Autonomy Vs. Doubt and Shame: Erik Erikson

PsychologyPersonality Psychology

Many psychologists have given theories in developmental psychology. This is the scientific study of how and why humans grow, change, and adapt throughout their lives. Erik Erikson was a German-American developmental psychologist. He gave a theory of Human Development. His theory consists of eight stages, known as the psychosocial stages. It discusses the various developmental stages individuals go through throughout their lives. The outcome of each stage depends on whether the individual has been successfully able to resolve conflicts arising out of demands at each stage.

Erik Erikson's Stages of Development

Erikson stated that the development of personality occurs through a sequence of stages. These stages are organized in a hierarchy within a network of significant people in a person's environment. Erik used the principles of psychoanalytic theory in his stages. However, his stages of development are significantly different from those of Sigmund Freud because Erikson did not focus on the repression of sexual urges. There is another major difference. which is the scope of their theories. Because he believed that a human being develops fully in his early years, Freud only expanded his theory until a certain age, whereas Erikson expanded his theory until old age. After all, he believes humans develop during old age as well. Erikson pioneered a psychosocial theory founded on identity and cultural demands. His theory was primarily concerned with social and environmental factors. Here is a summary of Erikson's stages of development.

Erikson believed that as individuals pass through various stages in their lives, they have to enact various roles, resolve conflicts at each stage, and then move to the next stage. Any tension arising at these stages can lead to a different outcome. He contended that social experience was valuable throughout life, with each stage distinguished by the specific conflict we face between our psychological needs and the surrounding social environment. To become confident members of society, we must complete each stage and resolve conflicting states.

Autonomy Versus Shame and Doubt

This is the second stage in Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. It takes place between the ages of two and three. At this stage, a child is at an exploratory stage and wants to try out certain things he has learned from his environment. They can either be confident in trying them or feel reluctant to do so.

This is a stage when a child begins to gain independence. At this stage, children want to demonstrate various skills and make their own choices, for instance, choosing their favorite toy or deciding on their shoes or clothes. At this stage, a child begins to walk, climb, and jump independently. They also improve their communication. Success and failure to complete tasks are common in this stage. Children might get hurt or injured at times. A lot of trial and error takes place. Children begin to understand the tasks they can and cannot achieve. Children must learn willpower at this stage.

When children successfully achieve the demands of this stage, they find a sense of autonomy, greater independence, and a sense of power while performing several activities on their own. They have a good feeling that they will be able to survive on their own in this world.

At this stage, to encourage the importance of 'trying out things without the fear of failure, parents must attempt to be encouraging. This is the stage where Erikson thought potty training was important. This is because it teaches children to be independent, and they learn self-care. Additionally, parents should expect and encourage their children to test boundaries, pushing them a little and avoiding criticism when they fail. The resulting sense of security and confidence is critical for progress in the following stages, leading to the emergence of a strong will.

On the flip side, if parents are overly critical at this stage, it can lead to negative outcomes. Children may feel shameful for making a mistake, which will prevent them from taking chances due to the feeling of being controlled or punished. Even over-protectiveness during this stage can lead to shame. Children who are harshly criticized or not allowed to practice their new skills may regress. Poor language skills and potty training issues are very prevalent among this group.


Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development is a comprehensive explanation of the stages of development that individuals go through. His theory gives us an understanding that our personality develops through eight stages. His theory was less sexually biased and offered a modern outlook on development. He contended that each stage presented some challenges and demands. Success or failure in these stages influences the development of personality. A person's social environment plays a big role in the individual's response at each stage. The second stage, which starts at age two and lasts till age three, determines whether a child will grow up to be independent and confident or feel shameful and avoid risks in his life. A safe environment where individual learning abilities are praised frequently boosts confidence and independence. It is critical not to make too strict rules, so do not restrict little minds from experimenting and wandering.

Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47