The theories of psychosocial development stress that an individual’s personality is enhanced by social relationships he or she develops from birth to adulthood. These are explained by Erik Erickson’s eight stage theories that describe the conflicts and achievements that present the turning points in an individual’s life. From birth to old age, an individual establishes a sense of trust in others, develops one’s identity in society, and helps the next generation learn skills in preparation for the future. Erickson asserted that in all stages, an individual learns to grow and develop throughout adulthood in a fixed order that builds upon the previous phases. According to Erickson’s theory, when an individual successfully completes a stage, the result is an enhancement of the individual’s personality and attainment of fundamental qualities that strengthens an individual’s character. This maturation process is what enables an individual to develop life skills and abilities that contribute to one’s self-identity and autonomy. On the other hand, failure in any of the stages leads to unhealthy sense of identity, which could impact the latter stages of one’s life.
Keywords: Erickson’s Theories of Psychosocial Development, trust, mistrust, autonomy, initiative, competency, identity
Erik Erickson, the renowned psychologist and psychoanalyst, created the Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development that individuals must learn to solve before moving to the next stage and be considered successful in life. According to Erickson’s theories, if a person fails in any of the stages, the individual faces difficulties and challenges in other life stages. The Psychosocial Development Theories teach individuals life lessons that help them move forward and deal with problems in their later years.
Stage I: Trust vs. Mistrust
Babies are born not knowing anything about the world. Their first direct relationship is with the parents. This is how trust develops as against mistrusting other people. As parents shower the child with love and affection, the child also learns to love and be affectionate towards other people. But if there is a lack of emotional support from the parents, a child learns to mistrust other people as well. As a result, they become withdrawn and have trust issues when they grow up (Cherry). Examples of this are my nieces and nephews who, when they were born, were totally dependent on their parents for all their physical and emotional needs.
Stage II: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
This is the period when a child begins to develop independence from parents. The child learns to explore things around him, choose the outfit to wear, develop specific food preferences, and chooses the toys to play. The child also learns to be more assertive about his or her wants and discover that he or she does not want to be dominated. In the end, this sense of autonomy helps children become self-competent as they try new things around them. If the parents dissuade children from pursuing what they want, children learn about shame and self-doubt, which inhibits them to try new things in life (Anon). This is clearly how my brother was when he was just beginning to learn how to walk and talk, as he was influenced by what he saw on TV, including how we, the older siblings acted in front of him.
Stage III: Initiative vs. Guilt
At this stage, a child begins attending pre-school (ages 3-5) and learns many things from his or her surroundings. The child learns the concept of socialization, thus, interacts in a social environment. He or she learns more about strength and control over peers, which, teaches a child to dream bigger and achiever higher. As a result, a child develops his or her leadership potential (Cherry). An example for this is my cousin, Michael, who displayed leadership potential while in preschool as he directed his classmates to follow his lead when it comes to choosing the types of games to play during break time. But when these actions are discouraged, a child learns to feel guilty for trying to maintain social relationships until a child no longer feels the need to socialize. Furthermore, this could also result to low-self-esteem, depression, poor eye contact, and low energy levels, among others (Cherry).
Stage IV: Competency vs. Inferiority
This stage occurs from ages 5 years to 13 years old. As the child attends school, the child learns how to read and write, as he or she gains the proficiency in these skills. The child learns other important values and can differentiate between individuals and cultures. The child enjoys learning and experimenting. When children receive encouragement and appreciation on things they accomplish, they grow up to be level-headed individuals who believe in their capabilities. Otherwise, children who receive little or no encouragement grow up doubting their capabilities and feel inferior towards their peers (Cherry). A good example for this is the character of Doogie Howser, who, at a very young age displayed intelligence beyond his years. As his parents encouraged his curiosity and enrolled him in advanced classes, until he was accepted in University at the age of 11, his intelligence and learning prowess was further enhanced.
Stage V: Identity vs. Role Confusion
This stage is when the adolescent discovers independence and develops his or her sense of self. The individual understands his or her self-identity, may begin to challenge authority, and start showing interest on the opposite sex. On the other hand, individuals may develop an overly obedient stance towards authority as the individual loses his or her self-identity and harbors feelings of inadequacy (Anon). Miley Cyrus is a good example for this considering how she initially had a great future ahead of her, and yet, when she left her TV show, Hannah Montana, she began making incorrect decisions that led her to question authority of her parents, including having intimate relations with boys.
Stage VI: Intimacy vs. Isolation
This stage shows an individual’s efforts in forming close association with peers and one’s capacity for intimate relationships. The individual may demonstrate expressions of intimacy through maintained friendships, willingness to interact, ability to keep commitments, participating in physical and emotional manifestations of intimacy. On the other hand, individuals who have reservations when it comes to intimacy become depressed and feel isolated from the whole world (Anon). Mandy Moore is a good example for this as she is a good role model for kids who, despite falling in love and showing readiness for commitment, has maintained her decency all throughout her career.
Stage VII: Generativity vs. Stagnation
The result of this stage is influenced by the individual’s past. At this stage, the individual is already in middle adulthood (40-60 years old). Typically, the individual has already established a career and has his or her own family. This is the time when the individual feels a need to give back to society what he or she has received and experienced. When an individual has not reached or achieved his or her goals in the earlier stages, then the individual begins to find meaninglessness in life and feels a great deal of stagnation, resentment, dissatisfaction with life and self, and develops a fatalistic attitude, among others (Anon). An example of this is Charlie Sheen, who, towards the latter part of his career, has displayed resentment and dissatisfaction with how things are going on with his life.
Stage VIII: Integrity vs. Despair
This is the final stage of development. The individual begins to look back at his life and determine whether it was a life of accomplishments or failures. Individuals who have successfully passed each stage of development have a healthy sense of self, are content with life, comfortable sharing their resources, and accepts aging as a natural process of living, thus, they age gracefully. In contrast, people who failed in the stages of development have a sense of despair, anger towards society and self, always irritable, and have a low self-esteem, among others (Cherry). Audrey Hepburn is a good example of someone who led a satisfying and highly accomplished life and career as proven by her stellar show business career and humanitarian efforts.
In conclusion, what Erickson’s theories suggest is that whatever behavioral and psychological issues that individuals have, all these can be attributed to various stages of development that they undergo in life. Positively and successfully passing and completing each stage means the individual grows up to be a highly confident and satisfied individual, while failing in any of the stages means the individual could grow up with feelings of inadequacies and resentment towards self and life in general.
Anon. (n.d.). Erikson’s psychosocial development theory. Businessballs.com. Retrieved from http://www.businessballs.com/erik_erikson_psychosocial_theory.htm
Cherry, K. (n.d.). Stages of psychosocial development. About.com. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/psychosocialtheories/a/psychosocial.htm