Industry vs. Inferiority: Erik Erikson

PsychologyPersonality Psychology

Industry vs. Inferiority: Erik Erikson

When children are in middle school, they are very busy trying to do good at school and other tasks that they take up. Accomplishments in their tasks make them feel competent, which helps them take up tougher challenges in the future. We all love to do well in the activities that we engage in. However, what happens when children feel like they have not achieved anything? Erikson's fourth stage of psychosocial development helps in understanding the crisis of achievement versus the lack of it.

Industriousness Versus Inferiority: Defining the Stage

This stage builds on the earlier stages of psychosocial development. As children have gained trust and autonomy in their earlier stages, their rising urge to take the initiative leads them to become more productive individuals as they reach school and middle school. The progression of these stages is illustrated below.

School-aged children have many places where they need to prove their competence. Be it in academics or extra-curricular activities, and they are constantly engaged in some activities. At this age, they are preoccupied in a competitive environment, trying to prove their competence. A child gains competency when they successfully navigate this stage. As we progress in life, competence becomes an important component of confidence and plays a significant role in the next stage of identity formation.

How does a Sense of Industry Develop?

This stage is heavily focused on academics, competition, and social interactions. Children at this stage want to be acknowledged as capable by both adults and peers. This is a very active phase in which they understand how they compare to their peers. Children develop a sense of industry when they can solve sums in class, complete assignments which require time and effort, and do well in other subjects such as art and sports. Additionally, they feel confident when they perform better compared to their friends. Children feel competent when they can complete a task without help from elders. For instance, they feel confident when they perform well in their class test. Additionally, this stage helps children understand what they can accomplish and cannot.

What Leads to Inferiority?

Like all stages, this stage builds on the success or failures in the previous stages. Children who have not achieved autonomy or a sense of initiative in the previous stages may feel hesitant to take on challenges at school. Erikson believed that children who lack confidence might consistently seek adults' help to accomplish a task, leading to a sense of inferiority. On the other end of the spectrum, when children take competency too far off limits, they may not settle for anything less than perfect. This sense of perfection can lead to feelings of inferiority if the results do not meet their unrealistic expectations.

Here is a table explaining the outcomes rising after this stage.

Industry Inferiority
When children successfully achieve their tasks, it creates a sense of competence. Children feel confident in the future tasks that they undertake. This sense of confidence helps them in later stages and identity formation. When children cannot finish their tasks and are not given any external confidence, they may feel inferior to other children, and this can lead to dependence on others and low self-confidence.
Excessive drive for competence can lead to an insatiable urge for perfection and, hence, to feelings of inferiority.

Hurdles in Achieving Industry

This is the stage where differences start showing up. Children who have learning differences or neurological diversity may struggle with competence. They may need some assistance in completing some tasks. Additionally, they may not have exposure to environments that promotes their competencies. This can lead to feelings of inferiority. Children who are struggling to fit in are often made fun of by other children in classrooms. This further lowers their confidence and raises their feelings of inferiority. They may avoid classroom interactions, reducing their chances of proving their competence. Socio-economic differences can lead to disparities too. Children from privileged backgrounds can have better opportunities to prove their competencies in academics and extra-curricular activities compared to children without such exposure.

Balancing Between Success and Perfection

How can caregivers ensure that children value success while understanding that life is more than just accomplishments? This can be achieved when children are taught to strike a balance between thriving for competence and recognizing that achievement is just a part of life. Parents must emphasize the value of practice and effort rather than just focusing on the results.

Parents must help their children find value in excellence and not perfection. It is important to reinforce the values of hard work and patience. Parents will have to assist a child when they fail by giving them emotional support and helping them to find their niche.


In the fourth stage of development, children are highly focused on achieving competence. The key to the successful completion of this stage is finding the balance between achieving excellence and perfection. Children must learn to take it too slow a take it one step at a time. Caregivers must encourage the child to complete the task and explain the importance of participation. Erikson believed that if these hardworking children succeed in their endeavors, they will gain confidence for future challenges. If not, a sense of inferiority can set in, which can cause distress in further stages of life.

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