Eric Erikson's Stages Of Psychosocial Development

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Erikson is a Freudian ego-psychologist. This means that he assumes that Freud’s theories are fundamentally correct, including more controversial ideas such as the Oedipus complex. But he also accepts the theories about the ego that other Freudians such as Heinz Hartmann and, of course, Anna Freud have added. But Erikson is much more oriented towards society and culture than most Freudians, as one would expect from a researcher with an anthropological focus of interest. And he often pushes the instincts and the unconscious out of the picture. Perhaps this is the reason why Erikson is extremely popular with both Freudians and non-Freudians!

The Stages Erikson is famous for redefining and expanding Freud’s theory of developmental stages. The development goes, in his opinion, according to the epigenetic principle. This principle states that we evolve through a fixed development of our personality in eight stages. Progress from one stage to another is determined, in part by our success, or lack of success in all previous stages. Similar to the development of a rosebud, each leaf opens at a certain time, in a certain order, as nature has predestined by genetics. When we interfere with the natural principles of order by drawing a petal too early, we destroy the development of the whole flower. Each level includes certain developmental tasks of a psychosocial nature. Although Erikson follows Freud’s theory in calling these crises, they are more extensive and less specific than the term suggests. For example, a high school child must learn to be eager for this phase, and zeal is learned through the complex social interactions in school and family.

3tasks are called two terms. The task of the toddler, for example, is called trust-mistrust. First, it seems obvious that a toddler needs to learn trust and not distrust. But Erikson made it clear that we need to learn to balance ourselves: we most certainly have to learn to trust; but we also have to learn mistrust so that we do not become gullible idiots! Each stage has its optimal time. It makes no sense to drive children into adulthood too soon, as happens in people who are obsessed with success. Conversely, it is not possible to slow the pace of development to protect children from the demands of life. There is a time for every development task. When a stage has been completed well, we retain a certain amount of virtue or psychological strength that accompanies us through the following stages of our lives. On the other hand, if we close one step less well, we may develop maladaptions and malignancies and endanger our further development. A malignancy is the worse impact of both because too little positive and too many negative aspects were drawn from the respective task; such as with a person who can not trust other people. A behavioral disorder is not so serious, and includes too much of the good and too few bad aspects; as with a person who is too familiar to others.

The First Stage: Trust vs. Mistrust If it comes to problems in the personality development, can be found with the help of the stages, which crisis has not been successfully managed. This realization helps the therapist to intervene in the right place. The eight stages with their specific crises are described in the background of western industrial society, which of course limits the universality. Confidence in mistrust (1st year of life) Basic trust arises from the experience that there is agreement between the world and personal needs. In this phase, a basic attitude arises, which runs through the whole wide life. A newborn is dependent on being cared for. In addition to the experience of trust, distrust is also experienced. It is important for a child to become trusted and distrustful. Decisive for a healthy personality development is that the trust develops stronger.

The Second Stage: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (2nd, 3rd year) During this time, the emancipation of the mother happens, which is supported by the new skills of walking, speaking and chair control. The problem of autonomy and shame is transformed into holding and releasing. Specifically, the child has to learn to hold things or to let things go. Therefore, Freud and Erikson point to the education of cleanliness, which psychoanalysts call an anal phase. During this time, the child also develops ideas about “I” and “you”. It learns that it is a single being. To ensure a healthy development, Erikson points out that the parents are taken as role models. The children also take into account the feelings they experience in connection with their parents. Successful coping assumes that autonomy is stronger than shame and doubt.

The Third Stage: Initiative vs. Guilt (4th, 5th year) The child increasingly differentiates itself from the environment and tries to explore the reality, which manifests itself in countless questions as well as in trying out different roles in the game. Because the child has now learned to walk, it can explore its surroundings more independently. It is important that the toddler learns to tackle things without outside help. to explore all sorts of items. This promotes the initiative. On the other hand, the child begins to increasingly deal with his gender. This ultimately leads to the oedipal situation. As she experiences this crisis, the toddler also learns to feel guilty. At this time, the conscience is forming. A successful experience of this level is given when the child has learned to take 5initiative, as well as dealing with his guilt feelings.Stage Four: Industry vs. Inferiority feeling (age 6 to adolescence)

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The child is eager to learn – “I am what I am learning”. It learns to gain recognition by making things through cognitive abilities. Being successful is important. In addition to the urge to play, the child develops a work sense, means that it’s about doing something useful. The school, which is being visited at this age and even longer, tries to do justice to these two demands. In addition to playful learning, the school should provide opportunities for learners to confirm themselves by doing something useful. If there are no success stories, a sense of inferiority develops over time. Fixations that can arise concern fear of failure or generally the fear of certain tasks, based at this age also a lacking self-confidence which overshadows the whole life. For a healthy development, it is therefore necessary that the children experience success. At this stage, children want to observe everything and actively participate themselves; they want to be shown by the others how to do something specific and then try it for themselves. The sense of the work is therefore the need of the child, that it makes anything useful, because it wants to participate at least partially in the world of adults. At the same time, some children in this period of their lives feel they are inferior when their abilities are not enough to do what a grown-up can easily do. Some children in this age are therefore overwhelmed.Stage Five: Identity vs. Role Confusion (ages 13 to 20)

All preceding phases provide elements for this phase: trust, autonomy, initiative, diligence. Add to that the physical changes and the new demands of the environment. The adolescent questions himself and seeks his identity. This identity should be found in the context of new social roles: confrontation and questioning of caregivers, role in the peer group, 6confrontation with the opposite sex, role in the profession. With accelerated physical development, the question arises more and more: Who am I? The answer is to merge the experience accumulated so far, which consists of coping with the previous crises, into an ego identity. This identity formation succeeds better if you have collected as many positive experiences and thus has a healthy self-confidence. If this is not the case, so-called identity diffusion occurs. The individual adolescent or individual adolescents can not develop a stable ego identity. One consequence of this is that such adolescents like to join groups that have clear structures.Stage Six: Intimacy vs. Isolation (20 to about 45 years)

Clarified identity allows solid partnership and intimacy. Erikson describes the phase as losing oneself and finding oneself in another. With the help of a solid self-identity, it becomes possible to experience intimacy in a couple relationship. By the presence of the identity it is possible to open oneself to the partner. On the other side is the isolation, which can be explained by the fact that no stable ego identity has yet been formed. But it is important that the experience of isolation or distancing is important to all. Again, it is about a meaningful relationship that must develop between intimacy and isolation. Stage Seven: Generativity vs. Stagnation (45 to 65 years) As a result of intimacy it comes to family start-ups. This phase is shaped by the need to create, share and secure values for future generations. These in turn lead to children being born. Erikson understands generativity to be the education of the next generation, be it as parents or otherwise in a form that has this goal in mind. This attitude develops only when there is a fundamental sense of trust. The opposite is called self-absorption. By this is meant a loneliness, 7an interpersonal relationships are little maintained. This attitude leads to loneliness.Stage Eight: Integrity vs. Despair (65 years to death)

At best, at this stage, it comes to full maturity, the willingness to accept its one and only life cycle as something that had to be and that inevitably did not allow for replacement. In this final phase it works to accept life as it was, with all the positive and negative experiences and events. Which makes it possible to live in peace and often also forms the basis for people to take on leadership tasks. If one does not succeed in life, it leads to disappointment and dissatisfaction with his life, and it is highly probable that the psychological development of man will be disturbed if he fails to master the crises that occur in the respective phases.

Criticism Based on Erikson’s definition of the term “stages,” it is not easy to defend his eight-step model. In different cultures, even within different cultures, the timing can be very different: in some countries babies are weaned at six months and learn to potty at nine months; in other countries, even five-year-old children are still breastfed, and instead of pimping, they only have to learn how to handle their needs outside. People used to be married in our culture at the age of thirteen, and at the age of 15, they had one child. Today, on the other hand, we tend to marrydelay until we are about 30, then we hurry to get children before the 40th year. We look forward to spending many years in retirement; at other times and in other places, retirement is not known at all.

But nevertheless, Erikson’s steps seem to give us a certain frame. So we can talk about our own culture compared to others, or compare today with the conditions that were common a few centuries ago, by finding out how far we deviate relative to the “standard” of his theory. Erikson and other scientists have found that the general pattern is consistent across cultures and time, and 8many of us recognize the pattern. In other words, his theory reflects one of the most important standards of personality theory, a standard sometimes even more important than the “truth”: it is useful.He also gives us insight into issues that otherwise would not have been clear to us. For example, it may be assumed that its eight stages represent a series of development tasks that are not based on any particular logical sequence. But dividing the lifespan into two sections, each with four steps, reveals a real pattern: one half is the development of childhood and the other half is the development of the adult.

In Stage I, the baby learns that “it” (the world, especially the world represented by mom, dad, and the baby itself) is “okay.” In Stage II, the toddler learns “I can do that”. Here and now. In Stage III, the preschooler learns “I can plan” and designs himself into the future. In Stage IV, the schoolchild learns “I can finish projects”. By going through these four stages, the child develops a competent self and is ready for the larger world. In the adult half of the scheme, we go beyond the ego. Stage V is about getting something like “it’s okay” again: the adolescent has to learn “I’m okay,” this conclusion builds on the previous four levels. In Stage VI, the young adult has to learn to love, which corresponds to the social expression of “I can do that” in the here-and-now. In Stage VII, the adult has to learn to extend this love into the future, in the form of caring. And in stage VIII, the old man has to learn to “self-cope” as himself and build a new and broader identity. We could characterize the second half of life with an expression of Jung and say that the second half of life is about recognizing one’s self. Erikson is an excellent author, he will inspire your imagination, whether you are convinced of his Freudian attitude or not.


  1. Dunkel, C., & Harbke, C. (2017). A Review of Measures of Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development: Evidence for a General Factor. Journal of Adult Development, 24(1), 58–76.
  2. Kivnick, H. Q., & Wells, C. K. (2014). Untapped Richness in Erik H. Erikson’s Rootstock. Gerontologist, 54(1), 40–50.
  3. Knight, Z. G. (2017). A proposed model of psychodynamic psychotherapy linked to Erik Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 24(5), 1047–1058.
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  5. Stassen Berger, K. (2014). The Development Person Through the Life Span. New York, A Macmillan Higher Education Company.
  6. Zock, H. (2018). Human Development and Pastoral Care in a Postmodern Age: Donald Capps, Erik H. Erikson, and Beyond. Journal of Religion & Health, 57(2), 437–450.
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