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The 8 ages of man: Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development

The 8 ages of man: Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development

Erikson's psychosocial development model is a very important and very useful concept to understand the development not only of the child, but also of adults.


  • 1 Erik Erikson's Psychosocial Theory
  • 2 Epigenetics, psychosexual stages and differences with Freud
  • 3 Erikson's Self Psychology
  • 4 The 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development by Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson's Psychosocial Theory

Various terms are used to describe Erikson's model, such as psychosocial theory biopsychosocial theory (where bio refers to the biological one, which in this context means life). But the cycle of human development that Erikson proposed refers to the psychosocial theory of the eight stages, his most distinctive work the most notable model.

The word "psychosocial" is the term that Erikson wanted to attribute by the meaning of the words psychological (mind) and social (relationships).

Erikson postulates that his psychosocial principle is genetically inevitable in the configuration of human development. Or what is the same: it happens in all people.

Erikson, like Freud, referred mainly to how personality and behavior is influenced from the birth of the child (not before birth) and especially during his childhood.

Erik Erikson first published his theory of eight stages of human development in his 1950 book "childhood and society" In the book he incorporated a chapter with the model entitled 'The Eight Ages of Man'. Later Erikson expanded and perfected his theory in subsequent books and reviews, in particular: Identity and the Life Cycle (1959); Insight and Responsibility (1964); The Complete Life Cycle: A Review (1982, later revised in 1996 by Joan Erikson).

Epigenetics, psychosexual stages and differences with Freud

Erikson believes that childhood is a crucial stage in personality development. He accepted many of the Freud's theories, including the id, the self and the superego, and Freud's theory of child sexuality. But Erikson rejected Freud's attempt to describe personality only on the basis of sexuality and, unlike Freud, he felt that personality continued to develop beyond five years of age.

All stages of Erikson's epigenetic theory are implicitly present at birth (at least latent), but unfold according to both an innate scheme and what a family expresses through its culture and values.

Each stage is based on the previous stages, and paves the way for subsequent stages. Each stage is characterized by a psychosocial crisis, which is based on physiological development, but also based on the demands placed on the individual by the parents and / or society. Ideally, the crisis at each stage must be resolved by the ego at that stage, so that the development happens correctly. The result of a stage is not permanent, it can be altered by later experiences. Everyone has a mixture of the traits obtained at each stage, but personality development is considered successful if the individual has more features than those considered "good" than "bad" ones.

Erikson's ego psychology

Erikson's I psychology theory supports certain principles that differentiate his theory from Freud's. Some of these include:

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

Erikson's theory was broader than Freud's, and includes information about "normal" personality, as well as neurotic personality. It also broadened the scope of the concept of personality to incorporate society and culture, not just sexuality, into its formation.

The 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development by Erik Erikson

Stage 1: Confidence vs. Distrust (0 to 18 months)

  • The development of trust is the first task of the ego, and it is never fully completed.
  • The child will begin to let the mother leave her field of vision without anxiety and anger, because for him it has already become an inner certainty, as well as an external predictability that she is close or will come back soon.
  • The degree of trust or distrust will depend largely on the quality of the maternal relationship.

Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (18 months-3 years)

  • The child begins his cognitive and muscular development, controlling and exercising the muscles that are related to body excretions (sphincter control).
  • If autonomy is denied, the child feels that he is incapable, with doubts, and this leads to shame.
  • Shame develops with the child's self-awareness.
  • Promoting the sense of autonomy in the child and modifying it as it progresses in life, it serves in the future to successfully achieve the preservation of economic life and have a correct sense of justice.

Stage 3: Initiative vs. Blame (3 to 5 years)

  • The initiative adds to the autonomy to achieve an objective, planning and being active in its achievement.
  • His physical and intellectual development is fast, he is very curious and also increases his interest in interacting with other children, testing his skills and abilities.
  • If the parents react negatively to the demands of information and help from children, they are likely to generate guilt.

Stage 4: Labor vs. Inferiority (6-7 at 12 years old)

  • At this stage, play wishes and whims are gradually replaced to be more productive and achieve goals, for example, in school.
  • They show a greater interest in the functioning of things, try to carry out the activities themselves, with their own effort and using their knowledge and skills. At this stage, positive stimulation in the family, school, or by the peer group is very important. Peers begin to have great importance in their social and learning life.
  • In the event that there are difficulties in the development of this stage, it can generate a sense of inferiority that will make you feel insecure in front of others. The child can become a conformist slave without his own thoughts, or on the contrary be cruel and try to exploit his companions.

Stage 5: Identity vs. Confusion of roles (adolescence up to 20 approx.)

  • The teenager looks at the appearance and way of acting of others.
  • the identity of the I is the accumulated trust that gives it its own uniformity and internal continuity, offering with it a meaning for others.
  • The teenager is increasingly independent and he distances himself from parents to spend more time with friends.
  • They start thinking about the future: what to study, what to work for, where to live, etc.
  • They begin to strengthen their own identity based on their experiences. No wonder that at this stage they are invaded by doubts and confusion about their role and their own identity.

Stage 6: Privacy vs. Isolation (20 to 40 years old)

  • Intimacy refers to the process of achieving relationships with the family and the couple or marital mating. The true sexual reciprocity begins, giving and receiving both physically and emotionally: support, love, trust, and all other elements that are normally associated with healthy adult relationships, conducive to mating and raising children.
  • Isolation, on the other hand, means feeling excluded from the experiences of intimacy as a couple, mating and relationships of mutual love. This logically is characterized by feelings of loneliness, alienation, social isolation and non-participation.
  • The danger at this stage is the isolation that can lead to problems of character and personality.

Stage 7: Generativity vs. Stagnation (40 to 60 years)

  • The analysis of this stage of Erikson was not totally oriented upbringing. For him generativity extends beyond the children themselves, and also for all future generations.
  • The positive results of this stage of crisis depend on contributing positively and unconditionally to the family and society. We can also see this as an end of personal interest. Tener children is not a prerequisite for generativity, just as being a father is no guarantee that generativity will be achieved. Caring for children is something scenario, but success at this stage really depends on giving and caring, putting something new in life, to the extent of one's abilities.
  • The stagnation It is an extension of isolation, which turns inward in the form of self-interest and self-absorption. It represents feelings of selfishness, self-indulgence, greed, lack of interest in young people and future generations and the rest of the world.

Stage 8: Integrity vs. Despair (60 years until death)

  • At this stage the individual ceases to be productive, or at least in part. He no longer has minor children in his care and is entering retirement.
  • The ego at this stage is the guarantee of accumulated integrity and its capacity for order and meaning.
  • Despair means fear of death itself, as well as the loss of self-reliance, friends and loved ones.
  • According to Erikson, healthy children have enough integrity not to fear death when the time comes.

Graph of the 8 stages described by Erik Erikson with its implications and the results of a good or bad adaptation:

Stages of Erikson's psychosocial crisisFreud's psychosexual stagesLife stage / Relationships / EventsStrengths and possible positive outcomes of each crisisBad adaptation and possible negative results during each crisis
Trust vs. DistrustOralbaby / mother / feeding and receive comfort, teething, sleepHope unitySensory distortion, withdrawal
Autonomy vs shame and doubtAnalchild / parents / body functions, sphincter control, muscle control, walkingWillpower, self-controlImpulsivity, compulsion
Initiative vs. GuiltPhallicpreschool / family / exploration and discovery, adventure and playPurpose, addressCruelty, inhibition
Productivity vs. inferiorityLatencyschool / school, teachers, friends, neighborhood / achievementCompetition, methodLittle initiative, inertia
Identity vs. role confusionPuberty and genitalityteens / friends, groups, influences / identity and become an adultFaithfulness, devotionFanaticism, repudiation
Privacy vs. isolation(Genitality)Young adult / lovers, friends / intimate relationships, work and social lifeLove, affiliationPromiscuity, exclusivity
Generativity vs. stagnation-Average adult age / children, community / contributing to societyCare, productionOveruse, rejection
Integrity vs. Despair-late adulthood / society, the world, life / meaning and purpose, life achievementsWisdom and renunciationPresumption, disdain
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