I am going to start a series on personality disorders soon. Call me crazy (groan), but I’m looking forward to it. Before we get to personality disorders, however, I’ve got another developmental theory I need to share with you first. I really like this one. It makes so much sense to me. The theorist is a German-born American psychoanalyst named Erik Erikson…the theorist so nice, they named him twice! Sorry, I’m just really happy to not be writing about Freud. Erikson was actually heavily influenced by Freud. But I like his theory so much, I don’t hold it against him, it’s THAT good!
Erikson’s 8 stages of psychosocial development cover the entire lifespan. Each stage consists of a crisis that must be resolved in order to move on to the next stage. Like we’ve talked about before, a person has to resolve a stage before they can go on to the next one. If they don’t, they won’t have the skills they will need to resolve future stages. The super scientific clinical term for this is the epigenic principle. And away we go…
Trust vs Mistrust (0 - 18 months): I always think about this stage when someone says somebody was too young to remember something, or have an event affect them. There’s no such thing as too young. Our task as newborns is to eat, sleep, and eliminate. It’s pretty basic. However, we are also completely dependent on our caregivers. At this stage, especially early in the stage, our only means of communication is to cry. One of two things happens when we cry as newborns: either our caregiver comes and meets our need (feeding, changing, rocking), or they don’t. If they come take care of us, we learn that the world is basically a safe place, and we can trust other people when we have needs. If they don’t, we learn that people are not to be trusted. Our need doesn’t change, but our ability to create trusting bonds never develops. Also remember that a person has to resolve this stage in order to move on to the next. Our ability to trust is being developed as soon as we are born. This is a core need in relationships. Successfully resolving this stage teaches the virtue of hope.
Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt (18 months - 3 years): At this age, we are starting to explore, independent of our caregiver. We begin to develop and express preferences. Examples of choices we may make for ourselves, whether invited to or not, include food, clothes, and toys. Terrible two’s, anyone? While this may be an incredibly frustrating time for the caregiver, the child is doing exactly what they are supposed to do…learning to assert their autonomy! The child is no longer an extension of the caregiver. This stage requires a delicate balance. On one hand, the child needs to assert autonomy, and start learning tasks. On the other, failure to achieve tasks results in shame and doubt. The caregiver can help the child resolve this stage by providing positive encouragement. If the child fails at a task, the caregiver can still praise them for trying, and help them modify the task and try again. Successful resolution of this stage results in confidence and security in abilities. Children who are criticized or overly controlled during this stage will doubt their own abilities, which may lead to dependence, and lack of self esteem. The value learned at this stage is will.
Initiative vs Guilt (3 - 5 years): During this stage, a child is starting to interact with other children, and is learning to play with others. Play involves making up games, planning activities, and initiating activities with others. The child is learning decision making, and the beginnings of leadership. If these tasks are thwarted too much by criticism or control, the child will develop guilt about these activities, and will end up lacking initiative. This is also the “why?” stage. As frustrating as it may be, it is extremely important that the child not be treated as a nuisance, nor shamed. This inhibits creativity and relationship building.
Morality is also taking shape at this stage. Positive reinforcement can help the child learn right from wrong without introducing an undue amount of guilt. Resolution of this stage results in the virtue of purpose.
Industry vs Inferiority (5 - 12 years): Think of “industry” as competence. This is the elementary school age, when the child is learning basic academic skills like reading, writing and math. The child’s peers become more significant, and the focus becomes earning acceptance. Self esteem comes from having competence reinforced and encouraged. Otherwise the child will doubt their abilities. A sense of inferiority comes from not being able to attain desired skills. While a degree of modesty is also important, it must be balanced with competence. Competence is the value learned during this stage.
I’m going to break this up into two entries. This one has covered childhood, and the skills a person needs going into adolescence. From here, we start moving into sexual and romantic relationships. See you there!
Cherry, K. (2016). Erik Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development. Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/erik-eriksons-stages-of-psychosocial-development-2795740
McLeod, S. A. (2013). Erik Erikson. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html