Erik Erikson’s 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Erik Erikson's 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson was a developmental psychologist who lived through the 1900’s. He was born in Germany and died in Massachusetts. Erikson is most well-known for his theory of psychological development of children as they grew into adulthood. His contribution to the field includes an understanding of psychosocial development of humans. His theory breaks the life cycle down into 8 comprehensive stages, ranging from birth to death. Erikson’s theory focused on how social interactions and environment work together to influence personality development.

Erikson believed that personality development continues throughout life. He also believed that personality lessons and growth can be reversed or challenged. With this belief, Erikson developed the 8 stages of the psychosocial theory. The stages explain how social interactions guide a person’s course of development.

According to Erikson’s theory, in each stage of development a person is faced with a crisis. A person can only grow and advance to the next stage when they have resolved the stage-related crisis they face.

The following is a breakdown of the 8 stages of development according to Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory:

Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust (Birth to about 2 years old)

In the first stage, parents are the primary people in the child’s life. The role of the parents is to develop a trusting, healthy attachment with the child. This is done by creating a comfortable, predictable and nurturing environment.

The parent must provide the child with positivity and security in order to instill trust in them and promote healthy development. Unhealthy, anxious or inconsistent attachments with parents will create mistrust.

Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (About 1 to 3 years old)

In the second stage, the child learns that they are autonomous from their parents or caretakers. The child develops autonomy through developing motor and cognitive skills. They develop the ability to think for themselves.

At this stage, the child begins to challenge their parents or caretakers. Erikson emphasizes that a balance between freedom and control is needed to promote autonomy.

Inflicting rules and punishment by force will instill shame and doubt. Shame and doubt will cause the child to struggle while learning:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Healthy socialization

Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt (About 3 to 5 years old)

In the third stage, primary relationships consist of family members (parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, etc.). At this stage, children develop a sense of responsibility. They have ambitions and learn about personal boundaries.

When a child reaches this stage of development, they can be motivated to set and work toward goals. Guidance toward goals without intrusion from parents will facilitate initiative. Control and force from parents will result in guilt.

Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority (6 to 11 years old)

In stage 4, children are encouraged to complete tasks while cooperating with others. Cooperative skills are learned while learning how to master social and academic tasks. Social relationships expand to neighborhood, school and peers.

A child learns industry if they successfully learn how to cooperate with others while completing tasks. Failure to learn how to cooperate and work with others results in inferiority.

Stage 5: Identity vs. Role Confusion (12 to about 17 years old)

By stage 5, adolescents begin to consider the two pivotal questions:

  • “Who am I?”
  • “Where do I fit in?”

Primary social interactions are within peer groups. During this stage, the adolescent begins to develop values and direction for their future.

The development of identity results from establishing a personal identity and direction for the future. Role confusion occurs when the adolescent is confused about their identity, purpose and direction in life.

Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation (About 18 to 30 years old)

Stage 6 indicates change that occurs in early adulthood. In early adulthood, individuals seek intimate relationships. Romantic relationships and close friendships are most valued at this stage.

The primary challenge at this stage is letting go of independence to create an interdependent bond with another person.

People achieve intimacy when they are able to establish intimate bonds and let go of independence. People who struggle will find themselves in isolation.

Stage 7: Generativity vs. Stagnation (About 30 to 65 years old)

Individuals in stage 7 seek meaning through work and career performance, and nurturing and facilitating the next generation. They prioritize maintaining relationships with family and close friends.

Generativity is achieved when working toward providing for their future and children. Stagnation can occur if the individual does not find meaning or purpose in their own accomplishments.

Stage 8: Integrity vs. Despair (About 65 years old to death)

By stage 8, elderly individuals come to terms with their own mortality. They begin to reflect on their lives and the growth of society and humankind.

Elderly individuals achieve integrity when their life reflections are met with self-respect, satisfaction and dignity. Those who fail to meet these reflections experience regret and despair.

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