The development theory of erik erikson

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Eriksons theory of development references approximate periods of life, each with a corresponding crisis which, when successfully resolved, helps establish a piece of identity. Kohlberg's theory of moral development has stages linked to cognitive development through which each person proceeds. My personal portrait is broken into Erikson's periods of life and discussed from the standpoint of both theories.


This paper will briefly present the developmental theory by Erikson. A large portion of the paper will be used to show periods of my life according to Erikson's Theory, after which I will discuss the possible effects of Kohlberg's Theory and compare the two theories. I will also briefly discuss some gender and cultural differences along the way.

Erikson's Theory

According to Erikson's theory, personality evolves through life (Whitbourne, Sneed, & Sayer, 2009) as a result of a series of crises. Each crisis is a result of struggles in life that produce an outcome, either a positive result that helps establish a piece of identity, or a negative failure to achieve that piece of identity. While these identities can grow stronger throughout life, they do not necessarily occur in fixed stages, and the resolution of these issues may occur or even be revisited at different points in life.

Erickson listed eight periods in life, each with a corresponding crisis (Dunkel and Sefcek, 2009). The periods are: Infancy, Toddlerhood, Preschool, Childhood, Adolescence, Young Adulthood, Middle Adulthood, and Late Adulthood.


The crisis in Infancy is Trust versus Mistrust (Dunkel and Sefcek, 2009). Since I do not have parents or immediate family around me, what I remember about this period is from photos and/or stories from my family. I would have to say that trust was established because there was a cohesive family unit that lasted for several decades, and because I always seemed happy in the photos. Our family was well-respected in our church community, so there is nothing to lead me to believe that trust was not firmly established.

However, this crisis was revisited several times in my life, causing me to mistrust several people. For example, I once invested a few thousand dollars in a business with the condition that a person who was successful in the business would come for one week to help me get established. This person did not keep his word and he was very rude and abusive to me. I eventually recovered all my money, but I was shocked to learn that someone would betray me in that manner.


The crisis in Toddlerhood is Autonomy versus Shame (Dunkel and Sefcek, 2009). I have some recollection of this time period, but again, most of my memories are triggered by photos of the family. I remember being with the family and playing in the backyard, so I know I was able to make some decisions on my own, and I was told I was very active.

In my mind, Autonomy versus Shame can be very similar to the crisis of the next period. Some of these struggles were revisited in later periods of my life, and I reserve those discussions for Preschool.


The next crisis is Initiative versus Guilt (Dunkel and Sefcek, 2009). I remember more advanced play in the neighborhood during this period, exploring more wherever I went, and being involved more in church activities.

From this period I remember experiencing guilt from wrongdoings along with a mixture of shame. I remember playing in the backyard and wetting my pants. I don't think I was punished, but I am sure I felt some awkwardness because I knew the situation was not normal. However, there were definitely some wrongdoings on my part during this period. My mom told me I used to run through the racks of clothes in one store, holding my arms out and knocking clothes on the floor. I know my parents had to provide some discipline, and I really only remember feeling bad if they were displeased, partly because I may have not developed a clear understanding of morals.

This crisis has reappeared in my life because of two negative factors. First, there have been situations in my adult life where people have blatantly disregarded and even challenged basic principals that I saw modeled by my family and their church community. This shocked me and even rocked my sense of identity. Second, I have had several relationships where people have intimidated me, sometimes helping me to feel ashamed or have feelings of false guilt in situations where I was not to blame. I have struggled with this at times in my adult life. A book that has been helpful to me in this regard is called "Boundaries" (Cloud and Townsend, 1992).


This time period started a series of struggles in my life (and I am fairly certain in others' lives as well). The crisis in this period is Industry versus Inferiority (Dunkel and Sefcek, 2009). During this time I was mostly interested in play, and there were plenty of opportunities in the neighborhood with games like "army", and "kick the can".

I gradually became aware in school that there was a group of kids who were somewhat more accepted than I was, triggering some feelings of inferiority. Looking back I can see that most of those kids came from families who lived in a better neighborhood and had a little higher economic status than our family had, but I remember feeling somewhat awkward that I did not always fit with that group.

The feelings of inferiority were offset to some degree by some of my successes. I learned to water ski and I won some contests at church, a place that offered positive growth and social opportunities as well as spiritual benefits. Unfortunately, I can see how the tension of Industry versus Inferiority has continued into my adult life.


The crisis in this period is Identity versus Role Confusion (Dunkel and Sefcek, 2009). In my opinion, this period epitomizes the struggles and crises of socialization, doing so in ways that can affect people for years. I had many interests and had to choose (for a variety of reasons) not to be a jock, but rather hone my academic and music skills. I received the Band Award in junior high school, helped direct the church choir in high school, participated in a self-paced math program, and participated in the National Honor Society. Fortunately I was still able to play with adults on the church softball team.

My teen years were a time of people weaving their way through relationships. By high school, students generally found their way into four groups: greasers, jocks, hippies, and straights. I was generally considered a straight, but I had some friends who were jocks and greasers. My road to social identity was buffered somewhat by my church friends; however, I was not prepared for dealing with romantic relationships. Painfully I learned what it was like to go steady with a girl and later break up, and I discovered that long distance relationships did not last very long.

Like the previous period, I feel that the crisis of this period has also crept into my adult life. There were times when I struggled to find my identity in the workplace and within other community relationships.

Young Adulthood

This time period features a crisis of Intimacy versus Isolation (Dunkel and Sefcek, 2009). One part of my identity was settled when I got married. We have been married for 32 years and have four children, all of whom are grown and have left home, although one child has two years of college to finish. The family cohesiveness brought some stability into this period of my life. In fact, the family is probably one of my biggest successes of this period.

This period was marked with recurring struggles in role confusion and inferiority and by my trying to establish relationships in my career and other ventures. Looking back on some of the failures and rejections I can now see a blessing in some of them because they kept me from going in the wrong direction.

Despite the failures there were some successes. I earned scholarships for college, was involved in many community activities, and was able to involve myself in my family in a lasting way.

Middle Adulthood

The crisis in this period is Generativity versus Stagnation (Dunkel and Sefcek, 2009). In this period I have become established with an employer since 1991. During this time I have also gone to graduate school three more times, have helped put four children through college, have helped take care of two dying parents and settle their estate, and have helped with my in-laws. I have also earned my pilot's license and learned to snowboard, but more importantly, I decided now is the time to really serve God and love others because I only have so many years left.

Kohlberg and Erikson

Kohlberg's theory of moral reasoning is a cognitive-developmental model (Aquino and Reed, 2002), as opposed to the psychosocial model of Erikson that requires response to social forces.

Kohlberg's Theory

According to Kohlberg, moral development occurs as people mature in moral judgment, passing through stages (Krebs and Denton, 2005). Each stage becomes cognitively more sophisticated and displaces a previous stage. Briefly, the stages are: avoiding breaking rules backed by punishment; acting to meet one's own interests and needs and letting others do the same; upholding mutual relationships, showing concern for others and caring for others; maintaining the social systems from which one benefits; fulfilling social obligations, "the greatest good for the greatest number"; and a complex sixth stage involving noble ideals of brotherhood (Crandell, Crandell, &Vander Zanden, 2009). The stages move from a simple fear of punishment to a more complex understanding of social consequences.

Kohlberg's model has been shown to be culturally fair (Snarey, 1985). As far as gender goes, one study of real-life dilemmas showed that females tended to score at a higher stage that was more care-based than the males (Wark and Krebs, 1996).

Kohlberg vs. Erickson

In Erikson's theory crises can be revisited at times in a person's life or even be experienced in a different sequence. Each stage represents a piece of identity and is dependent upon the social forces and how a person resolves each struggle. Each stage in Kohlberg's moral development theory is dependent upon cognitive development and supplants previous stages. Presumably a person does not go back to a previous stage to resolve anything because the structure in the current stage displaced the previous structures. Engaging in moral behavior depends partly on cognitive abilities (Aquino and Reed, 2002).

The Affect of the Theories on Me

My life was documented earlier according to Erikson's stages. However, there are some gender and cultural issues to consider. For instance, the Intimacy identity is often initially higher in females but decelerates later while this identity continues to grow in males (Whitbourne, 2009), although an exception was shown in a study where black African males scored higher than females in Intimacy (Ochse and Plug, 1986). In retrospect I believe I have seen a growth of intimacy in my life.

Psychological well-being has been shown to have an effect on the development of identity in one study (Ochse and Plug, 1986). Perhaps during the times that I struggled with issues and my mental state suffered, I was not able to sufficiently establish the identity I needed for that stage in my life, causing me to revisit those issues at later points in my life.

Considering the gender issue mentioned earlier in Kohlberg's theory, it is possible that I delayed moving from a rule-based stage of moral development to a more caring stage because of being a male. I certainly have seen that progression in my life, even being raised in the church. I learned commandments and biblical principals, but later in life I realized what Jesus said: the sum of the law and the prophets was to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).

Other Factors

Briefly setting aside these theories and the process of development in my life, I would like to submit that perhaps the greatest influence on me was something else: an encounter with God. Who can explain why a child or a grown man, each at different stages of their lives, has an encounter with God that radically changes their lives? A young boy named Samuel heard the voice of God at a young age and went on to be a famous prophet (I Samuel 3). A religious zealot named Saul, who considered himself to be blameless according to the Jewish law, encountered Christ in a dramatic way (Acts 9:1-8), changing his life from a man who persecuted Christians to a man who wrote most of the New Testament. It was his encounter with the Holy Spirit that gave him the grace to live a life pleasing to God, something that the law could not do for him (Romans 7:6). I have seen people's lives changed by Christ in ways that did not fit these developmental models, and I like to think my encounter with Christ is also transforming my life.