Who Was Erik Erikson? Erik Erikson is one of the foremost psychologists of the 20thCentury, most famous for his theory of Stages of Psychosocial Development. Intwo of his works – Childhood andSociety andIdentity and theLifecycle, Eriksonoutlined his theory of 8 stages through which people pass over the course oftheir lives, from infancy to adulthood. Erikson theorized that the successfulnavigating of a crisis in each stage would allow the individual to “progress”to the next stage. BornErik Homberger in Frankfurt, Germany on June 15, 1902 to a Jewish mother namedKarla Abrahamsen and an unknown Danish father, Erikson studied art andlanguages instead of the subjects like chemistry and biology. (FrostburgPsyographyErikson) Erikson was trainedin psychoanalysis in Vienna by Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud, knownto be the father of the psychoanalytic method of psychology. In 1933, Eriksonmoved to the United States and accepted a position as a research associate at HarvardPsychological Clinic, while simultaneously working on his graduate degree inpsychology. Finding himself “at odds with the quantitative, empirical focus ofHarvard’s Psychology Department” (HarvardPsychologyErikson), Erikson ultimatelyabandoned his formal studies before completing his degree, and continued hisresearch at Yale and Berkley as well as practicing privately as apsychoanalyst.
In 1960, Erikson returned to Harvard as Professor of HumanDevelopment and Lecturer in Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, and wasalso an unofficial member of the Department of Social Relations, where hetaught “popular undergraduate and graduate courses on human development.” (HarvardPsychologyErikson) He retired in 1970as Professor Emeritus, and died on May 3, 1994 in Harwich, Mass at the age of 91. (NYTOnThisDayErikson) Ithas been said that much of Erikson’s work on identity formation was a productof his own life experiences and struggle with identity: Having conceived ofErikson with an unknown man who abandoned her before she gave birth, his motherkept the details of his birth a secret during his childhood.
Growing up,Erikson was a “tall, blond, blue-eyed boy who was also Jewish. At templeschool, the kids teased him for being Nordic; at grammar school, they teasedhim for being Jewish.” (WebspaceShipEdu) Prior to his work in psychology,Erikson was an artist for some years, wandering the streets of Europe andsleeping under bridges. When he became an American citizen, he changed his nameto Erik Erikson. His son Kai Erikson theorizes that this was a way for hisfather to affirm his identity as a self-made man.
To what extent these lifeexperiences were formative of Erikson’s work can only be conjectured. What iscertain, however, is the impact his work made on the world of psychology.Indeed, on the American Psychological Association’s list of Eminentpsychologists of the 20th Century, Erik H. Erikson is number 12 (APAEminentPsychologist), leaving no doubt asto the significance of his contribution and the extent of his legacy. Erikson’s Stages ofDevelopmentWhilehe was a prolific author and popular professor over the course of his life,Erikson is most renowned for his theory on stages of human psychologicaldevelopment.
Erikson subscribed – to some degree – to Freud’s theories,including the idea of id, superego, and ego, but disagreed with Freud’sdefinition of the “personality solely on the basis of sexuality, and, unlikeFreud, felt that personality continued to develop beyond five years of age.” (PsychoSocialTheroyEriksonHaverfo) One interesting way inwhich Erikson’s theory diverged from Freud’s is in reference to the ego: While inFreud’s model the ego, id, and superego are inextricably tied together, and anycourse of action results from the ego’s acquiescence to either the id or the superego,Erikson asserted that “part of the ego is able to operate independently of theid and the superego.” (WebspaceShipEdu) In Erikson’s thought,the ego was more than a mediator between two opposing forces, it was a driving forcein the development of the human personality. AlthoughErikson did further refine and contribute to Freud’s work, his pièce deré·sis·tance was undoubtedly the eight psychosocial stages he proposed. Eriksonframed the stages in terms of crises that an individual would face within each,the resolution of which would determine the progression through the following stages.
Erikson proposed a bipolar scheme for his crises: “At the one pole is the egoquality that successful resolution of that stage’s challenge will establish. Atthe other pole is that quality’s counterpart, the outcome of consistentlyunfavorable circumstances. No one will fall at one extreme or the other; it isalways a matter of the ratio between the two opposing trends.” In other words, Video – Erik Erikson’s Theoryof Psychosocial Development in Infancy and Early Childhood: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0sxaU34MPE