The Psychosocial Theories of Erik Erikson: A Basic Understanding

Updated on February 13, 2017

An Introduction to Erikson

Since the beginning of time, our species has tried in leaps and bounds to explain the human mind on a psychological level. Whether on the basis of human emotion, or the rationalization of our perspective to the world around us; the human mind has continued to baffle us. In respect to Erik Erikson, an individual who had adapted and maintained a parallel to Sigmund Freud, had compiled a great deal of knowledge behind the Psycho-social aspects of the human mind.

Being born in Frankfurt, Germany on June 15, 1902, Erikson had to deal with the abandonment of his father and his stepfather being his own personal pediatrician. Growing up, Erikson voiced concern and resisted formal schooling in biology and chemistry, following the arts and languages instead. After getting an education in the latter, Erikson left his home, experiencing voluntary homelessness in an effort to minimize ethnocentric behaviors and expand his socio-cultural experiences.

The Development of the Eight Stages

Upon arriving in Vienna, Erikson decided to pursue what is known as Freudian Training, attempting to dissect just why Sigmund believed that the psychosocial development ended by age five. It was awkward to Erikson, who truly believed that although the cognitive and psychological impact of an infant through early childhood didn't quite stop there. Erikson believed that although it was most certainly an impact, he also believed that the rest of the process in which we age is developed through which we react to various crisis's in an individuals life.

There are various stages, eight in total as a matter of fact. Below are a brief summary of each, and an example of how each one can be compiled within one's perspective:

1. Trust Vs. Mistrust

In this beginning stage, we must take a look at the infant. With respect to Trust, an infant when in hunger or thirst, will learn from the first few experiences of whether they are or are not given what is needed. If fed, then a sense of trust is formed, therefore creating the perspective that trust can be given to those that follow the interests of the infant. If however, the infant is not fed, then a sense of mistrust, emotional turmoil is developed whereas the infant is in lack of self-confidence, or a general sense of self-esteem when it comes to trusting someone who the infant would perceive as a dishonest or mistrustful individual.

2. Autonomy Vs. Shame & Doubt

At this stage, the individual has now reached the age of two to three. This point is now defined not in trust vs. mistrust, but rather if the toddler has gained an automatic response to rules that define their environment. If the parents and the other influences in the toddlers life are of a positive rule based learning structure, then the toddler will develop an automated response that would define the toddler's self-governance in a positive manner. If however, those who foster excessive negative perceptions upon the toddler, an emotional sense of Shame and Doubt will be developed. This will fill the toddler's perceptions with the rule that discouragement and a dependence is necessary to proceed through life.

3. Industry Vs. Inferiority

In the earlier stages of childhood, just before preschool and into school itself, the child learns particular traits. These come in the form of clothing selections, favorite colors, but above all else, social interactions. These interactions can create or assimilate a child into creating what Freud and Erik both would assume to be the Ego "Purpose". If the child is able to, upon reaching outside social interaction, create a sense of self and not being criticized, then Industry is developed. If however, criticism is placed upon the child, then Inferiority is set in place.

4. Initiative Vs. Guilt

Upon reaching the school-based environment, the child is now surrounded by multiple personalities that may or may not have experienced positive/negative perceptions. By making positive achievements in the environment, the child will experience a sense of competence, industry, and above all else, Self-Confidence. However, if criticism is manufactured by either the teachers or the students around him/her, then an emotional sense of Inferiority is developed, creating the concrete walk of continued guilt and shame as explained in the previous stage.

5. Identity Vs. Role Confusion

This stage, one of utmost importance, defines an individual in respect to who they are comfortable with in their innermost self. If the individual can define themselves through the self-confidence to display externally their goals, life mission, and gender perspective, then an identity is created. Most individuals however, having been recreated through ethnocentric ideals and standards from the sociological structure around them, creates a pattern of mis-defined Role Confusion. This plays into ones confused nature upon the inner self as to who they are as an individual and allows the society to structure them accordingly.

6. Intimacy Vs. Isolation

This stage of the psycho-social development, is committed to personal, meaningful relationships vs. less meaningful ones. The stage is based out of early adulthood, whereas the individual is now exploring relationships on a personal level. The level of self-love and a general sense of well-being creates what would be known as love on a committed and intimate level. If however, the individual has not been able to connect with others because of doubt, guilt, and self-criticisms, then the opposite would be true. This is that the individual would suffer from isolation, depression, and of course loneliness.

7. Generativity Vs. Stagnation

The seventh stage is surrounded around the later adulthood, that is whether or not the individual has developed a sense of unity and care. This is found in whether a sense of family, community unity, successful parenting skills, and a overall sense of home with the intimate and family relationships around him/her. If these needs are not met, then a sense of worthlessness and a divide from society is formed around the generalized individuality of him/her. This can cause problems in the career if Stagnation is formed, causing set-backs, self-sabotage, and feelings to drown out one's problems with addictions of sorts.

8. Integrity Vs. Despair

In this stage, old age development is found to be critical to the individual at hand. At this point, individuals will look back over past memories, figuring if they've truly accomplished everything they had dreamed of, or if there was still more to accomplish. If they did not accomplish what they had wished for, then feelings of regret, cold-heart feelings, and a general sense of bitterness is created within the individual. Of course, if one did everything they would have wished to create and accomplish, then a general sense of satisfaction and well-being are formed, allowing for wisdom to be obtained.


Psychology in today's world in reference to Erikson

Today, Psychology has come a long way, various psychiatrists and psychologists both finding more in-depth ways to find therapeutic ways to heal the mind. In the Bingham-Stryker Model, the difference is that rather with the Erikson Model that Intimacy Vs. Isolation is the major crisis, one develops critically along the lines of whether one is financially independent or not. Both models are correct in a sense, but the sense of Gender Identity is, with modern society, common to be more diversified with a greater sense of both self-love and love between partners, no matter gender identity but rather where love and personality arise.

Along with Erikson, the (B-S) model, Covey, and Merill & Merill all function around the same principles:

  • To Learn
  • To Live
  • To Love
  • To Create a Sense of Legacy
  • Financial Independence

In closing, there is always the great principle known as the Golden Rule. How would you feel if you did something negative and the opposing individual did the same back to you? How would it act upon your consciousness? Would it truly feel ok? Don't do anything to anyone else that you wouldn't want done to yourself. In this sense, we can all grow to become more positive individuals, interacting on the greater emphasis of peace and understanding, to help each other grow.

A Developmental Role within Erik Erikson's Perspectives

What Developmental Stage do you feel defined you as an individual?

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Works Cited


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      2 years ago

      This is exactly what I'm looking for.. Finally gotten the answer to my assignment.. Thanks


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