Monday, October 4, 2010

Erikson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson was born in Frankfurt, Germany, on June 15, 1902. Born Erik Homberger; he officially changed his name to Erik Erikson after becoming an American citizen. Erikson practiced child psychoanalysis privately at Harvard Medical School. He later taught at Yale, and later still at the University of California at Berkeley; and it was during this period of time that he conducted his famous studies of modern life among the Lakota and the Yurok. Erikson left Berkeley in 1950, spent ten years working and teaching at a clinic in Massachusetts, and ten more years back at Harvard—before retiring in 1970. He died in 1994.

Before he died he left a great legacy of work—none better than his eight stage theory of Psychosocial Development. Erikson was a “Freudian ego-psychologist,” meaning that he accepted Sigmund Freud’s theories as correct. He was, however, much more culture and society oriented than Freud or most Freudians, with his anthropological background. Freud had previously postulated his famous ‘five stages of psychosocial development,’ which ended in late adolescence. Surely humans do not stop developing after this period. Picking up on this, Erikson added to Freud’s theory, postulating development from late adolescence until death. Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, Erikson gives us the framework for human development throughout an entire lifespan.

NOTE: Erikson believed that if any stage was missed (or the potential skill associated with that stage was not acquired) it would affect other stages of development, keeping one from achieving his or her maximum potential.

Stage One - Trust vs. Mistrust

The first stage is from birth until one-and-a-half years old. In this stage the ultimate goal of the infant (through the parents) is to develop trust without completely eliminating the capacity for mistrust. In this stage, if the parents can give the child a degree of familiarity, consistency, and continuity, the newborn will develop a sense that the world is a safe place and that people are reliable and loving. If the parents, however, are unreliable, or do an inadequate job raising the child, the infant will develop mistrust and be apprehensive and suspicious around people.

Stage two - Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

The second stage occurs from about eighteen months to three or four years old. The primary goal of this stage (through the parents) is to achieve a degree of autonomy (independence) while minimizing shame and doubt. This is a stage in which the parents need to be “firm, but tolerant.” Children in this stage need to be allowed to explore and manipulate their environment in order to develop a sense of independence, as well as self-control and self-esteem. On the other hand; if the parents or caretakers come down to hard on the child for trying to explore their environment, they will instill in the child a sense of shame and to doubt their abilities.

Stage three - Initiative vs. Guilt

The third stage occurs from about three or four to five or six. The primary goal of this stage (through the parents) is to achieve initiative (inventiveness) without too much guilt. Children in this stage need to develop a sense of responsibility and learn new skills informally, not through formal education. A delicate balance needs to be maintained between initiative and guilt. If the parent is too harsh on the child, the child will develop feelings of guilt about his/her feelings: what Erikson called “inhibition.” If the child, however, has too much initiative and not enough guilt, the child will develop a maladaptive tendency; what Erikson called “ruthlessness.”

Stage four - Industry vs. Inferiority

The fourth stage occurs from about six to twelve. The ultimate goal of this stage is to develop a capacity for industry while avoiding an excessive sense of inferiority. In this stage it is time for formal learning, and children must start their education and learn the social skills required by society. Parents, other family members, teachers, and even the child's peers become major influencing factors in this stage. Balance at every level is vital. Too much industry and a child will develop what Erikson called “narrow virtuosity,” such as when parents push their kids to hard to become child actors, musicians or prodigies of all sorts. Too little industry leads to a more common malignancy which Erikson termed “inertia,” or inferiority complexes.

Stage five - Ego-identity vs. Role-confusion

The fifth stage is adolescence, begining with puberty and ending around 18 or 20 years old. Obviously covering a much wider range—in terms of age—there are a number of developmental goals to be attained in this stage. The ultimate goal of this stage is to achieve ego identity while avoiding role confusion; taking all you have learned thus far and molding it into a self image: knowing who you are and your role in society. Society now becomes the biggest influence, and must allow for certain “rights of passage” (tests of endurance, symbolic ceremonies, or educational events, etc.) for individuals to achieve and distinguish child from adult. Too much “ego identity” leads to “fanaticism” (i.e. a person believing that their way is the only way). Lack of identity leads to “repudiation,” which leads individuals to join groups which are eager to provide details of identity (Religious cults, militaristic organizations, groups founded on hatred, etc.), or to destructive activities such as drugs and alcohol.

Stage six – Intimacy vs. Isolation

The sixth stage is young adulthood, which occurs from about 18 to 30. In this stage the ultimate goal is to develop some degree of intimacy, as opposed to remaining in isolation. Intimacy gained too freely is a maladaptive tendency that Erikson termed “promiscuity.” Isolation from love, friendships, and community leads to “exclusion,” in which the individual develops a hatefulness to compensate for the loneliness.

Stage seven – Generativity vs. Self-absorption

The seventh stage is somewhere between mid-twenties and late fifties. The primary goal of this stage is to cultivate the proper balance of generativity (extension of love into the future) and stagnation (self-absorption). The maladaptive tendency Erikson calls “overexertion” is when a person becomes so over generative that they no longer have time for themselves--overextending themselves until they can no longer contribute effectively. The flip side is “rejectivity,” or the tendency to become so self-absorbed that the person no longer cares for anyone and no longer contributes to society.

Stage eight - Integrity vs. Despair

The last stage, loosely termed late adulthood, maturity, or most commonly old age; this stage occurs from about 60 until death. The ultimate goal of this stage is to develop ego integrity with a minimal amount of despair. Many believe that this stage is the most difficult of all because of the many disparities which are associated with it. A detachment from society (or feeling of uselessness), failing of the body to react as it once did, illness, and ultimate concerns of death debilitate many during this stage. In this stage one must effectively put their life into perspective and attach a certain meaning to it in order to feel "whole." People who are unable to do this, develop a deep sense of anguish and despair and wish they had their lives to live over (doing things differently).



  1. " Freud had previously postulated his famous ‘five stages of psychosocial development' "

    Freud actually had 5 stages of psychoSEXUAL development. Erikson then expanded and improved on those 5 stages of focus on the development of self-identity and social relationships (which he deemed to be more important than Frud's theory based on sexual or aggressive instincts.

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