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Stages of Human Development






Erik Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development


Psychologist Erik Erikson maintained that the human personality develops in a predetermined order through eight stages of psychosocial development, from infancy to adulthood. During each stage in your lifespan, it is possible to have a psychosocial crisis that could have a negative outcome for your personality development.


A psychosocial crisis involves a conflict between your psychological needs (psycho) with the needs of society (social). At each stage, there is a crisis or task that you need to resolve. According to the theory, the successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality.


Failure to successfully complete a developmental stage can result in a reduced ability to complete further stages and therefore a more unhealthy sense of self. These stages, however, can be resolved successfully at a later time. Take a look at the stages below and sense into how you might need to develop at this time in your life.



1. Trust vs. Mistrust: Age 0 to 1-1/2

Trust vs. mistrust is the first stage in Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. This stage begins at birth and continues to approximately 18 months of age. During this stage, as an infant, you needed stability and consistency of care.


If you received consistent, predictable and reliable care as an infant, you would have developed a sense of trust which you carry into your later relationships. If your basic needs were not consistently met in infancy, mistrust, suspicion, and anxiety would have developed.


If your care was inconsistent, unpredictable and unreliable, then your infant self likely developed a sense of mistrust, suspicion, and anxiety. A lack of care for you as an infant can manifest as a lack of confidence in the world around you or faith in your ability to influence events. Failing to acquire the virtue of hope will lead to the development of fear.


Virtue: Hope

Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of hope. By developing a sense of trust, your infant self develops hope that as difficulties arise, there is a real possibility that other people will be there as a source of support.



2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt: Age 1 -1/2 to 3

Autonomy versus shame and doubt is the second stage of Erik Erikson's stages of psychosocial development. This stage occurs between the ages of 18 months to approximately 3 years. According to Erikson, children at this stage are focused on developing a sense of independence.


As toddlers begin to explore their world, they begin to show clear preferences for certain elements of the environment, such as food, toys, and clothing. A toddler’s main task is to resolve the issue of autonomy vs. shame and doubt by working to establish independence.


If you were criticized, overly controlled, or not given the opportunity to assert yourself, you might feel inadequate in your ability to survive, and you may be overly dependent upon others, lack self-esteem, and feel a sense of shame or doubt about your abilities.


Virtue: Will

Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of will. If you were encouraged and supported to develop your independence, you will feel more confident and secure in your ability to survive in the world.

3. Initiative vs. Guilt: Age 3 to 5

Initiative versus guilt is the third stage of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. During the initiative versus guilt stage, children assert themselves more frequently. According to Bee (1992), it is a “time of vigour of action and of behaviours that the parents may see as aggressive."


Children begin to plan activities, invent games, and initiate activities with others. If given this opportunity, children develop a sense of initiative and feel secure in their ability to lead others and make decisions. If this tendency was squelched when you were a child, either through criticism or control, you likely developed a sense of guilt.


Virtue: Purpose

Children develop self-confidence and feel a sense of purpose when allowed to explore within limits and are supported in their choices. Success at this stage involves a balance of individual initiative and a willingness to work with others.



4. Industry vs. Inferiority: Age 5 to 12

Erikson's fourth psychosocial crisis, involving industry (competence) vs. inferiority occurs during childhood between the ages of five and twelve.


Children, at this age, begin to compare themselves with their peers to see how they measure up. Children develop a sense of pride and accomplishment in their schoolwork, sports, social activities, and family life, or they feel inferior and inadequate because they feel that they don’t measure up. If children have negative experiences at home or with peers, an inferiority complex can develop into adolescence and adulthood.


Virtue: Competency

Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of competence. If you were encouraged and reinforced for your competency at this stage of your development, you would have felt confident in your ability to achieve goals.

5. Identity vs. Role Confusion - 12-18 years

The fifth stage of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development is identity vs. role confusion, and it occurs during adolescence, from about 12-18 years. During this stage, adolescents search for a sense of self and personal identity, through an intense exploration of personal values, beliefs, and goals.


Adolescents struggle with questions such as “Who am I?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” As a teenager, you might have tried on many different selves to see which ones fit; exploring various roles and ideas, setting goals, and attempting to discover your “adult” self.


When teenagers do not make a conscious search for identity or conform to their parents’ ideas for the future, they may develop a weak sense of self and experience role confusion. They will be unsure of their identity and confused about the future.


Erikson suggests that two identities need to be explored at this stage: sexual and occupational. As a teenager, you would have grappled with your true sexuality and your authentic talents. Teenagers who struggle to define themselves will likely struggle to “find” themselves as adults.


Virtue: Fidelity

Success at this stage is the virtue of Fidelity. Adolescents who are successful at this stage have a strong sense of identity and are able to remain true to their beliefs and values in the face of other people’s perspectives.


Erikson said that we must have a strong sense of self before we can develop successful intimate relationships. Fidelity involves being able to commit to your authentic self, while also accepting the differences in others. If you did not develop a defined self-concept in adolescence you might experience feelings of loneliness and emotional isolation in adulthood.




6. Intimacy vs. Isolation - 18 to 40 years

Intimacy versus isolation is the sixth stage of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. This stage takes place during young adulthood between the ages of approximately 18 to 40 yrs.


During this period, the major conflict centers on forming intimate, loving relationships with other people. During this period, you will need to learn how to share yourself more with others.


During this developmental stage, you will explore relationships leading toward longer-term commitments with people outside your family of origin. Avoiding intimacy, fearing commitment and intimate relationships can lead to isolation, loneliness, and depression.


Virtue: Love

Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of love. Successful completion of this stage is defined by maintaining a sense of commitment, safety, and care within close and intimate relationships.

7. Generativity vs. Stagnation: 40 to 60 years

Generativity versus stagnation is the seventh of eight stages of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. Generativity refers to "making your mark" on the world through creating or nurturing things that will outlast you as an individual.


Generativity involves finding your life’s work and contributing to the development of others through activities such as developing a meaningful career, volunteering, and mentoring. If you do not master generativity you may experience stagnation and feel as though you are not leaving a mark on the world in a meaningful way.


Virtue: Care

Success at this stage leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment. During this stage, you might be contributing to the next generation, or caring for others in some way. Meaningful and productive work that contributes positively to society will lead to the virtue of care.




8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair: Age 65 to Death

Ego integrity versus despair is the eighth and final stage of Erik Erikson’s stage theory of psychosocial development. This stage begins at approximately age 65 and ends at death. As you enter this stage of life, you will tend to slow down your productivity and explore life as a retired person.


It is during this time that you will contemplate your accomplishments and accept your life's path. Erikson described ego integrity as “the acceptance of one’s one and only life cycle as something that had to be.”


If you are not successful at this stage you may feel as if your life has been wasted. You might focus on what “would have,” “should have,” and “could have” been. You might face the end of your life with feelings of bitterness, depression, and despair.


Erik Erikson believed if you see your life as unproductive, feel guilt about your past, or feel that you did not accomplish your life goals, you will develop despair, depression and hopelessness. It is important at this stage to clean up what feels unfinished and unhealed from the past, and offer the legacy of your life's wisdom to your loved ones or the world.


Virtue: Wisdom

Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of sharing your hard-earned wisdom with the people that you love and beyond. At this stage, you will feel a need to create or nurture things that will outlast you, often having mentees or creating positive changes that will benefit other people in your life. Wisdom enables you to look back on your life with a sense of closure and completeness, knowing that you did your best so that you can accept death without fear.

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