Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development

Every person has his own unique identity. This identity is composed of the different personality traits that can be considered positive or negative. These personality traits can also be innate or acquired, and they vary 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 that eventually define who each person is.

Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development emphasizes the sociocultural determinants of development and presents them as eight stages of psychosocial conflicts that all individuals must overcome or resolve successfully in order to adjust well to the environment.

According to Erikson’s theory, an individual encounters a certain crisis that contributes to his/her psychosocial growth at each of the eight stages of psychosocial development. Whenever an individual experiences such crisis, he/she is left with no choice but to face it and think of ways to resolve it. Failure to overcome such crisis may lead to significant impact on his/her psychosocial development.

Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development

erik erikson stages of development chart

Stage One – Trust versus Mistrust

Infants must learn how to trust others, particularly those who care for their basic needs. An infant should feel that he is being cared for and that all his needs are met.

A 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 can be replaced by trust. When this happens, the infant gains a sense of security and will learn to trust people around him.

The first and most important person to teach an infant about trust is usually the parents. Parents are expected to take good care of their children and attend to their needs. For example, the parents of a baby provide him with food, shelter, sustenance and make him feel very comfortable and secure.

Stage Two – Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt

At this stage, children should be taught the basic ways of taking care of themselves, including changing their clothes and feeding themselves. If a child can’t take care of his own basic needs and continue to rely on others to take care of him, he may feel shameful when he sees that other kids of his own age are able to perform tasks such as feeding themselves.

Stage Three – Initiative versus Guilt

At this stage, children like to explore and do things on their own. They can learn new concepts introduced in school and are expected to practice these lessons in real life. They know that they can accomplish these tasks on their own, but if they fail to do so and end up asking for assistance from others, they may feel a sense of guilt.

Stage Four – Industry versus Inferiority

As children grow, they mature and their level of self-awareness increases. They understand logical reasoning, scientific facts, and other matters that are typically taught in school.

At this stage, children become more competitive. They want to do things that other children of the same age can do. When they make the effort to perform a task and succeed, they develop self-confidence. However, if they fail, they tend to feel that they are inferior to others.

Stage Five – Identity versus Role Confusion

During adolescence, an individual 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. The individual may also experience identity crisis as a result of the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Some adolescents may feel confused and are unsure whether an activity is age-appropriate for them. Crisis at this stage may also be brought about by expectations from themselves and from people around them, e.g. their parents.

Stage Six – Intimacy versus Isolation

This stage is very apparent for people who are in their 30s. People at this stage become worried about finding the right partner and fear that if they fail to do so, they may have to spend the rest of their lives alone.

Young adults are most vulnerable to feel intimacy and loneliness because they interact with a lot of people in this phase of their lives. It’s not always a success story for every young adult to find someone with 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 40s and 50s 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 and leave a legacy. If they fail to achieve this, they feel like they have been an unproductive member of the society.

Stage Eight – Ego Integrity versus Despair

People who are in their 60s or older are typically retirees. It is important for them to feel a sense of fulfillment knowing that they have done something significant during their younger years. When they look back in their life, they feel content, as they believe that they have lived their life to the fullest. If they feel that they haven’t done much during their life, it’s likely that they will experience a sense of despair.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Erikson stages of development, 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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