Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory



Aspects of identity based on Erikson’s psychosocial development theory include ego, personal and social or cultural identity that collectively distinguishes a person from another. The theory has eight stages that influence personality transition from childhood into adulthood. Erikson stated that a person must pass through the eight stages over his/her entire lifetime. The eight stages have conflicts, which rely on each other, and unsuccessful completion of one stage contributes to the failure of the next. Ego as an aspect of identity makes positive contributions that regards development as an individual develops the ability in mastering attitudes. Personal identity gives an idiosyncrasy that differentiates an individual from another while social or cultural identity describes a collection of social roles that a person plays. Attitude, ideas and skills are acquired on each stage of development, and this helps children become successful and significant members of the society. However, according to Erikson, each stage has a psychological conflict that one should overcome to develop a healthy personality as well as smooth adjustments during identity formation.

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Erik Erikson developed influential theories that explore the aspects of identity. Erikson psychosocial development theory describes how each has unique characters that form his or her personality. The theory analyzes the perspectives of individual behaviour. It comprises of eight stages from infancy to adulthood, and each stage gives an opportunity to describe a person’s experience, which is either a positive or negative outcome of personality. Each stage of the theory has a distinctive goal that focuses on attaining a good personality. The stages arise because of different dimensions of social interaction as well as increasing maturity. The bottom line of the theory is that human beings possess characteristics that define their personality. Personality traits are either acquired or innate. They vary from one individual to another due to the exposure to different environmental factors. Erikson describes the stages as sociocultural determinants of development. The paper will provide an analysis of the Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development (stage 1 to 8).

Stage one: The approximate age of an infant up to 18 months

Erikson states how an infant must learn how to trust others especially those who provide basic needs. The stage conflicts between trust and mistrust (Syed & McLean, 2017). The infants should feel that they receive care and all caregiver provides a basic need for the baby. At this stage, the psychosocial crisis developed is basic trust versus mistrust (Newman & Newman, 2017).  The first years of life parent’s puts emphasis on caring for the baby and the baby learn to develop either trust or mistrust regarding contact and touch. If the caregiver provides the basic needs that satisfy the baby, the baby develops optimism, trust, and confidence as well as security. When a child fails to receive the basic needs, he/she experiences insecurity, worthlessness and therefore develop mistrust to the world.

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Stage two: the approximate age of 18 months to 3 years

A psychosocial crisis in this stage is autonomy versus shame and doubt. Erikson describes that at this stage, children learn the basic ways of taking care of themselves. Children learn to change clothes and feed themselves. Early childhood allows a child to build self-esteem and autonomy by learning the basic skills of differentiating right from wrong (Erikson, 2014). During the first years, a child well cared for is sure to take the pride in his/her parents and does not feel shame. The child develops assurance, defiance, as well as stubbornness. The inability to learn basic skills at this stage is because of doubt developed because of the care given. Children feel vulnerable, develop shame, and show low self-respect, therefore, fail to learn certain skills.

Stage 3: Preschooler: 3 to 5 years

The psychosocial crisis developed in this stage is initiative versus guilt. Children continue to grow and explore different things in the surrounding on their own (Syed & McLean, 2017). According to Erikson, children learn basic concepts and by joining preschool, the children practice the knowledge from school in real life (2014). The kids develop the desire to emulate grown-ups around them and take an initiative of lightening the moment by becoming playful. The social interactions assert control over children’s world, and they learn to plan and achieve goals. Children develop a purpose at this stage and master their tasks, sense of ambition and responsibility. Children develop self-confidence and explore their abilities within limits that support their choices (Erikson, 2014). However, those unsuccessful at this stage because of lack of good parental relationship, say as a result of excessive parental control, becomes demotivated and develop feelings of guilt.

Stage 4: School-aged children (6 to 12 years)

During this stage, competence develops, which Erikson referred to as latency. Children have the capability of learning and developing new skills because of the knowledge gained. As a result, at this stage, the psychosocial crisis experienced is industry versus inferiority (Syed & McLean, 2017). The ability to be industrious as a psychosocial crisis in this stage involves children accomplishing numerous tasks, and they compare themselves to their peers to see how they measure up (Erikson, 2014). Through social interactions, children get encouragement and commendation from parents and teachers and develop competency and belief in their skills. However, children who fail to be encouraged by parents, teachers or peers develop doubt and their motivation to pursue success falls short. As a result, the children develop a sense of inferiority, as they do not believe in their abilities to handle tasks before them.

Stage 5: Adolescent (12 to 18 years)

At the adolescent stage, the psychosocial conflict is between identity and role confusion. At adolescence, a person struggles to find an identity and must discover by negotiating and struggling to fit in social groups (Erikson, 2014). Finding identity depends on the ability of a person to have a sense of morality and be able to differentiate what is right from wrong. According to Erikson, the key task in this stage is developing a sense of identity by exploring different ideas, set goals, roles and discovering their adult selves (2014). Successfulness of this stage is when a person has a solid feeling of personality and can stay consistent with his or her beliefs and values in the face of challenges and other people’s viewpoints. Neglecting to look for identity makes children develop an unstable personality thus, encounter role confusion. Such individuals become uncertain of their individuality thus, are confused about their future (Syed & McLean, 2017).

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Stage 6: Young adult (18 to 35 years)

The psychosocial conflict in this stage is between intimacy and isolation. People in early adulthood develop the desire to seek companionship and love as it is in this stage that people complete the process of identifying their sense of self and life roles. People have the interest to share their lives with others and may settle down and start families (Patterson, Scannapieco, & University of Texas at Arlington, 2015). Intimacy and satisfying relationship depend on the successfulness of the other stages. If the other stages are unsuccessful, young adults experience difficulties with starting and maintaining a successful relationship, therefore, they may feel isolated (Syed & McLean, 2017). Erikson stated that having a sense of self allows individuals to feel intimacy and have a successful intimate relationship, but those who lack a positive self-concept, especially in adolescence, experience loneliness and emotional isolation.

Stage 7: Middle-aged adults (35 to 55 years or 65)

The psychosocial conflict at the 7th stage is between generativity and stagnation. When people reach 35 years old, they develop a social task of middle adulthood. Generativity refers to the ability of an individual to find life’s work and contribute to the development of others (Knight, 2017). A career, being important at this stage as well as family, allows individuals to take responsibilities and control in helping others through activities such as mentoring, raising children or volunteering in community activities. However, inactivity and meaninglessness result in a shift and some individuals struggle to find the purpose of engaging in meaningful and productive work that has a positive contribution to the society. As a result, such individuals do master their tasks and experience stagnation as they fail to leave a mark of productivity and self-improvement to the society.

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Stage 8: late adults (55 or 65 years old to death)

The psychosocial in this last stage of development is between integrity and despair. Erikson described this stage as a reflection of people’s lives and the feeling of the sense of satisfaction or failure (Malone, Liu, Vaillant, Rentz, & Waldinger, 2016). People usually would feel proud at this stage especially if they have accomplished their life tasks and the set goals of their lives. The sense of integrity is experienced when individuals look back on their lives and have few regrets as they have contentment and fulfilment. Such individuals have lived a meaningful life and have positively contributed to the society. However, unsuccessful people at this stage feel wasted and have life full of regrets. They often focus on what they should have accomplished and experience depression and bitterness towards the end of their lives.


To sum up, the eight stages starts with early childhood, infant age to adulthood age until the death of a person. Aspects of identity from Erikson’s psychosocial development theory include ego, personal and social or cultural identity that collectively distinguishes a person from another. Each stage has conflict and its outcome relies on that of the previous stages. Social interaction and caregiving from early childhood influence the successfulness and unsuccessfulness of each stage of psychosocial development. According to Erikson, each stage has a psychological conflict that one should overcome to develop a healthy personality as well as smooth adjustments during identity formation.

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  1. Erikson, E. H. (2014). Childhood and society. London: Vintage Digital
  2. Knight, Z. G. (2017). A proposed model of psychodynamic psychotherapy linked to Erik Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development. Clinical psychology & psychotherapy24(5), 1047-1058.
  3. Malone, J. C., Liu, S. R., Vaillant, G. E., Rentz, D. M., & Waldinger, R. J. (2016). Midlife Eriksonian psychosocial development: Setting the stage for late-life cognitive and emotional health. Developmental psychology52(3), 496.
  4. Newman, B. M., & Newman, P. R. (2017). Development through life: A psychosocial approach. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
  5. Patterson, A. V., Scannapieco, M., & University of Texas at Arlington. (2015). Emerging adulthood as a unique stage in Erikson’s psychosocial development theory: Incarnation v. impudence. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest, LLC
  6. Syed, M., & McLean, K. C. (2017). Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development.
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