Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development

Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development is one of the best-known theories of personality in psychology. Erik Erikson came up with eight stages explaining the process through which individuals should go through from infancy to late adulthood. In each stage the individual faces, and hopefully gains mastery over certain skills. Each stage then builds on the successful completion of the previous stages.

Each stage is concerned with becoming competent in a certain area of life. If the stage is managed well, the individual will feel a sense of mastery, which he referred to as ego strength or ego quality. But if the stage is handled poorly, the individual will experience a sense of inadequacy. Erikson believes that the challenges of stages that were not successfully dealt with may reappear later in life in the form of problems.

Enumerated below are the eight stages, with special attention to stages five and six:

Psychosocial Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust (Infants, 0 to 1 year)

The first stage is the most fundamental stage in life and focuses on the infant’s basic needs. Since an infant is utterly dependent, the development of trust depends on the parents or guardians. The child’s understanding of the world is provided by the parents and their interaction with the child. If the child is exposed to an environment of warmth and dependable affection, the child’s perspective of the world will be one of trust. Once the child successfully develops trust, he or she will feel safe and secure in the world. On the Other hand, parents who are emotionally unavailable, inconsistent or rejecting confer the feeling of mistrust.

Psychosocial Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt (Toddlers, 2 to 3 years)

This stage is focused on children developing a greater sense of personal control as they begin to assert their independence. If children at this stage are supported and encouraged in their increased independence, they tend to become more confident and secure in their ability to survive in the world. The parents’ patience and encouragement helps instil autonomy in the child. But children who are criticized and restricted by their parents tend to develop a sense of shame and doubt in their own abilities.

Psychosocial Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt (Preschool, 4 to 6 years)

Children start to assert their power and control over the world through directing play and other forms of social relation.  Children want to begin and complete their own actions for a purpose. They begin to plan and initiate activities with others. Once given this opportunity, children develop a sense of initiative and prepare for leadership and goal achievement roles. Conversely, if adults discourage the pursuit of independent activities, either through criticism or control, children develop a sense of guilt.

Psychosocial Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority (Childhood, 7 to 12 years)

Children begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments and abilities through social interactions. They are more focused to bring a productive situation to completion instead of previous whims and wishes of play. They tend to initiate projects, bring them to completion, and feel good about what they’ve achieved. At this stage, teachers play a significant role in the child’s development. In general, children who are encouraged and commended by their teachers and parents develop a feeling of competence and belief in their skills and abilities to achieve goals. Those who receive little or no encouragement will feel inferior and start to doubt their ability to be successful.

Psychosocial Stage 5: Identity vs. Role Confusion (Adolescents, 13 to 19 years)

During adolescence, the transition from childhood to adulthood is of utmost importance. It is the time when children are exploring their independence and developing a sense of self. They explore possibilities and start to establish their own identity based upon the results of their explorations. The adolescent is deeply concerned with how they appear to others. They start to look at the future in terms of relationships, career, families, housing, etc. During the later stages of adolescence, the child develops a sense of sexual identity.

As children make the transition from childhood to adulthood, adolescents evaluate the roles they will play as adults. At first, they are likely to experience some role confusion or mixed ideas and feelings about how they will blend into society. As such, they are apt to experiment with different types of behavior and activities. In the end, Erikson proposed that most adolescents will achieve a sense of identity as to who they are and where their lives are headed.

During the entire process, those who get enough encouragement and reinforcement through personal exploration are the ones who will emerge with a strong sense of self and a feeling of independence and control. In contrast, those who remain uncertain and doubtful of their beliefs and desires tend to be confused about themselves and the future.

Psychosocial Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation (Young Adults, 20 to 34 years)

At the beginning of this stage, identity vs. role confusion is coming to an end, and it persists at the foundation of the stage. Young adults still yearn to blend their identities with their peers in their effort to fit in. Erikson believes that people are sometimes isolated due to intimacy. People are discouraged and fearful of rejections because it is painful and the ego cannot bear such pain. Erikson also proposes that intimacy has a counterpart: distantiation or the willingness to isolate and if needed, to eliminate the forces and people whose essence are perceived as threat, and whose domain seems to impinge on the extent of one’s intimate relations.

Erikson posits that the moment people establish their identities, they are ready to engage in long-term commitment. They are able to form intimate relationships and readily make the sacrifices and compromises that such relationships entail. If people fail to form intimate relationships, then a sense of isolation may result. Moreover, those who avoid intimacy can lead to isolation and sometimes depression.

Psychosocial Stage 7Generativity vs. Stagnation (Middle Adulthood, 35 to 65 years)

Generativity pertains to the concern of guiding the next generation. People at this stage are focused on giving back to society by being productive at work and becoming involved in community activities and organizations. When a person achieves such objectives, a sense of generativity results. In contrast, those who are unable or unwilling to help society move forward feel unproductive and develops a feeling of stagnation.

Psychosocial Stage 8: Ego Integrity vs. Despair (Seniors, 65 years onwards)

As people grow older and become senior citizens, productivity slows down and the focus shifts on reflecting back on life. It is during this stage that people contemplate about accomplishments and are able to develop ego integrity if there is a perception that they had led a successful life. There is a feeling of contentment and integrity if they believe that they have led a happy and productive life. Those who are unsuccessful during this phase will feel that their life has been wasted and will experience disappointment and regrets. The individual will be left with feelings of bitterness and despair, often leading to depression and hopelessness.

Psychosocial Stages Summary Chart

StageBasic ConflictImportant EventsOutcome
Infancy (birth to 18 months)Trust vs. MistrustFeedingChildren develop a sense of trust when caregivers provide reliabilty, care, and affection. A lack of this will lead to mistrust.
Early Childhood (2 to 3 years)Autonomy vs. Shame and DoubtToilet TrainingChildren need to develop a sense of personal control over physical skills and a sense of independence. Success leads to feelings of autonomy, failure results in feelings of shame and doubt.
Preschool (3 to 5 years)Initiative vs. GuiltExplorationChildren need to begin asserting control and power over the environment. Success in this stage leads to a sense of purpose. Children who try to exert too much power experience disapproval, resulting in a sense of guilt.
School Age (6 to 11 years)Industry vs. InferioritySchoolChildren need to cope with new social and academic demands. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.
Adolescence (12 to 18 years)Identity vs. Role ConfusionSocial RelationshipsTeens needs to develop a sense of self and personal identity. Success leads to an ability to stay true to yourself, while failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self.
YoundAdulthood (19 to 40 years)Intimacy vs.IsolationRelationshipsYoung adults need to form intimate, loving relationships with other people. Success leads to strong relationships, while failure results in loneliness and isolation.
Middle Adulthood (40 to 65 years)Generativityvs. StagnationWork and ParenthoodAdults need to create or nurture things that will outlast them, often by having children or creating a positive change that benefits other people. Success leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, while failure results in shallow involvement in the world.
Maturity(65 to death)Ego Integrity vs. DespairReflection on LifeOlder adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair.
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