Table of Contents
Introduction and background
There are various personality development theories which psychologists often use in order to dissect an individual’s life stages. In psychology, development is nothing but a series of changes pertaining to the each age of a person. It occurs over the entire course of a person’s life span. There are several famous psychologists who have described the developmental stages effectively. Some of these psychologists include Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, Sigmund Freud, Abraham Maslow, and Lawrence Kohlberg. However, different psychologists emphasize on distinct fields of psychology while dissecting their theories. For instance, Sigmund Freud focused on the psychodynamics approach while Maslow rolled out a need-based model. On the contrary, Erikson’s initial researches were based on various behaviors of the human beings. In each stage of a person’s life, he or she establishes particular capabilities and exhibits distinct patterns of behavior. For example, teenagers often suffer from identity crisis (Syed & McLean, 2016). The three most important assumptions can be witnessed for each and every developmental stage theory. Firstly, people pass through the different stages of development in a stipulated manner or order. Each stage is established on the footings of previous stage’s capability development. Secondly, stages correspond to the ages. Lastly, development is not at all continuous in nature. In fact, different capabilities emerge in each of the stages. The main theory which will be in focus of this study is Erikson’s psychosocial development. Both Erikson and Freud shared the idea that early childhood holds great importance in a person’s life. The chosen personality for this paper is Adolf Hitler. Only a few people know about his bitter childhood experiences which later became instrumental in development of his gruesome personality.
The main research question of this paper is- “to what extent Erikson’s theory of development can justify the personality build-out of Adolf Hitler?”
Research aim and objectives
The primary aim of this study is to understand the significance of proper manifestations of each developmental stage, in an individual’s life. Furthermore, here, the character chosen for dissecting the theory is Adolf Hitler.
There are various objectives of this study which are listed below:
- To understand the life experiences of Hitler
- To identify the connect between his ruthless personality and Hitler’s life history
- To explore the Hitler’s life history and various developmental stages from the perspective of Erikson’s psychosocial developmental model
Analysis and discussions
Description of the chosen person’s life journey
Adolf Hitler was one of the most influential and prominent political leaders in the world. In fact, he is still remembered for his dictatorship and stringent rule in Germany. He was not even hesitant to initiate World War II and invade Poland. Hitler was raised near Linz while he took birth in Austria. His leadership was largely motivated by racial ideologies. Interestingly, he was quite intelligent and executed all his plans successfully. Unfortunately, he used his wits for evil purposes. Hitler enjoyed preying on vulnerable and weak people. On the other hand, he initiated several alliances with authority people to carry out his politics. His journey from a small village of Austria to Germany is quite noteworthy. His childhood ambition was to become an architect or artist. Hitler also enrolled at the college of fine arts. However, almost twice he was not allowed to take admission in that college. Soon, he joined National Socialist Party in the subsequent years for fighting the Communists and to restraint them from attacking Germany. His achievements for valor and bravery cannot be negated at any cost. These virtues, rather took him in the path of fame and success during the later part of his life.
However, even his life was not free from various hardships. For instance, when he tried to fight and overthrow the government he had to serve the sentence of 5 years in jail. Hitler’s childhood is the best example for understanding his hatred for the mankind, especially the Jews. It made millions of people suffer miserably. Many psychoanalysts already dissected and analyzed his destructive hatred nature. The emotions of Hitler’s father were actually portrayed on him largely (Payne, 2016). His father had to overcome many rumors since childhood. He preferred someone who would consistently remain obedient to him. Alternatively, Hitler was actually in odds with his father. The irritable and quarrelsome nature of his father affected Hitler largely throughout his childhood days. Alois, Hitler’s father used to beat his up unmercifully. It was like a vicious circle. Adolf used to be a nasty boy in his childhood which made his father beat him. On the other hand, Hitler continued his mischief even after getting beaten harshly. Hitler’s father channelized his anxiety and trauma towards him. Similarly, Hitler’s bitter experiences were manifested in the form of hatred for Jews. His hatred for Alois grew strong since the time he came to know about his Jewish ancestry. Thus, his political hatred and reluctance towards the family were both rooted in the same aspect, that is, their Jewish origin. Basically, he was extremely vulnerable and had very less compassion for others because of bitter childhood experiences. Once Hitler’s father came to know about his plans of eloping from their house; it resulted in the form of locking up in attic. He was so desperate for his freedom that Hitler even tried to squeeze through the windows. However, he refrained from doing so when he heard his father’s footsteps. He also remained silent when his father used to beat him as Hitler perceived the same to be the proof of bravery.
Synopsis of the Erikson’s theory
There are primarily eight main stages of psychosocial development. It mainly comprises of various stages such as infancy, early childhood, play age, school age, adolescence, young adult, maturity, and adult hood. All these correspond to some or the other basic virtues and psychosocial crisis; for instance, intimacy versus inferiority, trust versus mistrust, and ego versus despair. If a person successfully completes a stage, he or she can develop the correct virtues. Thus, when he or she will face any crisis in life, by virtues of those features it will be easier to resolve the same. On the other hand, if an individual is not able to become successful in completing the developmental stages then chances are high that he may not resolve such problem in the due course of time thereby leading to mental illness or fierce manifestations. However, in later stages of a person’s life it is little difficult to resolve those crises. As a result, a counselor or mental health practitioner may be required for the same (Newman & Newman, 2017). In fact, strong a sense of self and appropriate development of the personalities is extremely important.
In the first stage, that is, oral phase, one may encounter the crisis of trust. However, according to Erikson, adolescence is one of the crucial stages of personality development. In the oral stage, an infant is not very certain about the external world. As a result, he or she looks towards none other than primary caregiver so as to receive consistent care and stability. An infant will develop a proper sense of trust only when he receives adequate care and affection. Therefore, trust will lead to hope while mistrust corresponds to fear, during adulthood.
The second stage is shame and doubt versus autonomy. Children start to become more active. It ascertains their independence. For instance, children run away from their care givers and pick up toys from the grounds. They even make choices regarding food and clothes. Thus, it is suggested by the experts that children should be provided freedom to explore their own capabilities, as in later days this will establish their sense of independence and autonomy. If children are properly engaged in this phase, their virtue of will is well established. The parents encourage for maintain a healthy balance between their children’s self-esteem and self-control. As a result, excessive criticism can actually lead to inadequate self-esteem.
Alternatively, in the third stage, i.e., from the age of 3 to 5 years, crisis is often witnessed in the form of “guilty versus initiative”. Interaction in various settings is the most prominent feature at this stage. Initiatives such as making up games, activity planning, and others can often be observed largely. The thirst for knowledge is also developed in this phase. If children are restricted from actions and initiatives every time by the parents then later in the life, one may remain a follower. Creativity is inhibited and interaction with others cannot manifest to the fullest, because of guilt instincts. Thus, the children should understand what a situation demands.
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The subsequent stage is between five to twelve years, where a child starts to learn writing and reading. Even they can calculate as well. Teachers are more important in this stage than parents. A child’s esteem is established by the influence of peer groups, at this very stage; he also develops a stronger sense of pride. In fact, the society’s values gain immense importance in a child’s life during this phase. Therefore, both positive and negative reinforcements are important so that the children develop competencies and negate inferiorities. The latter vice is substantial because a child’s inferiority complex may surge if he or she is repeatedly nagged. Alternatively, encouragement increases their industriousness.
On the contrary, within the ages 12 to 18, a child grows up to an adolescent. It is the most sensitive phase. The adolescents actually go through various personal identity crises where they cannot understand what goals in life they should opt for. An intense exploration pertaining to various personal beliefs and values takes place during this stage (Marcia & Josselson, 2013). Alternatively, proper exploration develops into an ethical individual. Here, the struggle is about finding one’s identity.
The young adulthood, which is between the ages 18 to 40, corresponds to the conflict in various relationships. During these ages, a person starts to open up in relationships and shares heartfelt thoughts, if development of other phases has been successful. The relationships are mostly shared with other people rather than mere family members. Therefore, one may actually submerge into isolation if he or she fears commitment and avoid intimacy.
The second last stage is during an individual’s middle adulthood. It pertains to the ages within 40 to 65 years. A person aims to settle down and establishes his or her career during this time. In fact, productivity is measured in terms of activities pertaining to the community and organizational involvement. Even people raise their own children at this stage (Hill & Burrow, 2012). However, if one fails to obtain these objectives then a sense of stagnancy can set in. Unproductive feelings may increase as well. Alternatively, if one encounters success at this stage then he or she can actually become more caring.
The last stage is when a person reaches the old age, which is more than 65 years. He or she is actually considered to be a senior citizen. Both productivity and pace of life decrease during this time. Sometimes, it is the most prominent time when a person can actually begin to feel more lonely and brood over his past deeds. Hopelessness and depression can also set forth very easily. A person tends to gain wisdom if he can successfully complete this phase. It is similar to that of Maslow’s need hierarchy, where last stage is self-actualization.
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Link between the theory and various life stages
In the above section, it can be understood how Hitler’s childhood experiences were extremely unpleasant. As a result, it cannot be expected that a child who grew up in an extreme condition and totalitarian setting will remain honest and open. Alternatively, asking for justifications for Hitler’s foul grades and rebellious behavior must be completely negated.
The bitter struggle of Hitler’s father was profoundly reflected in his conduct towards him. In fact, the way Alois was denied from parental care and love along with identity crisis, similarly, Adolf Hitler also remained restricted from receiving the same.
Thus, the first stage, i.e., prenatal and infancy phase, when a child learns to trust was not that unpleasant for him. It is because Hitler’s mother was present and took care of him. In fact, his closeness with mother was prominent. Therefore, he was not that insecure and learnt to trust people, at least to some extent.
During the early childhood (till 3 years), Hitler did not encounter such problems and thus developed adequate willpower. It can be witnessed in his dictatorship also. Therefore, he learnt few skills due to encouragement from his mother. However, he was definitely, not at all, tolerant of his failures. Once more the role of Hitler’s mother cannot be avoided in this case as well.
The third stage is middle childhood (5 to 12 years), where Hitler developed a strong inferiority complex as well as guilty frame of mind. His father started to abuse him terribly during these ages itself. Furthermore, Alois wanted his son to be overtly submissive and obedient. The distance, violence, and aggressiveness for Hitler’s father were not at all proper for such tender ages. In fact, it is that time when he should have been exposed to several opportunities to explore all his interpersonal skills; instead, he was friendless during that time. Alois humiliated his son time and again. He was corrected consecutively. Both Hitler and his father were stubborn in nature. As a result, it was difficult to defeat either one of the two in terms of their unbending wills.
Adolescence is often considered to be the most crucial stages during the formative years. His leadership qualities, intelligence pertaining to oration, and other incredible gifts somewhere faded in the background and manifested as vices instead of virtues, only because of his father’s conduct towards him. On the contrary, he lost his mother during adolescence stage itself. In fact, his failure in the secondary school was mainly the result of such a strict parenting. For instance, his father frequently whipped and caned him which ultimately undermined Hitler’s confidence and led to inferiority complex instead of industriousness. On the contrary, he continued to remain extremely fierce in respect of taking initiatives. The only credit can be given to his mother. Despite of being uneducated she always encouraged his son to take up lessons in piano and other artistic activities.
During the emerging adulthood, Hitler developed awkward relations with women. He was not at all comfortable interacting with the members of opposite gender. However, during his early twenties he entered into a relationship. It is often heard that she was his niece; although she died soon. Moreover, it is said that her death was not natural rather Hitler killed her, merely out of his sheer boredom. The situation is somewhat related to his father as well, where Alois married Hitler’s mother, Clara. She was Alois’ niece. Thus, reflection of his father’s vices can be noticed in Hitler. Nevertheless, with the time, Hitler developed several relationships which remained concealed from the public. Hitler preferred isolation, initially and his indifferent nature made each of his girlfriend’s more vulnerable to suicide. Many of them actually committed suicide. Interestingly, he also committed suicide along with Eva Braun, his spouse. The relationship between them lasted for almost 14 years. It is noteworthy that Hitler never reached the stage of late adulthood, which stage is considered to be right after 65 years.
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Criticism of the theory
It can be witnessed that Erikson explained and categorized each stage of development too elaborately. For instance, Hitler was quite cruel towards the animals. Erikson’s theory has inadequate explanation for these types of concepts, where a person’s interactions with other entities apart from human beings are evident (Wiley & Berman, 2013). Moreover, no one can actually explain which of the developmental stage has led to the above-mentioned behavior. Furthermore, even though initially Hitler feared intimacy yet how come he finally opened up and entered into a long-term commitment. He was actually not a womanizer unlike his father. In fact, he had one relationship at a time. Despite his vices, he deciphered maturity to some extent, in the case of Hitler’s last relationship with Eva Braun. On one hand, his father’s violence made him insecure while Hitler’s mother was actually responsible for the later years’ maturity. Contradictorily, his hatred towards Jews was definitely rooted in his father’s origin yet Hitler’s loyalty in the case of his country cannot be overlooked. Therefore, Erikson’s theory does not provide any evidence and structural argument regarding a person’s nature, where he is able to overcome some of his vices and displays virtues such as loyalty, commitment, and others.
Divergence between the theoretical conception and the life
There are few instances of Hitler’s life where his poor temperament, awkward demeanor, and antisocial tendencies are evident. Moreover, it is Hitler’s dysfunctional family which manifested in his emerging and middle adulthoods. The unstable adulthood and deeply flawed personality were because of his father’s disruptive behaviors. On the contrary, Hitler’s mother was largely responsible for the meager amount of virtues that he possessed. The attachment theory of Bowlby is actually more evident and relevant for development of every person’s personality and attitudes. Moreover, Erikson’s theory is flawed because it does not include the cultural aspects that can be responsible for a person’s conduct. For example, during that time, caning and beating were considered to be more purifying for the soul of an individual. Therefore, the problem is deep rooted in the societal norms and culture and not Alois’ conduct. The Erikson’s theory is, furthermore, more empathized towards childhood days and not adulthood. Alternatively, no such evidences can be found in this theory how adulthood experiences can alter a person’s personality despite of a painful childhood. Lastly, another disparity between the reality and the theory can be observed lucidly. For instance, many children have to take up responsibilities at a very early age. Thus, it pushes them to mature faster. Erikson has remained silent about this concept.
From the above study, it can be inferred how the chosen persona, Hitler displayed a combination of both virtues and vices together. There were many virtues such as leadership quality, oration, loyalty, and commitment, which Hitler deciphered during his middle childhood and adulthood days. On the contrary, his cruel and harsh nature, prejudices and hatred towards Jews, and ardent wish to have control over everyone directly reflect the effect of his father’s personality and behavior. As a result, it is important to understand that an individual’s behavior and traits of personalities are compiled manifestation of both mother and father’s attitudes towards an individual. However, Erikson’s theory explains few aspects clearly while others remained flawed. For example, few things that were not taken into consideration by Erikson while framing his theory include gender differences, cultures, and others.
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