Eriksons Eight Stages of Development

Whereas Freud taught that our personalities were formed by around the age of 5 years, Erikson disagreed and felt that important periods of development occurred throughout the life span. For example, Freud called the period between the ages of 6 to puberty

Despair vs. integrity

/Old age

Maladaptive Stagnati°n vs. generativity resolutions V \ / Adulthood

Isolation vs. intimacy

Young adult

Role confusion vs. identity

Inferiority vs. industry

Guilt vs. initiative

^^/^Young childhood

Shame and doubt vs. autonomy yToddlerhood

Mistrust vs. trust


Figure 10.2

Erikson's eight stages of development.

the latency period because he believed not much psychologically was going on. However, this is a period when children are starting to go to school; they are learning to work and to gain satisfaction from success and from accomplishments; they are learning to be sociable, to share, and to cooperate with peers; and they are learning about social structures, such as the fact that teachers are in char ge and represent authorities. Erikson (1963, 1968) ar gued that much development occurred during the years that Freud thought were quiet. Indeed, Erikson believed that the development of personality lasted well into adulthood and even old age (Erikson, 1975). He outlined eight stages of development, through which we all pass (Figure 10.2).

Not only did Erikson disagree with Freud about the time span of development, but he also disagreed with Freud about the conflict, or crisis, that occurs at each stage Whereas Freud felt that the crises were inherently sexual, Erikson believed that the crises were of a social nature. After all, he ar gued, the persons with whom we have our first social relationships are our parents. Thus, there could be crises of learning to trust our parents, learning to be autonomous from them, learning from them how to act as an adult. He called these psychosocial conflict rather than the psychosex-ual conflicts that formed Freud s developmental stages.

Although Erikson disagreed with Freud on these two issues of development, he did agree with Freud on several other points. First, like Freud, Erikson kept a stage model of development, implying that people go through the stages in a certain order and that there is a specific issue that characterizes each stage. Second, Erikso believed that each stage represented a conflict, or perhaps a developmental crisis, which needed to be resolved. Third, Erikson maintained the notion of fixation meaning that, if the crisis was not successfully and adaptively resolved, then personality development could become arrested and the person would continue to be preoccupied by that crisis in development. Let' s now briefly consider each of the eight stages

Trust versus Mistrust

When children are born, they are completely dependent on those around them. Their first questions would most likely be "Who s going to take care of me, and will they do a good job? Can I trust that they will feed me when I am hungry , clothe me when I am cold, comfort me when I cry , and generally take care of me?" If children are well taken care of, if their basic needs are met, then they will develop a sense of trust in their caregivers. This sense of trust, according to Erikson, forms the basis of future relationships, with such children growing up believing that other people are approachable, trustable, and generally good and loving. However , some infants are not well taken care of, for various reasons, and they never receive the love and care they need. Such infants may develop a sense that others are not to be trusted and may develop a lifelong pattern of mistrust in others, suspiciousness, and feelings of estrangement, isolation, or just plain social discomfort when around others.

Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt

Around the second year , most children are on their feet and on the go. This is the stage many parents call the "terrible 2s." Children begin experimenting with their new abilities, including running when the parents tell them to walk, screaming when the parents tell them to be quiet, and generally just testing their powers. They are trying to answer the question "How much of the world do I control?" A good outcome is when a child feels a sense of control and mastery over things and develops self-confidence and a sense of autonomy that lets them explore and learn. If parents inhibi such autonomy, perhaps by being strict, restrictive, or punishing when the child is independent, then the child may feel shame and doubt over the goals he or she is contemplating. Overly protective parents can also cause problems, in that they can hinder the child's natural urge to explore and to encounter a wide variety of life events and experiences. For example, parents who prevent their child from rough-and-tumble play with other children may cause their child to grow up doubting his or her ability to get along with others.

Initiative versus Guilt

Children at this stage—around 3 years of age—often imitate adults, dressing in adult clothes, playing adults, and acting as adults. Children at this stage receive their firs practice in adult tasks during play . As adults, we must learn how to work together , to follow leaders, and to resolve disputes. When children play, they practice these skills by organizing games, choosing leaders, and forming goals. Then, during school activities they also take the initiative to accomplish goals and to work with a distinct purpose in mind. If all goes well, children at this stage develop a sense of initiative, which translates into ambition and goal seeking. If things do not go well, children may become resigned to failure or to not even take the initiative to pursue goals.

Industry versus Inferiority

It is good to have experiences of success, but we all have limits, and there is a lot of competition. Starting around age 4, children begin comparing themselves to each other, especially those their own age, and many (although not all) develop a sense of competence and achievement. If people have enough success experiences, then they believe in their strength and abilities and assume that, if they just work hard enough, they can do most things they desire to do. This sense of industry—feeling as if they can work to achieve what they want—sets children on their way to being productive members of society. However, with enough failure experiences, children might develop a sense of inferiority, feeling that they don't have the talent or ability to get ahead in life.

Identity versus Role Confusion

During adolescence, people go through a whole series of drastic physical changes. This can be an especially dif ficult time of life, in which people eme ge from childhood into adulthood, whether they are ready or not. Erikson gave this period special attention in his work, referring to identity achievement as one of the most important goals of development.

At this stage, adolescents begin to ask themselves the questions "Who am I?" and "Do others recognize me for who I think I am?" Many people do a lot of experimentation at this stage, trying on many dif ferent identities. One semester , a high school student might try on the role of athlete; the next semester , the role of punk rocker; the next semester , born-again Christian; and the next semester , Goth. Experimenting with identities is common at this time of life, with teenagers searching for identity in all sorts of ways and places. One student said he was going to Hawaii to "find himself. In actuality, no matter where you go, there you are, so the search for identity really has no special place. But many people at this stage join groups, drift around the country, commit themselves to various causes or ideals, or experiment with drugs, politics, or religion, all in an ef fort to find the true "me. Eventually, most people make some decisions about what is important and what they value and want out of life, and they acquire a sense of "who they are," achieving some degree of consistent self-understanding. People who fail in this stage develop role confusion and enter adulthood without a solid sense of who they are or what they think is the meaning of their lives. Such people bounce around between all sorts of roles, and are generally unstable in their relationships, in their jobs, and in their goals and values.

People differ from one another in the extent to which they commit themselves to their values, careers, relationships, and ideologies (Marcia, 2002). Most people will pass through a period of identity confusion, which refers to not having a strong sense of who one really is. Some cultures institute a rite of passage ritual, usually around adolescence, which typically is a ceremony that initiates a child into adulthood. For example, some southwestern American Indians send adolescent males to be alone in the wilderness, fasting, until they have a vision. After such ceremonies, the adolescent is sometimes given a new name, bestowing a new adult identity . Secular American culture does not provide common rite of passage rituals, though certain religions do, such as the Confirmation ritual in Roman Catholicism or Bar/Bat Mitzvah in Judaism

In resolving the identity crisis, some persons develop a negative identity, an identity founded on undesirable social roles, such as street gang member . Unfortunately, modern culture provides many undesirable role models. Because this is a time of life when youngsters are looking for models, most are very impressionable. This is one reason most states keep their juvenile court system separate from the adult court system, so that young persons do not come into contact with adult criminals.

Lee Malvo and John Muhammad were arrested for the sniper murders of several people in the Washington, DC, area in 2002. Lee Malvo, who was 17 years old at the time of the crimes, pled that he was so much under the influence of the older man, John Muhammad, that he, Lee Malvo, should not be held responsible for any of the shootings. Malvo was most likely in a period of identity confusion.

Lee Malvo and John Muhammad were arrested for the sniper murders of several people in the Washington, DC, area in 2002. Lee Malvo, who was 17 years old at the time of the crimes, pled that he was so much under the influence of the older man, John Muhammad, that he, Lee Malvo, should not be held responsible for any of the shootings. Malvo was most likely in a period of identity confusion.

Identity is something that must be achieved. If a person commits to an identity that they did not work for or that was handed to them, then that identity is likely to be shallow or changeable (Marcia, 1966). Indeed, Marcia (2002) holds that mature identity development involves going through a crisis and emer ging with a firm sens of commitment to one's values, relationships, or career . If a person does not have a crisis, or if he or she forms an identity without exploring alternatives, such as accepting the values of parents, then this is called identity foreclosure. People in identity foreclosure are often moralistic and conventional, but when asked to back up their positions, often cannot provide a good rationale for their beliefs and opinions.

A final concept relevant to identity development, especially to college students concerns the notion of a moratorium. This refers basically to taking time to explore options before making a commitment to an identity . In some ways, college can be thought of as a socially approved period in which a young person is able to explore a variety of roles and responsibilities, before taking any one set on "for real." One can change majors, change social groups, explore dif ferent relationships, meet people from diverse backgrounds, spend a semester studying abroad, and learn about a variety of fields of study before having to settle on any ideals and values t commit to. Erikson himself emphasized exploring alternatives before making a commitment to a particular identity (1968). He held that, only after considering alternatives, and spending time "shopping around," was a person ready to make commitments and to spend the rest of his or her life honoring those commitments. This is what it means to say that the development of an identity takes work (Newman & Newman, 1988).

Intimacy versus Isolation

Connecting with others, both in terms of friendships and intimate relationships, becomes a prime concern toward the latter half of the teenage years. People at this stage appear to have a need to develop relationships that are mutually satisfying and intimate. In such relationships, people grow emotionally and develop into caring, nurturing, and providing adults. For many people, this takes the form of making a commitment to one person through marriage. But many others find intimacy without th social contract of marriage. And, of course, marriage is no guarantee of intimacy , as it is certainly possible to have a marriage that is devoid of intimate feelings.

Isolation is the result of a failure to find or maintain intimac . In the United States, the percentage of married people has dropped, from 72 percent in 1970 to 62 percent in 2000. The total number of divorced persons in the United States was 4.3 million in 1970, but that number had risen to 20 million by 2000. Approximately 49 percent of marriages in the United States today end in divorce. Clearly , for many people, the primary struggle in their lives is the crisis of finding intimacy versu isolation. Certainly, being single has its benefits; howeve , most people report that a satisfying intimate relationship is something they desire. Failing to achieve this level of relationship is often a serious impairment to one' s happiness and life satisfaction.

Generativity versus Stagnation

At this stage, occupying most of the adult years, the main question concerns whether or not the person has generated something that he or she really cares about in life. Often this takes the form of a career that one cares about. Other times, it is a family that has generated children that the parent cares about. Sometimes caring is achieved in a hobby or a volunteer activity that is particularly generative and that gives the person something to care about. The crisis at this stage is that, when people step back and look at their adult years, they might get the feeling they are just spinning their wheels, stagnating. In other words, without anything to really care about, people may feel that their lives really don' t matter, that they are just "going along to get along," and that they really don' t care how it all works out. The people who don' t really care about what they are doing, who are just going through the motions, are easily seen as phonies. For example, maybe you've had a teacher who really didn't care about the course material, who just came in, lectured blandly , and left. You have probably also had teachers who cared deeply about their topic, whose lectures were enlivened by their interest and enthusiasm, and who obviously drew satisfaction and meaning from their role as teacher or professor. This is the dif ference between generativity and stagnation.

Integrity versus Despair

This is the last stage of development, occurring toward the end of life, and even this stage contains a crisis, an issue to face. This occurs when we let go of the generative role; maybe we retire from the jobs we loved, maybe the children we loved and raised leave home and start their own lives, or maybe the hobbies or volunteer activities we found so meaningful are no longer possible for us. We start the process of withdrawing from life, pulling back from our adult roles, and preparing to face death. At this stage, we look back on our lives and pass judgment—"W as it all worth doing?" "Did I accomplish most of what I wanted to do in life?" If we can take some satisfaction in our lives, then we can face the inevitability of our passing with a measure of integrity. However, if we are dissatisfied with our lives, i we wish we had more time to make changes, to repair relationships, and to right wrongs, then we experience despair . People who have a lot of regrets at the end of their lives become bitter old people who have a lot of contempt and irritation. On the other hand, if people feel that their one go-around was acceptable, that they pretty much did it all up right and have no regrets, then they face their end with integrity.

Fredrick Nietzsche, a German philosopher, wrote a story in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra about a person walking on a mountain trail. Along the trail, a troll suddenly jumps out and kills the person. The person, however, is immediately reborn to the same parents, is given the same name, and lives the same life as before. Then one day, again the person is walking on a mountain trail and a troll suddenly jumps out and slays the person, who is reborn to the same parents, is given the same name as before, and lives the same life. And once again the person is walking along a mountain trail when a troll jumps out and slays the person. Once again the person is reborn and so on. The point, Nietzsche says, concerns what a person would think about this eternal return of our lives. If you would not want to live your life over and over again, then perhaps you should make some changes in it now , as you are living it. The person who says, "Y es, I wouldn't mind another go-around of my life, even if it were all the same," is someone who would go through Erikson' s last stage and achieve integrity. That is, if a person is satisfied with his or her lif as a whole, then they can approach the ending of life with integrity .

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  • therese
    How do old people face and resolve life final crisis erik erikson?
    9 months ago

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