Erik Erikson’s Theory of Development

Every person has his own unique identity. This identity is composed of the different personality traits which can be a combination of positive and negative. Personality traits can be innate or acquired; thus, it actually varies from one person to another based on the degree of influence that the environment has on the individual. The bottom line is that as humans, we possess many characteristics and these are honed in many different aspects which eventually define the totality of a person.

Erik Erikson ,one of Freud’s contemporaries, emphasized the sociocultural (rather than sexual) determinants of development which are represented in eight stages of psychosocial conflicts that an individual must overcome or resolve in a successful manner so that they will be able to adjust well to the environment. To illustrate further, Erikson described that at each of the eight stages, the person encounters a certain crisis that contributes to his psychosocial growth. Whenever the person experiences such crisis, he is left with no choice but to face it and think of ways to resolve it. However, failure to overcome such crisis may lead to significant effects that contribute to the person’s psychosocial development.

Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Development

erik erikson stages of development chart

Stage One – Trust versus Mistrust

Infants must learn how to trust others who care for their basic needs. The infant should feel that he is being cared for and that all his needs are met. The newborn is like a helpless being and therefore, might view the outside world as threatening. Depending on how he is treated by people around him, the sense of threat will be replaced by trust so that the infant can have a sense of security and will be able to build trust for people around him. The first and most important person to teach this virtue of trust is the mother. Mothers are expected to take good care of the child and attend to his every need rather than ignore and let the child be helpless. More specifically, the parents should be able to provide food, shelter, sustenance and make the child feel very comfortable so that he will feel secured and that he will trust that people around him truly cares for him.

Stage Two – Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt

At this phase, children should be taught the basic ways of taking care of themselves like changing clothes and feeding themselves. If this is not met, the child will only continue to rely on other people and when compared with other kids of the same age, they might eventually feel shameful and may even doubt their own abilities to carry out simple tasks. Therefore, children at this stage should learn the basic ways of hygienic practices or other tasks that require good motor skills.

Stage Three – Initiative versus Guilt

This is the stage when preschoolers would like to explore and do things on their own. At this age, the child is able to learn new concepts introduced in school and they are expected to practice these lessons in real life. Children are expected to do some basic decision making for their own good; and failure to do these simple things expected of them may develop feelings of guilt. Since they have knowledge of the value of right or wrong, they know that there are tasks that they can accomplish on their own therefore, inability to do basic things may lead them to ask assistance from other people and this leads them to feel guilty.

Stage Four – Industry versus Inferiority

As the children grow in age, they mature and raise their level of self-awareness. Children are able to easily understand logical reasoning, scientific facts, and other matters that are usually taught in school. Erikson also viewed this stage as critical for elementary students to develop a sense of self-confidence because at this stage, they should be able to competitively achieve some things as compared to children of the same age. During the elementary age, children exert effort to develop self-confidence but otherwise, they become inferior if they feel that they are incapable of acquiring achievements or something that they can show off to their parents.

Stage Five – Identity versus Role Confusion

During adolescence, the child is expected to develop his or her sexual identity. This is gained through the discovery of oneself and in the course of finding meaning to their personhood. This is also a time when adolescents experience identity crisis because of the transition stage going to adulthood. Most adolescents may find it confusing in carrying out activities as to whether it is more appropriate for them or for an adult. Crisis at this stage may also be brought about by expectations from themselves and from other people.

Stage Six – Intimacy versus Isolation

Intimacy versus Isolation is very apparent for people who are at the age of 30. People at this stage become worried about finding the right partner or spending the rest of their lives alone. Young adults are most vulnerable to feel intimacy and loneliness because this is the phase where a lot of interactions with other people occur. However, it is not always a success story for every young adult to find someone whom they can share a lifelong commitment. Some may choose to spend the rest of their lives as singles.

Stage Seven – Generativity versus Stagnation

Adults who are in their 40’s or 50’s tend to find meaning in their work. They feel like at this point in their lives, they should be able to contribute something meaningful to the society. Having children and simple work does not give them satisfaction anymore. It’s more of leaving a legacy that will culminate their career life. If they are not able to achieve this sense of satisfaction, they feel like they have been an unproductive member of the society.

Stage Eight – Ego Integrity versus Despair

Senior citizens or those who are past the age of 60, experience this kind of psychosocial crisis. This is the age when people retire from work and what gives meaning to their lives is that when they look back, they feel a sense of fulfillment knowing that they have done something significant during their younger years. It is incomparable to anything when a person at this age feels very happy and contented that they have lived life to the fullest. However, if they recall life events and feel disappointed and underachieved, it is most likely that they experience feelings of despair. It is at this stage when they should feel well-accomplished and because of these achievements, they feel satisfied and that they have gained wisdom.

You may want to check out the following posts:
Erikson’s Stages of Development – Stages 1 and 2
Erikson’s Stages of Development – Stages 3 and 4
Erikson’s Stages of Development – Stages 5 and 6
Erikson’s Stages of Development – Stages 7 and 8

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