Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development

Erikson was a Freudian psychologist, which means that he accepts Freud's ideas as correct, including the Oedipus complex, as well as the ideas regarding the Self of other Freudians like Heinz Hartmann and of course, Anna Freud.

However, Erikson was much more oriented towards society and culture than any other Freudian, as expected of a person with his anthropological interests. Practically, it displaces the instincts and the unconscious in its theories. Perhaps for this reason, Erikson is so popular among Freudians and non-Freudians alike.


  • 1 The Epigenetic Principle and the phases of Erikson's development
  • 2 Erikson's 8 psychosocial stages
  • 3 Stage I: sensory-oral stage
  • 4 Stage II: anal-muscular stage
  • 5 Stage III: genital-locomotor stage
  • 6 Stage IV: latency stage
  • 7 Stage V: adolescence stage
  • 8 Stage VI: adulthood-youth
  • 9 Stage VII: adulthood-media
  • 10 Stage VIII: late adulthood

The Epigenetic Principle and the development phases of Erikson

Erikson is well known for his work on the redefinition and expansion of Freud's stadium theory. It established that the development works from a epigenetic principle. He postulated the existence of eight phases of development that extended throughout the entire life cycle. Our progress through each stage is determined in part by our successes or by failures in the preceding stages. As if it were the button of a rose that hides its petals, each of these will open at a specific moment, with a certain order that has been determined by nature through genetics. If we interfere with this natural order of development by extracting a petal too soon or at a time that is not its due, we destroy the development of the flower in its entirety.

Each phase includes certain tasks or functions that are psychosocial by nature. Although Erikson calls them crisis By following the Freudian tradition, the term is broader and less specific. For example, a school child must learn to be industrious during that period of his life and this tendency is learned through complex social interactions between the school and the family.

The various tasks described by the author are established based on two terms: one is the task of the infant, called "trust-distrust". At first it is obvious to think that the child must learn to trust and not to distrust. But Erikson states very clearly that we must learn that there is a balance. Certainly, we must learn more about trust, but we also need to learn some distrust so that we don't become stupid adults.

Each phase has a optimal time too. It is useless to push a child too quickly to adulthood, a very common thing among people obsessed with success. It is not possible to slow down or try to protect our children from the demands of life. There is a time for each function.

If we go through a stadium well, we carry with us certain virtues or forces psychosocials that will help us in the rest of the stages of our life. On the contrary, if we are not doing so well, we can develop maladaptation or malignancies, as well as endangering our missing development. Of the two, the malignancy is the worst, since it includes a lot of the negative aspects of the task or function and very little of the positive aspects of it, as distrustful people present. The maladaptation is not so bad and includes more positive than negative aspects of the task, such as people who trust too much.

Erikson's 8 psychosocial stages

Perhaps Erikson's most important innovation was to postulate not 5 stages as Freud had done, but 8. Erik developed three additional stages of adulthood from the genital stage through adolescence described by Freud. None of us stop in our development (especially psychologically) after 12 or 13 birthdays. It seems logical to stipulate that there must be an extension of the stadiums that covers the rest of our development.

The concept of mutuality

Erikson also had something to say regarding the interactions of generations, which he called mutuality. Freud had already clearly established that parents dramatically influenced children's development. But Erikson expanded the concept, based on the idea that children also influenced the development of parents. For example, the arrival of a new child represents a considerable life change for a couple and removes their evolutionary trajectories. It would even be appropriate to add a third (and in some cases, a fourth) generation to the table. Many of us have been influenced by our grandparents and they by us.

A clear example of mutuality is found in the problems that a teenage mother has. Even though both the mother and the son can lead a satisfying life, the girl is still involved in tasks of finding herself and how to fit into society. The past or present relationship with your child's father can be immature in both one and the other and if they do not marry or live together, she will have to deal with the problems of finding a new partner. On the other hand, the infant presents a series of basic needs of every child, including the most important: a mother with mature skills and social support, like every mother.

If the parents of the girl in question come together to help, as one might expect, they will also break with their evolutionary functions, returning to a vital style that they thought had happened and highly demanding. Other generations can be added to these generations, and so on.

The ways in which we interact are extremely complex and very frustrating for theorists. But ignoring them would be to ignore something very important regarding our development and our personalities.

Stadium (age)Psychosocial crisisSignificant relationshipsPsychosocial ModalitiesPsychosocial VirtuesMaladaptations and
I (0-1) infantTrust vs.
MotherTake and give in responseHope,
Sensory distortion and
II (2-3)
vs. shame and doubt
ParentsHold and let goWill,
Impulsivity and
III (3-6)
Initiative vs.
FamilyGo beyond playPurpose,
Cruelty and
IV (7-12)
vs. inferiority
Neighborhood and
To complete
Do things together
Unilateral and
V (12-18 or more)
Yoic identity
vs. role confusion
Role Models
Be yourself.
Share being yourself
Fanaticism and
VI (the 20's)
young adult
Intimacy vs.
Losing and finding oneself in anotherLovePromiscuity and
VII (late 20's to 50's) average adultGenerability
vs. self absorption
Manage to be
Look after
Watch outOverextension and Rejection
VIII (50 '…) old adultIntegrity vs.
The humans or the "mine"To be, through to have been. Face not beingWisdomPresumption and

Stage I: sensory-oral stage

The first stage, that of childhood or stage sensory-oral It includes the first year or first and a half of life. The task is to develop the trust without completely eliminating the ability to mistrust.

If the father and mother provide the newborn with a degree of familiarity, consistency and continuity, the child will develop a feeling that the world, especially the social world, is a safe place to be; That people are legit and loving. Also, through parental responses, the child learns to trust his own body and the biological needs that go with it.

If the parents are distrustful and inadequate in their procedure; if they reject the infant or harm him; if other interests cause both parents to move away from the needs of satisfying their own, the child will develop distrust. He will be an apprehensive and suspicious person with respect to others.

However, it is very important that we know that this does not mean that parents have to be the best in the world. In fact, those parents who are overprotective; that they are there as soon as the child cries, they will lead him to develop a maladaptive tendency that Erikson calls sensory mismatch, being overly confident, even gullible. This person does not believe anyone could harm him and will use all available defenses to retain this exaggerated perspective.

Although, in fact, that tendency that leans on the other side is worse: that of distrust. These children will develop the evil tendency of fading (We keep here the literal translation of “withdrawal”, such as fall or fade. For more information on the technical terms applied to Erikson's theory, refer to the bibliography at the end of the summary. N.T.). This person becomes depressive, paranoid and may even develop a psychosis.

If a balance is achieved, the child will develop the virtue of hope, a strong belief that it is considered that there will always be a solution at the end of the road, even if things go wrong. One of the signs that tell us if the child is doing well in this first stage, is if he can be able to wait without too much trouble to delay the satisfaction response to a need: mom and dad do not have to be perfect; I trust them enough to know this reality; if they cannot be here immediately, they will be very soon; Things can be very difficult, but they will do their best to fix them. This is the same ability that we will use in situations of disappointment such as love, profession and many other domains of life.

Stage II: anal-muscular stage

The second stage corresponds to the so-called stadium anal-muscular from early childhood, from around 18 months to 3-4 years of age. The primary task is to reach a certain degree of autonomy, still retaining a touch of shame and doubt.

If dad and mom (and other caregivers who enter the scene at this time) allow the child to explore and manipulate their environment, they will develop a sense of autonomy or independence. Parents should not discourage him or push him too much. In this sense, a balance is required. Most people advise parents to be “firm but tolerant” at this stage, and of course the advice is good. In this way, the child will develop both important self-control and self-esteem.

On the other hand, instead of this described attitude, it is quite easy for the child to develop a sense of shame and doubt. If the parents come immediately to replace actions aimed at exploring and being independent, the child will soon give up, assuming that he cannot do things for himself. We must keep in mind that making fun of the child's efforts can lead him to feel very ashamed, and doubt his abilities.

There are also other ways to make the child feel ashamed and doubtful. If we give the child an unrestricted freedom with an absence of limits, or if we help him do what he could do alone, we are also telling him that he is not good enough. If we are not patient enough to wait for the child to tie his shoelaces, he will never learn to tie them, assuming this is too difficult to learn.

However, a little shame and doubt is not only inevitable, but even good. Without it, what Erikson calls will develop impulsiveness, a kind of shameless premeditation that later, in late childhood or even in adulthood, will manifest itself as throwing headlong into situations without considering the limits and the outrages that this can cause.

Worse is still too much shame and doubt, which will lead the child to develop the evil that Erikson calls compulsivity. The compulsive person feels that his whole being is involved in the tasks he carries out and therefore everything must be done correctly. Following the rules in a precise way prevents one from making a mistake, and any mistake at any price should be avoided. Many of you recognize what it is to feel ashamed and continually doubt yourself. A little more patience and tolerance towards your children could help you avoid the path you have followed. And maybe you should also take a break yourself.

If we achieve an appropriate and positive balance between autonomy and shame and guilt, we will develop the virtue of a powerful will or determination. One of the most admirable (and frustrating) things about a two or three year old is his determination. His nickname is "I can do it." If we preserve that "I can do it" (with proper modesty, to balance) we will be much better as adults.

Stage III: genital-locomotor stage

This is the stadium genital-locomotor or the age of the game. From 3-4 to 5-6 years, the fundamental task is to learn the initiative without a exaggerated guilt.

The initiative suggests a positive response to the challenges of the world, assuming responsibilities, learning new skills and feeling useful. Parents can encourage their children to carry out their ideas for themselves. We must encourage fantasy, curiosity and imagination. This is the time of the game, not for a formal education. Now the child can imagine, as never before, a future situation, one that is not the current reality. The initiative is the attempt to make the unreal real.

But if the child can imagine a future, if he can play, he will also be responsible ... and guilty. If my two-year-old son throws my watch in the toilet, I can assume without fear of being wrong that there was no bad intention in the act. It was just one thing going round and round until it disappeared. What fun!. But if my five-year-old daughter does it… well, we should know what will happen to the clock, what will happen to Dad's temper and what will happen to her! You could feel guilty about the act and start feeling guilty too. The ability to establish moral judgments has arrived.

Erikson is, of course, a Freudian and therefore includes the oedipal experience in this stadium. From his point of view, the oedipal crisis includes the reluctance that the child feels to abandon his proximity to the opposite sex. A father has the responsibility, socially speaking, to encourage the child to "grow"; "You're not a child anymore!" But if this process is established very hard and extreme, the child learns to feel guilty about his feelings.

Too much initiative and too little guilt means a maladaptive trend that Erikson calls cruelty. The cruel person takes the initiative. It has its plans, whether in school, romance or politics, or even profession. The only problem is that it does not take into account who has to step to achieve its goal. Everything is achievement and feelings of guilt are for the weak. The extreme form of cruelty is sociopathy.

Cruelty is bad for others, but relatively easy for the cruel person. Worse for the subject is the malignancy of exaggerated guilt, which Erikson calls inhibition. The inhibited person will not prove anything, since "if there is no adventure, nothing is lost" and particularly, nothing to feel guilty about. From the sexual, oedipal point of view, the guilty person can be impotent or frigid.

A good balance will lead the subject to the psychosocial virtue of purpose. The sense of purpose is something that many people crave throughout their lives, although most of them do not realize that, in fact, they already carry out their purposes through their imagination and initiative. I believe that a more accurate word for this virtue would have been courage; the capacity for action despite knowing clearly our limitations and previous failures.

Stage IV: latency stage

This stage corresponds to that of latency, or that between 6 and 12 years of age of the school child. The main task is to develop a capacity for industriousness while avoiding an excessive feeling of inferiority. Children must "tame their imagination" and devote themselves to education and learn the skills necessary to meet the demands of society.

A much more social sphere comes into play here: parents, as well as other family members and classmates, join teachers and other community members. They all contribute; parents should encourage, teachers should take care; Partners must accept. Children must learn that there is not only pleasure in devising a plan, but also in carrying it out. They must learn what the feeling of success is, whether in the yard or in the classroom; either academically or socially.

A good way to perceive the differences between a child in the third stage and another in the fourth is to sit and watch how they play. Four-year-olds may want to play, but they only have vague knowledge of the rules and even change them several times throughout the chosen game. They can't stand to end the game, other than throwing the pieces at their opponent. A seven-year-old boy, however, is dedicated to the rules, considers them something much more sacred and can even get angry if the game is not allowed to reach a stipulated conclusion.

If the child does not achieve much success, due to very rigid teachers or very denying classmates, for example, he will then develop a feeling of inferiority or incompetence. An additional source of inferiority, in Erikson's words, is racism, sexism and any other form of discrimination. If a child believes that success is achieved by virtue of who he is instead of how strong he can work, then why try?

An overly laborious attitude can lead to the maladaptive tendency of directed virtuosity. We see this behavior in children who are not allowed to "be children"; those whose parents or teachers push in an area of ​​competence, without allowing the development of broader interests. These are children without child life: children actors, children athletes, children musicians, children prodigy in short. We all admire his industriousness, but if we get closer, all this is based on an empty life.

However, the most common malignancy is the so-called inertia. This includes all of us who have an "inferiority complex." Alfred Adler talked about it. If at first we don't succeed, let's not try again! For example, many of us have not done well in math, so we die before attending another math class. Others were humiliated in the gym, so they will never do any sports. Others never developed social skills (the most important of all), so they will never go out to public life. They become inert beings.

The ideal would be to develop a balance between industriousness and inferiority; that is, to be mainly industrious with a certain touch of inferiority that keeps us sensibly humble. Then we will have the virtue called competition.

Stage V: adolescence stage

This stage is that of adolescence, beginning at puberty and ending around 18-20 years. (It is currently clear that due mainly to a series of psychosocial factors, adolescence extends beyond 20 years, even up to 25 years. N.T.). The primary task is to achieve the I identity and avoid the role confusion. This was the stage that most interested Erikson and the patterns observed in boys of this age formed the basis from which the author would develop all the other stages.

Yoic identity means knowing who we are and how we fit into the rest of society. It demands that we take everything we have learned about life and ourselves and mold it into a unified self image, one that our community deems significant.

There are things that make these issues easier. First, we must have an adult cultural current that is valid for the adolescent, with good models of adult roles and open lines of communication.

In addition, society must also provide some rites of passage defined; or what is the same, certain tasks and rituals that help distinguish the adult from the child. In traditional and primitive cultures, the adolescent is urged to leave the village for a certain period of time in order to survive on his own, hunt for a symbolic animal or seek an inspiring vision. Both boys and girls must go through a series of resistance tests, symbolic ceremonies or educational events. In one way or another, the difference between that period of lack of power, of irresponsibility of childhood and that of responsibility of the adult is clearly established.

Without these limits, we embark on a confusion of roles, which means that we will not know what our place is in society and in the world. Erikson says that when a teenager goes through a confusion of roles, he is suffering an identity crisis. In fact, a very common question of teenagers in our society is "Who am I?"

There is a problem when we have too much "yoic identity." When a person is so committed to a particular role of society or a subculture, there is not enough room for tolerance. Erikson calls this maladaptive trend fanaticism. A fan believes that his form is the only one that exists. Of course, teenagers are known for their idealism and their tendency to see things in black or white. These involve others around them, promoting their lifestyles and beliefs regardless of the right of others to disagree.

The lack of identity is much more problematic, and Erikson refers to this evil tendency as repudiation. These people repudiate their membership in the adult world and even repudiate their need for an identity. Some adolescents allow themselves to "merge" with a group, especially one that can give it certain identity traits: religious sects, militaristic organizations, threatening groups; In short, groups that have separated themselves from the painful currents of society. They can embark on destructive activities such as the ingestion of drugs, alcohol or even get seriously into their own psychotic fantasies. After all, being "bad" or being "nobody" is better than not knowing who I am.

If we successfully negotiate this stage, we will have the virtue that Erikson calls fidelity. Faithfulness implies loyalty, or the ability to live according to society's standards despite its imperfections, faults and inconsistencies. We are not talking about blind loyalty, nor about accepting their imperfections. After all, if we love our community, we want it to be the best possible. Actually, the fidelity of which we speak is established when we have found a place for us within it, a place that will allow us to contribute to its stability and development.

Stage VI: adulthood-youth

If we have been able to reach this phase, we are then in the stage of the young adulthood, which lasts between 18 years to approximately 30. The time limits with respect to ages in adults are much milder than in children's stages, these ranges being very different among people. The main task is to achieve a certain degree of privacy, opposite attitude to staying in isolation.

Intimacy implies the possibility of being close to others, such as lovers, friends; as a participant of society. Since you have a feeling of knowing who you are, you are not afraid to "lose" yourself, as many teenagers present. The "fear of commitment" that some people seem to present is a good example of immaturity in this stage. However, this fear is not always so obvious. Many people slow or delay the progressive process of their interpersonal relationships. “I will get married (or have a family, or embark on a social issue) as soon as I finish university; as soon as I have a job; when you have a house; so soon ... If you have been engaged for the past 10 years, what makes you back down?

The young adult no longer has to prove himself. A teenage couple relationship does look for an identity establishment through the relationship. "Who I am?. I am her boyfriend". The relationship of young adults should be a matter of two independent egos that want to create something more extensive than themselves. Intuitively we recognize this when we observe the relationship of a couple of two subjects where one of them is a teenager and the other a young adult. We realize the domain potential of the last over the first.

To this difficulty is added that our society has not done much for young adults either. The emphasis on vocational training, the isolation of urban life, the fracture of relationships due to transfers and the generally impersonal nature of modern life, make it more difficult to develop intimate relationships.

The maladaptive trend that Erikson calls promiscuity, particularly refers to becoming too open, very easily, with hardly any effort and without any depth or respect for your privacy. This trend can occur both with your lover, as with your friends, colleagues and neighbors.

The exclusion It is the malignant tendency of maximum isolation. The person is isolated from their loved ones or partners, friends and neighbors, developing as compensation a constant feeling of certain anger or irritability that serves as company.

If we pass through this stage successfully, we will take with us that virtue or psychosocial strength that Erikson calls love. Within this theoretical context, love refers to that ability to remove differences and antagonisms through a "mutuality of devotion." It includes not only the love we share in a good marriage, but also the love between friends and the love of my neighbor, co-worker and compatriot.

Stage VII: adulthood-media

This stage corresponds to that of the middle adulthood. It is very difficult to establish the age range, but it would include that period dedicated to raising children. For most of the people in our society, we would be talking about a period between 20 and 50 and 50. The fundamental task here is to achieve an appropriate balance between the productivity (also known in the field of psychology as generability. N.T.) and the stagnation.

The productivity is an extension of love towards the future. It has to do with a concern about the next generation and all other futures. Therefore, it is much less "selfish" than the intimacy of the previous stages: intimacy or love between lovers or friends, is a love between equals and is necessarily reciprocal. Ah, of course, we love each other without selfishness! But the truth is that if we don't receive love back, we don't consider it a true love. With productivity, we are not expecting, at least it seems not implicitly, reciprocity in the act. Few parents expect a "return of their investment" from their children, and if they do, we do not believe they are good parents.

Although most people put productivity into practice by having and raising children, there are other ways too. Erikson believes that teaching, writing, inventiveness, science and the arts, social activism complement the task of productivity. In short, anything that fills that "old need to be needed."

The stagnation, by another lad