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Theory by Erik Erikson

Ms. Andrea B. Martinez

UP CAS—Dep’t . Of Behavioral Sciences
Erik H. Erikson was an
influential and
pioneering psychologist,
psychoanalyst, and
author whose theory of
the eight psychosocial
stages of development
profoundly shaped the
field of child
In Erikson’s view, people pass
through eight stages in their
journey through the human life

There were various

developmental "crises” or
“tasks” that developed naturally
and inevitably at various points in
the life cycle.
The developmental task
can be a turning point of
increased vulnerability or
enhanced potential.

The more successfully

people resolves the issues
in each development al
stage, the more compet ent
they are likely to become.
• If a stage is managed well, we carry away a
certain virtue or psychosocial strength which
will help us through the rest of the stages of our

• On the other hand, if we don't do so
well, we may develop maladaptations
and malignancies, as well as endanger
all our future development .
• A malignancy involves
too little of the positive
and too much of the
negative aspect of the
task, such as a person
who can't trust others.
• A maladaptation is not
quite as bad and involves
too much of the positive
and too little of the
Infants are dependent on thei r
caregivers for survival. If their
needs are met, they develop
trust. But if they are rejected,
they develop mistrust.
Infants’ most significant interpersonal
relations are with their primary

Basic trust is built when the baby ’s

basic needs—such as comfort, food
and warmth—are consistently met
by responsive, sensitive
caregivers; if they can rely on an
exciting visual environment, they
can solidify basic trust even more.
If trust develops
successfully, the
child gains
confidence and
security in the
world around him.
If infant’s needs are not met and
does not find the world
responsive to his needs, the
result is basic mistrust and they
remain suspicious and wary.

The child develops a sense of

fear about the inconsistent world,
resulting in anxiety and
heightened insecurities
Basic trust is ordinarily syntonic,
and basic mistrust, dystonic.

Nevertheless, infants must

develop both attitudes.

Erikson believed that some ratio

of trust or mistrust is critical to
people’s ability to adapt.
Too much trust makes them
gullible and vulnerable t o the
vagaries of the world

Too little trust leads to

frustration, anger, hostility,
cynicism or depression.

• Trust in infancy
sets the stage for a
lifelong expectation
that the world will
be a good and
pleasant place to
• The inevitable clash
between bas ic trust
and basic mistrust
results in people’s first
psychosocial crisis.
• If people successfully
resolve this crisis, they
acquire their first basic
• Infants must experience
hunger, pain and
discomfort as well as the
alleviation of these
unpleasant conditions.
• By having both painful
and pleasurable
experiences, infants
learn to expect and hope
that future distresses will
meet with satisfactory

• If infants do not develop
sufficient hope, they will
demonstrate the
antithesis of hope—
withdrawal, the core
pathology of infancy.
• With little to hope for,
they will retreat from the
outside world and begin
the journey towards
serious psychological

For Erikson, young children
develop a sense of control over
their interpersonal environment, as
well as a measure of self-control.
However, chi ldren also experience
doubt and s hame as they learn that
many of their attempts at autonomy
are unsuccessful.
• Early childhood is a time of
exploring environment—
walking, running, holding
on toys, etc.
• With each activity, children
are likely to display some
stubborn tendenci es.

• Early childhood is a time of
contradiction, a time of stubborn
rebellion and meek compliance,
a time of impulsive self-
expression and compulsive
deviance, a time of loving
cooperation and hateful
• This conflicting period triggers
the major psychosocial crisis
during early childhood—
autonomy vs. shame and
doubt. 21
• Toddlers acquire self-
confidence and
autonomy if they learn
to regulate their bodies
and act independently.
If children are
encouraged and
supported in their
independence, they
become confident
and secure in their
own ability to
survive in the
• Autonomy grows out
of basic trust —hence,
if basic trust is
established in infancy,
then children learn to
have faith in
• In seeking autonomy, toddlers
assert their will.
• If they fail in their attempt to act
independent ly, labeled
inadequate, criticized or overly
controlled, restrained too much or
punished too harshly, they
experience shame and doubt and
are not likely to develop this
sense of independence.
• They begin to feel
inadequate in their ability
to survive and may
become overly dependent
on others, lack self-esteem
and feel a sense of shame
and doubt i n their own
• Shame is a feeling of self-consciousness, of being looked
at and exposed.
• Doubt is a feeling of not being certain, the feeling that
something remains hidden and cannot be seen.
• Both shame and doubt are dystonic qualities and both
grow out of basic mistrust established during inf ancy.

• The basic strength of will or
willfulness evolves from the
resolution of the psychosocial crisis
of autonomy versus shame and
• Toilet training epitomizes the
conflict of wills between adult and
child—the child’s striving for
autonomy and the parents’
attempts to control the child
through the use of shame and
doubt. 28
• Inadequate will is
expressed as
compulsion—the core
pathology of early
• Too little and too much
compulsivity carry forward
into the play age as lack
of purpose and into the
school age as lack of

In the play age, children
identify with their parents,
and at the s ame time are
developing locomotion,
language skills, curiosity,
imagination and the ability
to set goals.
• In engaging with play,
children develop sense of
purpose in which they
manufacture elaborate
fantasies of what it is like to
be a grown up.
• These fantasies, however,
also produce guilt and thus
contribute to the
psychosocial crisis of the
play age, namely, initiative
versus guilt.
• During the preschool
years, children’s social
world widen and they are
challenged to develop
purposeful behavior and
cope with these
• They plan activities,
make up games and
initiate activities with
• When asked to
assume more
responsibility for
themselves, children
develop initiative and
feel secure in their
ability to lead others
and make deci sions.
• The child can also
make choices about
what kind of person to
be—based in part on
identification with
• If children are irresponsible
or made to feel anxious,
they might develop too
much guilt for being not
able to complete certain
• They may feel like a
nuisance to others and may
therefore remain followers,
lacking in self-initiative.
• Children now play with a
purpose (e.g., competing
at games), setting goals
and pursue them with
• Play age is also the stage
in which children are
developing a conscience
and beginning to attach
labels such as right and
wrong to their behavior. 36
• This youthful
conscience becomes
the “cornerstone of
morality.” (Erikson,
• However, young
children are resilient.
• Most guilt are
compensated for by
a sense of
• But if guilt is dominant, the child may become
compulsively moralistic or overly inhibited.
• Inhibition—which is the antipathy of purpose—
constitutes the core pathology of the play age.
At this age, the social world of
children is expanding beyond
family to include peers,
teachers and other adul t
School-age children’s wish to
know becomes strong and is
tied to basic striving for
• Industry (industriousness)
is the willingness to remain
busy with something and to
finish a job.
• Industry is achieved by
mastering knowledge,
athletic, music, artistic, and
intellectual skills and other

If children take
pride in their
competenci es,
they acquire high
• If children compare
themselves unfavorably
with others, or do not
attain mastery, they
might develop a sense
of incompetence and
feel unproductive—
hence, a sense of
• Earlier inadequaci es
can also contribute to
children’s feelings of
• However, fai lure is not
inevitable. It can serve
as impetus to do one’s

• Competence is the
confidence to use one’s
physical and cognit ive
abilities to solve the
problems that accompany
school age.
• Competence lays the
foundation for “cooperative
participation in productive
adult life.” (Erikson, 1968)
• If the struggle between
industry and inferiority favors
either inferiority or
overabundance of industry,
children are regress to an
earlier stage of development
and spend most of their time in
non productive play.
• This regression is called
inertia—the antithesis of
competence and the core
pathology of school age. 45
For Erikson, adolescence period is one
of the most crucial development al stages
because, by the end of this period, a
person must gain a sense of ego
This is so because the crisis between
identity vs. identity confusion reaches
its ascendance during this stage.
From this crisis emerges fidelity, the
basic strength of adolescence.
At this period,
individuals are faced
with finding out who
they are, what they are
all about, and where
they are going in life.
They begin to look at the
future in terms of
career, relationships,
families, housing, etc.
• Hence, the search for ego
identity reaches a climax
during adoles cence as
young people strive to find
out who they are and who
they are not.
• Adolescents look for new
roles to help them
discover their sexual,
ideological and
occupational identities. 48
Adolescents are
confronted with many
new roles and adult
statuses—such as
vocational, romantic,
gender-based, etc.
They explore possibilities
and begin to form their
own identity bas ed upon
outcomes of their
• Identity is defined both
positively and negatively,
as adolescents are deciding
what they want to become
and what they believe,
while also discovering what
they do not wish to be and
what they do not believe—a
dilemma that may intensify
their identity confusion.
• Adolescents must
integrate various roles
into a consistent self-
• Self-identity is the
understanding of own
unique traits and what
is really of central
importance to a
If adolescents don’t
adequately explore
their identity, they
emerge from thi s
stage with a sense
of identity or role
• Identity confusion is a
syndrome of problems that
– A divided self image
– An inability to establish
– A sense of time urgency
– A lack of concentration on
required tasks
– A rejection of family or
community standards. 53
• Young people must experience
some doubt and confusion about
who they are bef ore they can
evolve a stable identity.
• Examples:
– Leaving home
– Experimenting with drugs and
– Identifying with street gang
– Joining a religious order
– Rallying against the existing
social order 54
• However, too much identity
confusion can lead to
pathological adjustment in the
form of regression to earlier
stages of development.
• Examples:
– Postponing responsibilities
of adulthood and drifting
aimlessly from one job to
another, from one sex
partner to another, or from
one ideology to another 55
• Society assists the healthy resolution of this
stage by providing a moratorium —a period
when the adol escent is free to explore
various possible adult roles without having
the obligations of real adulthood.

• Fidelity is faith in one’s
• Fidelity is the “ability to
sustain loyalties freely
pledged in s pite of the
inevitable contradictions of
value systems” (Erikson,
1964), making
commitments and striving
to honor them.
• After establishing their
internal standards of
conduct, adolescents are
no longer in need of
parental guidance but have
confidence in their own
religious, political or sexual

• The pathological
counterpart of fidelity is
role repudiation —the
core pathology of
adolescence that blocks
one’s ability to
synthesize various self-
images and values into a
workable identity.
• Role repudiation can
take the form of either
diffidence or defiance.
• Diffidence (identity foreclosure) is an extreme lack
of self-trust or self-confidence and is expressed as
shyness or hesitancy to express oneself.
• Defiance (negative identity) is the act of rebelling
against authority (e.g., by stubbornly holding socially
unacceptable beliefs and practices simply because
they are unaccepted) or an identity based on
undesirable roles in society.

After achieving identity during
adolescence, people must acquire
the ability to fuse that identity with the
identity of another person while
maintaining their sense of
In young adulthood, people
experience the conflict between
intimacy and isolation, and acquire
the basic strength of love.
At this time,
individuals face the
developmental task
of forming intimate
relationships with
partners, friends or
Erickson eloquently
described intimacy as
finding yourself and yet
losing yourself in
another person.
Hence, intimacy is the ability to
fuse one’s identity with that of
another pers on without fear of
it—secured that i ndividual
losing it—
identity will not be des troyed by
the merger.
• Intimacy can only be achieved after people have
formed a stable ego identity.
• Mature intimacy means an ability and willingness
to share mutual trust which involves sacrifice,
compromise and commitment within a relationship
of two equals. 65
completion can
lead to comfortabl e
relationships and a
sense of
safety, and care
within a
If individuals do not find
intimacy in relationships
with a partner and/or
friends, they can develop
a sense of social
commitment, leading to
loneliness and sometimes
• Isolation is “the incapacity to
take chances with one’s
identity by sharing true
intimacy.” (Erikson, 1968)
• This is sometimes referred to
as distantiation —the
readiness to repudiate,
isolate, and if necessary
destroy those forces and
people whose essence
seems dangerous to one’s
own.” 68
• Love emerges from the crisis
of intimacy versus isolation.
• Love is defined as mature
devotion that overcomes basic
differences between men and
women (Erikson, 1982).

• Although love includes
intimacy, it also contains
some degree of isolation
because each partner is
permitted to retain a
separate identity.
• Mature love means
commitment, sexual
passion, cooperation and
• The antipathy of love is
exclusivity—the core
pathology of young

• Exclusivity becomes
pathological when it blocks
one’s ability to cooperate,
compete or compromis e— e—all
prerequisite ingredients for
intimacy and love. 72
Middle adulthood is the time when
people begin to take their place in
society and assume responsibility
for whatever society produces.
Adulthood is characterized by the
psychosexual mode of procreativity,
the psychosocial crisis of
generativity versus stagnation, and
the basic strength of care.
A chief concern of
individuals at this stage
is to assist the younger
generation in
developing and leading
useful lives—hence

• Generativity is defined
as “the generati on of
new beings as well as
new products and new
ideas.” (Erikson, 1982)

• Generativity includes the procreati on of
children, the producti on at work, the creation
of new things and ideas that contribute to
the building of a better worl d.

• Generativity extends beyond
one’s own children to an
altruistic concern for other
young peopl e or broader
social issues.

If the person is pre-
occupied with purely
selfish needs, he/she will
have a feeling of having
done little or nothing for
the next generati on, or
self-absorption and
stagnation—the feeling
of being unproducti ve,
too self-indulgent.
• This interaction of generativit y
and stagnation produces
care—the basic strength of

• Care is “a widening
commitment to take care of
the persons, the products
and the ideas one has
learned to care for”
(Erikson, 1982).
• Care is not a duty or
obligation but a natural
desire emerging from the
conflict between generativity
and stagnation.

• The antipathy of care is
rejectivity, the core
pathology of adulthood.
• Rejectivity is the
unwillingness to take care of
certain persons or groups
(Erikson, 1982) manifested
as self-centeredness,
provincialism, or
pseudospeciat ion—the
belief that other groups of
people are inf erior to one’s
own. 81
Old adulthood is the period from
about 60 to the end of life.
Yet old, people can remain productive
and creative in other ways. Old age
can be a time of joy, playfulness and
wonder; but it is also a time of senility,
depression and despair.
The psychosocial stage is integrity
versus despair, and the basic
strength is wisdom.
• In late adulthood, people
review their lives—
contemplating on their
failures and
• If the retrospective
glances reveal a life well-
spent, the person feels a
sense of satisfaction—
hence integrity is
achieved. 83
• Integrity means a feeling of
wholeness and coherence, an
ability to hold together one’s
sense of “I-ness” despite
diminishing physical and
intellectual powers.
• Integrity means being able to
look back on one’s own life and
decide that it is meaningful —
without wishing that things had
been different.
However, if the
retrospective glances
are negative, the pers on
may feel a sense of
dissatisfaction with life—
sense of despair—
often leading to
depression and
• Despair means to be
without hope.
• From infancy to old age,
hope can exi st. But once
hope is lost, despair
follows and life ceases
to have meani ng.

• The struggle between
integrity and despair
produces wisdom—the
basic strength of old age.
• Wisdom is “informed and
detached concern wit h life
itself in the face of death
itself” (Erikson, 1982),
seeking to understand the
meaning of individual and
collective human life. 87
• The antithesis of
wisdom and core
pathology of old age is
disdain—a reaction to
feeling (and seeing)
others in an increasing
state of being finished,
confused, helpless, a
continuation of
Erik H. Erikson:

“In the end, the

power behind
is life.”