Introduction to Erik Eriksons Stages of Psychosocial Development

Cathleene Filmore's image for:
"Introduction to Erik Eriksons Stages of Psychosocial Development"
Image by: 

Erik Erikson was a prominent psychoanalyst of the 1960's. Erikson believed that our personality unfolds throughout our lifespan. He was considered a Freudian Psychologist and was trained by Freud's daughter Anna. Unlike Freud, his approach seems to be well rooted in dependable research and a healthy perspective. According to Erikson's theory there are eight stages of development each having a crisis that must be resolved. These crises are rooted in the subconscious and while Freud's developmental stages were considered psychosexual, Erikson's stages were considered psychosocial; therefore the subconscious motivations were social in nature rather than sexual.

The Psychoanalytic Approach comes from the perspective that all behavior stems from a conflict that was unresolved in some stage of one's development. Freud's focus was quite negative in its focus on the neuroses caused by one of these unmet sexual crises; Erikson had a more positive approach with his social crisis.

Trust Versus Mistrust

The first stage in Erikson's theory is the stage of Trust Versus Mistrust. This stage occurs in infancy from newborn up through the first year. According to Erikson, trust in infancy prepares the child for a belief that the world will be a safe place to live.

Autonomy Versus Shame and Doubt

The second stage is that of Autonomy Versus Shame and Doubt. This stage starts at the end of infancy around age one and continues to age three. The infant begins to become independent and should not be punished too harshly as harsh punishment could develop a sense of shame and doubt.

Initiative Versus Guilt

The third stage of Initiative Versus Guilt occurs in early childhood during the preschool years (ages 3 to 5). This is the stage when children begin to assume responsibilities and when guided by a caregiver the child will either react with initiative or guilt.

Industry Versus Inferiority

The fourth stage of Industry Versus Inferiority occurs from middle to late childhood, during the elementary school years from age 6 to puberty. In this stage, children begin to master intellectual skills and react to these skills with expanded imagination or feelings of inferiority.

Identity Versus Identity Confusion

The fifth stage of Identity Versus Identity Confusion occurs during adolescence from age 10 to 20. During this stage, teens and pre-teens react either positively or negatively when confronted with the challenges of becoming an adult.

Intimacy Versus Isolation

The sixth stage of Intimacy Versus Isolation occurs in early adulthood, from age 20 to 30. This is when young adults attempt to form healthy relationships. If the young adult finds meaningful healthy connections with others then they will react by forming more relationships, however when confronted with rejection a young adult may choose isolation.

Generativity Versus Stagnation

Stage seven; Generativity Versus Stagnation unfolds during middle adulthood. Somewhere between age 40 and 50, a healthy adult will develop an altruistic feeling toward the younger generation. An adult who is experiencing Generativity will develop the desire to give back to the world in some way.

Integrity Versus Despair

The final stage of Erikson's theory is Integrity Versus Despair. This stage occurs late in adulthood, around age 60. A senior adult looks back on their life with satisfaction or regret. Those seniors experiencing regret react in despair, perhaps with bitterness and anger. Seniors who feel good about what they have accomplished and what they can still do will experience integrity.

The psychosocial stages of Erik Erikson can lead one to reason that if an individual's development was stagnated at one of the stages and he or she were able to work through the crisis of that stage then that individual could indeed move onto the next stage of development. If the individual was able to do this repeatedly then an individual who had not matured past adolescence, could indeed become a mature functioning adult.


Burger, J. M. (2008). Personality (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth-Thomson Learning

Santrock, John W. (2008). Life-Span Development. New York: McGraw Hill.

More about this author: Cathleene Filmore

From Around the Web