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Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psycho-social Development

Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psycho-social Development

Erik Erikson, the famous psychoanalyst, developed the theory of psycho-social development which deals with normal development over the entire life span of human beings.

Erikson postulated that the development of an individual is the result of his interaction with his social environment. Right from his birth, his social development puts him under specific pressures or conflicts called crises, by making specific demands at different ages or developmental stages of his life. The individual tries to meet these specific demands or resolve these crises by reacting psychologically in his own way, depending upon his circumstances. At each stage of his development, the child faces a new crisis that needs to be resolved at that particular stage of development. The way in which the ‘crisis’ of each stage is resolved has a major bearing on the development of one’s personality which in turn is reflected as the positive and negative aspect of one’s behaviour.

Erickson discovered eight such issues or crises of life arising at different ages or periods of one’s development and linked them with the eight stages of one’s psycho-social development covering one’s entire life span.

erickson theory

Stage I: The period of trust Vs. mistrust (birth to 11/2 years)

During this stage, the baby is completely dependent upon his mother or caretaker for the satisfaction of his needs. The way he is nourished, handled, protected and kept safe and comfortable at this stage may provide the baby with a sense of security or insecurity, a feeling of trust or mistrust in the mother or caretaker and ultimately in its surroundings. The sense of trust or mistrust with gained in this way at this stage of development may then be carried over to the stages of development to follow and consequently reflected in the developing personality.

Stage II: The period of autonomy Vs. shame and doubt (11/2 to 3 years)

After gaining primary sense of trust and security with regard to his environment, the child now passes through the second stage of psycho-social development. Motor or physical skills and language ability of the child is newly developed & now the child engages in exploring his environment and experimenting with his strengths and limitations for achieving a sense of autonomy and independence. The child now needs proper safety and within safety bounds he must be provided adequate opportunities for the acquisition of a sense of autonomy and knowledge about his limitations.

The children, who are denied the opportunity to develop a sense of independence, begin to doubt their ability and ultimately begin to feel embarrassed or ashamed in the presence of others. However, a healthy sense of doubt and shame helps the child to set his own limits and develop a sense of right or wrong. At this stage, the child needs to be helped in striking a balance between the conflicting needs of his social environment to acquire a sense of autonomy and develop a sense of doubt and shame for the adequate development of his personality.

Stage III: The period of initiative Vs. guilt (3 to 6 years)

This stage is characterized by the crisis of initiative vs. guilt. Equipped with the sense of trust and autonomy the child now begins to take initiative in interacting with his environment. He asks question about everything, explores his environment ceaselessly and engages in planning and carrying out activities of various types. The extent to which the child is encouraged or discouraged plays a great role in developing the ability in the child to initiate plan and carry out these activities in later life.

In case the child is discouraged from taking initiative by parents, or pulled down by unhealthy criticism or punishment, the child develops a sense of guilt leading to hesitation, indecision and lack of initiative in planning and carrying out activities his life activities. Developing into a guilty conscience is harmful to the development of the child’s personality. Therefore child should be allowed to initiate experimenting by properly supervising and guiding his activities and encouraging him to develop a habit of self-evaluation.

Stage IV: Period of industry Vs. inferiority (6 to 12 years)

By this time children begin to attend school where they learn various skills and pressure from teachers to work hard, from parents to lend their hand with household duties increases. Also, they compete with their peers in terms of competency and productivity in schools and other social situation. When child performs well and is admired for his intellectual or motor skills he develops a sense of industry filled with a sense of achievement. Such child is motivated to work harder and achieve more. On the other hand if his performance remains inferior or does not satisfy his teachers or parents with his performance, he may develop a sense of inferiority. Therefore, it is the duty of teachers and school authority to maintain a positive environment for students.

Stage V: The period of identity Vs. role confusion (12 to 19 years)

This stage begins with puberty, and adolescents begin to search for their own personal identity due to the sudden changes in their bodies and their mental functioning. The adolescent in search of his new role and identity, experiments with various sexual, occupational and educational roles. The extent to which an individual is able to develop a sense of identity will depend upon the degree of success he achieves in resolving the crisis related to previous stages. Failure in resolving the crises of those periods would be likely, at this stage, to result in role confusion and consequently individual will not be able to find himself. He may be unable to make the decision about his educational or professional career or about making friends.

Teachers and parents can play a very constructive role in helping adolescents through their identity vs. confusion crisis. They should never be humiliated in front of their peers or anyone else of that matter.

Stage VI: The period Intimacy Vs. Isolation (20 to 45 years)

During this stage the individual tends to develop a sense of intimacy or commitment to a close relationship with another person. The relationship develop into such a close involvement that he tends to risk even loss of his ego or image. The ultimate sense of intimacy is clearly seen in terms of mutual identity experienced at the time of simultaneous organs in sexual intercourse with a loved partner.

The opposite of intimacy is isolation. When one fails to develop an adequate sense of intimacy or when relations deteriorate, one tends to develop a sense of isolation- a pulling away from relationships and breaking off of ties. A certain degree of isolation is crucial to maintain one’s individuality. It is essential to maintain equilibrium between the needs of intimacy and the need to maintain one’s individuality.

Stage VII: The period of creativity Vs. stagnation (45 to 65 years)

An individual life up to this stage is taken up with trying to establish himself in a professional career. Now he needs to satisfy his need for generativity, a concern to establish and guide the next generation in form of nurturing his own children, guiding and directing other young people and by engaging in some activity that may prove beneficial to society.

As opposed to sense of generativity, there is a tendency on the part of the individual to become egoistic and selfish. This leads to stagnation and personal impoverishment. Although a balance adjustment between the extremes of the need for generativity and the need of inactivity is required.

Stage VIII: The period of ego-integrity Vs. despair ( about 65 onwards)

This stage is associated with later adulthood or old age. Ego-integrity refers to the integration of the successful resolution of all the seven previous crisis in the course of one’s life. The successful resolution of the previous crises provides a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction in one’s ego.

On the other hand, persons who have not been able to successfully resolve the previous crisis of the developmental stages may feel dissatisfied with the way they have lived their lives. Consequently they are doomed to develop a deep sense of despair. However, to feel satisfied or dissatisfied about one or the other issue is common and natural. It is essential to balance between the needs of ego-integrity and despair and to successfully resolve the final crisis of one’s life resulting in a well-balanced optimistic outlook for oneself and outside the world in order to live the remaining days of one’s life as gracefully and productively as possible.

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