Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Thinking About Erik Erikson's Stages of Psycho-Social Development

I met my daughter, Kari, for coffee at a local coffee shop after my bicycle workout this morning.  I still often feel like pinching myself  - yes, I really am retired and don't have to stress out about whether I have time for socializing at 10 AM in the middle of the week!  It's a fantastic feeling to have both the time and my daughter available to pass an hour or so in catching up and conversation. Kari's life is much more busy and hectic than mine so when she has a moment to spare and suggests a rendezvous I try to be available.  

When I came into the house after hearing lots about what's happening in their busy lives, I decided to review Erik Erikson's Stages of Psycho-Social Development  - his theories on personality development and ego.

According to Wikipedia, Erikson's research in the twentieth century suggested that each individual must learn how to hold both extremes of each specific life-stage challenge in tension with one another, not rejecting one end of the  tension or the other.  Only when both extremes of the challenge are understood and accepted as both required and useful, can the optimal outcome for that stage surface.

Erikson's Stages of Psycho-Social Development:

1)  Hope, Basic Trust vs. Basic Mistrust:  
-0-18 months
-depends on trustworthiness of the mother to meet all the physiological, emotional,  and intellectual needs of the infant
-if successful, baby develops a sense of trust which in turn forms the basis in the child for a sense of identity
-failure will result in a feeling of fear and a sense that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable.

2)  Will, Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt:
-early childhood: ~1-3 years old
-child begins to discover beginnings of his or her independence
-parents must facilitate the child's sense of doing basic tasks "all by himself/herself"
-discouragement can lead to child doubting his efficacy - examples:
     -toilet training
     -discovering talents and abilities
-parent should encourage exploration and experimentation, but not punish or reprimand for failing at a task
-shame and doubt occur when the child feels incompetent in ability to complete a task and survive
-children who are successful in this stage will have "self-control without a loss of self-esteem"

3)  Purpose, Initiative vs. Guilt:  Preschool / ~3-5 years
-does the child have the ability to do things on his own (example: dress himself)?
-children are interacting with peers and creating their own games and activities
-if child is allowed to make decisions regarding activities, he will develop confidence in his ability to lead others
-if not allowed to make these decisions a sense of guilt develops - guilt in this stage is characterized by a sense of being a burden to others - this will foster his becoming a follower
-additionally the child is asking many questions to gain knowledge of the world - successful answers will encourage the child to develop purpose which is the normal balance between the two extremes of initiative and guilt.  Some psychologists estimate that the child in this stage of development asks literally HUNDREDS of questions every single day!

4)  Competence, Industry vs. Inferiority:
-school age / ~6-11 years 
-child compares self-worth to others (example:  classroom environment)
-can recognize major disparities in personal abilities relative to other children - teacher plays a big role in ensuring that the child doesn't feel inferior
-child's friend group increases in importance
-often child will try to prove competency with things rewarded in society
-child develops satisfaction with his abilities
-success is accomplished when the child has a achieved a healthy balance between the two extremes

5)  Fidelity, Identity vs. Role Confusion:
-adolescent / ~12-18 years
-questioning of self:  Who am I? Where am I going in life? How do I fit in?
-adolescent explores and seeks his own identity
-looks at personal beliefs, goals and values
-morality is explored and developed
-if parents allow child to explore, he will conclude his own identity - - success
-if parents continually push him to conform to their views the teen will face identity confusion
-teen is looking to the future in terms of employment, relationships and families
-learning these roles is essential since the teen begins to desire to fit in to society
-success is characterized by ability to commit to others and acceptance of others, even with differences
-difficulty with this stage can result in role confusion and can cause adolescent to try out different lifestyles.

6)  Love, Intimacy vs. Isolation - first stage of adult development
-usually happens during early adulthood: ~18-40
-dating, marriage, family and friendships are important
-increase in growth of intimate relationships with others
-when successfully forming loving relationships with others, individuals are able to experience love and intimacy
-they also feel safety, care and commitment in these relationships
-failure to form lasting relationships may cause the adult to feel isolated and alone

7)  Care, Generativity vs. Stagnation - second stage of adulthood: ~40-65 years
-people are normally settled in their life and know what's important to them
- a person is either making progress in their career or is treading lightly in their career, unsure if this is what they want to do for the rest of their working life
-also raising their own children and enjoying activities that give them a sense of purpose
-contributing to society with productivity at work and involvement in community activities and organizations
-if a person is not comfortable with the way their life is progressing, they're usually regretful about the decisions they have made in the past and feel a sense of uselessness.

8) Wisdom, Ego Integrity vs. Despair:  affects the adult from 65 years and on
-the person has reached the last chapter of life - retirement is approaching, or has already taken place
-ego-integrity means the acceptance of life in its fullness:  the victories and defeats, accomplishments and non-accomplishments
-wisdom is the result of having successfully accomplished this final task
-wisdom is defined as: "informed and detached concern for life itself in the face of death itself"
-having a guilty conscience about the past or failing to accomplish important goals will lead to depression and hopelessness
-the feeling of having lived a successful life

After Erikson's death his wife, Joan Erikson, at   the age of 93, developed the theory of a Ninth Stage of development:

9)  The Life Cycle Completed:  Extended Version
-old age - in one's eighties and nineties
-the psycho-social crises of all eight stages are faced again, but with the quotient order reversed:
   - Basic mistrust vs. trust:  hope -person deals with the mistrust of his own capabilities due to body's inevitable weakening
   - Shame and doubt vs. Autonomy:  will - shame and doubt can challenge his own autonomy over his own body
   - Inferiority vs. Industry - Competence -  aging can be belittling and can make elders like unhappy children
   - Identity confusion vs. Identity - Fidelity - elders can experience real uncertainty about their status and role
   - Isolation vs. Intimacy: Love - years of intimacy and love are often replaced with isolation and deprivation - relationships can become overshadowed by new incapacities and dependencies
   - Stagnation vs. Generativity:  Care - in one's eighties and nineties, there is less energy for generativity or care taking, thus a sense of stagnation may take over
   - Despair and Disgust vs. Integrity - Wisdom -
integrity imposes a serious demand on the senses of elders and requires capacities that elders may not any longer have
   -often the retrospection of this stage can evoke a degree of disgust and despair because introspection can be replaced by the attention to one's loss of capabilities and disintegration.

Joan Erikson expressed that the psycho-social crisis of this ninth stage can be met as in the first stage with the "basic trust" with which "we are blessed."


  1. I think this is why a family unit should be living close together. Grandmas place a huge role in child development in our culture because they take the time to tell stories, show children growing up things, have the patience for the child and take time out to listen to them. Parents are too busy with working to really be there for their children...only when time allows. I showed my granddaughter animals, insects, plants, trees, waters, rivers while growing up. We both enjoyed every bit because it also got me to rejuvenate my love of nature and stories that go with it. Grandmas/grandpas have gentle voice and touch to help re-enforce confidence in self.