Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development: The Eight Steps

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Erik Erikson is best known for his stages of psychosocial development and identity crisis. Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is one of the best known theories of personality. Similar to Freud, Erikson believed that personality develops in a series of stages. Unlike Freud’s theory of psychosocial stages, Erikson’s theory describes the impact of social experiences across the whole lifespan.

Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development covered eight stages across the life span. Each stage involves what Erikson called a crisis in personality. These issues, Erikson believed was necessary and needed to be resolved for a healthy ego development. Each stage requires the balance of a positive tendency and a corresponding negative one. Erikson believed that the positive should dominate but also believed that some negativity was needed as well.

Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is important because of its emphasis on the importance of social and cultural influences and on the development after adolescence. Erikson’s model of psychosocial development basically tells us that life is a series of lessons and these lessons are essential. Development, Erikson, said that it functions by the epigenetic principle.

The principle says that we develop through a predetermined unfolding of our personality in eight stages. The stages or conflicts are: trust vs. mistrust; autonomy vs. shame doubt; initiative vs. guilt; industry vs. inferiority; identity vs. role confusion; intimacy vs. isolation; generativity vs. stagnation; and ego integrity vs. despair.

Our progress is determined by our success, or lack of success. For example, trust vs. mistrust, we need to learn mostly to trust; but we also need to have a much needed little trust, so we won’t be completely naïve or gullible. This explains what Erikson meant by a healthy dose of positive and negative tendencies.

In my own life experiences, I can best apply Erikson’s theory of generativity vs. stagnation in regards to raising my own three children. In addition to this theory, I also relate Erikson’s theory identity vs. role confusion. This theory is similar to the growing pains of my two teenagers.

Generativity vs stagnation: “ The virtue of this period is care: “ a widening commitment to take care of the persons, the products, and the ideas one has learned to care for” (Feldman, Papalia, Olds p.589, Erikson, 1985 p.67). Erickson best defines this stage (generativity vs. stagnation) as the concern of mature adults for directing and influencing the next generation.

Erikson believed that each adult must find some way to satisfy and support the next generation. This did not only lend itself to children and grandchildren but also through other outlets such as politics, teaching, mentoring, art, and other areas of the world.

Generativity occurs from an individual’s desire for immortality or the need to be needed. This is combined with increased responsibility and expectations of that individual and therefore, develops the care or concern for the next generation. This is where Erikson, described this to be the concern for the mature adult to influence the next generation.

As a result of the generativity (influencing or guiding the next generation) Erikson implied that without it, stagnation may develop. Erikson described stagnation without generativity as becoming pessimistic, inactive, or lifeless. These individuals would not have the satisfaction or would not be as fulfilled as someone who completed this stage. Erikson believed these people would be self-consumed with life.

Do I agree with Erikson’s theory of generativity vs. stagnation? Yes, because although I am only thirty-five years old, I strongly feel that I haven’t really accomplished anything unless my children grasp what is truly important in life. In my opinion, as an adult, the older that you get,...
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