Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development

The American psychoanalyst Erik Erikson states that people must go through 8 stages for healthy development. What does it consist on?

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Elena Sanz on October 19, 2021.

Last update: October 19, 2021

Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development encompass a number of concepts that allow us to understand how human beings evolve from childhood to adulthood. It is considered the basis of evolutionary theory and consists of 8 stages, each marked by a conflict.

The resolution of each conflict in its due stage is what allows the person to find their growth potential. If this does not happen, it is to be expected that problems will arise when facing new challenges in the following stages. Are you interested in knowing more about it?

Stages of Erikson’s psychosocial development

Erikson, like Sigmund Freud, said that personality develops through a series of stages. However, while Freud based his theory on psychosexual stages, Erikson focused on psychosocial development. That is, in how interaction and social relationships influenced the development and growth of the human being.

The first time Erikson spoke of these 8 stages of human development was in 1950, in the book Childhood and society. In this he included a chapter called The 8 ages of man. Years later, the author expanded his theory in works such as Identity and the life cycle (1959), Insight and accountability (1964) and The Complete Life Cycle: A Review (1982).

Erikson’s epigenetic principle and developmental phases

Erikson postulated that development works from an epigenetic principle. In this sense, he argued that each person goes through 8 phases of development that are inherent from birth, but that are unfolding both with an innate system and with the influences of the environment through experiences, culture and values.

In turn, each stage builds on the previous ones and paves the way for a new one. Thus, progress in each is determined by previous successes or failures. However, to do so, each phase encompasses a series of functions that are psychosocial in nature.

Erikson calls them “crises” and states that these must be resolved by the ego of each stage for development to happen correctly. If something interferes with that natural order, the development of the person is also affected.

In other words, if the person does not optimally overcome the conflicts of each stage, they may not develop the skills required to face the challenges in a subsequent stage. In particular, the first 4 stages focus on childhood, while the other 4 range from adolescence to old age. Let’s see in detail.

Development is understood as an overcoming of progressive stages with challenges and challenges in each one.

Stage 1. Trust vs. distrust

This stage takes place after birth and up to 18 months. In this, the first task of the ego is the development of confidence. That is, children learn to trust others or not. In this, the quality of the maternal relationship plays a major role.

If parents or caregivers expose the baby to a relationship of affection and trust, later the child will develop the feeling that the world, especially in the social sphere, is safe.

On the contrary, if the parents do not create that safe environment, if they reject the baby or if their basic needs are not met, this will develop mistrust. It will manifest itself with feelings of frustration, insecurity and insensitivity by what happens in the environment.

Now, it is important to be clear that this does not mean that parents have to be perfect. Being overprotective can be just as damaging as a child developing mistrust.

According to Erikson, this causes a “sensory mismatch” manifested in an excessively credulous personality, or with depressive, paranoid or psychotic tendencies.

Stage 2. Autonomy vs. shame and doubt

It develops between 18 months and 3 years of age. It is a phase that is related to the growth of autonomy, since the child begins his cognitive and muscular development, especially when he begins to control and exercise his sphincters. However, it is a process that is also linked to shame and doubt, since it is progressive.

Once again, parents or guardians become determining figures for its successful completion. It is not advisable for these to discourage or push the child too much, since he needs to explore and manipulate his environment to develop his autonomy.

If the parents intervene or provide solutions, the minor will think that he is incapable and will end up giving up. It is also not advisable to tease or address the situation with scolding, since this will increase the shame in the child and make him doubt his abilities.

Successfully passing this phase will allow children to develop a strong and healthy self-esteem. On the other hand, if there is interference, the child will have problems solving small problems and will not develop enough self-confidence to make decisions.

Stage 3. Initiative vs. fault

This stage goes from 3 to 5 years of age. The intellectual and physical development of the child progresses rapidly. Their interest in interacting with other children grows to test their skills and abilities. In this period, curiosity is greater, so it is convenient to stimulate them to develop their creativity.

Now, if the minor can already assume control through gambling, he must also be responsible … and guilty. In a way, experiencing guilt will make you acknowledge things that are wrong. However, it is necessary to avoid that this feeling is expressed in an excessive way, since it makes them feel that they are incapable of facing new challenges. In other words, guilt feeds fear.

Stage 4. Industriousness vs. inferiority

From the age of 5 to 13, one of the most determining stages of psychosocial development occurs. According to Erikson, children gradually begin to replace play desires to be more productive and accomplish more complicated tasks.

In fact, their interest in completing activities that demand self-effort, knowledge and skills is much greater. In addition, they hope to get recognition for these. In any case, both the family, the school and the social agents are key to its positive stimulation.

If there are difficulties completing the challenges in this phase, the minor may experience a certain sense of inferiority. It is essential to help you manage your failures, otherwise you will choose to discard any challenge that you consider difficult just for fear of feeling that feeling again. This can even be reflected in the way they behave with other colleagues.

Stage 5. Identity vs. identity diffusion

At this point in Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, children become adolescents. Specific, this phase takes place between the ages of 13 and 21. It is a period in which the question constantly appears “who I am?”. And it is that, precisely, it is the moment in which the personality begins to mold.

Adolescents choose who to look like and what role they want to play in society. Consequently, they act more independently and give more importance to social life. In addition, thoughts about the future appear, such as what to study or where to live. As a result of their experiences, they strengthen their identity.

It is important that during this stage there is a discernment between activities that are appropriate for the age and those that tend to be “childish.” Erikson points out that successfully passing this phase is finishing building a solid foundation for adult life.

Stage 6. Privacy vs. isolation

At this stage, adolescents become young adults. Occurs between 21 and 39 years. Although the need to respond to the wishes of the environment to “fit in” is still present, limits are being drawn on what the person is not going to sacrifice to please others.

The main task at this point is to achieve some degree of intimacy, which turns out to be contrary to isolation. That is, it changes the way of relating, since intimate relationships are sought in which there is greater mutual commitment. This, in turn, will create a sense of security and confidence.

When it does not happen in this way and the person does not find a partner, promiscuity and loneliness appear. There is a tendency to choose superficial relationships and to engage in self-destructive behaviors. Isolation creates insecurity and a feeling of inferiority that leads to character problems and insecurity.

Stage 7. Generativity vs. stagnation

During middle adulthood, between the ages of 40 and 65, the person begins to dedicate more time to family and work-related matters. It is a stage characterized by the search for a balance between productivity and stagnation. Productivity has to do with the concern for the next generations, not only of loved ones, but also encompassing society in general.

At this point, the person understands that life is not just about oneself. Therefore, they seek to contribute to society and leave a legacy. As examples, Erikson highlights teaching, writing, social activism, and the arts. Reaching this goal leads to a sense of accomplishment.

When the person feels that they have not contributed to society, You come to think that you are not qualified and lose your sense of accomplishment. You can even get into a dynamic of not stopping doing things to feel useful, which has negative consequences in other areas.

At this stage the feeling of legacy appears, of having to transmit something to future generations.

Stage 8. Ego integrity vs. despair

The last stage occurs after the age of 65 or in the so-called old age. It is the moment in which the person is no longer so productive, their abilities are reduced and grief situations begin to occur, such as the deaths of friends and loved ones. Erikson suggests that the person has two options: choose integrity or despair.

Integrity is being able to take a look at the past with the feeling of having left a mark, of having achieved achievements and that living has been worthwhile. Reaching this state allows, among other things, to solve pending issues. For example, reconcile with a person who in the past was not up to the task.

Conversely, despair evokes nostalgia and makes fear of death predominate. There is constant hopelessness and a fear of loss of self-reliance and loved ones.

Why is the theory of psychosocial development important?

Although Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development have been questioned, this theory has played a relevant role in the development of social and scientific studies. Their contributions have made it possible to understand to a great extent how a person acquires and shapes their personality and social identity.

From this, strategies have been developed to face those critical situations that the person cannot resolve. At the same time, has been useful for the management and prevention of disorders like anxiety and depression.

It might interest you …