- Erikson’s theory of psycho-social development highlights eight distinct stages of human personality growth.
- The eight stages are described from infancy to late adulthood.
- Each stage is marked by a crisis that the person overcomes or needs to resolve.
- The successful resolution of conflicts helps to develop the core strengths and remove weaknesses.
- The mastery of the skills in a particular stage leads to the development of healthy adjustment in life.
- Erikson believed that personality develops in a sequence.
- Each stage is mutually dependent on the other.
Erikson’s stages of development are one of the pioneer theories about how human personality changes and evolves over a lifetime. It is a developmental theory that describes eight different stages of growth.
By understanding the stages in detail, we will come to know how a person moves on through life, from birth till the last stage.
As the person heads away from infancy to late adulthood, he/she faces a psychological conflict or challenge. This conflict can either be mastered or unlearned, ignored, abandoned in some way.
The successful mastery of the conflict leads to healthy personality growth. The person becomes a well-adjusted being who is capable of facing all odds in life.
But, if the conflict is not resolved and the person gets stuck in a particular stage, then it would lead to an unhealthy growth of personality.
In this article, we will discuss the various psychosocial crises of each developmental stage and their positive and negative results on personality development.
Erikson’s Stages of Development Infographics
What is meant by Erikson’s stages of development?
Erik Erikson’s stages of development are a model of psychological growth that refers to eight stages covering the entire lifespan of an individual from birth till old age.
Erik Erikson was a psychoanalyst and a developmental psychologist. He was highly influenced by the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud.
He proposed a psychosocial theory of development which is similar to Freud’s stages of psychosexual development.
Erikson proposed that human beings pass through 8 stages of growth from infancy to old age. These stages became the basis of his psychosocial theory of development.
According to him, each of us has some innate psychological needs and wants. These needs are to be met on time.
He further said that these needs are to be met according to the rules and norms of society.
The theory was proposed in 1959 in his famous book “Childhood and society”, in the chapter titled ‘the eight ages of man.’
The theory claims that the environment plays a crucial role in adjustment, personality development, and formulation of a solid self-identity.
The term psychosocial refers to the interaction between psychological needs (psycho) and social demands (social).
The Epigenetic principle – the premise of Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development
Erikson’s theory is based on the epigenetic principle. This term is borrowed from embryology.
It means that personality or ‘ego’ develops through a step-by-step process. Here, ‘ego’ refers to the ‘self’ or human personality.
According to Erikson, the ego follows epigenetic growth where it passes through all the eight stages of growth and develops itself. He further added that each stage has a fixed timeline and the next stage is built on the mastery of the previous stage.
In 1968, Erikson described the epigenetic principle in his own words.
He said that “anything that grows has a ground plan and that out of this ground plan the parts arise, each part having its time of special ascendancy until all parts have arisen to form a functioning whole.”
Thus, Epigenesis refers to the development and mastery of skills and attitudes on top of one another. The new stage never replaces the previous stage.
According to the epigenetic model, development occurs in a pre-ordered manner. The conflicts of each stage must be satisfactorily resolved for development to proceed smoothly.
If the successful resolution of a particular stage does not occur, all subsequent stages reflect that failure in the form of physical, cognitive, social, or emotional maladjustment.
Conflict and mastery during each stage of psychosocial development
Being a disciple of Sigmund Freud, Erikson believed that human development is an orderly and linear process. No development occurs in an erratic manner.
Erikson also believed that each of the eight stages of development is built on each other.
It means that the psychological needs of a specific stage will have to be fulfilled properly. Then only, the person will successfully move on to the next stage.
In each stage, the person faces a crisis or conflict. By resolving the crisis, the person will be able to develop mental strength and confidence. They will be better equipped to fight trying times.
In Erikson’s theory, a ‘psychological crisis’ is referred to as a task that one needs to master to move on to the next stage of development.
If the task is mastered well, the crisis will be overcome. The individual will develop a sense of competence, expertise, and mastery.
But, if the task is not done successfully, frustration will arise. The task will appear complicated and the person may feel inadequate.
Sometimes, failure may make you feel stuck in one stage. You may have a problem navigating your future or what you really wish to achieve in life.
Erikson pointed out that social experience is an important deciding factor in whether you’ll be able to accomplish the task gracefully.
If you succeed in the task, you’ll become more worthy, capable, and well-adjusted. Maybe you will be able to develop character traits and virtues that will be appreciated by others in society.
The theory is based on a few key assumptions. They are –
- We are motivated by an innate desire and need to achieve competence.
- In each stage, we want to avoid failure and win over our shortcomings.
- There are social expectations that influence us in every stage.
- Parents play an important role throughout childhood and adolescence years.
- The mastery of the task in a particular stage makes us feel adequate and worthy.
- The failure of the task leads to feelings of inadequacy and incompetence.
Erikson’s 8 stages of psycho-social development
There are eight stages of psycho-social development. They are Trust vs. Mistrust, Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt, Initiative vs. Guilt, Industry vs. Inferiority, Identity vs. Confusion, Intimacy vs. Isolation, Generativity vs. Stagnation, and Integrity vs. Despair.
According to Erik Erikson, you’ll face a conflict in each stage of your development. Your aim will be to resolve the conflict, attain mastery, and move on to the next level of development.
Your conflicts will focus on developing a particular psychological quality or satisfying an innate need. If you fail in developing the quality or satisfy the need, you may feel insecure, inadequate, and act like a failure.
Thus, the theory says that in each stage you will have an equal chance to win over to the next stage or carry the unmet needs of the previous stage to the next one.
Now let us discuss the eight psychosocial stages in detail in the following sections.
Psychosocial Stage 1 – Trust Vs. Mistrust
This stage extends from birth to 18 months. In this stage, the conflict is trust vs. mistrust and the outcome is hope. The important event of this stage is feeding.
After the baby is born, they are totally dependent on their primary caregivers. Erikson believed that stage 1 of psychosocial development is a crucial one for developing trust.
You must have seen that the baby is reliant on the mother for food, love, warmth, and basic care. If the mother fulfills all the needs, they will develop a sense of trust, security, and reliance on the mother.
According to Erikson, developing trust doesn’t depend upon the quantity of food offered to the baby.
It also doesn’t depend upon the demonstration of love and affection. It solely depends upon the quality of the mother-child relationship.
During infancy, the primary need of the baby is feeding. Thus, the mouth becomes the source of need fulfillment.
A baby whose mother can anticipate and respond to its needs in a consistent and timely manner will be a happy and secure baby.
The baby will learn to tolerate the inevitable moments of frustration and deprivation if his/her basic needs are met on time.
But if the care given by the mother is unreliable or inconsistent, the baby will not develop trust. If they cry for a long time for food and the mother does not respond, then mistrust will occur.
The child may develop feelings of insecurity. They may become fearful, less confident beings when they grow up.
If the mother rejects the cry of her baby and neglects him/her, they may become emotionally detached and will never be able to rely on and trust adults.
The outcome of stage 1
If your little baby successfully develops trust in you, you’ll find them a loving and secure baby. They will feel safe and sound and will rely on their elders when they grow up.
Caregivers, who remain aloof, detached, or reject the call of the baby can contribute to the development of mistrust in babies.
If the baby fails to develop trust, they will perceive the world as unreliable, hostile, unsafe, and brutal.
They may grow up as insecure adults. They may believe that the world is inconsistent and they cannot show trust to anyone.
Thus, failure to bond with a caregiver may lead to feelings of fear, anxiety, doubt, suspicion, and jealousy. The child perceives the world as unpredictable. There is no control over the environment they live in.
Research findings have shown that basic trust can go a long way in developing healthy attachments in adult life.
Thus, success in stage 1 leads to feelings of trust and faith. It also leads to hope. The child is hopeful that whatever crisis comes over, they will always be someone to provide the emotional support that they may need in their growing years.
The sense of balance
When the child learns to trust you, they know you’re always there for help and support. You’ll guide them no matter what goes wrong in life.
But, a child never lives in a perfect world. They will come across people who they cannot trust. Thus, Erikson believed that the child will have to learn to maintain a balance between trust and mistrust.
A good balance between these two opposing forces helps the child to remain open to new experiences but with caution. They should never trust others with a blind eye. It is important to remain aware of the chances of danger as well.
There is no 100% trust available anywhere in this world. We should always keep room for mistrust so that we do not get hurt if something goes wrong.
Erikson believed that striking a balance between trust and mistrust helps the person to deal effectively with the environment.
The outcome of this stage is hope. When the child knows that their sense of trust will be respected, they will be hopeful of a bright future. They know that even if the danger is present, they will overcome them and come out with flying colors.
In the first stage of psychosocial development, children develop trust in adults if their basic physical and emotional needs are met. If the mother or primary caregiver nourishes the baby with proper care, love, affection, and understanding, the baby develops a sense of trust in the adult. A lack of care and support leads to mistrust.
Psychosocial stage 2 – Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
This is the second stage of psychosocial development that spans from 18 months to 3 years. This stage focuses on early childhood when children become more explorative and try to develop a sense of self-control and autonomy. In this stage, the conflict is Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt and the outcome is Will. The important event of this stage is toilet training.
If you have ever dealt with a toddler of 18 months and above, you must have noticed that they prefer to try out new things. They want to develop a sense of control in whatever they are doing.
This stage shows us that a child has an innate need for independence and autonomy. They wish to do things on their own and show resistance when help is offered.
In this stage, children develop self-confidence if they see themselves successfully doing things on their own.
They establish better control over their own behavior. More so, they also try to accomplish tasks according to the demands of society.
Erikson believed that a sense of personal control is achieved when the child is able to do certain daily activities or functions on their own.
Toilet training and regulation of personal choices
Some of the tasks of this stage include:
- Toilet training – the child learns to use the toilet as per the rules of society. They learn to control body functions and the elimination process and it helps to develop a sense of autonomy.
- The child learns to choose his/her food, toys, clothes, and play activities.
- They learn to perform small tasks and follow parental instructions.
- In this stage, children love independence and dislike interference by elders. This gives them autonomy.
When children master the tasks of this stage successfully they develop a sense of personal freedom, autonomy, and independence. But if they fail in their tasks, they fall into shame and start to doubt their abilities.
Following Sigmund Freud’s footsteps, Erikson believed that toilet training is an essential learning process in a child’s life.
When the child knows that they are successfully toilet trained, they feel adequate and competent. This gives them a feeling of pride and personal success.
Erikson said that parents should encourage their children to master new skills. Help should be given only when asked for.
In this way, the child should learn that taking control over simple tasks and mundane choices can give them a sense of security and confidence.
The outcome of stage 2
In this stage, the child should be allowed to explore their limits and abilities. They should be encouraged to move beyond boundaries to see if they can accomplish the tasks in a proper way.
Children who become successful in performing their tasks become autonomous and confident beings. But if the child fails in controlling their bodily functions and accidents occur, they may feel shameful.
They may develop a sense of doubt about their abilities. Parents play a very important role in this stage. If parents encourage and support their children in this stage, they will be able to remove shame and doubt easily.
But if parents or caregivers criticize or blame them, they may fall into self-doubt and feel shameful for their wrongful actions.
A sense of shame and guilt over sudden elimination and toilet accidents can make the child lose their self-esteem forever.
The child feels insecure, inadequate, imperfect, and may fear losing the love of the caregiver. While growing up, these kids may show signs of low confidence. They may always feel dependent on others.
Erikson also believed that this stage makes a person assertive. When the child is not allowed to show his/her choices and speak for themselves, they may grow up as a shy and timid child.
They may show signs of extreme anxiety, fear, and low self-esteem.
The sense of balance
According to Erikson, it is important to strike a balance between autonomy vs. shame and doubt. Then only, the child will know that certain behaviors are judged as good and bad in our society.
They will learn to assert their independence and sense of autonomy in the correct way. In this stage, parents should help their child to ignore the mistakes but learn the correct way as well.
Children should be taught that mistakes are absolutely fine. They should develop better control next time. The child should never be humiliated and rebuked, otherwise, they may feel shameful.
Achieving a balance between the two conflicting forces helps to develop ‘Will.’ The child ultimately realizes that they can act with a proper intention and assert their freedom, but should never fall back in shame and self-doubt.
Psychosocial stage 3 – Initiative vs. Guilt
The third stage of Erickson’s psychosocial development starts at 3 yrs and ends at 5 yrs. This is the preschool age where children assert their domination through play and social interaction. The outcome of this stage is developing a sense of purpose and the major activity is exploration.
The third stage focuses on play and social interaction. By now child realizes that they can trust others and act independently without fear. This confidence is built because they have already mastered the conflicts of the first two stages.
In the third stage, kids learn to exert their influence on others. Thus, they become more assertive and can direct play activities while playing with same-age peers.
In this stage, the child develops initiative through various activities. They are apt in facing challenges and overcoming them.
If the parent allows more exploration, the child will take more initiative to learn new things. When they master the skills, they become confident adults.
Contrary to this, if the parent is discouraging, the child will fear insecurity. They may not take the initiative to explore and learn new skills. Thus, they may become feeble and weak while they grow up.
The basic theme of this stage is developing initiative so that the child learns to exert power on the environment and control others around them.
Two conflicting forces operate at this stage. If the child succeeds in taking initiative and asserts control, they develop a sense of purpose. But if they fail in their endeavors, they may fall into guilt.
This stage also highlights the fact that when parents disapprove and discourage their children, they may feel ashamed and start feeling guilty of some wrongdoing.
Thus, failure in this stage can make the child dependent on the parent for approval and validation.
Erikson pointed out that this stage is somewhat frustrating for the parents. This is because the child tries to exert independence and initiates certain tasks that might affect the lives of the parents directly.
Children at this stage resist their parent’s wishes. They want to make independent choices as far as possible. They may not listen to their parents easily.
This leads to conflict with the parents and the child may feel that their self-initiatives were a source of guilt and embarrassment.
The outcome of stage 3
Erikson pointed out that the successful resolution of conflict at this stage leads to a sense of confidence and emotional security. The child feels more able and realizes that their initiatives will be praised.
But if the child is rebuked or criticized by the parent or caregiver, they may feel guilty of their actions.
Feelings of guilt and inadequacy may cloud their sense of ‘self’. They may suffer mood swings, the emotional turmoil that gets worse with time.
Sometimes, the child may harbor bad feelings for the parent. They may view their parents as non-supportive and critical.
Children brought up in restricted homes fail to develop a sense of purpose. They know that their initiatives will never be praised.
Thus they become inhibited and may not interact with others around them.
Failure at this stage leads to feelings of guilt and disgrace. The overpowering feelings of wrongdoing may stop the child from trying out new things. It will stop them from exploring the world around them.
The child may become withdrawn and isolated. They may fear taking initiative and feel like a failure in life.
The sense of balance
Erikson noted that finding a balance between initiative and guilt is important. Children should take initiative but seek support from parents whenever needed.
If they listen to their parents, they will be praised for their initiative and can avoid feelings of guilt and remorse.
Psychosocial stage 4 – Industry vs. inferiority
This stage spans from age 5 years to 11 years. The stage focuses on social interactions and the development of a sense of competence and pride. The outcome of this stage is confidence and the principal event is the child’s involvement in school activities.
As discussed, the theory of psychosocial development follows the epigenetic pattern. It means that one stage is developed on the previous one. Stage four is an extension of stages 2 and stage 3.
During this stage, the child starts elementary school. So, they seek more freedom and prefer to have more initiative. This stage brings the conflict between industry and inferiority.
School and social interaction form a crucial part of the child’s life. They make new friends and develop new social connections. In this way, they either develop a sense of being industrious or dooms down into an inferiority complex.
If the child does well in schoolwork, academics, sports, and co-curricular activities and gets better than their friends, they feel confident and able. But lacking in certain areas of development may make them feel inferior.
Children may start to compare themselves with their same-age peers. They want to see whether they are at par with them or lacking in some way.
If the child successfully completes the desired task in this stage, it means the child feels competent and good about them.
But, if the child falls short of peers of the same age, they may feel inferior and not good enough. The self-concept might break down completely.
The social horizon widens
Erikson pointed out that in this stage the child’s social interaction will move out of the immediate family environment. They will meet outside people like the teachers and peers.
Their social horizon shall widen and the child may find that some peers are better than them. In some other cases, there are a few of them who are not as good as them. This stage gives rise to the concept of social comparisons.
In this stage, the child can do complex tasks. They can solve problems efficiently. Thus, feelings of adequacy and competence develop during this stage. They can take pride in their ability to perform complex tasks.
As a result, the child learns to master many new skills. But, if the child emerges from this phase without feelings of competence, then they may feel inferior to others. They are left with feelings of worthlessness and incompetency.
The outcome of stage 4
Erikson believed that this stage is helpful in developing self-confidence. When children receive praise and appreciation for their achievements in schoolwork, sports, and other activities, they feel good about themselves.
The successful resolution of conflict in this stage develops self-esteem and confidence level. The child develops a sense of purpose in life. They can understand that they are capable and good enough.
But if teachers and peers criticize them, they may feel hurt and behave like a failure. Not doing well in school work leads to incompetence. They are not sure of their abilities. Thus, they may fall into an inferiority complex.
The sense of balance
Erikson pointed out that in each stage of psychosocial development, it is important to feel a sense of balance.
In this stage, children should be motivated by teachers and parents to explore their limits. In this way, they will be able to develop a sense of value for themselves.
Parents should avoid unnecessary comparisons, and never ridicule their children if they fail in their endeavors, otherwise, they may suffer from an inferiority complex.
However, overpraising the child should also be avoided because it can make the child arrogant and boastful.
Maintaining a balance between praise and punishment helps the child develop realistic expectations about themselves.
Unconditional love and appreciation should be given with an equal dose of encouragement. But too much of anything needs to be avoided. The efforts of the child should be encouraged without looking at the outcome.
Children should be allowed to think ahead of time. They should be helped to develop a growth mindset that can give feelings of competence and success.
Psychosocial stage 5 – Identity vs. Confusion
The fifth psychosocial stage spans from age 12 to 18 years. The focus of this stage is the development of self-identity. The outcome is fidelity and the principal event is the widening of social interaction.
This psychosocial stage starts in late childhood and extends till adolescence. This is the most turbulent time in a child’s life.
As we know that adolescence is known as the stage of storm and stress, this stage shows off a lot of it. During this stage, personal identity is developed that becomes the foundation of “Who I am” in later life.
Erikson believed that this psychosocial stage is important in developing a self-image and identity that can make the person feel worthy throughout their lives.
Successful completion of this stage leads to a true sense of ‘self’ while failure leads to an identity crisis.
During the later part of childhood and the onset of puberty, the child explores their sense of freedom. They wish to move out of parental control and see the world from a new viewpoint.
If they are encouraged by parents and positive feedback is given about their efforts and behavior, they manifest a proper self-identity.
But those who remain unsure about what they need to do in life may struggle with self-identity. Confusion creeps in and can cloud their sense of reality.
They feel insecure and lack the confidence to face the world. Feelings of confusion about their real selves may lower self-confidence to a great extent.
A personal sense of identity and role confusion
The transition from childhood to adolescence is indeed a big leap. For such a long time, the child felt secure in their parents’ arms. But now they are old enough to face the harsh realities of life.
During adolescence, teens may feel vulnerable and question their ability to face the challenges in life. They are confused about their ability, whether they fit well in this competitive world.
Thus, they may start exploring various careers; engage in varied activities just to know where they can fit themselves. Erikson noted that the development of ego identity takes place in this stage.
The adolescent tries to make a conscious sense of ‘self’ that is in tune with societal demands. They don’t want to be rejected in the social circle. Thus, they try hard to fit in by any means.
Erikson defined personal identity as “a fundamental organizing principle” that guides the person towards an understanding of “Who Am I?” and “What is my purpose in life?”
He further added that the development of ego identity or personal identity takes place through various life experiences.
Social interactions, beliefs, values, and upbringing of the person do play a very important role in developing identity.
The ego identity constantly changes because you’re exposed to various new experiences. You are put to the test every now and then. These new experiences can either help or hinder the development of personal identity.
Success in this stage means the development of a solid self-image and identity. The benefits of having a proper ego-identity are as follows:
- Trust in one’s ability
- A sense of personal style
- Choosing the right career in life
- Happy relationships
- Feeling secure and safe from within
- Feeling of independence
- Sound decision-making ability
- Good problem-solving skills
- Developing fidelity, a strong sense of interpersonal bonding
- Being sure of one’s beliefs and values
What is role confusion?
During this stage, the confusion centers around whether the person is self-sufficient or needs to prove their worth to others. Developing an identity that is in tune with society’s demands is crucial.
Children who are encouraged by parents to widen their limits develop stable personal identities.
But if they are not allowed to explore and test different avenues in life, they become unsure of their identity. A confusion and crisis sets in about their role and purpose in life.
Role confusion leads to –
- being unsure of who you are
- whether you fit in this large world
- challenges of life may be seen as big hurdles difficult to be overcome
- unstable relationships
- changing careers and jobs too often
- feeling like a misfit wherever you go
- poor self-confidence
- feelings of disappointment due to failures in life
- broken self-esteem
- confusion about ‘real self’
- no clarity about the true purpose in life
- unsure of one’s ability
- poor decision-making ability
- poor problem-solving skills
- insecure and anxious from within
Outcome of stage 5
If you are successful in overcoming the role confusion in this stage, you emerge as a confident being. The outcome of this stage is fidelity. It means faithfulness and loyalty in maintaining relationships.
You are aligned and in tune with society’s expectations. Maybe you’re a good fit in society and thus emerge as a confident person.
The sense of balance
To strike a balance between identity and role confusion, you need to explore various avenues and remain open to new experiences. You will have to make a conscious effort to move according to society’s norms.
This will lead to the removal of role confusion. You’ll be able to formulate a strong self-identity that will guide your life’s path towards success.
Psychosocial stage 6 – Intimacy vs. Isolation
The sixth stage extends from 18 years to 40 yrs. It comprises the young adulthood stage. The primary conflict is developing intimacy or facing isolation. The outcome of this stage is love and intimate relationships.
Young adults are motivated to explore new relationships. They wish to bond with others in their lives. Thus, the sixth stage focuses on relationships, love and affection, intimacy, and personal bonding.
In this stage, conflict may arise when the person attempts to form long-term happy relationships outside of his/her family.
Success at this stage means loving relationships, intimate friendships with someone very close to you. But, failure in this stage may lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Erikson believed that as the person starts early adulthood, a psychological need arises where they wish to bond with other people at a personal level.
These emotionally close relationships play a vital role in developing trust and commitment with future partners.
For Erikson, intimacy is much more than physical attraction. It includes emotional closeness, love, affection, trust, friendship, and commitment.
This stage also entails sexual intimacy, love, and belongingness with spouses and partners. The social horizon widens and many new relationships grow over time.
Role of intimacy
People who successfully resolve the conflict between intimacy and isolation can form strong attachments in later life.
They become good partners and reliable friends. Intimacy leads to the growth of social connections with people outside the immediate family.
The benefits of intimacy are –
- close intimate relationships
- connections will be deep and meaningful
- sexual happiness and satisfactory physical closeness
- Development of positive and enduring relationships with friends, colleagues, and members of the extended family.
- Can develop supportive networks easily.
Erikson believed that intimacy makes you feel safe as you relate in a healthy manner with someone you love.
Success in this stage means healthy family life, happiness, and inner peace. You will know that you have loving people around you.
Failure to relate and bond with others in a deeper, meaningful way can give rise to isolation, loneliness, withdrawal, etc. You may become emotionally isolated and fail to connect with others on a deeper level.
Intimacy leads to companionship but sometimes it may fail to take place in the desired way. Thus, you may suffer social rejection as well.
During this stage, if you fail to connect with others deeply, you may suffer from isolation. There are many factors that can lead to feelings of isolation. Some of them are as follows –
- Neglect by parents or caregivers when you were young.
- Breakup, divorce, or loss of a partner in life
- Fear of getting too intimate with new people in your life; maybe trust issues could be the reason.
- Commitment fear could be the reason. You may not be ready to take up the responsibility of marriage and family life.
- You may not open up in most circumstances.
- Agonies of past relationship
- Trouble to disclose yourself fully
Outcome of stage 6
The probable outcome of this stage is the development of love and intimacy. However, failure in this stage means avoiding intimacy, feelings of social isolation, grief, poor self-esteem, and depression.
The sense of balance
The success or failure of this stage depends upon the formation of personal identity in stage 5. People who suffer from an identity crisis are usually inhibited. They cannot relate with others at a deeper level.
Erikson pointed out that learning to become intimate with others and avoid isolation is the hallmark of this stage.
A balance should be maintained in developing these intimate relationships. By this, he meant that you will have to choose your partner well. Otherwise, feelings of isolation may feel overwhelming at times.
Psychosocial stage 7 – Generativity vs. Stagnation
The seventh stage of psychosocial development spans from 40 years to 65 years. The focus of this stage is on developing one’s worth and usefulness as a good human in life. The outcome of this stage is caring for others. The primary task of this stage is parenthood and nurturing the life of kids.
It is a time when you want to assess your worth and value in terms of how you impacted the lives of others.
Erikson pointed out that during this stage you’ll probably wish to keep a mark in this world. You will try to find ways to become more productive.
Caring for others, community building will give you a sense of worth and fulfillment.
In this stage, success means caring for those who matter the most in your life. You will develop a bigger picture for life.
You will be proud of the accomplishments you have with you. Sometimes, you will take pride in your loving family, your spouse who has supported you throughout your life.
If you are successful in this stage, you will feel that you have contributed something valuable to society. You will be remembered for your small acts of kindness.
But failure at this stage feels like stagnation. You have become an unproductive person who is less capable and more dependent on others.
In this stage, you will focus on family and relationships. You wish to build a caring home and take pride in your children’s achievements.
This phase of adulthood also focuses on contributing to the next generation. You want to give back to the community. Generativity has many good benefits for you such as the following
- You will have better health
- Loving and caring relationships
- Increased social involvement
- Commitment towards family
- Increased productivity
- Fulfilled life
The outcome of stage 7
If you fail to achieve Generativity at this stage of development, you may feel that your entire life is a useless one. You have achieved nothing or couldn’t contribute to the growth of society.
Failure at this stage brings stagnation. It will also impact the way you manage your later life. There will be a feeling of being stuck, poor interpersonal relationships, etc.
This is the stage where people feel that the ‘midlife crisis’ has set in. you may reflect back on your accomplishments. Regret, guilt, and shame may make you feel like an unworthy person.
You may think of all those missed opportunities in life that could have changed your life for something better and bigger.
The sense of balance
Erikson noted that a sense of balance should be maintained in all stages of life. You should not regret what is not accomplished, rather feel happy about what is still going on in your life.
You should do something to remove feelings of stagnation. Simple acts of pleasure and happiness can be tried out such as following a passion, pursuing a hobby, etc. This helps in achieving a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.
Psychosocial stage 8 – Integrity vs. Despair
The eighth stage of development begins at age 65 yrs till death. This stage focuses on the conflict between failure and success in life. It means that old people are interested to know whether they have lived a meaningful and purposeful life. The outcome of this stage is wisdom. The task is to reflect upon the course of life.
In this stage, people may look back at the past events of their life. If you see that your life is well lived and you have done all your responsibilities, you will feel fulfilled from within. Here lies the success of this stage.
But if you regret something not happening according to the plan, you may fall into despair and gloom. The integrity vs despair conflict arises in old age when new problems surface in one’s life.
Certain problems such as retirement, death of a spouse, children moving out of the house, can bring a sense of loneliness.
You may feel like living in a void and asking yourself “Is my life well-lived?’, “Have I fulfilled all my responsibilities in the right way?”
Integrity refers to your ability to look into your life with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. If you succeed in this stage, integrity will take dominance in your life.
You will be filled with overwhelming joy. The characteristics of integrity include –
- Acceptance of life as good and worthy
- No regrets
- Lack of guilt
- Pride and joy
- Inner peace
- Sense of being successful
- Wisdom and knowledge
On the other hand, if despair sets in, then the person will reflect on their life with hopelessness and gloom. Despair leads to –
- Being unproductive
- Bitterness about life not so well-lived
- A feeling of life being wasted
- Bitterness for self
Outcome of stage 8
The outcome of this stage is wisdom. Those who have successfully resolved the conflict at this stage will feel like a winner. They have few regrets and more joy in their kitty.
But there are a few of them who may fall into sadness and despair. They regret what has not been achieved. The general feeling of satisfaction is missing.
The sense of balance
Erikson believed that old age is the time to reflect and think about the entire span of one’s life. Thus, it is important to remove the grievances and regrets so as to feel the happiness deep within.
Regrets in this stage will only add more gloom and nothing else. In Erikson’s own words, integrity means “a sense of coherence and wholeness”(Erik Erikson, 1982).
Thus, it is good to reflect on your life but don’t try to fill the missing gaps. Your bitterness about the days gone by shall only further your despair. You will never be able to achieve inner peace.
Just chill and feel satisfied with your smallest accomplishments and biggest joys. There is nothing called a ‘perfect life’, so do not try to make it perfect and end your journey with feelings of guilt and nothingness.
A tabular illustration of Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development
|Stage||Basic conflict||Important event||The key question that leads to conflict||Outcome|
|Infancy (0-18 months)||Trust vs. mistrust||feeding||“Am I safe in this world?”, “Can I trust people?”||A sense of hope|
|Early childhood (18 months- 3 years)||Autonomy vs. Shame and doubt||Toilet training||“Will I be able to do things on my own or do I need to depend on others?”||Will|
|Preschool (3-5years)||Initiative vs. Guilt||Exploration||“Am I good or bad”; “How do others see me?”||Purpose|
|School-age (6-11 years)||Industry vs. Inferiority||School||“What can I do to become good and worthy?”||confidence|
|Adolescence (12-18 years)||Identity vs. Role Confusion||Social relationships||“Who Am I?”||Fidelity|
|Young adulthood (19 – 40 years)||Intimacy vs. Isolation||Intimate relationships||“Will I be loved by my partner or will I live my life alone?”||Love|
|Middle adulthood (40 – 65 years)||Generativity vs. Stagnation||Work and parenthood||“How can I live a purposeful life?” or“What can I do to contribute to this world?”||Care|
|Maturity (65 – death)||Integrity vs. Despair||Reflection on life events that have gone by||“Have I lived a meaningful life?”||Wisdom|
Strengths of Erikson’s theory
Like all other theories in psychology, Erikson’s theory also has its share of strengths and pitfalls. Some of the key positives of this theory are as follows:
- The theory gives a comprehensive development schedule of human beings from birth till death.
- The theory supports the view that man and nature are closely connected.
- It emphasizes that human development depends upon the demands of society.
- The success and failure of a particular stage are dependent on the previous stage. Thus the stages of development work in a union. In reality, they are not separate from each other.
- Erikson’s concept of identity crisis became the pillar of the adolescence stage. It emphasizes the importance of identity formation in a child’s life.
Criticism of Erikson’s theory
Though Erikson’s theory is quite influential in understanding the development of human nature, it also has its share of criticisms. Some of them are as follows:
- The stages described are not sequential because development is a continuous process, so one stage is related to another. It cannot be described clearly by demarcating the age groups.
- The age range may or may not be correct. The theory never spoke about individual differences in growth and development.
- Identity crisis and search for true self can occur many times in a life span. It doesn’t necessarily occur only in adolescence.
- The development process is unclear because no reference is made to how it happens.
- How are success and failure in a particular stage judged?
- The concept of balance will vary from man to man. But the theory assumes that everyone will maintain a balance in a similar way. In reality, this is not possible at all.
- Are the conflicts really resolved or carried forward to the next stage of development?
There are many unanswered questions and thus Erikson’s theory has faced a lot of criticism from the scientific world.
In his book, Insight and Responsibility (1964), Erikson acknowledged that his theory has many loose ends.
He said that the theory only describes the psychosocial development of a person in his/her entire lifespan. It doesn’t describe the detailed mechanisms of growth and how it happens.
Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’
Erikson’s psychosocial theory made it clear that human personality development is an ongoing process. We pass through a number of stages and each stage contributes to our overall development.
This model is helpful to understand the conflicts that arise in various stages and how they could be resolved.
It is insightful and focuses on self-exploration and lifelong transformation that happens in a sequence. Ultimately, you know your life’s trajectory through a series of well-defined stages.
A Psychologist with a master's degree in Psychology, a former school psychologist, and a teacher by profession Chandrani loves to live life simply and happily. She is an avid reader and a keen observer. Writing has always been a passion for her, since her school days. It helps to de-stress and keeps her mentally agile. Pursuing a career in writing was a chance occurrence when she started to pen down her thoughts and experiences for a few childcare and parenting websites. Her lovable niche includes mental health, parenting, childcare, and self-improvement. She is here to share her thoughts and experiences and enrich the lives of few if not many.