Erik Erikson’s 8 stages of psychosocial development

Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development identifies 8 stages in which a healthy individual should pass through from birth to death. Each stage is crucial to our development as a whole and at each stage we encounter different needs, ask new questions and meet people who influence our behavior and learning. Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development stands out among other devleopmental theories as he believed humans continue to develop from birth to death, and that at each stage, they can equally flourish as they can despair.

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Erikson Psychosocial Development -  Sprouts Psychology

Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development identifies eight stages which a healthy individual should pass through from birth to death. At each stage we encounter different needs, ask new questions and meet people who influence our behavior and learning.

Trust Erikson Psychosocial Development -  Sprouts Psychology

As infants, we enter the first stage that Erikson called Basic Trust vs. Mistrust we ask ourselves if we can trust the world and we wonder if it’s safe. We learn that if we can trust someone now, we can also trust others in the future. If we experience fear, we develop doubt and mistrust. The key to our development is our mother.

Autonomy Shame Erikson Psychosocial Development -  Sprouts Psychology

In our early childhood, we experience ourselves and discover our body. In this second stage we learn to alter between Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt. We ask: is it okay to be me? If we are allowed to discover ourselves, then we develop self-confidence. If we are not, we can develop shame and self-doubt. Both parents now play a major role.

Innitiative Guilt Erikson Psychosocial Development -  Sprouts Psychology

In the following third stage, we learn about Initiative vs. Guilt. In preschool, we take initiative, try out new things, and learn basic principles like how round things roll. We ask: Is it okay for me to do what I do? If we are encouraged, we can follow our interests. If we are held back or told that what we do is silly, we can develop guilt. We are now learning from the entire family.

Industry Inferiority Erikson Psychosocial Development -  Sprouts Psychology

In the fourth stage, we explore Industry vs. Inferiority. Now we discover our own interests and realize that we are different from others. We want to show that we can do things right. We ask if we can make it in this world? If we receive recognition from our teachers or peers we become industrious, which is another word for hard-working. If we get too much negative feedback, we start to feel inferior and lose motivation. Our neighbors and schools now influence us the most.

Identity Erikson Psychosocial Development -  Sprouts Psychology

During adolescence, we enter the fifth stage in which we explore the complexity of Identity vs. Role Confusion. We learn that we have different social roles. We are friends, students, children, and citizens. Many experience an identity crisis. If our parents now allow us to go out and explore, we can find identity. If they push us to conform to their views, we can face role confusion and feel lost. Key to our learning are our peers and role models.

Intimacy Isolation Erikson Psychosocial Development -  Sprouts Psychology

As young adults, now in our sixth stage, we turn our focus to understanding Intimacy vs. Isolation. We slowly understand who we are and we start to let go of the relationships we had built earlier in order to fit in. We ask ourselves if we can love? If we can make a long-term commitment, we are confident and happy. If we cannot form intimate relationships, we might end up feeling isolated and lonely. Our friends and partners are now central to our development.

Generativity Stagnation Erikson Psychosocial Development -  Sprouts Psychology

When we reach our forties we become comfortable, use our leisure time creatively and maybe begin contributing to society. The seventh stage determines our Generativity vs. Stagnation. Our concern is Generativity. If we think that we are able to lead the next generation into this world, we are happy. If we did not resolve some conflicts earlier, we can become pessimistic and experience stagnation. People at home and at work are now who influence us the most. 

Integrity Despair Erikson Psychosocial Development -  Sprouts Psychology

In the final, eighth stage, we face Ego Integrity vs. Despair. As we grow older we tend to slow down and begin to look back over our lives. We ask: how have I done? If we think we did well, we develop feelings of contentment and integrity. If not, we can experience despair and become grumpy and bitter. Time to compare us with mankind.

Erikson Psychosocial Development -  Sprouts Psychology

Erik Erikson was a German-American psychologist who together with his wife Joan, became known for his work on psychosocial development. He was influenced by Sigmund and Anna Freud and became famous for coining the phrase “identity crisis.” Although Erikson lacked even a bachelor’s degree, he served as a professor at Harvard and Yale.

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Classroom activity

Teachers who incorporate Erikson’s stages of development into their practice suggest that focus should be aimed at the core “crisis” of each developmental stage and that students should be guided through the crisis in a way that allows them to resolve it and mature into the next developmental stage. Targeted activities or simple subtle rules could help! For instance, when dealing with the Initiative vs Guilt crisis, allow your students to decide what they want to read in the reading club or let them select the activity for the next class. When attending to students who are currently going through the Identity vs Role Confusion Stage, why not introduce role models to the class? If possible try and present a balanced range of people, of different genders, from different times, from different minorities and with different ranges in the magnitude of their contribution to your chosen field!

Click here for some great ideas on classroom activities.