by Saul McLeod published 2008, updated 2013
Erik Erikson (1950) does not talk about psychosexual Stages, he discusses psychosocial stages.
His ideas, though, were greatly influenced by Freud, going along with Freud’s ideas about the structure and topography of personality.
Although, whereas Freud was an id psychologist, Erikson was an ego psychologist. He
emphasized the role of culture and society and the conflicts that can take place within the ego itself, whereas Freud
emphasized the conflict between the
id and the superego.
At all psychosocial stages Erikson claimed that the individual develops on three levels simultaneously: Biological,
social and psychological (representing the organism, membership of society and individualism respectively).
His model was a lifespan model of development, taking in 5 stages up to the age of 18 years and three further stages beyond, well into adulthood. Erikson suggests that there is still plenty of room for continued growth and development throughout one’s life.
Erikson put a great deal of emphasis on the adolescent period, feeling it was a crucial stage for developing a person’s identity.
Like Freud and many others, Erik Erikson maintained that personality develops in a predetermined order. The outcome of this 'maturation timetable' is a wide and integrated set of life skills and abilities that function together within the autonomous individual. However, Instead of focusing on sexual development (like Freud), 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 stages, 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.
1. Trust Versus Mistrust (birth - 1 year)
Is the world a safe place or is it full of unpredictable events and accidents waiting to happen?
Erikson claimed that in this stage the child will develop a sense of basic trust in the world and in his ability to affect events around him. The development of this depends on the consistency of the child’s major caregiver. If the care the child receives is consistent, predictable and reliable then the child will develop a sense of trust which he will carry with him to other relationships, and is able to feel secure even when threatened. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of hope.
However, if the care has been harsh or inconsistent, unpredictable and unreliable then the child will develop a sense of mistrust and will not have confidence in the world around them or in their abilities to influence events. This child will carry the basic sense of mistrust with him to other relationships. It may result in anxiety, heightened insecurities, and an over feeling of mistrust in the world around them.
2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (2 - 3 years)
The child is developing physically and becoming more mobile. 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.
Erikson says that this is the point at which the child can develop a certain amount of independence/autonomy. It is at this stage that the child needs support from parents so that repeated failures and ridicule are not the only experiences encountered. So, the parents need to encourage the child to becoming more independent whilst at the same time protecting the child so that constant failure is avoided.
A delicate balance is required from the parent .... they must try not to do everything for the child but if the child fails at a particular task they must not criticize the child for failures and accidents (particularly when toilet training). The aim has to be “self control without a loss of self-esteem” (Gross, 1993). Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of will.
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.
3. Initiative vs. Guilt (3 - 5 years)
These are particularly lively, rapid-developing years in a
child’s life. According to Bee (1992) it is a “time of vigor of
action and of behaviors that the
parents may see as aggressive”. The child takes initiatives which the parents will often try to stop in order to protect the child. The child will often overstep the mark in his forcefulness and the danger is that the parents will tend to punish the child and restrict his initiatives too much.
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.
It is at this stage that the child will begin to ask many questions as his thirst for knowledge grows. If the parents treat the child’s questions as trivial, a nuisance or embarrassing or other aspects of their behavior as threatening then the child may have feelings of guilt for “being a nuisance”.
Too much guilt can make the child slow to interact with others and may inhibit their creativity. Some guilt is, of course, necessary otherwise the child would not know how to exercise self control or have a conscience. A healthy balance between initiative and guilt is important. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of purpose.
4. Industry (competence) vs. Inferiority (6 - 12 years)
Children are at the stage where they will be learning to read and write, to do sums, to make things on their own. Teachers begin to take an important role in the child’s life as they teach the child specific skills. It is at this stage that the child’s peer group will gain greater significance and will become a major source of the child’s self esteem. The child now feels the need to win approval by demonstrating specific competencies that are valued by society, and begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments.
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.
If the child cannot develop the specific skill they feel society is demanding then they may develop a sense of inferiority. Some failure may be necessary so that the child can develop some modesty. Yet again, a balance between competence and modesty is necessary. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of competence.
5. Identity vs. Role Confusion (13 - 18 years)
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.
This is a major stage in development where the child has to learn the roles he will occupy as an adult. It is during this stage that the adolescent
will re-examine his identity and try to find out exactly who he is. Erikson suggests that two identities are involved: the sexual and the occupational. According to Bee (1992), what should happen at the end of this stage is “a reintegrated sense of self, of what one wants to do or be, and of one’s appropriate sex role”. During this stage the body image of the adolescent changes.
Erikson claims that the adolescent may feel uncomfortable about their body for a while until they can adapt and “grow into” the changes. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of fidelity.
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.
6. Intimacy vs. Isolation (young adulthood)
Occurring in young adulthood (ages 18-40), 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. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of love.
7. Generativity vs. Stagnation (middle adulthood)
During middle adulthood (ages 40-65), 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. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of care.
8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair (old age)
As we grow older (65 years and over) 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.
Erik Erikson believed 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. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of wisdom.
Erikson is rather vague about the causes of development. What kinds of experiences must people have in order to successfully various psychosocial conflicts?
Indeed, Erikson (1964) acknowledges his theory is more a descriptive overview of human social and emotional development that does not adequately how or why this development occurs. For example, Erikson does not explicitly explain how the outcome of one psychosocial stages influence personality at a later stage.
One of the strengths of Erikson's theory is it ability to tie together important psychosocial development across the entire lifespan.
References and Further Reading
Bee, H. L. (1992). The developing child. London: HarperCollins.
Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and Society. New York: Norton.
Erikson, E. H. (1958). Young Man Luther. New York: Norton.
Erikson, E. H. (1964). Insight and Responsibility. New York: Norton.
Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton.
How to cite this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2008). . Retrieved from
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