on his music, which caused Michael to experience loneliness and not develop the skills needed for love or friendship (Maio and Goodman, 2013). “I remember going to the recording studio, and there was a park across the street, and I’d see all the children playing and
I would cry. It would make me sad that I would have to go to work instead”. These psychological pressures on Michael led him to suffer from emotional distress and put him in a depressed mood (Boteach, 2009; Maio and Goodman, 2013). Just as in other individuals with depression, this psychological condition may have an impact on Michael’s hippocampus, amygdala and the prefrontal cortex (McEwen, 2003).

His father’s attitude to Michael and the emotional complexities that Michael sustained in this situation continued in his youth. In teen years, Michael had acne like some of his peers, but Michael’s acne was not seen as a normal process by his father, but as a mockery. Michael tells his father’s attitude with the words “he tell me I’m ugly”. We can clearly understand that how much his father’s attitude had an influence on Michael’s psychology from his this words “I had pimples so badly it used to make me so shy, I wouldn’t want to look in the mirror and my father teased me and I just hated it and I cried every day” (Maio and Goodman, 2013). At the same time, Michael also struggled with a skin disorder; within the interview Michele stated, “ I have a skin disorder that destroyed the pigmentation of my skin. The disease, called vitiligo, was in my family.” Michael’s genetic disorder, which changed his biology, caused the media and those around him to make up stories about his disorder. During his interview he was showing how much this social environment influenced his psychology, by saying “ When people make stories about I do not want to be who I am, it just hurts me so bad”. His father’s and his social environment’s attitude towards Michael’s facial features in childhood and his skin in youth years, made Michael say “I’m never happy with what I see” and this attitude also started him to undergo aesthetic surgeries; from these we can see that he suffered from body dysmorphia disorder (Maio and Goodman, 2013). Individuals with body dysmorphia mostly use left hemisphere of their brain and may have a chemical imbalance of their serotonin level, this may have been such a case for Michael Jackson (Hanes, 1998).

Stress, depression, psychological disturbances and anxiety that Michael suffered due to the problems he experienced in his environment in childhood and in his teen years caused him to suffered chronic insomnia during adulthood, as his doctor mentioned (Boteach, 2009; Duke, 2013; Maio and Goodman, 2013). Insomnia is a psychiatric disorder, which reduces the level of gamma-amino
butyric acid and the gray matter volume in the frontal lobe, which can cause memory and executive function problems, which may have been the case for Michael (Winkelman, et al., 2008). Michael Jackson’s doctor stated, Michael was taking drugs such as propofol and benzodiazepine in order to cope with his insomnia (Graham, 2013). This kind of drugs increased the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid receptor in the individual in order to aid sleep (Winkelman, et al., 2008). Michael Jackson was addicted to these drugs and these drugs were found in his blood in the autopsy and demonstrated as the cause of his heart attack, which lead him to die in his fifties (Graham, 2013).

Final Evaluation And Formulation

According to the analysis in section 3 and 4, the biopsychosocial model is superior to Erikson’s model in order to explain Michael’s life. From the ideographic perspective, the biopsychosocial model can clearly explain the link between the biological factor, social factors and psychological factors of Michael’s life and death, and how this interaction influenced his development in his
lifespan. On the other hand it was difficult to apply Erikson’s model on Michael’s life because the language of each stage was not totally clear. Also the age range between the stages did not totallymap onto Michael’s age; each stage after stage 3, occurred in Michael’s life a little later than the age gap Erikson mentions and after the stage 3 the process in each stage did not follow as
sequential. Erikson’s stages mostly paid attention to Michael’s infancy and adolescence more than his adult life experience, despite claiming to be a lifespan development theory, whereas the biopschosocial model paid attention to every aspect of his lifespan without any stages. The inconsistencies of Michael’s attitude toward his own children and the other children cannot be
clearly explained by the 7th stage of Erikson’s theory; this is a point of contradiction for the theory. Also the last stage of Erikson’s model has never been seen in last periods of Michael’s life, whereas the biopsychosocial theory can clearly explain the circumstances leading to his death.

From the nomothetic perspective, Halfon et al., (2014) have claimed that human development affects interaction of external factors (social and psychological) and internal factors (biological). Roazen (1976) explains Erikson’s model is too difficult for the general reading public to understand. Marcia (2010) also questions whether the steps of Erikson’s model can be accepte consecutively and only occurs within the age range proposed by Erikson. According to Brent et al. (2014), Erikson’s model mostly pays attention to infancy and adolescence rather than adulthood, however it is a lifespan theory. These are consistent with my own analysis of Michael Jackson. Overall, when we take into consideration ideographic and nomothetic support evidence, the biopsychosocial model gives a clearer link between the stages of an individual’s life in order to analyze Michael Jackson’s lifespan development.

Clinical Psychologist
Beyhan Perim Secmen

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