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Theory of Psychosocial Development by Erik Erikson

Born Erik Salomonsen on the 15th of June 1902, Erik Erikson was a German-American psychoanalyst and developmental psychologist. He coined the term ‘identity crisis’ and is known for his ‘Theory of Psychosocial Development’. He developed this theory in collaboration with his wife, Joan Erikson, in the 20th century. 

It describes the eight stages of psychosocial development, which an individual goes through in life. These eight stages are as follows:

Hope (Trust vs Mistrust)

This is the first stage in the life of humans or the infancy stage. During this stage, the infant either develops trust or mistrust towards parents or the caregiver. This is based entirely on how the child is treated. If the parents or the caregiver fulfils the child’s basic needs, he or she trusts the world. 

The infant also learns the virtue of hope. If the parents or the caregiver is unable to fulfil the child’s basic needs, the infant develops a sense of mistrust. This leads to the feelings of suspicion, withdrawal, and lack of confidence in the child.

Will (Autonomy vs Shame/Doubt)

When a child is a toddler, he or she begins to explore his or her surroundings. The child still depends on the parents or the caregiver for security. However, what the child is looking for at this stage is autonomy. The toddler develops his or her interests for the first time. It can be playing with certain things or enjoying some music and dance. The parents or the caregiver needs to be careful while dealing with the child at this stage. 

If they patiently encourage their child to explore more, he or she can deal with problems independently. There are parents or caregivers who are highly restrictive or ridicule the child’s early attempts to become independent. It leads to the feelings of shame and doubt in the child about handling problems.

Purpose (Initiative vs Guilt)

Children aged 5 to 8 are constantly trying to learn basic skills and understanding the principles of physics. This helps them master the world around them. A child at this stage performs a task for fulfilling a purpose. Some of the qualities that a child can develop at this stage is planning, taking initiatives, and leadership. 

The role of parents, caregivers, and teachers involves supporting the children’s efforts. At the same time, they must also help children to be realistic and make appropriate choices. If the adults discourage the efforts made by children, the kids develop guilt about their pursuits.

Competence (Industry vs Inferiority)

Middle childhood is when a child must deal with the learning of new skills. Children aged 9 to 12 are said to be in their middle childhood. This is the stage when children begin to learn reading, writing, recognizing individual differences, and telling time. At this stage, there is also a risk of the child feeling incompetent or inferior upon failing to learn. Children in their middle childhood are also eager to learn moral values. 

They might, at times, assert their independence by being rebellious and disobedient. They may also talk back. Parents and caregivers must allow children to discover their own talents and praise them for their accomplishments. Ridicule and punishments for their efforts will develop the feelings of inferiority or incompetence in them.

Fidelity (Identity vs Role Confusion)

At this stage of life, the adolescent increasingly becomes concerned with how he or she appears to others. This stage covers the ages from 12 to 19. It involves a transition from childhood to adulthood and the child develops sexual identity. The adolescents usually find themselves at the crossroads. The questions they have are – who they are and what they can be. 

As they embark on a path of self-discovery, they may have some disagreements with their parents or caregivers. These disagreements are usually over matters like beliefs, religion, and political orientation. This is also the time when career choices are made. Parents or caregivers can be a guide for them in this regard, but they must avoid being too insistent.

Love (Intimacy vs Isolation)

Early adulthood brings a need in young adults to ‘fit in’, as they feel afraid of rejections. There may be times when an intimate relationship is under threat from outsiders. As a result, the young adults may seek to destroy or isolate things that threaten their life or ideals. Such things usually happen to those who are around the age of 30.

Once they have surpassed this age and established their identity, they can make some long-term commitments. They develop the capability of forming great relationships by the way of marriage or close friendships. If such relationships require some compromises, they are willing to make sacrifices. Those who are unable to form intimate relationships often develop a sense of isolation. This may arouse the feelings of anger and frustration in them.

Care (Generativity vs Stagnation)

This is a stage when adults feel the responsibility of offering guidance to the next generation. It is referred to as ‘Generativity’. This often applies in family, society, relationships, and work. Some of the common expressions of generativity are choice of work and disciplines that are socially valued. 

Adults aged 40 to 59 who contribute towards the betterment of society or raising a family feel a sense of productivity and accomplishment. Those who are unable or unwilling to make such contributions feel dissatisfied and stagnated.

Wisdom (Ego Integrity vs Despair)

When the adults become senior citizens, it is time for them to enjoy their retirement and explore life. They begin contemplating on the things they have achieved. If they feel that they have not been able to achieve their life goals, they develop despair and dissatisfaction. They go through depression and hopelessness.

If they believe that their life has been productive and happy, there is ego integrity and contentment in them. During this stage, they may also take a renewed interest in several things. They try to develop a sense of autonomy so that they become self-reliant to the greatest extent possible.

Theory of Psychosocial Development by Erik Erikson

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