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Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory
Erik Erikson is a psychosocial theorist who utilized stages to analyze individuals throughout development. Psychosocial theories focus on the “psychological needs of the individual conflicting with the needs of society” (McLeod, 2018, Paragraph 2). His theory can be compared to multiple other psychologists but is applied to the lifespan in different ways. In this paper, we will discuss the general theory, observed applications, and possible future applications.
Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory consists of 8 stages that develop upon each other throughout an individual’s life span. These stages begin at birth and end with death. Erikson’s theory is cumulative, each stage building on the previous. Each stage contains a “crisis” that the individual must overcome. Failure to complete one stage can lead to “a more unhealthy personality and sense of self” (McLeod, 2018, Paragraph 4). While the stages can still be completed after failure, it is more difficult than successfully completing the stages in order.
Erikson’s first stage, occurring during infancy, is Trust vs Mistrust. This stage is dependent on the child developing a relationship with a base of care and love. This tells the child that they are deserving of the care they have received (Arnett, 2016). Another theory similar to stage one is the Attachment Theory by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. This theory reflects on the need for an emotional attachment between a child and its caregiver. Without this attachment, the child will develop a sense of mistrust of the adults around them.
Stage two develops from around 18 months to 3 years of age and is focused on control and independence. This is the stage of Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt. If the children are encouraged to explore and complete tasks on their own, they will develop a greater sense of self and become more confident. Without the encouragement, they will become “overly dependent” and “doubt their abilities” (McLeod, 2018, Paragraph 14). The love and care experienced in stage one will help encourage the child that he/she has a place in the world and can be an independent person. With criticism, they will experience both mistrust and shame.
During early childhood, a child develops the ability to assert their feelings and initiate their own activities. The Initiative vs Guilt stage is crucial to learning the world around them. Questions are common and should be encouraged, rather than enforcing the sense of guilt for “being a nuisance” (McLeod, 2018, Paragraph 26). Healthy balance in this stage is important to develop a purpose of interaction.
Between the ages of five and twelve, the Industry vs Inferiority stage occurs. Individuals will need to establish a peer group that provides approval to boost a child’s self-esteem (McLeod, 2018). The reinforcement from peers will make the individual feel competent and able to achieve goals. Without this, the child will feel that they will not reach their potential and cannot live up to the demands of society.
The fifth stage of Erikson’s theory occurs from 12-18 years of age and focuses on identity based on values and goals. During Identity vs Identity Confusion, “adolescents must develop an awareness of who they are,” and find their place in society (Arnett, 2016, p. 23). The main identities involved are sexual and occupational (McLeod, 2018).
Intimacy vs Isolation is the sixth stage in Erikson’s theory and takes place around the ages of 18-40 years. Exploring relationships to find intimate, loving commitment lead to successful completion of this stage. Avoiding these relationships leads to isolation and loneliness.
The seventh stage is Generativity vs Stagnation. This stage occurs in middle adulthood (40-65) and is focused on making an impact on the world (McLeod, 2018). Making positive efforts that will benefit the collective future of others and encourage being part of the bigger pictures. Focusing on one’s own needs results in a shallow state of disconnect with the world.
The final stage of Erikson’s theory starts at age 65 and ends with death. Erikson’s stage of Ego Integrity vs Despair contemplates the “acceptance of one’s one and only life cycle as something that had to be” and the sense of wholeness when reflecting on life (Erikson, 1950, p. 268). If an individual does not feel productive in life, they will feel guilt and despair. Success will lead to a sense of closure and acceptance of life and death.
Starting from day one, I have been loved on, encouraged, and cared for. The care and support of my family and others led to the successful completion of trust. The growing continued successfully through a representation of stage two. I am the youngest child of three and always desired to participate in whatever trouble my sisters were getting into. When I was around 18 months, my mom had to remove the baby gate from the stairs and help encourage my independence as I tried to climb the gate in order to chase my sisters. She realized that it was time to stop limiting my explorations and let me grow. This encouragement of independence also helped develop initiative. I loved playing and exploring. Rather than belittling my play, my parents and sisters would often try to join in. They still often set boundaries to encourage a healthy/safe reinforcement.
The fourth stage occurs during elementary school years. This is hard time for many people but the school system I was placed in greatly advocates peers encouraging one another. Even when I was homeschooled for a year, the peers I had left in the school system stayed in contact and welcomed me back the next year with open arms. I was also encouraged by my educators to take pride in my work and not slack off.
At the current point in my life, I feel that I have just completed Erikson’s fifth stage of finding my identity. I have found a new sense of independence being out of the house and am focused on completing my degree and continuing forward with my life. I have found the friends and significant other I would like to keep around. I am working on the completion of intimacy. It is hard to fully grasp this concept but once experiencing that relationship with someone, it is clear. If I wasn’t focused on completing my degree, I would probably already be married and starting the rest of my life with the man I love.
Although being a hermit does not sound too bad, I plan to work in the medical field. I will constantly be encountering people at all stages of life. I am sure I will experience the babies who have been neglected and need to be loved and experience trust. I will experience the children who are afraid to go out on their own. I will experience the kids who are trying to “find themselves” and somehow injure themselves. I will experience the depressed and lonely who feel that they are useless because they don’t have a mate. I will (and have already) experience the end of life contemplations. The reflections of the good and bad in life, of the successes and failures. I will get to comfort and walk through the confusing stages of life with all patients and families. This is my dream and Erikson’s theory helps explain the emotions of all my future endeavors.
Erikson outlines a “realistic perspective of personality development” (McLeod, 2018, Paragraph 63). Rather than focusing on a specific characteristic or stage of life, Erikson takes the perspective of an everchanging and developing disposition helping to validate individuals in all stages of growth. The application of Erikson’s eight stages is not limiting in age nor careers or goals in life.
- Arnett, J. J. (2016). Child development: A cultural approach, 2nd Edition. Boston: Pearson.
- Erikson, E.H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.
- McLeod, S. A, (2018, May 03). Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html#psycho
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