The Developmental Stages of Erik Erikson Theory

Freud didn’t exactly invent the idea of the conscious versus unconscious mind, but he certainly was responsible for making it popular. The conscious mind is what you are aware of at any particular moment, your present perceptions, memories, thoughts, fantasies, feelings, what you have. Working closely with the conscious mind is what Freud called the preconscious, what we might today call “available memory” anything that can easily be made conscious, the memories you are not at the moment thinking about but can readily bring to mind. Now no one has a problem with these two layers of mind. But Freud suggested that these are the smallest parts! The largest part by far is the unconscious. It includes all the things that are not easily available to awareness, including many things that have their origins there, such as our drives or instincts, and things that are put there because we can’t bear to look at them, such as the memories and emotions associated with trauma. According to Freud, the unconscious is the source of our motivations, whether they are simple desires for food or sex, neurotic compulsions, or the motives of an artist or scientist. And yet, we are often driven to deny or resist becoming conscious of these motives, and they are often available to us only in distinguished form. We will come back to this. Freudian psychological reality begins with the world, full of objects. Among them is a very special object, the organism. The organism is special in that it acts to survive and reproduced, and it is guided toward those ends by its needs – hunger, thirst, the avoidance of pain, and sex. A part – a very important part – of organism is the nervous system, which has one of its characteristics a sensitivity to the organism needs. At birth, that nervous system is little more than that of any other animal, an “it” or id. The nervous system, as id, translate the organism needs into motivational forces called, in German, triebe, which has been translation from need to wish is called the primary process. The id works in keeping with the pleasure principle, which can be understand as a demand to take care of needs immediately. Just picture the hungry infant, screaming itself blue. It doesn’t “know” what it wants in any adult sense; it just knows that it wants it and it wants it now. The infant, in the Freudian view, is pure or nearly pure id. And the id is nothing if not the psychic representative of biology.

In fact. There are two aspects to the superego: One is the conscience. it isn’t enough to satisfy the organism. it is not completed until about seven years of age. for Freud. This is the wish or drive breaking into consciousness. And it keeps a record of these obstacles and aides. and guilt. some of the “it” becomes “I”. You see. the sex drive is the most important motivating force. The ego. shame. to a considerable extent. The other is called the ego ideal. might be enough to satisfy the id. However. it begins to demand more and more of your attention. such as the image of juicy steak. this time of social rather than biological origins. Luckily for the organism. It derives from rewards and positive models presented to the child. during the first year of a child’s life. In particular. and society often wants nothing better than to have you never satisfy your needs at all. The conscience and ego ideal communicate their requirements to the ego with feelings like pride. Freud felt it was the primary motivating force not only for adults but for children and even infants. such as the need for food. which is an internalization of punishments and warnings. which says “take care of a need as soon as an appropriate object is found. Unfortunately these new wishes can easily conflict from the ones id. You may noticed that. it meets with obstacles in the world. This record of things to avoid and strategies to take become the superego. unlike the id. It occasionally meets with objects that actually assist it in attaining goals. It is as we acquired. when you haven’t satisfied some need. THE STAGES As I said earlier. “It represents reality and. the conscious that is hooked up to the world through the senses. In some people. some of the id becomes ego. When he introduced his ideas about infantile sexuality to the Viennese . the organism) happy.Unfortunately. it never is completed. ultimately. the superego represents society. functions according to the reality principle. it keep tract of the reward and punishments meted out by the most influential objects in the world of the child – mom and dad. The need only get stronger and the wishes just keep coming. although a wish for food. as the ego struggles to keep the id (and. there is that small portion of the mind we discussed before. in childhood a new set of needs and accompanying wishes. reason. until there’s come a point where you cant think of any else. Around this little bit of consciousness.

do we find our greatest pleasure in sexual intercourse. but all pleasurable sensation from the skin. and so on. babies have the penchant for bringing nearly everything in their environment to contact with their mouths. Children younger than 10 or 11 years think about moral dilemmas one way: older children consider them differently. Later theories would call these areas erogenous zones. children. He or she understands that it is permissible to change rules if everyone agrees. meaning the study of the development of knowledge. He called it genetic epistemology. the child may have discovered the pleasure of touching or rubbing against his or her genitalia. much less in infants. the child focuses on the anal pleasures of holding it in and letting go. Rules are not sacred and absolute but are devices which use to get along cooperatively. The older child’s view is more relativistic. different parts of our skin give us greatest pleasure. PIAGET”S STAGES OF MORAL JUDGEMENT Theory Jean Piaget began his career as a biologist – specifically. In fact. As he delved deeper into the thought-processes of doing science. at different times in our lives. Freud had the making of a psychosexual stage theory. It is true that the capacity for orgasm is there neurologically from birth. A bit later in life. But Freud was not just taking about orgasm. the mouth. B y three or four. Find relatively little work done in the area. enjoy tactile experience such as caresses. They believed that rules are handed down by adults or by God and that one cannot change them. of course. It is clear even to the most prudish among us that babies. It appeared to Freud that the infant found its greatest pleasure in sucking. Only later. The Oral Stage last from birth to about 18 months. a malacologist! But his interest in science and the history of science soon overtook his interest in snails and clams. but most of his findings fit into a two stage theory. especially at the breast. In these observations. especially in the development of thinking. The focus of pleasure is. Sucking and Biting are favorite activities.public of his day. Sexuality meant not only intercourse. Freud noted that. As we have seen. he became interested in the nature of thought itself. and of course. they were hardly prepared to talk about sexuality in adults. adults. younger children regard rules as fixed and absolute. Piaget studied many aspects of moral judgment. kisses. he had the opportunity to give it a label. in our sexual maturity. .

Kohlberg therefore interviewed both children and adolescents about moral dilemmas. Based in part on his study of Sioux Indians on a reservation. He uncovered six stages. based on the challenges and support we received in growing up. the ages seem to be appropriate for the majority of people. The man who did a great deal to explore this concept is Erik Erikson. emotional. Although he was influenced by Freud. When. but he essentially found a series of changes that occurs between the ages of 10 and 12. According. just when the child begins to enter the general stage of formal operations. He organized life into eight stages that extend from birth to death (many developmental theories only cover childhood).At approximately the same time—10 or 11 years—children’s moral thinking undergoes other shifts. one might expect thinking about moral issues to continue to develop throughout adolescence. leader or follower. does not stop at this point. In particular. but other characteristics. independent. Intellectual development. aggressive or passive. such as feeling either competent or inferior. whereas older children base their judgment on intention on intentions. only the first three of which share many features with Piaget’s stages. There are many more details to piaget’s work on normal judgment. such as depression and war. Erikson became aware of the massive influenced of culture on behavior and placed more emphasis on the external world. for example. This is just the beginning of formal operations. appear to be learned. middle aged adults and older adults. however. the young child thinks that the first boy did worse. adventurous or cautious. Erikson divided the stages of adulthood into the experiences of young adults. and cultural (ethos) influences. Our personality traits come in opposites. We think of ourselves as optimistic or pessimistic. or dependent. and he did find stages that go well beyond Piaget’s. Many of these are inborn temperament traits. which continue to develop at least until age 16. the young Childs hear about one boy who broke 15 cups trying to help his mother and another boy who broke only one cup trying to steal cookies. younger base their moral judgments more on consequences. The world gets bigger as we go along and . Erikson’s basic philosophy might be said to rest on two major themes: 1. While the actual ages may vary considerably from one stage to another. He felt the course of development is determined by the interaction of the body (genetic biological programming). he believed that the ego exists from birth and that behavior is not totally defensive. or unemotional. Since adulthood covers a span of many years. mind (psychological).

many studies of suicides and suicide attempts point to the importance of the early years in developing the basic belief that the world is trustworthy and that every individual has a right to be here. Shame Basic Strengths: Self. If we pass successfully through this period of life. Not only do we learn to walk. Mistrust Basic strength: Drive and Hope Erikson also referred to infancy as the Oral Sensory Stage (as anyone might who watches a baby put everything in her mouth) where the major emphasis is on the mother’s positive and loving care for the child. with a big emphasis on visual contact and touch. in many cases an individual who has to deal with horrendous circumstances as a child may be unable to negotiate later stages as easily as someone who didn’t have as many challenges early on. we might take exception to the last. Courage.control. or whoever is our most significant and constant caregiver. If we fail to experience trust and are constantly frustrated because our needs are not met. we are learning finer motor development as well as the much appreciated toilet training . Not surprisingly. Infancy: Birth to 18 months Ego Development Outcome: Trust vs. While the first point is fairly obvious. and will During this stage will learn to master skills for us. we will learned to trust that life is basically Okay and have basic confidence in the future. 2. learning . we know that orphans who weren’t held or stroked as infants have an extremely hard time connecting with others when they become adults and have even died from lack of human contact. the most significance relationship is with the maternal parent. Early Childhood: 18 months to 3 years Ego Development Outcome: Autonomy vs.2. Failure is cumulative.Here we have the opportunity to build self-esteem and autonomy as we gain more control over our bodies and acquire new skills. True. talk and feed ourselves. Incidentally. For example. we may end up with a deep-seated feeling of worthlessness and a mistrust of the world in general. 1.

4. he said that at this stage we usually become involved in the classic “Oedipal struggle” and resolve this struggle through “social role identification. experimenting with the blue print for what we believe it means to be an adult. 3. Play Age: 3 to 5 Years Ego Development Outcome: Initiative vs. he downplays biological sexuality in favor of the psychosocial features of conflict between child and parents. And one of our schools during the “Terrible two’s” is our ability to use the powerful word “NO!” It may be pain for parents. we may feel great shame and doubt of our capabilities and suffer low self-esteem as a result.” If we’re frustrated over natural desires and goals. . We also begin to use the wonderful word for exploring the world—“WHY?” While Erikson was influenced by Freud. If were shamed in the process of toilet training or in learning other important skills. Nevertheless. Inferiority Basic Strengths: Method and Competence During this stage. creating and accomplishing numerous new skills and knowledge. The most significance relationship is with the basic family.right from wrong.esteem. we may easily experience guilt. we can have serious problems in terms of competence and self. often called the latency. The most significant relationships are with parents. but it develops important skills of the will. we are capable of learning. Guilt Basic Strength: Purpose During this period we experience a desire to copy the adults around us and take initiative in creating play situations. thus developing a sense of industry. however. School Age: 6-12 years Ego Development Outcome: Industry vs. playing out roles in a trial universe. (See Use of the Will from He Hit Me Back first!) It is also during this stage. We make up stories with Barbie’s and Ken’s toy phones and miniature cars. that we can be very vulnerable. This is also a very social stage of development and if we experience and resolve feelings of inadequacy and inferiority among our peers.

And while adolescence is a stage at which we are neither a child nor an adult. according to Erikson. The problem is that we don’t have much experience and find it easy to substitute ideals for experience. It is no surprise that our most significant relationships are with peer groups. However. A significant task for us is to establish a philosophy of life and in this process we tend to think in terms of ideals. Young Adulthood: 18 to 35 Ego Development Outcome: Intimacy and Solidarity vs. and grapple with moral issues. Isolation Basic Strengths: Affiliation and Love In the initial stage of being adult we seek one or more companions and love.As the world expands a bit. Unfortunately for those around us. From here on out. in this process many of us go into a period of withdrawing from responsibilities. 5. which Erikson called a “monatorium. we can experience intimacy on a deep level.” And if we are unsuccessful in navigating this stage. primarily through marriage and friends. life is definitely getting more complex as we attempt to find our own identity. Our task is to discover who we are as individuals separate from our family of origin and as members of a wider society. . As we try to find mutually satisfying relationships. development mostly depends upon what is done to us. rather than reality. If negotiating this stage is successful. we will experience role confusion and upheaval. 6. Adolescence:12 to 18 Years Ego Development Outcome: Identity vs. which are conflict free. Parents are no longer to complete authorities they once were. which is not. struggle with social interactions. though this age has been pushed back for many couples who today don’t start their families until their late thirties. although they are still important. Role Confusion Basic Strengths: Devotion and Fidelity Up to this stage. we can also develop strong devotion to friends and causes. we generally also begin to start a family. developments depends primarily upon what we do. our most significance relationship is with the school and neighborhood.

feeling fulfilled with a deep sense that life has meaning and we’ve made a contribution to life. middle adulthood is when we can expect to “be in charge. Middle Adulthood: 35 to 55 or 65 Ego Development Outcome: Generativity vs. Erikson observed that middle-age is when we tend to be occupied with creative and meaningful work and with issues surrounding our family. Late Adulthood: 55 or 65 to death Ego Development Outcome: Integrity vs. 7. Despair Basic Strengths: Wisdom Erikson felt that much of life is preparing for the middle adulthood stage and the last stage is recovering from it. If we don’t get through this stage successfully. 8. Significant relationships are within the workplace. The significant task is to perpetuate culture and transmit values of the culture through the family (taming the kids) and working to establish a stable environment. Also. And when we don’t find it easy to create satisfying relationships. we may be face with major life changes—the mid-life crisis—and struggle with finding new meanings and purposes.” the role we’ve longer envied. Strength comes through care of others and production of something that contributes to the betterment of society. we can become self absorbed. Perhaps that is because as older adults we can often look back on our lives with happiness and are content. which Erikson calls generativity.If we’re not successful. isolation and distance from others may occur. a feeling Erikson calls integrity. so when were in this stage we often fear inactivity in meaninglessness. the community and the family. As our children leave home or our relationships or goals change. our world can begin to shrink as. Our significant relationships are with marital partners and friends. we can feel superior to others.and stagnate. in defense. Our strength comes from a wisdom that the world is very large and we . Self Absorption or Stagnation Basic Strengths: Production and Care Now work is most crucial.

some adults may reach this stage and despair at their experiences and perceived failures. the community and family. . wondering “Was the trip worth it?” Alternatively. On the other hand. They may fear death as they struggle to find a purpose to their lives.” According to the developmental stages of Erik Erikson the patient belongs to middle adulthood in which the significant relationship are within the workplace. The significant relationship is with all of mankind—“my kind. they may feel they have all the answers (not unlike going back to adolescence) and end with a strong dogmatism that only their view has been correct. accepting death as the completion of life.now have a detached concern for the whole life.

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