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Erikson’s 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development – Explained

Erik Erikson was a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, who contributed to the study of development, by giving us the stages of psychosocial development. He believed that an individual’s personality develops through 8 stages, from infancy to adulthood.

Each stage includes a crisis where the individual succeeds or fails, leading to further development. These crises are called psychosocial because they are psychological needs that clash with societal needs.

Freud And Erikson

Freud and Erikson gave two important theories of personality development. Erikson was inspired by Freud’s stages of personality development. Freud gave psychosexual stages, focused on pleasure and sexual aspects of development. Erikson also gave psychosocial stages, focused on personality development across the lifespan.

Difference Between Freud And Erikson’s Stages

S. No.Freud’s StagesErikson’s Stages
1.He focused on the importance of feeding and pleasure during infancy.He spoke about the importance of caregiver's concern and care towards the child.
2.His theory was focused on the libido during childhood.His theory focused on social and parental interactions during childhood.
3.His theory spanned from childhood to adulthood and stated that most personality is developed by early childhood.Erikson gave a lifespan approach, right from infancy to old age, marking development through all stages.
4.Freud’s theory gave importance to pleasure areas and did not include all ages or social areas of life.Erikson’s theory was more expansive, included social interactions, and gave importance to every age and stage.

Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust

This stage is the first and the most important stage of Erikson’s psychosocial stages. In this stage, development occurs between birth to 1 year of age. During this stage, the individual is an infant, and thus, is dependent on his or her caregivers for security and care.

Trust plays an important role here, and is formed according to the quality and reliability of the caregivers. The infant, here, relies on the parent for everything, including food, security, love and concern.

If the infant’s needs are met, he or she will be able to trust the caregiver. This will signify success in this stage. If needs are not met, he or she will not be able to trust the caregiver. This will signify failure in this stage.

If trust is developed, individuals will be able to trust others in their environment and will feel secure. Mistrust, formed due to the unreliability of caregivers, could lead to fear of the environment and an insecure belief about the world.

No child will be developed with complete trust or complete fear. A healthy balance would be ideal, according to Erikson. Individuals will have hope, but also be aware of potential dangers, in ideal cases.

Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame

This is the second stage of development and occurs during early childhood. Personal control and autonomy are the highlights of this stage. Children are starting to be independent here, by performing basic duties on their own, such as choosing their clothes or brushing their teeth.

Caregivers can help by letting their children perform these basic actions on their own. By letting them make these choices, caregivers encourage autonomy, which leads to children feeling secure and confident. This will signify success in this stage.

When caregivers shame or guilt trip children when they fail in these functions, it could lead to a lack of personal control or autonomy, leading to shame or doubt. This will signify failure in this stage.

Erikson stated that an ideal balance between autonomy and shame would lead to will, which refers to acting with control and intention, but within limits and with caution.

Additionally, potty training is also a part of this stage, as it is a basic function and skill that children learn to perform on their own. According to Erikson, the development of this function leads to feelings of control and autonomy.

Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt

This is the third stage of psychosocial development, which occurs during the preschool years. The focus of this stage is on taking action and initiative. Children engage in play and control their social interactions during this stage. They use power and influence in this stage to guide social interactions.

Success in this stage leads to feelings of capability and a sense of purpose and failure in this stage leads to feelings of guilt or doubt. When children use too much power, they may be met with disapproval or negligence, which could lead to guilt. This will signify failure in this stage.

According to Erikson, a healthy balance between the two feelings would lead to purpose. The purpose here means the will and ability to take action and make decisions.

Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority

This is the fourth stage of psychosocial development, which occurs during the age of 5-11 years, mostly around early school years. These years are filled with academic demands and social roles. If children are successful in these roles, they feel competent, and if they fail, a sense of inferiority could be felt.

Social interactions and developments can make children feel proud of their accomplishments and achievements. Being appreciated or acknowledged for these achievements by caregivers or teachers can help children in feeling competent. This will signify success in this stage.

On the other hand, being under-appreciated or receiving a lot of criticism could lead to feelings of inferiority. This will signify failure in this stage.

According to Erikson, a healthy balance between the two components could lead to competence, which refers to the belief in doing tasks assigned to them.

Stage 5: Identity vs. Confusion:

This is the fifth stage of psychosocial development, which occurs during the teenage years. This stage focuses on developing an identity or a sense of self. This stage could potentially impact the rest of their lives. Here, identity refers to beliefs or opinions that guide a person’s life. This identity is formed by an individual’s experiences and influences around them.

This identity helps in guiding actions, behaviors and thoughts. Success in this stage leads to fidelity, which refers to living according to society’s expectations and failure leads to confusion or a lack of sense of self. Teenagers develop a sense of self through exploring interests or hobbies.

Encouragement from caregivers could lead to proper personal exploration and self-control. When individuals fail to explore or form personal beliefs, it could lead to insecurities and confusion about the self.

Additionally, ego identity is a concept given by Erik Erikson. It refers to a sense of self that people develop through social communication and is an essential part of this stage. New experiences and beliefs can change and mould the ego identity. Challenges can help in the growth or damage of the ego identity.

Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation

This is the sixth stage of psychosocial development that occurs during early adulthood. Personal relationships are the focus of this stage. Young adults tend to develop loving, close relationships with others during their lifetime.

According to Erikson, it was important to develop strong relationships with others. Success in this stage looks like forming strong, long-lasting relationships and failure looks like isolation. Love is achieved when people succeed in this stage. Meaningful relationships and lasting connections mark this stage.

Additionally, Erikson stated that a sense of personal self or identity (previous stage of psychosocial development) was imperative to forming healthy, strong relationships.

Stage 7: Generativity vs. Stagnation

This is the seventh stage of psychosocial development and occurs during adulthood. Family and career development is the focus of this stage. Success in this stage is characterized by feeling useful and failure in this stage would lead to feeling uninvolved and distant from the world.

This stage is characterized by bringing up children in active community work. Success at this stage involves the virtue of care, which is feeling connected to a partner or family and being proud of your achievements.

Stage 8: Integrity vs. Despair

This is the last stage of psychosocial development which occurs during old age. This stage is marked by looking back at the life and either feeling content or regretful. Success in this stage looks like feelings of wisdom and failure in this stage leads to regret or despair.

When people look back at their life and feel satisfied, they will gain peace. When people look back and feel unsatisfied, they might feel fear of ending their lives without achieving any great things. This thought will bring despair and bitterness. When people look back and feel satisfied, they will attain integrity and wisdom, even while being close to death.

Applications of Psychosocial Development Theory:

  • A lot of clinical scales and research have been conducted in the context of mental health, through Erikson’s psychosocial stages.
  • These stages can be used to treat clients who have been having problems with adjustment or changes in their life.
  • It can be used to help people with confused identities, gender issues and who are unable to find a sense of self.

Criticism of Psychosocial Development Theory:

  • A major criticism faced by these stages is that it was developed on the needs and personalities of European or American males. This could make the theory less generalizable to other populations.
  • There is confusion in the theory, as Erikson did not specify whether completion of one stage is necessary to go onto the next stage or not.
  • The stages are based on social norms, which might not be relevant for every culture.

Summary Table

StagesAgePsychosocial CrisisDevelopmental TaskVirtue/Outcome
Trust vs. MistrustBirth-1 yearCan I trust my environment/ the world around me?Caregivers need to be available for the child during times of need. Hope
Autonomy vs. Shame1-3Can I do important, basic tasks by myself?Caregivers should let the child do a few things by themselves. Potty training also occurs in this stage. Will
Initiative vs Guilt3-5Am I allowed to take initiative by myself?The child should do things and make decisions by himself. A plan or initiative can be taken and followed through in this stage.Purpose
Industry vs Inferiority5-11Am I fulfilling my social and academic roles properly?The child focuses on academic responsibilities and engages in more social interaction here. Competency
Identity vs Confusion12-18Is this who I am?The individual discovers their own interests, likes, dislikes and beliefs, which guide thoughts and behaviour.Fidelity
Intimacy vs Isolation18-40Can I love and be loved in return?The individual develops relationships and bonds in this stage. Love
Generativity vs Stagnation40-65What have I given to this world yet?The individual pays attention to family and career development and looks back at his contributions to the world.Care
Integrity vs Despair65+Did I live a good, purposeful life?Here, the person looks back at all their achievements and relations to either feel content or regret.Wisdom
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