Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory proposed that throughout our lives, we encounter certain crises that contribute to our psychosocial development. He presented these crises as 8 stages of psychosocial conflicts, often known as the 8 Erikson stages.
Each of the eight Erikson stages is characterized by two contradictory emotional forces known as contrary dispositions, usually labeled as “syntonic” and “dystonic” dispositions. These dispositions cause a crisis or task that we need to resolve or master.
According to the Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory, when we resolve this crisis successfully, we gain a sense of competence. Failure to do so may lead to feelings of inadequacy and a less healthy personality.
Erik Erikson’s Stages of Development
Trust vs Mistrust
Erikson’s first stage of psychosocial development starts from infant to about 18 months old. At this stage, infants must learn to trust others, particularly those who care for their basic needs.
Small babies may view this “new world” as threatening, as they must depend on others for their survival. Depending on how they are treated by their caregivers, this sense of threat can be replaced by trust.
Caregivers who are sensitive and responsive to their baby’s basic needs, such as food and shelter, help their baby develop a sense of security. When these babies learn that they will receive the care they need when they need it, they begin to feel safe and learn to trust the people around them.
On the other hand, caregivers who are unresponsive to their baby’s needs can cause their baby to view this “new world” as unreliable and unpredictable. These babies may develop a sense of anxiety and mistrust, which will affect how they interact with others as they grow up.
The virtue that is developed upon a healthy resolution of the crisis at this stage is “hope”. This is manifested by a deep faith and conception that everything will turn out to be okay.
Autonomy vs Shame/Doubt
One-year-old to three-year-old toddlers are at the second stage of Erikson’s stages of development. According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory, children at this stage struggle with issues of personal control and establishment of self as an entity.
As children grow physically and cognitively, they acquire skills that allow them to become partially independent of their caregivers. For example, they can play with their toys, feed themselves, go potty by themselves and even dress themselves.
Being equipped with some degree of trust and a budding self-awareness, these toddlers begin to pay more heed to their own judgement as they progress through these developmental milestones. Parents’ patience and encouragement are crucial in shaping their child’s success at this phase of the Erikson stages.
Children who can’t take care of their own basic needs and continue to rely on their caregivers may begin to doubt their abilities. They may also feel shameful when they see other children of their age performing these tasks.
The virtue that is developed at this Erikson stage is “Will”. Caregivers who perceive their children’s assertions of will and self-control as healthy striving towards independence will help their children become self-reliant, self-disciplined and responsible individuals who can exercise sound judgement and make decisions for themselves.
Initiative vs Guilt
As toddlers become pre-schoolers, they begin to develop a sense of purpose. They like to explore and do things on their own.
When they arrive at the third stage of Erikson stages, children learn about new concepts in school and through social interactions. Games and imagination are recognized by Erikson’s theory as means through which these children learn about themselves and their social world. They like to try out new things and learn to cooperate with others to achieve common goals. They assert themselves more frequently, and begin to develop a sense of purposefulness.
Children at this ages like to act out various family scenes and roles, such as teachers, police officers, doctors, as they see on TV. They make up stories with toys to demonstrate what they believe is the adult world. They also begin to explore their environment and ask a lot of “why” questions.
As these children progress through these developmental milestones, they begin to perform more tasks. They also learn the importance of social approval. They begin to realize that some of the things that they want to do may not be approved by others. It’s essential for caregivers to encourage and guide their children to explore within limit.
Over-controlling and overly strict caregivers who discourage their children from exploring new things may cause their children to develop a sense of guilt. These children may see themselves as a nuisance to others, and as a result, they take the role of “followers”. This may have a negative impact on their social life and may also hinder their creativity.
Success at this phase of the Erikson stages will lead to the virtue of purpose, which is demonstrated by how the children make decisions, come up with new ideas, as well as work and play with others.
Industry vs Inferiority
During elementary school age (6-13 years old), children become more competitive. They want to do things that their peers can do. They learn to read, write, do math, and play sports. Teachers play a significant role in these children’s life, as they are the ones who teach them these skills.
At this time, children begin to expand their social network. They get to know their abilities as well as others’ abilities. They compare themselves to their peers as they feel the need to validate their competency. They feel proud and confident when they can do things as well as their peers. If they don’t measure up, they feel inferior.
According to the Erik Erikson theory, children develop the virtue of “competence” by resolving the crisis at this stage. This virtue is demonstrated by making things, getting results, applying skills and feeling capable.
Identity vs Role Confusion
This stage of the Erikson stages of development happens during adolescence(13-21 years old). It marks the shift from childhood to adulthood. It is also the turning point where “what the person has come to be” meets “the person society expects one to become.”
At this point, young people experience a lot of changes in their body. They begin to contemplate on the role they want to play in the adult world. They examine existential questions such as “Who am I?” and “What can I be?”. They also try to develop their occupational and sexual identities by exploring different possibilities.
Young people who succeed at this stage develop a strong sense of identity. When they come across challenges and problems, they can commit to their principles, ideals and beliefs. Those who fail to establish their own identity at this stage tend to be confused about themselves and about their future. They may end up following other people’s ideas.
Erikson’s theory suggests that young people who succeed at resolving the crisis at this stage develops the virtue of “fidelity”. This is characterized by the self-esteem and self-confidence that are requisite to associating freely with people and beliefs on the basis of their value, loyalty, and integrity.
Intimacy vs Isolation
After having developed a strong sense of identity at stage five, young adults (21-39 years old) become concerned about finding companionship and intimacy at the 6th stage of Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development.
It is at this developmental milestone that young adults think about settling down and starting families, and they are more willing to sacrifice and compromise for the sake of their relationships.
However, as they form relationships with others, they also get to experience rejections, such as being rejected by someone they like and breaking up with their partners. Painful rejections and sometimes fear of being rejected may result in what Erikson called “distantiation”. This happens when young adults isolate themselves to avoid and even destroy the people and negative forces that appear to be harmful to them.
The virtue that is developed upon resolving the crisis at this stage is “love”. Young adults develop the capacity to offer love, both physically and emotionally, and to accept love in return. They also become more adept at forming sincere reciprocal relationships and bond with others for mutual fulfilment.
Generativity versus Stagnation
At this Erikson’s stage, the primary concern of middle-aged adults (40-65 years old) is leaving a legacy. They feel the urge to be productive and make contributions to the society. For example, they may volunteer at their church or mentor young kids. They want to leave a legacy and make this world a better place for future generations.
Major milestones may happen at this stage, such as children leaving home, change of career path, etc. Some people may experience mid-life crisis and struggle with finding new purposes in their lives. Failure to resolve the crisis at this stage may lead people to experience stagnation. They become uninterested in their environment and the people around them.
By successfully resolving the crisis at this stage, people develop the virtue of “care”. They are able to offer unconditional support for their children, their community and the society.
Integrity vs Despair
At the last stage of Erikson’s stages of development, people are in late adulthood (65 years old and older). They are typically retirees. It is important for them to feel a sense of fulfilment knowing that they have done something significant and made meaningful contributions to the society during their younger years.
When they look back at their lives, they experience a sense of integrity when they feel proud of their achievements. They are satisfied with the hand they were dealt with and have few regrets. This is truly possible on if they have successfully resolves the psychosocial crises in the earlier Erikson stages.
People who are unsuccessful at this stage experience despair. they feel that they have wasted their lives and experience many regrets. They may feel bitterness towards what they were not able to accomplish in their lives and wish they could have second chances.
Upon resolving the crisis at this stage successfully, people develop the virtue of “wisdom”. This is characterized by composure, broadmindedness, appropriate emotional forbearance, and peace of mind. These elderly people are likely to reflect on their lives positively even in the face of imminent death.
Here’s a summary of Erikson’s 8 stages of psychosocial development:
How to cite this article: Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development (2019). Retrieved from https://www.psychologynoteshq.com/erikerikson/
- The Jean Piaget Stages of Cognitive Development
- Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development
- Child Development Theories
- Moral Development in Children
- Lev Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory of Cognitive Development