Erikson’s stages about psychosocial development was created because his own life had experienced identity crisis as a young child. He was born in Germany as Erik Homberger to an unidentified Danish father and was raised by a Jewish mother. During his childhood, he was bullied by his classmates for being half Nordic and half Jewish, yet as he was growing up to a youth, he desired to become a talented artist. But due to World War II, Erikson and his wife had to flee several times until they finally resided in United States in Boston, where he officially changed his name into Erik Erikson. With this previous experience, his identity had been continuously changing, just like his theories that confronts identity development.
Erikson’s psychosocial theory was based on many of Freud’s ideas and because of this, the two theories have a lot to be similar about. Erickson recognized Freud’s importance of the unconscious as it develops, both of them separate development into a form of stages of a person’s life with age gaps division for these developmental theories, however there are also differences that exist between the names of the stages and its developmental issues or problems that are encountered during each stage, one of the most important reason for its differences is not because he disagrees nor thought Freud was incorrect, but because Erikson, like many other psychologists, has his own unique view of what drives a person’s development.
Freud’s psychosexual theory emphasizes the importance of basic needs and biological forces while Erikson’s psychosocial theory is based upon social and environmental factors. Erikson also expands his theory into adulthood while Freud’s theory ends at an earlier period. Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory and Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory are two important psychoanalytic theories on human development that could be used to explain the developmental effects.
Basis of Theory
Erikson took inspiration from different psychoanalysts, experiences and colleagues in developing these stages, but none of them had ever influenced him so greatly than Sigmund Freud. Erikson’s theories focused at the core of Freud’s concepts. Although Freud presents five psychosexual stages of development, Erikson believed that the previous theories did not contain enough information beyond his Genital stage, thus he extended Freud’s work to eight stages. Freud’s core ideas are presented more about childhood as it develops the foundation of identity, whereas Erikson discusses that a person’s development continues to improve throughout the entire lifespan. Richard Stevens specifically pointed out the differences between the two theories:
“Although the first three phases are linked to those of the Freudian theory, they are conceived along very different lines. Emphasis is not so much on sexual modes and their consequences as on the ego qualities which emerge from each stage. There is an attempt also to link the sequence of individual development to the broader context of society.”
Another main element that contributed to Erikson’s psychosocial stage theory is his ideas on ego identity. Ego identity is the sense of wanting to belong into an individual or something such as social group of religion or politics, it develops as you interact with others, providing you more conscious not just with yourself but with your surroundings as well. According to a research finding at the Prince Sultan University:
“Our ego identity is constantly changing due to new experience and information we acquire in our daily interactions with others. In addition to ego identity, Erikson also believed that a sense of competence also motivates behaviors and actions. Each stage in Erikson’s theory is concerned with becoming competent in an area of life. If the stage is handled well, the person will feel a sense of mastery, which he sometimes referred to as ego strength or ego quality. If the stage is managed poorly, the person will emerge with a sense of inadequacy.”
Stages or phases of development
Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development contains eight stages which an individual undergoes from infancy to old age. Each stage covers approximate age divisions, basic conflicts, examples of important events and favorable to unfavorable outcomes from these situations:
Age: Infancy (0-1 years old)
Conflict: Trust versus Mistrust
Important Events: A mother breast feeding an infant
Outcome: The infant forms a sense of love and trust to the mother or caregiver from the nurturing the infant received.
Age: Early Childhood (2 to 3 years old)
Conflict: Autonomy versus Shame
Important Events: Parents potty training the child
Outcome: Develops physical skills such as walking, grasping etc.
Age: Play Age (3 to 6 years old)
Conflict: Initiative versus Guilt
Important Events: Child learning how toys work such as puzzles or Legos
Outcome: Learns purpose or control over things but may doubt or feel ashamed if it doesn’t go well.
Age: School age (6-12 years old)
Conflict: Industry versus Inferiority
Important Events: Attending school
Outcome: Being able to initiate academic or social skills while failing to do so would lead to inferiority.
Age: Adolescence (12 to 19 years old)
Conflict: Identity versus Role
Important Events: Peer relationships in school
Outcome: Teenagers senses complexities in life but being able to deal with it stays true to itself but failing to do so, feels confusion to what role is he or she supposed to do so.
Age: Early Adulthood (20-25 years old)
Conflict: Intimacy versus Isolation
Important Events: Finding girlfriend or boyfriend
Outcome: Young adults feels the need to have a lover and being able to find a partner results to long lasting relationship but not being able makes him or her feel alone and isolated.
Age: Adulthood (26-64 years old)
Conflict: Generativity versus Stagnation
Important Events: Work life and Parenting roles
Outcome: Adults tend to plan and nurture things that would outlast them such as starting a family, having children, getting a promotion. Success leads to feeling the accomplishments.
Age: Old age (65 to death)
Conflict: Ego Integrity versus Despair
Important Events: Life Reflection
Outcome: People tend to look back on life and feel either fulfilled from all the events he or she had accomplished whereas some are dissatisfied or feel regretful until death.
Summary and Conclusions
Erikson believed that the first stage of early adulthood which started in a person’s 20s until the early 40s, marks a struggle between intimacy and isolation. For this psychosocial stage, most of us have started exploring close relationships that may lead to feelings of protectiveness or commitment, while not being able to find intimacy can lead to depression, desperation or isolation. Recently, several theorists begun to represent this stage as emerging adulthood, that some thinks that it categorizes adolescence, this stage do feel like some adults would be stuck in an in-between time, they know that they’ve pulled through solution, but they’re still tied to their families, which implies of how of things like economic factors can weigh on development. But for Erickson, after young adulthood, middle adulthood comes next, this stage implies our decision to either go for generativity or stagnation in which many people have built their own career or started their own families, some also contributed to society through volunteering activities like work community involvement, paying taxes etc. The inability to have those things and overall absence of purpose can make this stage feel stagnant and unproductive, hence feeling painfully midlife struggles. Lastly, the final stage is our late adulthood from 65 years old and up where we often struggle with integrity versus despair, talking to a grandparent or old people we know, may have heard a lot of memories to look back to in their lives, achievements and reminiscing about how life without technology used to be, and if that overall experience were positive, then they have developed a sense of fulfillment, that they are satisfied with a life well-lived, while on the other hand, looking back on life and feeling the guilt, regret and disappointment can ruin old age with depression and feelings of despair.
Erikson’s model is not a perfect theory, but it helped us grasp an idea of growth versus conflict from our entire lives, Erikson’s ideas have been continuously evolved as time goes by and several scholars have tried to challenge his ideas, yet he remains very well known to be a vital contributor in the history of psychology.
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