Erik Erikson was a German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst who was famous for his theory on the psychological development of human beings across a period of eight definitive stages. He stated that at each stage of development, the individual deals with a conflict which is a turning point in his/her development, and when the conflict is successfully resolved, the person is able to develop the psycho-social quality associated with that particular stage of development.
Each stage in Erikson’s theory builds the foundation for the succeeding stages and paves the way for the psychological development of the individual over his/her lifespan. According to Erikson, these ‘conflicts’ that every individual faces are largely centered on them either developing a psychological quality as a result of succeeding or failing to develop that quality in the case that they fail to surpass that stage. He also strongly believed that a sense of competence serves as motivation for positive behaviors and actions that will benefit growth in whichever stage of development. Each particular stage in Erikson’s theory is specifically concerned with an individual gaining the qualities to become proficient in that area of life.
There are eight stages of development consistent with Erikson;
Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust
During childhood, if a child is able to successfully establish trust, the child will feel safe and secure in the world. Those caregivers who are emotionally unavailable, inconsistent, negative, or extremely unaccepting of the child, largely contribute to strong feelings of mistrust in the children under their care. This will thereby result in a constant sense of fear and a belief that the world is negative and unaccepting. No child is going to develop a perfectly complete sense of 100% trust or 100% mistrust. Successful development was all about striking a balance between the 2 opposing sides. When this happens, the youngsters acquire hope, which Erikson described as an openness to new experiences tempered by some wariness that danger could also be present.
Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
This stage occurs during early childhood and is primarily focused on children developing a greater sense of control and personal independence. Children who struggle with gaining this independence and who are discouraged by their accidents may be left without a sense of personal control. Children who successfully complete this stage feel confident and secure in themselves, while those that don’t are left with a way of inadequacy and self-doubt.
Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt
The main theme of the third stage is that children need to begin asserting control and influence over their environment (their surroundings, the people near them, etc.). A sense of purpose is achieved in this stage if the child is successful. Children who try too much to exert their power experience discouragement or disapproval which results in a sense of embarrassment.
Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority
Children whose parents encourage and commend them for their actions develop strong feelings of competence and belief in themselves and their skills. Those who receive little or no encouragement from parents, teachers or embarrassment from peers will doubt their abilities to achieve success. Those who aren’t able to appropriately navigate during social interactions and academic challenges may end up feeling inferior and lack self-confidence.
Stage 5: Identity vs. Confusion
This stage plays an essential and integral role in the development of a sense of personal identity which will continue to strongly influence behavior and personality development for the rest of an individual’s life. During adolescence, adolescents explore their independence and develop a strong sense of self which becomes the foundation of their future personalities as they grow and cross each of the remaining developmental stages. Those who receive proper encouragement and reinforcement through personal exploration will emerge confident and guaranteed in themselves with a robust sense of self and feelings of independence and control. Those who remain unsure of their opinions and desires will feel insecure and confused about themselves and their future.
Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation
Young adults need to form strong loving, intimate relationships with other people. Erikson believed that having a strong individual sense of personal identity was extremely important for developing strong intimate relationships. Studies have demonstrated that those with a poor sense of identity tend to possess less committed relationships and are more likely to struggle with loneliness, emotional isolation, and depression. Successful completion of this stage leads to the virtue referred to as love. It is marked by the power to make lasting, meaningful relationships with people.
Stage 7: Generativity vs. Stagnation
As adults, humans have the primitive sense of need to create or nurture things which will outlast them, often by having children or creating a change that causes a positive effect on society or benefits other people. Success in this stage leads to a sense of having purpose and an intense sense of accomplishment, while failure in this stage results in little to almost no involvement in society and the world as a whole.
Stage 8: Integrity vs. Despair
The final stage occurs during old age and is mainly focused on the reflection of one’s life, past actions, and decisions taken. Those who don’t successfully complete this stage will feel like their life has been nothing but a waste and they may experience strong feelings of worthlessness or regret. Others who do complete this stage to succession feel proud of their achievements and will feel an assured sense of dignity and integrity. These individuals will always possess a certain wisdom about themselves, even when confronting death.