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Erik Erikson's Stages Psychosocial Development 

 

Our  personality  traits  come  in  opposites.  We  think  of  ourselves  as  optimistic  or 



pessimistic,  independent  or  dependent,  emotional  or  unemotional,  adventurous  or 

cautious,  leader  or  follower,  aggressive  or  passive.  Many  of  these  are  inborn 

temperament traits, but other characteristics, such as feeling either competent or inferior, 

appear to be learned, based on the challenges and support we receive in growing up. 

 

The man who did a great deal to explore this concept is Erik Erikson. Although he was 



influenced by Freud, he believed that the ego exists from birth and that behavior is not 

totally defensive. Based in part on his study of Sioux Indians on a reservation, Erikson 

became aware of the massive influence of culture on behavior and placed more emphasis 

on the external world, such as depression and wars. He felt the course of development is 

determined  by  the  interaction  of  the  body  (genetic  biological  programming),  mind 

(psychological), and cultural (ethos) influences. His developmental stages were based on 

his  philosophy  that:  (1)  the  world  gets  bigger  as  we  go  along  and  (2)  failure  is 

cumulative. 

 

He organized life into eight stages that extend from birth to death (many developmental 



theories  only  cover  childhood).  Then,  since  adulthood  covers  a  span  of  many  years, 

Erikson divided the stages of adulthood into the experiences of young adults, middle aged 

adults and older adults. While the actual ages may vary considerably from one stage to 

another, the ages seem to be appropriate for the majority of people. 

 

1. Infancy: Birth to 18 Months 

Ego Development Outcome: Trust vs. Mistrust Basic strength: Drive and Hope 

Erikson also referred to infancy as the Oral Sensory Stage (as anyone might who 

watches a baby put everything in her mouth) where the major emphasis is on the 

mother's positive and loving care for the child, with a big emphasis on visual contact 

and touch. If we pass successfully through this period of life, we will learn to trust 

that life is basically okay and have basic confidence in the future. If we fail to 

experience trust and are constantly frustrated because our needs are not met, we may 

end up with a deep-seated feeling of worthlessness and a mistrust of the world in 

general. 

 

2. Early Childhood: 18 Months to 3 Years 



Ego Development Outcome: Autonomy vs. Shame Basic Strengths: Self-control, 

Courage, and Will 

During this stage we learn to master skills for ourselves. Not only do we learn to 

walk, talk and feed ourselves, we are learning finer motor development as well as the 

much appreciated toilet training. Here we have the opportunity to build self-esteem 

and autonomy as we gain more control over our bodies and acquire new skills, 

learning right from wrong. And one of our skills during the "Terrible Two's" is our 

ability to use the powerful word "NO!" It may be pain for parents, but it develops 

important skills of the will. 



3. Play Age: 3 to 5 Years 

Ego Development Outcome: Initiative vs. Guilt Basic Strength: Purpose During 

this period we experience a desire to copy the adults around us and take initiative in 




creating play situations. We make up stories with Barbie's and Ken's, toy phones and 

miniature cars, playing out roles in a trial universe, experimenting with the blueprint 

for what we believe it means to be an adult. We also begin to use that wonderful word 

for exploring the world — "WHY?" 

 

While Erikson was influenced by Freud, he downplays biological sexuality in favor of 



the psychosocial features of conflict between child and parents. Nevertheless, he said 

that at this stage we usually become involved in the classic "Oedipal struggle" and 

resolve this struggle through "social role identification." If we're frustrated over 

natural desires and goals, we may easily experience guilt. 

 

4. School Age: 6 to 12 Years 

Ego Development Outcome: Industry vs. Inferiority Basic Strengths: Method 

and Competence   During this stage, often called the Latency, we are capable of 

learning, creating and accomplishing numerous new skills and knowledge, thus 

developing a sense of industry. This is also a very social stage of development and if 

we experience unresolved feelings of inadequacy and inferiority among our peers, we 

can have serious problems in terms of competence and self-esteem. 

As the world expands a bit, our most significant relationship is with the school and 

neighborhood. Parents are no longer the complete authorities they once were, 

although they are still important. 



 

5. Adolescence: 12 to 18 Years 

Ego Development Outcome: Identity vs. Role Confusion Basic Strengths: 

Devotion and Fidelity    Up to this stage, according to Erikson, development mostly 

depends upon what is done to us. From here on out, development depends primarily 

upon what we do. And while adolescence is a stage at which we are neither a child 

nor an adult, life is definitely getting more complex as we attempt to find our own 

identity, struggle with social interactions, and grapple with moral issues. 

 

Our task is to discover who we are as individuals separate from our family of origin 



and as members of a wider society. Unfortunately for those around us, in this process 

many of us go into a period of withdrawing from responsibilities, which Erikson 

called a "moratorium." And if we are unsuccessful in navigating this stage, we will 

experience role confusion and upheaval. 

 

A significant task for us is to establish a philosophy of life and in this process we tend 



to think in terms of ideals, which are conflict free, rather than reality, which is not. 

The problem is that we don't have much experience and find it easy to substitute 

ideals for experience. However, we can also develop strong devotion to friends and 

causes.   It is no surprise that our most significant relationships are with peer groups. 



 

6. Young Adulthood: 18 to 35 

Ego Development Outcome: Intimacy and Solidarity vs. Isolation Basic 

Strengths: Affiliation and Love    In the initial stage of being an adult we seek one 

or more companions and love. As we try to find mutually satisfying relationships, 

primarily through marriage and friends, we generally also begin to start a family, 



though this age has been pushed back for many couples who today don't start their 

families until their late thirties. If negotiating this stage is successful, we can 

experience intimacy on a deep level. 

 

If we're not successful, isolation and distance from others may occur. And when we 



don't find it easy to create satisfying relationships, our world can begin to shrink as, in 

defense, we can feel superior to others. 

 

7.  Middle  Adulthood:  35  to  55  or  65 

Ego  Development  Outcome: 

Generativity vs. Self absorption or Stagnation   Basic Strengths: Production and 

Care   Now work is most crucial. Erikson observed that middle-age is when we tend 

to  be  occupied  with  creative  and  meaningful  work  and  with  issues  surrounding  our 

family.  Also,  middle  adulthood  is  when  we  can  expect  to  "be  in  charge,"  the  role 

we've longer envied. 

 

The significant task is to perpetuate culture and transmit values of the culture through 



the family (taming the kids) and working to establish a stable environment. Strength 

comes through care of others and production of something that contributes to the 

betterment of society, which Erikson calls generativity, so when we're in this stage we 

often fear inactivity and meaninglessness. 

 

As our children leave home, or our relationships or goals change, we may be faced 



with major life changes — the mid-life crisis — and struggle with finding new 

meanings and purposes. If we don't get through this stage successfully, we can 

become self-absorbed and stagnate. 

 

8. Late Adulthood: 55 or 65 to Death 



Ego Development Outcome: Integrity vs. Despair Basic Strengths: Wisdom 

Erikson felt that much of life is preparing for the middle adulthood stage and the last 

stage is recovering from it. Perhaps that is because as older adults we can often look 

back on our lives with happiness and are content, feeling fulfilled with a deep sense 

that life has meaning and we've made a contribution to life, a feeling Erikson calls 

integrity. Our strength comes from a wisdom that the world is very large and we now 

have a detached concern for the whole of life, accepting death as the completion of 

life. 


 

On the other hand, some adults may reach this stage and despair at their experiences 

and perceived failures. They may fear death as they struggle to find a purpose to their 

lives, wondering "Was the trip worth it?" Alternatively, they may feel they have all 

the answers (not unlike going back to adolescence) and end with a strong dogmatism 

that only their view has been correct. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



ERIKSON  

Hope:  Trust  vs.  Mistrust  (Infants,  0  to  1  year)  

Psychosocial  Crisis:  Trust  vs.  Mistrust  

Virtue:  Hope  

 

Will:  Autonomy  vs.  Shame  &  Doubt  (Toddlers,  2  to  3  years)  

Psychosocial  Crisis:  Autonomy  vs.  Shame  &  Doubt  

Main  Question:  "Can  I  do  things  myself  or  must  I  always  rely  on  others?"  

Virtue:  Will  

 

Purpose:  Initiative  vs.  Guilt  (Preschool,  4  to  6  years)  

Psychosocial  Crisis:  Initiative  vs.  Guilt  

Main  Question:  "Am  I  good  or  am  I  bad?"  

Virtue:  Purpose  

Related  Elements  in  Society:  ideal  prototypes/roles  

 

Competence:  Industry  vs.  Inferiority  (Childhood,  7  to  11  years)  

Psychosocial  Crisis:  Industry  vs.  Inferiority  

Main  Question:  "Am  I  successful  or  worthless?"  

Virtue:  Competence  

Related  Elements  in  Society:  division  of  labour  

 

Fidelity:  Identity  vs.  Role  Confusion  (Adolescents,  12  to  19  years)  

Psychosocial  Crisis:  Identity  vs.  Role  Confusion  

Main  Question:  "Who  am  I  and  where  am  I  going?"  

Ego  quality:  Fidelity  

Related  Elements  in  Society:  ideology  

 

Love:  Intimacy  vs.  Isolation  (Young  Adults,  20  to  34  years)  

Main  Question:  "Am  I  loved  and  wanted?"  or  "Shall  I  share  my  life  with  someone  or  live  alone?"  

Virtue:  Love  

Related  Elements  in  Society:  patterns  of  cooperation  (often  marriage)  

 

Care:  Generativity  vs.  Stagnation  (Middle  Adulthood,  35  to  65  years)  

Psychosocial  Crisis:  Generativity  vs.  Stagnation  

Main  Question:  "Will  I  produce  something  of  real  value?"  

Virtue:  Care  

Related  Elements  in  Society:  parenting,  educating,  or  other  productive  social  involvement  

 

Wisdom:  Ego  Integrity  vs.  Despair  (Seniors,  65  years  onwards)



 

Psychosocial  Crisis:  Ego  Integrity  vs.  Despair  

Main  Question:  "Have  I  lived  a  full  life?"  

Virtue:  Wisdom  



 

 

 





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