It is obvious that human undergo lots of changes such as biological, cognitive, psychological and in behaviour since the time of conception till they attain their complete adult age. These changes are said to be under any of the influences like nature, nurture, environment, and social. We also know that based on these aspects, numbers of psychologist such as B. F Skinner, Sigmund Freud, Albert Bandura, Jean Pieget Carl Rogers and Erik Erikson have proposed many theories pertaining to human development.
One of the main among them was, Erik Erikson, possibly the best known of Sigmund Freud’s many followers, who have proposed psychosocial theory. In his theory, he strongly believed that psychosocial principle is genetically inevitable in shaping human development.
His theory indirectly reveals that our personality traits come in opposites; we think of ourselves as optimistic or pessimistic, independent or dependent, emotional or unemotional, adventurous or cautious, leader or follower, aggressive or passive. Many of these are inborn temperament traits, but other characteristics, such as feeling either competent or inferior, appear to be learned, based on the challenges (mind: psychological, and physical), and support due to social ( relationships) we receive in growing up.
Moreover, it says “It is human to have a long childhood; it is civilized to have an even longer childhood. Long childhood makes a technical and mental virtuoso out of man, but it also leaves a life-long residue of emotional immaturity in him,” (Erik Homburger Erikson (1902-1994)). Similarly a child goes through many changes and confronts with many developmental challenges that they have to overcome those challenges on the road from infancy to adulthood. There is a never ending struggle to make sense out of this complex process. And there is no end to theories trying to explain it.
Thus, this essay looks at Erikson’s psychological theories of development that comprises of five stages of development, and its implications and benefits of understanding the theory in following paragraphs. This essay also talks about the crises that must be resolved in every stage that we attain in the process of development.
Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development
Erik Erikson believed that childhood is very important in personality development. He developed a theory of psychosocial development that covers an entire life. Get through his initial five stages and we will be an adult. Each stage is a challenge or crisis that must be resolved before going to another stage. His theory of psychosocial development is considered as one of the best-known theories of personality in psychology. Much like Sigmund Freud, Erikson believed that personality develops in a series of stages. Unlike Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages, Erikson’s theory describes the impact of social experience across the whole lifespan.
One of the main elements of Erikson’s psychosocial stage theory is the development of ego identity. Ego identity is the conscious sense of self that we develop through social interaction. According to Erikson, our ego identity is constantly changing due to new experience and information we acquire in our daily interactions with others. In addition to ego identity, Erikson also believed that a sense of competence also motivates behaviours and actions. Each stage in Erikson’s theory is concerned with becoming competent in an area of life. If the stage is handled well, the person will feel a sense of mastery. If the stage is managed poorly, the person will emerge with a sense of inadequacy.
Various terms are used to describe Erikson’s model, for example Erikson’s bio psychosocial or bio-psycho-social theory (bio refers to biological, which in this context means life); Erikson’s human development cycle or life cycle, and variations of these. All refer to the same eight stages psychosocial theory, it being Erikson’s most distinct work and remarkable model.
All of the stages in Erikson’s epigenetic theory are implicitly present at birth but unfold according to both an innate scheme and one’s up-bringing in a family that expresses the values of a culture. Each stage builds on the preceding stages, and paves the way for subsequent stages. Each stage is characterized by a psychosocial crisis, which is based on physiological development, but also on demands put on the individual by parents and/or society. Ideally, the crisis in each stage should be resolved by the ego in that stage, in order for development to proceed correctly. The outcome of one stage is not permanent, but can be altered by later experiences. Everyone has a mixture of the traits attained at each stage, but personality development is considered successful if the individual has more of the “good” traits than the “bad” traits.
Those eight stages of development are as follow:
Trust vs. Mistrust
Erikson’s first psychosocial conflict is trust versus mistrust. This stage begins at birth and continues until about one year of age. The central issue that infant’s resolve in this stage is “Can I trust others?” Erikson, in his theory explains that infants learn to trust other people if their needs are satisfied by their caregivers. If a caregiver is irresponsible to the infants needs and they go un-met, then instead of developing trustworthiness, the infant will develop mistrust n his or her mind.
In this stage, infants will also start realizing that they are state of dependent o independent to caregivers who respond to their need. That is how they begin to distinguish self from others. For example, many researchers have found that two to three month old infants do begin to distinguish themselves from their caretakers
However, by resolving this crisis at this the infant will develop a healthy balance between trust and mistrust that is if only they are fed and cared for and not over-indulged or over-protected. For instance, being cruelty to them will destroy trust and lead to development of mistrust which results in incensement of a person’s resistance to risk-exposure and exploration. On the other hand infants who grow up to trust are more able to hope and have faith that every things will be fine and develop a sense of challenge in his or her mind.
Therefore, it is important to development to have a successful resolution of this stage because it lays the foundation for each additional stage. If a stage is not resolved correctly, later stages may remain unresolved as well. Parents are primarily responsible for satisfying this stage of development in their child. It is imperative parents are attentive to their infant’s needs so trust can be developed.
Autonomy vs. shame and doubt
The second stage is anatomy verses shame and doubt. This occurs from about eighteen months of age to around three years old. In this stage most critical issue they confront is that their intermediate state, not sure about whether they can do things on their own or do they need someone to assist them.
Erikson says that this is the point at which the child can develop a certain amount of independence/autonomy, or otherwise end up in doubt and shame or always as dependent. Autonomy (self-reliance) is independence of thought, and a basic confidence to think and act one’s own. Shame and Doubt refers to reduction in self-expression and developing one’s own ideas, opinions and sense of self. 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. 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. For example, toilet training is a said to be significant part of this crisis where parental reactions, encouragement and patience play an important role in shaping the young child’s experience and successful progression through this period.
When 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. If one was to achieve autonomy then they would have a feeling of confidence, but if those that don’t achieve autonomy doubt their own abilities and have a sense of inadequacy.
Therefore, the importance of parental reaction should have concerns in all aspects of toddler exploration and discovery while small children struggle to find their feet – almost literally – as little people in their own right.
Imitative vs. Guilt
Imitative vs. Guilt is the third stage of psychosocial development. It is around three to six years of age when this role must be established. The main role is to establish purpose and its achieve through exploration and play (Cherry, 2011). That means, children begin to affirm their power over the world through interactions between people and play and by asserting over their environment through different challenges. Initiative is the capability to devise actions or projects, and a confidence and belief that it is okay to do so, even with a risk of failure or making mistakes. That is how their idea of initiative develops positively.
On the other hand if the child is not given chance to play and explore or stoped taking any kind of initiative, they understand their actions as a point if embarrassment and results in developing guild in them. Thus, guilt refers the feeling that it is wrong or inappropriate to instigate something of one’s own design.
Guilt results from being admonished or believing that something is wrong or likely to attract disapproval. Suppressing adventure and experimentation, or preventing young children doing things for themselves because of time, mess or a bit of risk will inhibit the development of confidence to initiate, replacing it instead with an unhelpful fear of being wrong or unapproved. The fear of being admonished or accused of being stupid becomes a part of the personality. “If I don’t initiate or stick my neck out I’ll be safe..”.
Therefore, it is duty of parents and caregivers to solve this crises, and challenge to get the balance right between giving young children enough space and encouragement so as to foster a sense of purpose and confidence, but to protect against danger.
Industry vs. Inferiority
In the Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, industry verses inferiority is the fourth stage. This takes place around the age of six to eleven years old. In this stage a person will be asking them self “How can I be good?”(Cherry, 2011). In this stage they try to master with their new and complex skills in accomplishing their task because they do increasingly complicated tasks. Erikson described this stage as a sort of ‘entrance to life’, and is a crucial aspect of school years experience.
A child who experiences the satisfaction of achievement – of anything positive – will move towards successful negotiation of this crisis stage.
However if a child who experiences failure at school tasks and work, or worse still who is denied the opportunity to discover and develop their own capabilities and strengths and unique potential, quite naturally is prone to feeling inferior and useless and develop very low self-stem in them.
To solve this crisis, parents, teachers or caregiver should let them engage with others through social interaction and using tools or technology. Therefore, their supports in approving of what children are doing results in Childs believe in themselves. If reinforcement to the positive aspects lacks then they will believe that they are inferior to everyone and they don’t matter.
Identity vs. Identity confusion
Identity vs. Identity confusion is the fifth stage where one is supposed to achieve their identity from the ages of twelve to eighteen. Before this stage, a person was exploring and discovering their independence and sense of self. But in this stage they develop a sense of self and personal identity. Erikson believe that here 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.
During this stage the body image of the adolescent changes and success in this stage will lead to the virtue of fidelity. Their exploring of possibilities and beginning to form own identity develops a sense of direction in life. If all goes well, then a person will have a strong sense of self and independent and in control of the situation.
However, if there is a lack of reinforcement, then the person will be insecure and will be confused about them in the future. The sense of who they are gets hindered, then it will result in a sense of confusion about them and their role in the world and that is how they can’t adapt and establish in the society. Therefore, in order to solve this problem positive reinforcement from parents, teachers, school, society and friends is vital.
Intimacy vs. Isolation
From the age of nineteen to forty one will in the stage of intimacy vs. isolation. Intimacy means the process of achieving relationships with family and marital or mating partner. He explained this stage also in terms of sexual mutuality – the giving and receiving of physical and emotional connection, support, love, comfort, trust, and all the other elements that we would typically associate with healthy adult relationships conducive to mating and child-rearing.
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.
Isolation conversely means being and feeling excluded from the usual life experiences of dating and mating and mutually loving relationships. This logically is characterised by feelings of loneliness, alienation, social withdrawal or non-participation. Avoiding intimacy, fearing commitment and relationships can lead to isolation, loneliness, and sometimes depression.
Thus to be successful in this stage, it is highly important that we achieve our identity. Developing close, intimate friendships are important to person so that we will have strong relationship. If not, its failure will lead to isolation and the lack of relationship.
Generatively vs. Stagnation
Generatively vs. Stagnation is the seventh stage in Erikson’s psychosocial development. It occurs from forty years old to sixty-five years old. And this stage struck with the question “how to contribute to the world?” Here, adult strive to nurture things that they want their children to do the things that will help the world or something that they will be remembered by.
For example, 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.
On the other side, if person fail in finding a way to contribute to the society or by failing to achieve these objectives, we become stagnant and feel unproductive. This will result in individuals feeling disconnected or uninvolved with their society.
Ego integrity vs. Despair
This is the final stage in Erikson’s developmental theory of psychosocial. Their age limit is from sixty five years till death.
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.
But Erik Erikson also 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. So to overcome that despair, it is important to positively pass those above mentioned stages starting since infant.
Importance of Erikson’s theory in understanding human development
Erikson’s model of psychosocial development is a very significant, highly regarded and meaningful concept. He was a psychoanalyst and also a humanitarian. So his theory is useful far beyond psychoanalysis – it’s useful for any application involving personal awareness and development – of oneself or others. Life is a series of lessons and challenges which help us to grow, and here his wonderful theory helps to tell us why. The theory is helpful for child development and adults too as it highlight important issues in particular stage and suggest the solution for that crises in pursuit of better development.
Moreover, his eight stages theory is said to be a tremendously powerful model: it is very accessible and obviously relevant to modern life, from several different perspectives, for understanding and explaining how personality and behaviour develops in people. In addition, Erikson’s theory is useful for teaching, parenting, self-awareness, managing and coaching, dealing with conflict, and generally for understanding self and others.
Thus, we can conclude that his work is as relevant today as when he first outlined his original theory, in fact given the modern pressures on society, family and relationships – and the quest for personal development and fulfilment – his ideas are probably more relevant now than ever.
Is it the crises that must be resolved in each stage a catastrophe?
In each stage, Erikson believed people experience a conflict that serves as a turning point in development. From his point of view, these conflicts are centred on either developing a psychological quality or failing to develop that quality. During these times, the potential for personal growth is high, but so is the potential for failure.
We have found that in his stage, each stage involves a crisis of two opposing emotional forces where Erikson termed these opposing forces as ‘contrary dispositions’. Each crisis stage relates to a corresponding life stage and its inherent challenges.
Successfully passing through each crisis involves maintaining balance between the two opposing dispositions that represent each crisis. For example a healthy balance at crisis stage, stage one, Trust v Mistrust, might be described as experiencing and growing through the crisis ‘Trust”(of people, life and one’s future development) and also experiencing and growing a suitable capacity for ‘Mistrust’ where appropriate, so as not to be hopelessly unrealistic or gullible, nor to be mistrustful of everything. Or experiencing and growing through stage two (Autonomy v Shame & Doubt) to be essentially ‘Autonomous’ (to be one’s own person and not a mindless or quivering follower) but to have sufficient capacity for ‘Shame and Doubt’, so as to be free-thinking and independent, while also being ethical and considerate and responsible, etc.
Erikson called these successful balanced outcomes ‘Basic Virtues’ or ‘Basic Strengths’. He identified one particular word to represent the fundamental strength gained at each stage.
“…What the child acquires at a given stage is a certain ratio between the positive and negative, which if the balance is toward the positive, will help him to meet later crises with a better chance for unimpaired total developmentâ€¦”(Erikson)
A well-balanced positive experience during each stage develops a corresponding basic virtue-a helpful personality development, each of which enables a range of other related emotional and psychological strengths. For example passing successfully through the Industry versus Inferiority crisis produces the ‘basic psychosocial virtue’ of ‘competence, and related strengths such as ‘method’, skills, techniques, ability to work with processes and collaborations, etc).
Where passage through a crisis stage is less successful then to a varying extent the personality acquires an unhelpful emotional or psychological tendency. Person passing unsuccessfully through a psychosocial crisis stage they develop a tendency towards one or other of the opposing forces, which then becomes a behavioural tendency, or even a mental problem which corresponds to one of the two opposite extremes of the crisis concerned. So, it is true that these crises are not really a catastrophe; rather, it is a turning point of increased vulnerability and enhanced potential where human can develop well unless and until it is not satisfactorily resolved.
Erikson’s stages of psychological development were complex, but simple. It is something everyone will go through and experiences will always be different. Surprisingly, previous stages are highly influential to the proceeding stage.
While Erikson’s model emphasises the sequential significance of the eight character-forming crisis stages, the concept also asserts that humans continue to change and develop throughout their lives, and that personality is not exclusively formed during early childhood years. It is certainly a view that greatly assists encouraging oneself and others to see the future as an opportunity for positive change and development, instead of looking back with blame and regret.
The better that people come through each crisis, the better they will tend to deal with what lies ahead, but this is not to say that all is lost and never to be recovered if a person has had a negative experience during any particular crisis stage. Lessons can be revisited successfully when they recur, if we recognise and welcome them.
Finally I should say that he was keen to improve the way children and young people are taught and nurtured, and it would be appropriate for his ideas to be more widely known and used in day-to-day life as it is very powerful for self-awareness and improvement, and for teaching and helping others.