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Eriksons Psychological Theory

Taryn R. Tarr-Wolfla
Ivy Tech Community College


Have you ever heard of a person experiencing an identity crisis? We can thank Erik
Erikson for putting a label on the stages of identity! Erik H. Erikson was born in 1902 in
Frankfurt, Germany and died in 1994 in Harwich, Massachusetts. He developed his
psychosocial development theory based on the premise that cognitive and social development
occur hand in hand and cannot be separated (Morrison, 2012 p 141). Personality
development, in Erik H. Erikson's view, occurs through a series of identity crises that occur in
stages that must be overcome and internalized (, 1996). Erikson was raised to think his
mothers husband was his father. In fact, he never met his birth father and learning the truth
about his rearing, led to his interest in identity (Cherry).
Eriksons Psychological Theory has eight stages of identity to complete in a life cycle.
Each stage builds off the one before it. If one stage is not completed successfully, it will most
likely have a negative impact on the way an individual views the world. I have experienced this
first hand. Four weeks ago, I would have told you I did not believe in an identity crisis. Today, I
am telling you, I am in the middle of one. I breezed through the first five stages of Eriksons
development. I am currently nearing the end of phase 6 and feeling the pressures of phase 7. I
am thrilled to have the opportunity to learn about these developmental stages. I am on my way
to healing the past in hopes of completing stage 6 successfully. With the path I am currently on,
I will be able to start stage 7 healthy and successful. I want nothing more than to have a life of
meaning. I feel learning the stages of development from Eriksons perspective have helped me
realize the true meaning of life and my real purpose!


Basic Trust vs. Mistrust: Birth to eighteen months
Trust vs. Mistrust is a developmental stage of infants. This stage identifies those things
necessary for a child age 0-18 months to become reliant and trusting in another individual.
Social relationships begin during this stage and Erikson expresses how important it is to look
into the eyes of a child, address them by name, and talk to them in simple phrases but not baby
talk. He recognizes the importance of responding to a crying infant with enthusiasm, concern
and love. It is important to play games with a child during this phase and encourage their nature
to mimic what they see and hear. For example, if a caregiver smacks their lips together
repeatedly, it is natural for the child to mock or mimic that behavior. This is true of facial
expressions, gestures and sounds. During this phase, caregivers need to be attentive to children.
They need to be consistent and available when it comes to the needs of children in their care.
The most important aspect of this phase is emotional availability from caregiver to infant. If a
child does not have the proper attention, they will not learn trust and will learn to fear the world.
It is suggested that this phase is the most important for development.
I spoke with my grandmother who was my primary caregiver for my first two years of
life. She said my mother had a horrible pregnancy. She was tired, over-worked and angry.
Once I was born, she let me lie in my crib to cry and did not tend to my needs. My grandmother
took me when I was four months old. She said I cried a lot and it took me a long time to trust her
and act calm or interact with others. She said by the time I was a year and a half, I was very
social, happy, and easy. I was not aware of this time in my life. I knew I spent a quality
amount of time with my grandparents but I did not know they actually raised me for a few years
without my mother being involved. I think after a rocky start in this phase, my grandmother

saved my development by making sure I was taken care of. I would say I ended this stage


Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt: Eighteen months to Three years
Autonomy vs. shame and doubt is Eriksons second stage of development. In this stage it
is important to kids to find their independence and learn to do things for themselves. It is
important to have a safe environment they can explore on their own. It is important to observe a
child in this stage and understand what they are trying to do before you discipline or punish
them. When necessary, punishment and discipline should never be harsh. Cutting a childs
character and making them feel shame will make them feel inadequate and keep them from
advancing through this stage successfully. This stage can be very frustrating for the children and
adults involved. Remember to leave plenty of time in planning events for the day or curriculum
for this age group. Time management will allow caregivers the opportunity to assess new
milestones for children in this stage of development. In the classroom, I overheard a teacher
talking to kids about making bad or good decisions rather than calling them bad or good
girls/boys based on their decisions. I thought this was profound because it gave children the
power to make choices and not be labeled.
I had to speak with relatives to recall my personal experience during this stage. My
grandmother said I was very independent and wanted to do everything myself. She said I often
showed my temper and threw things when I couldnt complete a task. I asked her how she
responded to my temper tantrums. She said she simply redirected me. She said she never
spanked or yelled at a child in her life. In fact, she remembered my temper tantrums to be funny
and she often laughed to herself as she watched me in action. She admitted I would continue a
task until I mastered it, even if I had thrown a fit or yelled and cried. She remembered me being
very independent and confident at this age. Based on her answers to the questions concerning
this stage of my life, I would say I completed it successfully.

Initiative vs. Guilt: Preschool Years
During Initiative vs. Guilt phase, a child will exert their control over other in play and
social settings. Pre-school aged children will start to show leadership and will show a sense of
accomplishment. Those who do not complete this phase successfully will be full of doubt and
guilt (Cherry). Combining these traits and learning to work with other individuals will usually
define a purpose.
I have been told I conquered this stage. My grandmother said I was never mouthy or
rude but to the point and directive. She said, I was confident in leading any age group and
always had a plan to share regardless of my company. She shared a story with me from
Thanksgiving when I was 7 years old. Apparently my relatives were fighting over who would
buy gifts for whom at Christmas, to include adults or just kids and what the spending limit
should be. According to grandma, I interrupted the conversation and suggested we not buy gifts.
I suggested we make gifts and give them to people in nursing homes and hospitals of our
individual choice. We can go together to pass them out and have dinner and game time. I do not
remember initiating this particular idea but it has been a tradition in my family now for near 30
years. Confidence and leadership are traits I carried through the first half of my life. There
seems to be a thin line to cross when it comes to children being leaders or bossing other children
around. We, as a society, seem to place certain social expectations on individuals and have
manipulated the leadership out of many. Manners are great, socializing is wonderful, and
knowing when to listen rather than talk is priceless. However, there are a lot of people who are
wrapped up in how they will be viewed by others. Individuals are judged by being cross, rude,
a know-it-all, and ignorant for trying to do anything other than mainstream.

I would say I was successful in this stage of development. I had strong, successful
leadership skills for a large part of my youth and young adulthood.


Industry vs Inferiority: 5-11 years
During this stage of Eriksons Psychological Theory, children start to develop pride in
themselves. Parents and teachers play a large role in this phase of development. When a child
is encouraged by the adults in their environment, they learn their skills are appropriate for
success (Cherry). When a child is not praised by adults in their environment, they learn their
skills are not worthy of success and they lose their drive to be successful (Cherry). The key to
this phase is finding a balance.
I remember this phase of my life. I spent hours running the neighborhood. My parents
gave me the freedom to roam as long as I was back home by the time the street lights came on.
We played independently of our parents and we dealt with our own arguments and learned to
work through our differences in order to have friends to play with. We played pick-up games of
dodge ball; whiffle ball, and kickball in the court adjacent to my house. I was always one of the
first to be picked because I had natural athletic ability. Everyone had an aspect of play they were
great in. For instance, my friend David wanted to be on the radio. He would bring his cassette
recorder to the court. He was not athletic and did not have interest in competing. Instead, he
interviewed the teams, and the action of the game. Another friend was good at making the
opponent laugh when it was their turn to focus. We all knew our place and we all accepted one
another in our group. I believe these times helped me to be a team player, sometimes a leader,
and always a friend first. As I aged toward the latter part of this phase (10/11), I started to play
volleyball. I was a natural and was playing on some of the best teams in our little county. I
transitioned from playing occasionally at the age of 9 to playing nationally by the age of 11. My
parents were thrilled with my success in sport. They constantly praised me, showed up to my
matches, and worked overtime to pay for my flights and tournaments.

In this stage, I developed a great deal of accomplishment but as an adult I do not think I
ever achieved balance. I am torn as to whether this stage was a success for me. If balance is
truly the key to this phase, I would have to say I failed. I was praised but I feel my direction was
weak. My parents made sure I excelled at my strengths but I never acknowledged or grew what I
was weak in.


Identity vs Role Confusion: 12-18 years

Identity vs. Role Confusion is the struggle to find ones individuality and relate to the
world. The strongest characteristics that come from this stage are devotion and fidelity (Harder).
The best definition I found for this stage is the following: Up to this stage, according to Erikson,
development mostly depends upon what is done to us. From here on out, development depends
primarily upon what we do. During this stage of life, we struggle to become individuals. We
will learn to define who we are by our individual beliefs, our opinions, and our experiences we
allow ourselves to have or those we deny ourselves. Erikson suggested there would be a decline
of responsibilities during this phase. Our most significant relationships during this stage are with
peer groups. If one fails this stage, they may struggle with extremes or rejecting things that are
This was an interesting stage for me. In the literature that I have read, it suggests this
stage can come earlier for females. For me, this stage came later than 18. I had wonderful
relationships, was a very devoted friend, daughter and made sure all of my relationships were
fulfilled. This is a phase that I was very committed to playing volleyball and all of my focus was
to get a scholarship for college. I believe this focus carried me into my first year of college
(which I did obtain a scholarship for) and then everything fell apart. I had made a goal that I as
an individual would obtain a scholarship. I focused all of my extra time and energy from the
time I was 9 until I was 19 working out, jump training, passing a ball, and traveling to
tournaments. All of my focus was on this one aspect of my life. I was friends with girls who
played volleyball as much as I did. Once I got to college, I didnt set another goal. I had
achieved the very level I had been reaching for over 9 years. I was playing volleyball at a

Division 1 college and I did not make another goal. I had been driven by my coaches, by my
parents, and by my desire. When it came time to move forward, the only life skill I had was to
play volleyball. I was an average to below average student. I was overwhelmed. I should not
have been in a position to juggle classes, study tables, practice, travel games and tournaments
and be introduced to the bar scene all at once. I was not capable of making good decisions. My
discipline was gone. Although I did attend a Division 1 school, it was on the east coast and
volleyball out there was about as competitive as my 4
grade team in the Midwest. I ended up
completing my first semester. I failed all but one of my courses. It was the first time I had ever
failed anything in my life. I did not know what to do so I stopped going to class. I ended up
withdrawing from school and moved to the beach.
I would say this was a very difficult stage in my life. It has taken me many years
to try and get back on course and successfully gain the knowledge intended for this time frame. I
do not feel I was successful before this stage because of what I was supplied but because I was a
people pleaser. When it came down to me doing things to define myself and make myself
happy, I did not have an idea where to start. I am currently trying to learn lessons from this
particular stage.


Intimacy vs. Isolation: 18-40 years
This stage or Intimacy vs. Isolation takes us to a desire to find a companion or people to
love. If one is successful in this stage, they will be able to experience deep relationships. If one
is not successful, they may find themselves withdrawing from others or thinking they are
superior to others. Strengths to come from this stage are production and caring. If one does not
successfully complete this stage, they may find themselves struggling with self- absorption or
stagnation. The closest relationships formed during this stage are with spouses and friends.
During this stage, it is important to balance giving and receiving in all relationships. We must
learn to love, comfort, and accept. If this stage is not completed successfully, one might isolate
themselves from relationships, social settings, and become lonely or withdrawn from life.
As I mentioned in the last stage, I feel I am coming into this stage late. Actually, I feel I
failed it miserably the first time and now it is being reintroduced as I work on becoming
successful in the stage before. I got off of track in Identity vs. Role Confusion. I dropped out of
college, moved to the beach and lost my way for a year. I was in empty relationships and ended
up getting pregnant. I was a mother at the age of 20. I was already behind in my development
socially and individually. I did recognize I was off course and wanted to raise my son well. I
started to research proper ways to love and care for infants. I did this with every stage of his life.
Some of it came naturally and instinctual but some of it did not. My parents had disowned me
because I embarrassed them when I failed college. It was me and my little bundle of joy to
tackle the world. I had not learned to really love or have a real, lasting relationship with an
individual. I did not know how to share myself. I did not even know who I was. It wasnt until
I met my son that I understood unconditional love. In having him, I skipped several steps of my

own development. He became the most important thing in my life. He was my focus and I knew
I had to do right by him. As an adult woman in the last year or so of this phase now, I know I
have failed it. I am just now fixing the things I should have learned in the 5
stage. I am piecing
it together and working with a counselor. I have been doing so for two years now. I am guilty of
isolating myself socially. I do not feel comfortable answering questions about myself. I am just
learning who I am and what I stand for. I have noticed that I do not allow myself to hold many
relationships whether it is friends, family, or spouse. I am currently married but my marriage is
in turmoil. I met and married my husband 7 years ago. He is a great person but he is not what I
would have chosen if my life were in order the way it should have been. This will continue to be
a work in progress. However, I am encouraged that I am still just at the end of this age span for
the stage. I am not as far behind as I originally thought!


Generativity vs. Stagnation: Ages 40-65 years
In this stage the individual tries to establish a meaning for their life. When one speaks of
generativity, it is not about having or wanting kids but having the desire to mentor and help the
next generation of people to be more successful than the ones before them. If a person is
stubborn and lacks interest in moving forward or helping others, they become stagnate. There
are several things an individual in this stage should be doing. These tasks include running a
successful, comfortable household, showing love outside of sexual nature; have respect for your
children as they grow. Give children the tools to be successful and then get out of the way and
let them use the tools you gave them. You should have goals and accomplishments to feel good
about to avoid stagnation. Reaching accomplishments makes you feel positive and helps to
reach beyond your comfort zone to try and conquer new things.
I am a few years away from this particular stage but I am starting to feel the pressures of
making a purpose for my life and not wasting time. I want to have a mission, and a goal to
achieve and measure my value in this society. As I stated in the previous section, I am struggling
to get to know myself as an adult woman. I went through a phase in my life where I stopped
progressing in any aspect of life other than motherhood. It has been hard to pinpoint where
things got off track and how to pick up the pieces and gain ground to emotional, mental, and
physical wellness. I feel if I can get all of this on track in the next five years, I will be very
successful in the Generativity vs. Stagnation phase. I feel everything will begin to come
together, and my life mission will show itself when I grow past the present and the problems I
allowed to creep in from Intimacy vs. Isolation. I have a very hard time with relationships, and
feel I have to make my point or state my opinion in all circumstances. I do not do this for the
sake of being right, but for the sake of being heard. I am learning a lot about my behaviors that

have contributed to my failures in Intimacy vs. Isolation. I do not personally feel you can fail a
previous stage and be successful as you go to the next stage or stages. I am aware of the
wonderful things I missed in my previous stage. I should have spent more time developing
friendships, striving for career goals, financial goals, looking for volunteer opportunities and
involving myself in the community. Having the knowledge I have of the things I should have
learned, combined with this class and the counseling I have taken part in for two years, I feel I
will be very successful in Generativity vs. Stagnation.
My love for kids will allow me to lead them to be more successful than myself. I feel
being open and honest with generations that follow me will help them to stay on track and make
better decisions. I am devoted to making a difference in the life of children. This will be my
focus when I come in to the Generativity vs. Stagnation phase.


Integrity vs. Despair (Maturity): Ages 65 to death
During this phase, individuals reflect on their lives and decide if they have met their
accomplishments. If they have and they feel fulfilled, they will have integrity and good feelings
about their life. These individuals will attain wisdom, even when confronting death. Those who
feel proud of their accomplishments will feel a sense of integrity. Successfully completing this
phase means looking back with few regrets and a general feeling of satisfaction (Cherry). If
individuals do not feel accomplished, they can feel despair, hopelessness and depression and feel
their life has no meaning. Feeling despair and negative about your life during this phase can
make one fear death. Those who are unsuccessful during this phase will feel that their life has
been wasted and will experience many regrets. The individual will be left with feelings of
bitterness and despair (Cherry). The individual will be left with feelings of bitterness and
despair (Cherry).
I most definitely want to experience success in this phase. I cannot imagine getting to
this stage of my life and regretting things I did or did not accomplish. My plan is to surround
myself with people to love and mentor. I do not want to measure myself my monetary wealth
but the numbers of kids, pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults I can make a positive impact on.
I believe a key for me to be successful in this stage is to figure out how to make my past work for
my advantage instead of paralyze me. I have realized how much time I have wasted while
learning of Eriksons phases of development.
I see myself volunteering in places where young people spend time. I can relate to
people of many cultures, monetary classes, religions, and ages. I am becoming comfortable with
whom I am and the things I have experienced. I have a lot of information to share and guidance

to give. I know what it is like to be on top of the world and have my pick of colleges because of
athletic success. I know what it is like to struggle because I became a mother in my late teens. I
know what it is like to get off course and become stagnant and fight back to a life of meaning.
Most of all, I am learning to forgive. I have found it hardest to forgive myself but I feel that has
been the most healing piece to my individual puzzle. The thought that I was never meant to be
perfect is hard for this perfectionist to swallow! I am growing and I could not be more excited to
tackle the stages of development to allow for success in my elder years. I do not want to live a
life of fear and despair. I want to feel good about the woman I have become. I want to share my
life and experiences with others. I am learning this life is all about growing and learning. I
know now it is not about my success to further my monetary value and material items. It is
about furthering my success to help others further theirs. I want to look at my heavenly father
on my day to transfer and hear him say, well done child.



Cherry, K. (1902-1994). Erik Erikson Biography, Guide

Erikson, E. H. (2013). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved, Sep 02, 2013, from

Harder,A.F. (2012). The Developmental Stages of Erik Erikson.

Morrison, G. M. (2012), Early Childhood Education. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson
Education, Inc.