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Psychologist Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development

Psychologist Erikson viewed personality as a product of social interactions and the choices a person makes in life. He presented the ego “in development” as personal identity, shaped and molded by an individual’s experiences. In other words, as you relate to other people, you go through a series of eight stages in which the goal is to develop a coherent sense of self, a firm recognition of who you are.

Each stage presents a challenge or a crisis in which you go in one direction or another. When you reach a personality fork in the road, your choices have a strong impact on who you are.

Here are Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development:

  • Basic trust versus mistrust: In the first year of life (unless someone is fixated or stuck in a particular stage), the basic experience of interacting with an attentive, consistent, predictable, and trustworthy caregiver turns into a basic trust of the world. This basic trust includes trusting yourself and knowing that, when caregivers are not available, you can take care of yourself.

    If a child experiences a consistent lack of responsive care giving and her needs are not adequately met, she may never learn to trust her environment. Inconsistent or intermittent care can also lead to a lack of trust. Either way, when a child’s sense of basic trust is undermined, it can lead to withdrawal and sometimes even to a full walling-off from relationships.

  • Autonomy versus shame and doubt: When a child is 13 to 36 months old, her rapidly expanding abilities can develop into a sense of independence from caregivers or a sense of shame or self-doubt and insecurity.

    If mom and dad are too overbearing, constantly telling kids in this age range not to touch things, not to talk, and not to try on their newfound confidence, children may develop a sense of shame and doubt in themselves.

  • Initiative versus guilt: This stage is characterized by continued expansion of a person’s sense of independence through channeled, purposeful, and responsible behavior. Actions contain less of a sense of rebellion and more of a sense of self-initiative. During this period, which occurs when a person is 3 to 6 years old, the unique desires of a child emerge and really start to give definition to their little personalities.

  • Industry versus inferiority: “Time to shape up!” — that’s what Erikson says people hear most between the age of 6 and adolescence. Playing around and experimenting with the environment is no longer tolerated. Parents expect a child to achieve something when he or she engages in an activity. Color inside the lines.

    If a child views playtime as a chance to unwind and relax from the pressures of the school day, is he heading toward inferiority? No, using playtime to relax is purposeful and important. But if an apparent lack of goal-directedness in a child’s overall most-of-the-time behavior exists, then a sense of being a slacker or being without purpose can lead to feeling inferior.

  • Identity versus identity confusion: During adolescence, teenagers experiment with new identities and views of themselves. There’s a push at this age to find out who you really are and what you’re all about. Erikson called this an identity crisis.

    If a teen successfully navigates the abysmal waters of teenage identity confusion, she emerges with a more solid sense of self and a clearer identity. If not . . . well, identify confusion is the state of unresolved identity crisis. Sometimes teenagers get lost in the confusing search for a genuine identity; some of these kids withdraw and never really feel a true sense of self.

  • Intimacy versus isolation: According to Erikson, the wild single days must come to an end, and one’s ability to find and develop intimacy becomes the primary task of personality development. After somebody knows who she is, she turns to developing close relationships with other people who know who they are. The goal of this stage is intimacy.

  • Generativity versus stagnation: At some point, a person needs to be needed and to feel like she’s guiding the next generation. A desire to leave a legacy and impact younger people develops during middle adulthood. When people feel that they’ve done nothing or can do nothing for the next generation, they develop a sense of stagnation instead of generativity.

  • Integrity versus despair: As life winds down and old age creeps in, people often sit back and reflect on things they’ve accomplished. They think about whether their life was well spent or wasted. If someone feels a sense of satisfaction with the way she lived her life, she feels integrity, a basic sense of wholeness or of being complete. If not, despair is likely to follow

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