Erikson: Stages of psychosocial personality development (Abstract)

The Epigenetic Psychosexual Stages

Erikson believed that childhood is very important in personality development. He accepted many of Freud’s theories, including the id, ego, and superego, and Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality. But Erikson rejected Freud’s attempt to describe personality solely on the basis of sexuality, and, unlike Freud, felt that personality continued to develop beyond five years of age.

All of the stages in Erikson’s epigenetic theory are implicitly present at birth (at least in latent form), but unfold according to both an innate scheme and one’s up-bringing in a family that expresses the values of a culture. Each stage builds on the preceding stages, and paves the way for subsequent stages. Each stage is characterized by a psychosocial crisis, which is based on physiological development, but also on demands put on the individual by parents and/or society. Ideally, the crisis in each stage should be resolved by the ego in that stage, in order for development to proceed correctly. The outcome of one stage is not permanent, but can be altered by later experiences. Everyone has a mixture of the traits attained at each stage, but personality development is considered successful if the individual has more of the “good” traits than the “bad” traits.

Ego Psychology

Erikson’s theory of ego psychology holds certain tenets that differentiate his theory from Freud’s. Some of these include:

The ego is of utmost importance. Part of the ego is able to operate independently of the id and the superego. The ego is a powerful agent that can adapt to situations, thereby promoting mental health. Social and sexual factors both play a role in personality development.

Erikson’s theory was more comprehensive than Freud’s, and included information about “normal” personality as well as neurotics. He also broadened the scope of personality to incorporate society and culture, not just sexuality. Criticisms of his theories, in addition to the factors discussed in class, have noted that he did no statistical research to generate his theories, and it is very hard to test his theories in order to validate them.

Stage 1 – Basic Trust vs. Mistrust

Developing trust is the first task of the ego, and it is never complete.
The child will let mother out of sight without anxiety and rage because she has become an inner certainty as well as an outer predictability.
The balance of trust with mistrust depends largely on the quality of maternal relationship.

Stage 2 – Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

If denied autonomy, the child will turn against him/herself urges to manipulate and discriminate.
Shame develops with the child’s self-consciousness.
Doubt has to do with having a front and back — a “behind” subject to its own rules. Left over doubt may become paranoia.
The sense of autonomy fostered in the child and modified as life progresses serves the preservation in economic and political life of a sense of justice.

Stage 3 – Initiative vs. Guilt

Initiative adds to autonomy the quality of undertaking, planning, and attacking a task for the sake of being active and on the move.
The child feels guilt over the goals contemplated and the acts initiated in exuberant enjoyment of new locomoter and mental powers.
The castration complex occuring in this stage is due to the child’s erotic fantasies.
A residual conflict over initiative may be expressed as hysterical denial, which may cause the repression of the wish or the abrogation of the child’s ego: paralysis and inhibition, or overcompensation and showing off.

The Oedipal stage results not only in oppressive establishment of a moral sense restricting the horizon of the permissible, but also sets the direction towards the possible and the tangible which permits dreams of early childhood to be attached to goals of an active adult life.
After Stage 3, one may use the whole repetoire of previous modalities, modes, and zones for industrious, identity-maintaining, intimate, legacy-producing, dispair-countering purposes.

Stage 4 – Industry vs. Inferiority

To bring a productive situation to completion is an aim which gradually supersedes the whims and wishes of play. The fundamentals of technology are developed To lose the hope of such “industrious” association may pull the child back to the more isolated, less conscious familial rivalry of the Oedipal time. The child can become a conformist and thoughtless slave whom others exploit.

Stage 5 – Identity vs. Role Confusion (or “Diffusion”)

The adolescent is newly concerned with how they appear to others.
Ego identity is the accrued confidence that the inner sameness and continuity prepared in the past are matched by the sameness and continuity of one’s meaning for others, as evidenced in the promise of a career.
The inability to settle on a school or occupational identity is disturbing.

Stage 6 – Intimacy vs. Isolation

Body and ego must be masters of organ modes and of the other nuclear conflicts in order to face the fear of ego loss in situations which call for self-abandon. The avoidance of these experiences leads to isolation and self-absorption. The counterpart of intimacy is distantiation, which is the readiness to isolate and destroy forces and people whose essence seems dangerous to one’s own. Now true genitality can fully develop.

The danger at this stage is isolation which can lead to sever character problems.
Erikson’s listed criteria for “genital utopia” illustrate his insistence on the role of many modes and modalities in harmony:

mutuality of orgasm with a loved partner of opposite sex with whom one is willing and able to share a trust, and with whom one is willing and able to regulate the cycles of work, procreation, and recreation so as to secure to the offspring all the stages of satisfactory development.

Stage 7 – Generativity vs. Stagnation

Generativity is the concern in establishing and guiding the next generation.
Simply having or wanting children doesn’t achieve generativity. Socially-valued work and disciples are also expressions of generativity.

Stage 8 – Ego Integrity vs. Despair

Ego integrity is the ego’s accumulated assurance of its capacity for order and meaning.
Despair is signified by a fear of one’s own death, as well as the loss of self-sufficiency, and of loved partners and friends. Healthy children, Erikson tells us, won’t fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death.


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