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Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development
Like Freud and many others, Erik Erikson maintained that personality develops in a predetermined order. Instead of focusing on sexual development, however, he was interested in how children socialize and how this affects their sense of self. He saw personality as developing throughout the lifetime and looked at identity crises at the focal point for each stage of human development.
Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development has eight distinct stage, each with two possible outcomes. According to the theory, successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality and successful interactions with others. Failure to successfully complete a stage can result in a reduced ability to complete further stages and therefore a more unhealthy personality and sense of self. These stages, however, can be resolved successfully at a later time.
Trust Versus Mistrust. From ages birth to one year, children begin to learn the ability to trust others based upon the consistency of their caregiver(s). If trust develops successfully, the child gains confidence and security in the world around him and is able to feel secure even when threatened. Unsuccessful completion of this stage can result in an inability to trust, and therefore an sense of fear about the inconsistent world. It may result in anxiety, heightened insecurities, and an over feeling of mistrust in the world around them.
Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. Between the ages of one and three, children begin to assert their independence, by walking away from their mother, picking which toy to play with, and making choices about what they like to wear, to eat, etc. If children in this stage are encouraged and supported in their increased independence, they become more confident and secure in their own ability to survive in the world. If children are criticized, overly controlled, or not given the opportunity to assert themselves, they begin to feel inadequate in their ability to survive, and may then become overly dependent upon others, lack self-esteem, and feel a sense of shame or doubt in their own abilities.
Initiative vs. Guilt. Around age three and continuing to age six, children assert themselves more frequently. They begin to plan activities, make up games, and initiate activities with others. If given this opportunity, children develop a sense of initiative, and feel secure in their ability to lead others and make decisions. Conversely, if this tendency is squelched, either through criticism or control, children develop a sense of guilt. They may feel like a nuisance to others and will therefore remain followers, lacking in self-initiative.
Industry vs. Inferiority. From age six years to puberty, children begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments. They initiate projects, see them through to completion, and feel good about what they have achieved. During this time, teachers play an increased role in the child’s development. If children are encouraged and reinforced for their initiative, they begin to feel industrious and feel confident in their ability to achieve goals. If this initiative is not encouraged, if it is restricted by parents or teacher, then the child begins to feel inferior, doubting his own abilities and therefore may not reach his potential.
Identity vs. Role Confusion. During adolescence, the transition from childhood to adulthood is most important. Children are becoming more independent, and begin to look at the future in terms of career, relationships, families, housing, etc. During this period, they explore possibilities and begin to form their own identity based upon the outcome of their explorations. This sense of who they are can be hindered, which results in a sense of confusion (“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up”) about themselves and their role in the world.
Intimacy vs. Isolation. Occurring in Young adulthood, we begin to share ourselves more intimately with others. We explore relationships leading toward longer term commitments with someone other than a family member. Successful completion can lead to comfortable relationships and a sense of commitment, safety, and care within a relationship. Avoiding intimacy, fearing commitment and relationships can lead to isolation, loneliness, and sometimes depression.
Generativity vs. Stagnation. During middle adulthood, we establish our careers, settle down within a relationship, begin our own families and develop a sense of being a part of the bigger picture. We give back to society through raising our children, being productive at work, and becoming involved in community activities and organizations. By failing to achieve these objectives, we become stagnant and feel unproductive.
Ego Integrity vs. Despair. As we grow older and become senior citizens, we tend to slow down our productivity, and explore life as a retired person. It is during this time that we contemplate our accomplishments and are able to develop integrity if we see ourselves as leading a successful life. If we see our lives as unproductive, feel guilt about our pasts, or feel that we did not accomplish our life goals, we become dissatisfied with life and develop despair, often leading to depression and hopelessness.
erik erikson's theory of psychological development
- trust v. mistrust
- birth to age 1
- crucial role played by mother: inconsistency/rejection leads to mistrust; warmth/acceptance results in trust and the “inner certainty” that the world is reliable and predictable
- if we learn to mistrust adults in infancy, we can later change when we meet adults who encourage trust. likewise, sense of trust can be lost.
ex: an orphaned child who keeps jumping from foster home to foster home will likely develop feelings of mistrust and avoid becoming emotionally involved with other people. however, that very same orphan might become more trustful if they meet a teacher who cares for them and is consistently there for them.
- autonomy v. doubt
- ages 1 to 3
- children develop new physical and mental skills, and are proud of their accomplishments and insist on doing everything themselves
- parents who accept the child’s need to control his/her body/impulses/immediate environment foster a sense of autonomy and help the child prepare for independence later in life
- parents who insist on being overly controlling/critical foster a sense of doubt/lack of confidence
- initiative v. guilt
- ages 3 to 6
- child can initiate play activities instead of just follow other children
- children play pretend, imaging themselves in a number of adult roles
- begin asking many questions - intellectual initiative
- parents who encourage this will enhance the child’s sense of initiative ; parents who make the child feel like these activities are bad or wrong will instill in the child a sense of guilt about self-initiated activities - will later be detrimental in life
- industry v. inferiority
- ages 6-12
- children begin school and are exposed to formal/impersonal rules
- demonstrate industry: build model planes, build tree houses, complete school projects
- if adults praise the child’s creative projects, sense of industry will be reinforced
- if adults scold the child for making a mess or if the child gets low grades for their projects, they can instill a lasting sense of inferiority
- identity v. role confusion
- physical maturation and capability for abstract thought
- no longer children, but not yet adults, children struggle to create for themselves a meaningful sense of identity
- culture plays a large role in influencing selection of identity
- intimacy v. isolation
- early adulthood
- young adults search for a partner to care about and share their lives with
- those who feel threatened by an intimate relationship will avoid intimacy for fear of being ‘swallowed up.’
- a person unable to maintain a meaningful relationship with others can become lonely/isolated
- generativity v. self-absorption
- middle adulthood
- family and work become important social settings
- generativity: concern in establishing and guiding the next generation
* if this fails, individual can stagnate and become absorbed with material possessions and personal problems (mid-life crisis)
- integrity v. despair
- late adulthood
- coming to terms with dying
- evaluation/reflection time
- if a person feels their life has been successful, they will feel a sense of self-acceptance Erikson calls ‘integrity.’
- if a person feels their life was just a whole sequence of missed opportunities and might-have-beens, they will probably give into despair.
Erikson (1968, 1982) defined love (the basic strength of young adult) as mature devotion that overcomes basic differences between men and women. Although love includes intimacy, it also contains some degree of isolation. Mature love means commitment, sexual passion, cooperation, competition and friendship.
“a span of time after individuals have ceased being children, but before their deeds and works count toward a future identity,”
“one possible way of postponing the decision as to what one is and is going to be.”
“one’s personal marking time before he/she comes to his/her crossroad”
“the crisis in such a young man’s life may be reached exactly when he half-realizes that he is fatally over-committed to what he is not.”
- Young Man Luther. Erik H. Erikson