Erikson’s psychosocial development theory

Erickson’s psychologically theory is founded on Freud’s egoist ideas, however, unlike his predecessors, Erickson’s theory is much more societal and culture oriented. This said, his research is essentially more  focused among human societies than  Feud theory.  Erickson’s psychosocial theory basically analyses the impact of the culture, parents, and society on an individual’s personality development and the conflicts therein. According to Erickson, people undergo eight related stages from infancy to adulthood which significantly affects their personality and development in positive or negative ways (Erikson, 1982). Leveraging on the works of previous psychosocial development psychologists, Erickson emphasized that an individual’s personality develops epigenetically in eight predetermined sequences. In his theory, the first five stages rage from infancy to eighteen years while the next three extend further beyond adulthood to old age. Crisis is compounded at each development stage which presents a conflict with a psycho (individual) needs with social (societal) needs. Successfully completing each stage results in the acquisition of strong personalities and virtues that an individual can use to solve crisis’s in life and the opposite is true for those who do not fully transition from one stage to the next  (McLeod 2013). Although the theory has attracted so much criticism and ambiguity, for instance, what experiences must one undergo so as to resolve psychosocial conflicts and transition to the next stage? The theory has nonetheless received credibility and is applicable to modern life from different perspectives for understanding and explaining how behavior and personality development in people occurs.

Erickson’s 8 Stage psychosocial Development Theory

Erickson theory is primarily drawn from the ideas of Sigmund Freud his daughter Anna Freud. Erickson’s argument is similar to Freud’s in the sense that both of them believed that an individual develops by passing through various stages. However, while Freud’s development focused more on sexual drives and libido, Erickson’s psychosocial stages were fundamentally based on the evolution of social traits (Boyd & Bee, 2015). Though influential, it’s important to note that Erickson theory stands entirely on its own.

The Infancy Stage or the Oral sensory stage lasts approximately the first year and a year and a half of life. If parents give a newborn a degree of consistency and familiarity, then the child can develop trust and hope in knowing that the social world is a safe place to be in and is surrounded by loving and reliable people. However, if the parents are unreliable and harm or ignore the infant’s needs, then the infant develops mistrust and becomes suspicious and apprehensive of the surrounding people.

The second stage is known as the anal muscular stage; it runs from eighteen months to three or four years. In this stage, the child seeks to attain a degree of autonomy while minimizing doubt and shame. Therefore, if the parents, society allows the toddler to explore his environment, then they develop independence. However, if the parents come hard on the toddler and restrict their freedom, then they develop shame and doubt and will take the assumption that they are not allowed to act on their own.  Worse is when the child develops too much shame and doubt which subsequently leads to malignancy that Erickson referred to as compulsiveness. A toddler who is compulsive feels that everything they do must be done perfectly by following all the rules.

The third stage is known as the play age or genital locomotor stage. It runs from age three to six. This stage is characterized by initiative and guilt. Initiative is the capability to devise actions with the belief and confidence that it is right to take on challenges, responsibilities and engage in learning new skills. Guilt in this context is the feeling of inappropriateness or disapproval that is caused by failure to do what is right. Initiative is enhanced when game playing and adventure is encouraged, and guilt develops out of fear of becoming admonished and accused that comes about by suppressing adventure and experimentation which also inhibits a child’s confidence. Parents are warned to find a balance to avoid children developing too much initiative which leads to ruthlessness in achieving goals. At the same time, too much guilt creates malignancy such that a child grows to become inhibited to try things because “nothing ventured, nothing lost” and, particularly, nothing to feel guilty about. An inhibited person, therefore, grows to be frigid in life. Most importantly, a balance creates a sense of purpose and courage. Children who successfully pass through this stage develop leadership skills, and those who fail are left with feeling of guilt and self-doubt.

Erickson refers to the fourth stage as the latency stage or the school-age stage for children aged six to twelve years. In this stage, children tame their imagination by dedicating themselves to learning the required social skills. In this stage, there is a broader sphere in play, teachers, parents, the family members and the community who work together to ensure that the child achieves success in academics as well as their social lives (Erikson, 1982). A child develops competence when allowed success and incompetence when denied the same. According to Erickson sexism, racism and discrimination also contribute to inferiority. At the same time, too much ambition for success leads to maladaptive tendency called narrow virtuosity that is common in children who are pushed into one area of competence without allowing broader interests in other areas. This is common in child athletes and prodigies of all sorts who have an empty life. When incompetent a child develops a sense of inferiority complex or inertia, developing the right balance is essential as the child can develop a virtue known as competency.

Erickson’s insistence revolves around the adolescent stage since it is a crucial stage in developing a person’s identity. Stage five begins from around eighteen years to approximately 20 years. The emphasis on this stage is in achieving ego identity and avoiding confusion. Ego identity involves one perception of the society. It consists of  knowing your role and how you fit in the society. Role confusion is the opposite of ego identity, it means that the person cannot clearly see who they are and how they relate to the social environment. Young people struggle to be accepted, affirmed and belong to groups while also being individuals. This is a dilemma in itself with some individuals repudiating their need for identity with others allowing themselves to fuse with a variety of dangerous groups such as religious cults, gangs and the likes. Successfully managing and transitioning from this stage will enable one to develop fidelity which is loyalty and the ability to live and comply with the standards set by the society despite its inconsistencies and imperfections.

Young adulthood is the sixth stage and lasts from about 18 years to 30 years. People differ dramatically in this stage, and it is therefore impossible to determine a standard behavior. However, Erickson asserts that in this age, individuals seek intimacy by building relationships with marital partners and is also characterized by sexual mutuality which involves the giving and receiving of love, emotions, support, and the likes; behaviors that are typically conducive to mating and child-rearing. The maladaptive behavior is referred to as promiscuity, which is the tendency to become intimate too easily and freely. The opposite of intimacy is isolation which is ones tendency to isolate themselves from friends and families and mutual dating relationships. This is characterized by feelings of alienation, loneliness, and societal withdrawal.  Successful negotiation of this stage leads one to develop love. In this context, love is the ability to mutually devote oneself to another or others by putting aside differences and antagonism aside towards marital partners, friends, coworkers, and compatriots.

The Generativity versus stagnation is the seventh of the eight stages of psychosocial development theory. According to Erickson, this stage occurs approximately between the ages of 40 to 65, a period in which individuals are centered on the guidance and establishment of future generations who do not necessarily have to be their own. This stage is characterized by parental love and care and also extends to other productive activities such as work. Favorable outcome in this stage is based on unconditional and positive contribution that one makes to give back to life perhaps mentorship or any contribution to the society. Failure to make a positive contribution leads to a state of stagnation or self-absorption. Individuals who are in this stage feel disconnected from the society. They are disposed to feelings of selfishness, greed and general lack of interest to the wellbeing of others.

The 8th stage is the adulthood and maturity stage that runs from age 65 to death. It’s a culmination of the achievements and contributions that one has made to the future generations. Erickson adopted the word ‘Integrity v Disgust and Despair’ to describe this stage. Integrity is the feeling of peace that comes from not having regrets or recriminations to the life lived. In this stage, people are likely to look back to the lives they have lived and the contributions therein. If they have left the world a better place, then they feel contented.  On the other hand, despair and disgust is the feeling that one gets towards wishful thinking of what life might have been. It represents feelings of regrets and wasted opportunities and wishing second chances and the ability to turn back time. This is an important stage in which one views life profoundly.

Joan Erickson completed the 9th stage by observing the elderly in their 80s and above.  Joan asserts that life brings in greater demands and challenges in this stage and an individual is forced to confront all the stages mentioned above again, but this time, the stages converge each other at the same time (Erikson and Erikson, 1997). For example instead of confronting trust versus mistrust, the senior confronts mistrust versus trust.  Furthermore, despair becomes more apparent in the ninth stage than in the eighth because with an increased loss in physical activities elders become more mistrusting of the environment and even themselves. The elderly are likely to be more accepting of waking up to a friend’s death or the prospect of a dysfunctional body part. Getting over the despair leads to a state of gerotranscendence in which the elderly person is peaceful and ready to move to the next stage which is death.

Many questions have been raised in light of Erickson’s belief of identity formation. Culture plus several other social determinants influence the manner in which identity is formed in individuals. Moreover, individuals change throughout life and thereby have psychological developments completed at much earlier or later stages in life. Another controversial aspect of Erickson’s theory lies in his acceptance of Freud’s theory that asserts that personality differences between the sexes are based on biological differences, which makes critics believe that his argument is practically applicable to boys more than it is to girls. In addition, the concentration is on earlier years of life than it is in later years. Nevertheless, Erickson’s theory sets the best framework for analyzing an individual’s development in time. 


According to Erickson, people undergo eight related stages from infancy to adulthood which significantly affects their personality and development in positive or negative ways. Leveraging on the works Sigmund Freud, Erickson emphasized that an individual’s personality develops epigenetically in eight predetermined sequences.

Infancy stage runs from birth to 1 month and is characterized by trust versus mistrust. In this stage, the child develops a sense of trust or mistrust depending on how he or she is cared for. Early childhood is the second stage that runs from 2 to 3 years. The stage is characterized by Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. The child needs to develop a sense of autonomy and control over physical activities — the failure of autonomy results in a feeling of shame and doubt. The third stage is known as the preschool (3 to 5 years). The stage is characterized by Initiative vs. Guilt. A child is actively exploring the environment in this stage. Success leads to a sense of purpose while guilt is the outcome of disapproval that children feel when they exert too much purpose or are discouraged from making explorations. School age (6 to 11 years) is Industry vs. Inferiority, in this stage children need to cope with academic and social demands. Success leads to competence and failure results in a feeling of inferiority. The Adolescence (12 to 18 years) Identity vs. Role Confusion is the fifth stage. In this stage, teens develop a sense of personal identity which leads to one knowing their true self while the failure leads to role confusion and weak belief in yourself. Young Adulthood runs from (19 to 40 years) and is characterized by Intimacy vs. Isolation. Individuals develop intimate relationships with people for families and child rearing. Success in this period leads to a sense of intimacy while the failure of the same results in isolation and loneliness. The seventh stage which is Middle Adulthood (40 to 65 years) is known as the Generativity vs. Stagnation. In this stage, adults seek to foster competencies in parenthood and work lives in nurturing things that they will be remembered for. Success in this stage leads to a feeling of accomplishment while failure results in stagnation. Maturity (65 to death) is the 8th stage it is characterized by Ego Integrity vs. Despair. Elderly and seniors in this stage reflect on the lives they have lived, and either has a sense of integrity for successful accomplishments or despairs for regrets and bitterness for the time wasted. Joan Erickson completed the 9th stage by observing the elderly in their 80s and above.  She asserts that life brings in greater demands and challenges in this stage and an individual is forced to confront all the stages mentioned above again, but this time, the stages converge each other at the same time.

Other than Jean Piaget Cognitive Development theory, Erik Erickson’s psychosocial development theory stands out to be the best most popular explanation of human growth. Sigmund Freud and Ann Freud share in Erickson’s convictions. Other psychologists believe of phases rather than stages. Nonetheless, Erickson’s psychological theory is a powerful approach for self-awareness, teaching and improving our lives. Even though, the model emphasized on sequential importance of the eight stages that form a character, the concept also highlights that humans continuously develop and change throughout their lives and that personality is not formed exclusively during early years. This is realistic but nonetheless questionable as critics have raised concerns on the role of culture, life experiences and the influence of other social determinants of life on one development. Irrespective of the sentiments, Erickson’s theory helps one to understand how behavior and personality development in people occurs. Conversely, the approach is useful in parenting, teaching, self-awareness, coaching and managing, dealing with conflicts and understanding oneself and others. 


Boyd, D., & Bee, H. (2015). Lifespan Development (7th edn.). New York: Pearson’s Publishers.

Erikson, E. H. and Erikson, J. M. (1997). The Life Cycle Completed (Extended Version). W. W. Norton, New York.

Erikson, E. H. 1982. The Life Cycle Completed. W. W. Norton, New York.