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Psychosocial stages by Erik Erikson

Erikson’s research suggests that each individual must learn how to hold both extremes of each specific life-stage challenge in tension with one another, not rejecting one end of the tension or the other. Only when both extremes in a life-stage challenge are understood and accepted as both required and useful, can the optimal virtue for that stage surface. Thus, ‘trust’ and ‘mis-trust’ must both be understood and accepted, in order for realistic ‘hope’ to emerge as a viable solution at the first stage. Similarly, ‘integrity’ and ‘despair’ must both be understood and embraced, in order for actionable ‘wisdom’ to emerge as a viable solution at the last stage.

The Erikson life-stage virtue, in order of the eight stages in which they may be acquired, are:

  1. Basic trust vs. basic mistrust – This stage covers the period of infancy. 0-1 year of age, which is the most fundamental stage of life. – Whether or not the baby develops basic trust or basic mistrust is not merely a matter of nurture. It is multi-faceted and has strong social components. It depends on the quality of the maternal relationship. The mother carries out and reflects their inner perceptions of trustworthiness, a sense of personal meaning, etc. on the child. If successful in this, the baby develops a sense of trust, which “forms the basis in the child for a sense of identity“. Failure to develop this trust will result in fear in the baby and a belief that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable.
  2. Autonomy vs. Shame – Covers early childhood around 1–3 years old- Introduces the concept of autonomy vs. shame and doubt. During this stage the child is trying to master toilet training.
  3. Purpose – Initiative vs. Guilt – Preschool / 3–6 years – Does the child have the ability to or do things on their own, such as dress him or herself? If “guilty” about making his or her own choices, the child will not function well. Erikson has a positive outlook on this stage, saying that most guilt is quickly compensated by a sense of accomplishment.
  4. Competence – Industry vs. Inferiority – School-age / 6–11 years. Child comparing self-worth to others (such as in a classroom environment). Child can recognize major disparities in personal abilities relative to other children. Erikson places some emphasis on the teacher, who should ensure that children do not feel inferior.
  5. Fidelity – Identity vs. Role Confusion – Adolescent / 12–18 years. Questioning of self. Who am I, how do I fit in? Where am I going in life? Erikson believes, that if the parents allow the child to explore, they will conclude their own identity. However, if the parents continually push him/her to conform to their views, the teen will face identity confusion.
  6. Intimacy vs. isolation – This is the first stage of adult development. This development usually happens during young adulthood, which is between the ages of 18 to 35. Dating, marriage, family and friendships are important during the stage in their life. By successfully forming loving relationships with other people, individuals are able to experience love and intimacy. Those who fail to form lasting relationships may feel isolated and alone.
  7. Generativity vs. stagnation is the second stage of adulthood and happens between the ages of 35-64. During this time people are normally settled in their life and know what is important to them. A person is either making progress in their career or treading lightly in their career and unsure if this is what they want to do for the rest of their working lives. Also during this time, a person is enjoying raising their children and participating in activities, that gives them a sense of purpose. If a person is not comfortable with the way their life is progressing, they’re usually regretful about the decisions and feel a sense of uselessness.
  8. Ego integrity vs. despair. This stage affects the age group of 65 and on. During this time an individual has reached the last chapter in their life and retirement is approaching or has already taken place. Many people, who have achieved what was important to them, look back on their lives and feel great accomplishment and a sense of integrity. Conversely, those who had a difficult time during middle adulthood may look back and feel a sense of despair.

On ego identity versus role confusion, ego identity enables each person to have a sense of individuality, or as Erikson would say, “Ego identity, then, in its subjective aspect, is the awareness of the fact that there is a self-sameness and continuity to the ego’s synthesizing methods and a continuity of one’s meaning for others” (1963). Role confusion, however, is, according to Barbara Engler in her book Personality Theories (2006), “the inability to conceive of oneself as a productive member of one’s own society” (158). This inability to conceive of oneself as a productive member is a great danger; it can occur during adolescence, when looking for an occupation. sources: Wikipedia

Erik Erikson described development that occurs throughout the lifespan. Learn more in this chart summarizing Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development.

Stage Basic Conflict Important Events Outcome
Infancy (birth to 18 months) Trust vs. Mistrust Feeding Children develop a sense of trust when caregivers provide reliabilty, care, and affection. A lack of this will lead to mistrust.
Early Childhood (2 to 3 years) Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt Toilet Training Children need to develop a sense of personal control over physical skills and a sense of independence. Success leads to feelings of autonomy, failure results in feelings of shame and doubt.
Preschool (3 to 5 years) Initiative vs. Guilt Exploration Children need to begin asserting control and power over the environment. Success in this stage leads to a sense of purpose. Children who try to exert too much power experience disapproval, resulting in a sense of guilt.
School Age (6 to 11 years) Industry vs. Inferiority School Children need to cope with new social and academic demands. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.
Adolescence (12 to 18 years) Identity vs. Role Confusion Social Relationships Teens need to develop a sense of self and personal identity. Success leads to an ability to stay true to yourself, while failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self.
Young Adulthood (19 to 40 years) Intimacy vs. Isolation Relationships Young adults need to form intimate, loving relationships with other people. Success leads to strong relationships, while failure results in loneliness and isolation.
Middle Adulthood (40 to 65 years) Generativity vs. Stagnation Work and Parenthood Adults need to create or nurture things that will outlast them, often by having children or creating a positive change that benefits other people. Success leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, while failure results in shallow involvement in the world.
Maturity(65 to death) Ego Integrity vs. Despair Reflection on Life Older adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair.
 

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