Erik Erikson was a German-American developmental psychologist and he developed a theory on psychological development of human beings. In his theory he covered eight stages from birth to death. He could be the most famous for fabricating “identity crisis”.
Like many other theorists, Erikson alleged that every personality develops in a certain order and in that order they build up upon pervious stages. It is called the epigenetic principle.
During each stage of this theory, “The person experiences a psychosocial crisis which could have a positive or negative outcome for personality development.”(McLeod, 2018).
According to Erikson’s theory, if you pass a stage or a crisis successfully it will result in obtaining a healthy and positive personality trait but if you fail to pass a crisis successfully it will result in obtaining an unhealthy and negative personality trait. That does not mean that these stage cannot be resolved later in time.
These famous eight stages are:
1. Trust VS. Mistrust (Birth to 18 months):
In this stage, infants learn to trust their surroundings and learn how to depend on other people for their needs. The sense of trust first starts with their mother. This trust usually develops through physical acts between the child and their mother. If for some reason the mother was not able to take care and fulfil the child’s needs then the child will develop mistrust, not only towards the mother but also towards the world and everything around them. If the infant develops mistrust it will affect and continue throughout the remaining stages in their development.
2. Autonomy VS. Shame (18 months to 3 years:
In this stage children start to acknowledge their skills and abilities. They start to be more aware of their bodies. They start to assert their independence, they will try to walk away from their parents, pick their own toy and even pick what they want to eat. They start to slowly make their own decisions.
According to Erikson, it is very important for parents to encourage their children to explore their own abilities and more importantly, parents have to tolerate their failures and not criticise them all the time. An example would be trying to make them put their own clothes on and if they failed or asked for assistant it is okay and the parents should praise them for trying instead of criticising them for failing.
If the child is supported in this stage and encouraged enough they will be more confident and even more independent but if they were constantly criticised for their failure, it will make them think that they will never do anything alone and they will always depend on others. They will develop a sense of shame and doubt. (McLeod, 2018)
3. Initiative VS. Guilt (3 to 5 years):
It happens to be the stage that children start going to pre-school. In this stage, children gradually obtain a large amount of energy with the ability to act on it. They start having the desire to try new things and make their own choices. Nevertheless, children at this age are more open to mistakes and they get tremendously sensitive about feeling the guilt from committing mistakes, even if they were small or they had no control over. For instance, they may start feeling guilty if something bad happening to someone else they know.
Guilt is good to make children recognise their own mistakes; however, extravagant and extreme guilt can result in giving them unhealthy traits and it will cause them to be afraid of their own capabilities and make them feel uncertain of their own skills.
4. Industry VS. Inferiority (5 to 12 years):
In this stage, children start to question themselves if they are capable of doing what they’re asked or want to do. Children’s environment changes from their house to school and from being surrounded by family to being surrounded by teachers and friends. Their world is different now. They start to think that others opinions are important and their self-concepts are developed.
In order to obtain Industry, children need to be praised and they need their confidence boosted and thats where the teacher’s role comes in, when children produce good quality work and they’re rewarded for it, it will help achieve industry. On the other hand, failure will lead to inferiority. As a teacher, you must provide comfort and consultation with unconditional love towards your students when they fail in anything.
5. Identity VS. Role Confusion (12 to 18 years):
At this stage, they start having high exceptions of themselves. It is the stage where children find their sexual identity and who they are. They try to find their purpose and role in society.
They must find a way to balance between their own expectations and what the society expects from them. If they were able to do that, they will get into adulthood with a great sense of individuality and self-confidence. If they fail, it usually leads to having identity crisis (which is being uncertain of who they are and becoming a stereotype).
6. Intimacy VS. Isolation (18 to 40 years):
In this stage, teenagers become young adults. They start working, living their lives and developing more intimate relationships. Intimacy also encourages good physical and emotional health as a person’s identity changes.
Failure to find a partner may cause someone to feel isolated, according to Erikson. This might start making them believe they’re not good enough or there is something wrong with them and it will lead to self-destructive tendencies.
7. Generatively VS. Stagnation (40 to 65 years):
“People start to realise life isn’t just about themselves” (Psychology Notes HQ, 2015). With their actions they hope to make their contributions count and last with the rest of the world. When they achieve this goal they get the sense of accomplishment but if they don’t they start thinking that they haven’t achieved anything meaningful in their lives.
8. Ego Integrity VS. Despair (65+ years):
Integrity happens when people are satisfied with the life they lived. They realise they did accomplish something in their life and that they’re valuable, not only to themselves but to people around them too.
Despair however, happens when people are not satisfied with the life they lived and they think they haven’t accomplished enough. They end up living in sadness and regret for the remainder of their life.
Identity VS. Role Confusion (Personal Reflection):
After the transition from childhood to adolescent, we start to feel confused and insecure about ourselves and we start to worry about how to fit into society. We start exploring with different activities, roles and behaviours. In this stage, the main question we ask ourselves is “Who am I?”. Parents, family members and friends play a huge role in forming our personalities and who we are. You will emerge from this stage with a strong sense of self independence only if you received the encouragement and the reinforcement through your personal exploration. If not, you will remain unsure, confused and insecure about yourself and your future.
Personally, In the beginning I wasn’t allowed to explore my choices. I was always uncertain of things and it would take me so long to take an action about anything. I always felt disappointed and confused about my place in life which made it extremely hard for me to accomplish anything or even make any decisions.
However, now I have somewhat of a sense of identity and a sense of who I am. For instance, after failing to find the perfect major for me I finally found the best one that suits me so well and I am very happy with it. It is taking some time and effort to explore and do what is best for me but I believe that commitment and patience is the key to emerge with a strong identity.
Erikson’s theory states that it is possible for a person to pass a certain stage even if they were late or failed them before.
We all encounter crisis that contributes to our psychosocial growth and according to Erikson’s theory, we encounter them in eight different stages from birth to death.
These stages accompany us from the beginning till the end of our lives and it influences every aspect of it. Erikson’s theory emphasises on the sociocultural development and he presents them in eight stages and everyone has to overcome and resolve the crisis successfully to adjust well in life and environment.