Erikson’s Identity Development Theory

Erikson’s Identity Development Theory

Erik Erikson was one of the most influential academicians who worked on personality and developmental psychology. Not only was he the first among modern psychologists to propose a lifespan development model, but he also incorporated the concept of identity into his conceptualizations. He considered identity formation to be an important aspect of psychosocial development. The identity proposed by Erikson has been discussed in the upcoming sections.

Erikson's Conceptualization of "Identity."

Erik Erikson conceptualized identity as an amalgamation of one's experiences, beliefs, values, and memories that shape one's perceptions of self. This identity, he suggested, develops over the whole course of one's life. Related to this concept was Erikson's "ego identity," which he suggested was 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.

Development of Identity

Erikson suggested that one's identity develops over the lifespan, which is categorized into eight stages of psychosocial development. He believed that different stages of life develop strengths in one's identity. He suggested that identity has both maladaptive and adaptive ways of coping with the crisis that follows a stage of psychosocial development. This copying leads to the development of certain components of identity. Identity development also follows the eight stages of psychosocial development proposed by Erikson.

  • Trust vs. Mistrust − This stage forms the basis for an individual's identity development. It leads to the basic virtue of hope and a sense of trust and security even when threatened. On the other hand, when resolved maladaptively and characterized by a lack of affection and inconsistency, it leads to suspicion, unpredictability, unrealistic expectations, mistrust, and anxiety in a baby while interacting with others.
  • Autonomy vs. Shame − This leads to the development of the strength of willpower and courage when resolved adaptively. On the other hand, maladaptive resolution leads to a lack of self-esteem and doubt in one's abilities.
  • Initiative vs. Guilt − This stage builds the purpose and initiative taking part of one's identity and, when not resolved adaptively, leads to inhibited creativity and interaction.
  • Industry vs. Inferiority − This is characterized by developing competence within one's identity. One who gets validation and support is likely to develop a positive and confident attitude about one's competency and skills, whereas one who does not will not and such a person will feel inferior.
  • Identity vs. Role Confusion − This is the most important stage for basic ego identity development. This stage is also known as an "identity crisis." When resolved, it results in a cohesive identity marked by confidence, a stable self-concept, and role clarity.
  • Intimacy vs. Isolation − This stage leads to association with social units like family, friends, romantic partners, and organizations. When such associations are filled with acceptance, understanding, commitment, and accommodation, it leads to the formation of an identity characterized by virtue of love. In the absence of intimacy, the person may be isolated, lonely, and depressed.
  • Generativity vs. Stagnation − This stage of a stable life with an already well-established family, career, friends, and society. It is characterized by a need to be generative, opportunity-seeking, and evolving. When one fails to be generative, one experiences stagnation, boredom, and a sense of unproductive.
  • Ego Integrity vs. Despair − This is the last stage characterized by the conflict of fulfillment or guilt. One develops ego integrity when one perceives one's life as fulfilling, satisfying, and productive. A lack of such ego integrity leads to dissatisfaction, despair, and frustration due to a perceived inability to deal with life's successes and failures.

Factors Affecting Identity Development

Erikson was not a complete determinist, and he suggested three main factors that affect identity development in an individual.

  • Genetic − These are the factors inherited from one's parents and ancestors. Erikson suggested that genetic factors provide an outlay or predisposition in which other factors decide the presence of an element in one's ego identity.
  • Environmental − These include one's family, society, and other personal experiences that impact one's perceptions, beliefs, learning, and perceptions of different situations. These factors' roles increase as one moves towards later stages of psychosocial development.
  • Contemporary factors − Interestingly, Erickson also suggested that the contemporary crisis in historical development greatly affects the individual's life crisis and so may differ based on time and place. For example, the crisis experienced by a youth during India's freedom struggle may be more centered around the nation than today's youth.

Resolutions and Issues

Identity-related crises and conflicts are experienced in all stages of life, but of great importance are the identity crises of adolescents and midlife crises, when one experiences a greater amount of conflict about one's own identity. Many personal and social actions can resolve identity conflicts and crises. Sometimes, when the crisis is severe and debilitating, psychological help may also be required.

  • Personal steps − As an individual, resolution of an identity crisis requires exploring one's self-exploration, being open to new experiences, seeking help if need be, selectively ignoring external and internal criticism, and keeping a supportive friend circle. This also requires realizing that being insecure and uncertain about one's identity is normal and adaptive in the long run.
  • Social interaction − At the societal level, probing a support system, being open to differences as a society, being liberal, and educating each other are important for helping each other to resolve one's conflicts and develop a positive identity adaptively.


Identity is an important part of one's being and has been conceptualized over time by many academicians. One such academician whose propositions were revolutionary is Erikson. His theory gives great insight into the concept of identity and how it develops over a lifespan. Erikson is relevant to identity formation during adolescence, which he considers one of the most critical periods in identity development. Thus, Erikson's conceptualization of identity is relevant to understanding development even decades after its proposition.


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Updated on: 13-Oct-2022

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