Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson is considered one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century. His contributions to personality and developmental psychology are undeniably huge, and one of his greatest theories is the theory of psychosocial development. A psychoanalyst by education, Erikson not only extended Freud's earliest stages of development but modified them and gave some necessary additions in the form of concepts and stages that got popular consensus for his propositions. Below, we explore Erikson's theory of psychosocial development in detail.

Basic Assumptions of the Theory

Unlike Freud's psychosexual development, Erikson's development is psychosocial, implying that social context plays a role in one's personality development. Erikson believed that one's personality develops throughout the lifespan. He suggested that at different stages, one experiences different kinds of conflicts or crises that one needs to resolve. The basic assumptions and conceptual propositions of Erikson's theory are as follows −

  • The stage model of development − Like Freud, Erikson also believed that psychosocial development occurs in stages. However, unlike Freud, he proposed that this development extends throughout one's life. Erikson suggested that this stage model coincides with age, implying that an individual's chronological age can classify stages. He suggested that each stage is characterized by developing strengths from resolving crises. These strengths are interrelated, and the non-resolution of one crisis will likely lead to problems in the upcoming stages.
  • Epigenetic principle of maturation − Erikson proposed that the developmental process was regulated by the epigenetic principle of maturation, as he called it. He suggested that inheritance and genes create predispositions realized by environmental factors like personal experiences, society, family, etc. Thus, he believed in the role of both nature and nurture in one's development.

  • Conflict and crisis − Erikson believed that a crisis characterizes each stage of psychosocial development. The development of an individual includes conflicts and crises, the resolution of which leads to better development and adjustment. He suggested that the potential for conflict is predisposed innately, which means it appears at different stages when adaptation is required. These confrontations with the environment require adaptation, which he called a crisis.
  • Response to crisis − crisis response leads to a shift in perspective and redirects one's energy in accordance with the needs of the new stage of life. Thus, a crisis necessitates a response, which, according to Erikson, can be both adaptive and maladaptive. Interestingly, he suggested that both kinds of responses can lead us to the next stage, but maladaptive responses can also lead to problems in upcoming stages. Further, Erikson believed that an adaptive outcome could be achieved in the upcoming stages, but a previous maladaptive stage makes such adaptive outcomes difficult.
  • Ego Identity − According to Erikson, ego identity means a sense of identity that plays a critical role in maintaining continuity in life, especially in times of change. An effective ego identity can be understood as a strong sense of self.

Stages of Development

Erikson proposed an eight-stage model of psychosocial development, suggesting that each stage is characterized by opportunities to develop one's strengths that are developed as a result of the resolution of the crisis. The eight stages of psychosocial development that encompass one's life span are as follows −

  • Trust vs. Mistrust − (0–1 year): This stage parallels Freud's oral stage and occurs in the first year of one's life. The baby's world revolves around the caregiver. The caregiver's attitude and interaction can lead to trust and mistrust within the child. The caregiver's ability to give affection and cater to the baby's needs can lead to the development of trust and hope, which provide the function of the development of ego identity. At the same time, mistrust and lack of affection can lead to mistrust, suspicion, fearfulness, and anxiety within the child.
  • Autonomy vs. Doubt and Shame − (2–3 years): This stage corresponds to Freud's anal stage and is characterized by the child's rapid physical and mental development. This stage also features a child's first experience with the ability to exercise control. Toilet training is the major crisis and challenge during this stage, and adaptive resolution in this stage leads to the development of one's ability to exercise freedom and self-restraint in appropriate situations in later stages of life.
  • Initiative vs. Guilt − (3–5 years): This is Freud's genital stage and is characterized by a child taking up initiatives and fantasies. A positive outlook of the caregiver towards such initiatives and helping the child redirect them in realistic and socially acceptable ways can lead to adaptive copying. A successful resolution of this stage leads to the development of purpose and courage to take up and pursue goals.
  • Industriousness vs. Inferiority − (6–11 years): This stage coincides with Freud's latency stage, where the child is exposed to society and peers. At this stage, the child starts forming a self-image based on one's physical characteristics and skills. If society and parents help them develop a positive image, they develop competence and encouragement to strive. On the contrary, children can feel inferior, rejected, and inadequate when they do not get validation.
  • Identity Cohesion vs. Role Confusion − (12–18 years): This is the period of a major identity crisis when we form the major and basic parts of our self-concept. The resolution of this stage is characterized by a congruent self and fidelity that emerges from a cohesive ego identity. This stage's resolution, whether adaptive or maladaptive, is highly influenced by self and peers.
  • Intimacy vs. Isolation − (18–35 years): This stage is characterized by independence from parents, career development, relationship development, and adult responsibilities in society. The person needs care, commitment, and understanding from social units like family, friends, and romantic partners. When one receives such intimacy, one merges one's identity into new relationships without losing one's identity. At the same time, maladaptive resolution can lead to isolation.
  • Generativity vs. Stagnation − (35 - 55 years): This is the stage of maturity characterized either by growth and development or stagnation in institutions like work, family, society, and friends. The availability of opportunities and taking up opportunities to explore new spheres lead to generativity, while the absence of these leads to stagnation, boredom, and interpersonal impoverishment in an individual's life. Carl Jung conceptualized the crisis at this stage as a "midlife crisis' by Carl Jung.
  • Ego integrity vs. Despair − (56+ years): This is the final stage of one's life, and it is characterized by important events like retirement, the demise of loved ones, and separation from children. At this stage, one evaluates one's whole life, and this evaluation acts as a crisis. An optimistic evaluation leads to a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, whereas a perspective of failure leads to frustration and distracting action, leading to despair.


Erikson's eight stages of psychosocial development are revolutionary and provide great insight into the development of human personality. This theory not only helps to understand development and conflicts faced during childhood and adolescence but also in adulthood and old age. It is often used to understand the concepts of an adolescent identity crisis, midlife crisis, and successful aging. Thus, this theory is a major contribution to developmental psychology.


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Updated on: 13-Oct-2022


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