Erikson’s theoretical view on the development of human beings is very important in evaluating the human life. He often used ‘psychological’ as a word to refer to both human mind and the way people associate with each other across the society. Theoretically, the human development is mainly concerned with the transformations, which take place in people once they are born rather than before they are given birth to (Erikson & Erikson, 1997). The eight stages of psychological growth are very simple but somehow still complicated. It is all about studying and analyzing human personalities with time, examining their behavioral changes and overall understandings to promote their personal growth and for their colleagues.

The main issues evolving in this theory are the stages one goes through in psychological development and how they made Erikson come out with his theoretical ideas regarding the development of human, vivid explanations of his psychosocial challenges and the positive impacts that arise from the psychosocial challenges he faced and the disadvantages one might come up with and, lastly, a summary to describe the meanings of terminologies associated with his research.

Erikson’s psychological model of human development is highly rated since it covers very meaningful, comprehensive and confounding concepts of life. Life is a long journey with various challenges that we have to successfully overcome and come out with a life lesson learnt with experience (Hearn et al., 2022). It is very crucial for all humans of different age, race and level of development, be it an adult or a kid. The theory consiss of very important well explained eight stages of development of human beings, which are discussed in Erikson’s book entitled Childhood and Society. The researcher’s most regarded work model covers the eight levels of human psychological development theory. Erikson’s theory is meaningful in helping us to know the advantages of going through different life challenges.

Erik Erikson’s Development Through a Lifespan

The issues discussed by Erikson make many contributions in the society life. He used a couple of charts to try to put through his teachings on different perspectives though he was not successful in producing a full comprehensible definite matrix (Sokol, 2019). This made it necessary for the researcher to introduce various theoretical perspectives by using grid methods to ease his teaching and practical explanation of the theory to the world. However, he recommended some of his grid formats to be applied in form of worksheets (Hearn et al., 2022). Erikson perceived his working process as being a part of evolution still to take place in future. In his summary, he used the vocabularies of positive and negative to refer to either first stage or second stage of crisis faced in human development. For example, the trust, in this case, has been used to mean a positive crisis or rather a favorable outcome. On the other hand, mistrust has been used to mean negative crisis with unfortunate impacts.

Emotional impacts are not brought out well in terms of their intensity as being partially or wholly trust or mistrust. However, healthy personality growth is usually evaluated in terms of reasonable balance of ‘trust’ and ‘mistrust’ outcomes on every stage of human development. Erikson however did not employ the use of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ to describe this fact. Instead, he relied on the two words, which are syntonic to mean positive and dystonic to mean negative in his effort to bring out the differences experienced in both sides of the first and the second crisis.

Erikson’s Ideas in a Model Form: Psychosocial Crisis Stages in Life

  • Trust v mistrust: Infancy
  • Autonomy v disbelief: Early childhood
  • Guilt inception: Play stage
  • Industry gain: The age of schooling
  • Identity troubles: Adolescence
  • Intimacy v isolation: Young adult hood
  • Generativity v stagnation: Adulthood
  • Integrity v despair: Mature age

The theoretical idea of his research on psychosocial theory has been widely accepted and given great credits worldwide. Despite many of the theoretical findings facing a couple of critics by some scholars, it is worth mentioning that Erikson’s theory concerning psychosocial issues faces no critics at all (Hearn et al., 2022). The researcher was very resourceful in the field of psychosocial issues since he was a psychoanalyst by profession besides being an active humanitarian making his work more trusted and reliable. This has made his theory to be of high importance when referring to its contribution to individual awareness and general growth and development of the society at large. Freud’s conclusions are present in the work of Erikson concerning the issue of development of humans. Freudians criticized the theory, but still they have been made to respect the work of Erikson’s and find it helpful. This is because the quality and relevance of Erikson’s theory is independent of any other theory including Freud’s.

General Overview of Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development

Besides using Freudian psychoanalysis, Erikson mainly originated his theory from a research in practical field where he practically carried out the research himself. The daily research of Erikson was strengthened by the fact he had a clinic. The difference between his theory and Freud’s one is the aspect of culture that Erikson added while Freud was more concentrated on the scientific view, especially, in the biological aspect. Erikson was successful in his research since he relied on reality based on the research he directly conducted among people as opposed to his counterpart Freud who relied on psychoanalyst coaching.

This is the main reason why Erikson’s work is widely accepted and relied upon all over the world. It is a reflection upon our lives as human beings from very many different perspectives, which helps us in understanding and defining the development of people’s behaviors and their personalities (Erikson & Erikson, 1997). Hence, this justifies Erikson’s contribution in the society since his theoretical perspective regarding human development is an essential resource center in teaching, managing people once they have been understood, coaching people on peaceful existence among themselves, resolving conflicts between people and basically for being able to define ourselves and the people around us.

The collaboration Erikson made with his wife named Joan – who was also a psychoanalyst – brought a big impact on the study of childhood development and understanding of adult society. His ideas have become more practical than before, especially, in the society with a lot of pressures coming from all corners of relationships, and the desires of people to see them developing and finding fulfillment in their endeavors. His theory insists on the fact that every human being goes through eight essential stages of psychosocial development in their lives that have a great impact on their individual development and drastic changes in their personalities. Joan Erikson added a ninth stage after her husband’s death in 1996. However, the eight stages created by Erikson are still regarded full in terms of standard and resourcefulness. Erikson’s theoretical perspective regarding development of human referred mainly to ‘psychosocial crises.’

Sigmund Freud also used this word – crisis – to define an emotional conflict in a human being, which takes place internally (Baltes & Schaie, 2019). Crises can also have a meaning of an internal fight in someone or a drawback that a given person must fight and win to allow his/her growth and development. However, according to Erikson, this word concerns two categories, which are psychological and social. Psychological means the source or the root and psycho means anything that comes from one’s mind or brain. On the other hand, social is associated with external interrelationships with one’s environment. The researcher occasionally used the word bio-psychosocial whereby bio is used to refer to life just as in the basic biological terms.

Each level of his stages is characterized with a crisis that involves a total of two emotional forces, which are completely opposing each other. Erikson chose the term ‘contrary dispositions’ to help in describing these two opposing forces better. He made every stage of crisis correspond to human beings’ life stages in their development and the various challenges they come through. He tactfully used syntonic to mean the same as trust as well positive in every crisis of theoretical stages. On the other hand, he used dystonic to mean the opposite of systonic (Baltes & Schaie, 2019). Hence, dystonic meant mistrust, which is an equivalent to saying ‘negative’ disposition.

To bring out the effect of the opposing forces, Erikson chose to use the Latin word ‘versus’, which he abbreviated as ‘v’ to mean forces fighting against each other. A successful passage of the two opposing forces representing each and every crisis one goes through in life required one to have a balanced between them, which meant achievement of what the researcher termed as a ‘healthy ratio.’ A good example, which contributes to people’s development, is a healthy ratio achieved at the first stage ‘Trust vs. Mistrust’, which can be explained as a person growing and developing with two opposing forces of trust and mistrust. It will only be favorably if a person achieves the balance between the two crises opposing each other. This is very clear since no one is expected to live in this world trusting everything and everyone around him/her since this can render the person gullible. Being credulous, everyone will try taking advantage of such individual (Erikson & Erikson, 1997).

On the other hand, living a life of mistrust can make one lose opportunities in life due to hopelessness, lack of trust and being unrealistic. Another example for further understanding is going through the second stage, which is ‘Autonomy v Shame and doubt’. Being autonomous means the ability of maintenance of individual image and his/her believes in life without being easily swayed away with other people ideologies, but with reasonably human character of shame and doubt (Baltes & Schaie, 2019). This should enable one to be reliable and have freedom of thought and acts bearing ethical expectations of the society. The successful balance of the two opposing forces was further referred by Erikson as ‘basic virtues’.

The researcher also used to call them ‘basic strengths’ possessed by individual, which define one’s character in the eyes of the society. He identified and employed the use of another term to represent the very best fundamental strength acquired at every stage of crises. It is very common in most of his work including both diagrams and written books on the theoretical aspects of development of human. Erikson also came up with the term ‘strength’ to support the presence of a desirable health at every stage of crises by emphasizing on the acquired virtue. He then employs the using if charts technique and summaries to lay out what he means in the simplest way to understand.

Some of the examples of the basic virtues and the words that the researcher used as a supporting strength include; ‘hope and drive’, which he used at the first stage of crises and ‘willpower and self-control’, which he used at the second stage of life crises (Baltes & Schaie, 2019). Though he explained the meaning of these words, it is very crucial to study them and some others for a better understanding to enable one to know the ideas Erikson was trying to convey in depth. This is very important, especially, in knowing the emotional strengths one gets at every stage of the crises and behavioral strengths, too, which are associated with acquisition of a healthy ratio.

Erikson spared the word ‘achieve’ to use when implying to a successful outcome since it meant acquiring something permanently. He implies that psychosocial development cannot be permanent since there is a likelihood of experiencing the same problem in more than one time regardless of the outcome one had in the first phase. This is a great contribution to the society since it implies that individuals can still gain hope and do great things. This teaches the society on its need to strive in maintaining healthy balance since it is never a clear-cut and people should not look down upon their abilities since everyone can achieve anything in life provided there is enough dedication focused on his/her dream.

According to Erikson, advantageous child will tend to posses more positive than negative in a given stage of crises. This healthy balance will eventually help the child meet the next stage of crises and thrive without much difficulty in life (McAdams & Zapata-Gietl, 2019). He went on stating that no given strength acquired at a certain stage of crises can bring drawbacks in facing another stage of crises. Erikson made it clear that transition of stages is not organized in a way with a must requirement of moving from one step to another. He explained it further that no person should expect to be at a new life stage every morning since changes do take place in a mixed-together unpredictable manner.

Anytime a person fails to go through any psychosocial stage of crises, he/she usually gets problems associated with one or other crises that oppose each other. The challenge later develops either into a mental problem or becomes the victim’s behavioral tendency. This justifies how Erikson’s theoretical perspective about the development of human is greatly reflecting the real life of a human being. The extreme that human beings have is at the first stage, in this level the life crisis is known as syntonic. The researcher then uses the word ‘maladaptation’ to refer to events at every stage of troubles in life.

The second stage referred to as dystonic is filled with malignancy like the first stage; Erikson has used particular terms to explain the various stages of malignancy. The researcher also put an emphasis on his usage of the words such as ‘mutuality’ and ‘generativity’. The two terms have a close link. Mutuality is all about the impact that arises on generations by generations (Baltes & Schaie, 2019). This is best explained in family level where persons’ life experiences are impacted by the members of their families particularly during the stages of crises in life.

Generality, on the other hand, is the relationship, which occurs between adults and their children. Parents have a very important role in nurturing a child, they have to make sure that the basic wants desired by their kids’ are met. This bond between the parent and the child is in all generation. The effects the generations brings to each other circulates from parents, who influence their children’s psychosocial development, and back to the parents, who also get their psychosocial development affected by experiences they go through in bringing their children up. Grown-up individuals have a strong experience and they are able to balance their life with their children and also manage their emotions well. It is one of the most important contributions of the theory.

Seemingly, most of the development actually starts in the seventh stage since the eighth stage is basically about the evaluation of one’s life with an aim of preparing to retire out of active life (Newman & Newman, 2021). Erikson’s theory entails the perspective of changing the world to a better place by advocating for positive differences from one generation to another.

Erikson’s theory of the eight stages of human development was composed of ideas that were gotten from a man that understood the concept better. Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna Freud developed Freud’s psychosexual stages or, as they are famously known, Freud’s sexual theory (Newman & Newman, 2019). These ideas were very important to form Erikson’s concepts. However, his theory stands on its own feet and has a perfect understanding of the development.

Parts of Erikson’s theory are based on Freud’s theory in a social and meaningful way that is easily understood. This concept did not wholly require Freudian way of thinking (Baltes & Schaie, 2019). When one checks and analyses some of the Freudian theories, they are based on criticism and attention. Some of his focuses are on breasts, sex, body functions and genitals hence this has no connections with the theories on Erikson’s and is not so basic.

Age range is a rough guide, but this knowledge becomes very essential for parenthood timing and in showing how much influence one has. In his work Erikson did not clearly state the fixed age phases. Crisis stages are mostly entailed by physical or sexual growth that causes decisions in life that later can cause crisis. The crisis is not necessarily occasioned by the age factor. Erikson in his work did not precisely define the stage when these changes will occur. The three final stages happen at very different ages (Ruth & Kenyon, 1996). At the final stage, there is more life and more complexity that occurs even after death. This may have prompted Erikson’s wife to form a ninth stage after the death of her husband.

The chart below shows the outcomes that are achieved when one successfully passes through the crises that are in effect. These are referred as the basic psychosocial virtues and their strengths. A basic virtue is when one achieves the positive aspect of each crisis that is undertaken. These virtues must be attained with the help of a very helpful balanced system. The balancing of the two extremes leads to positive results. The chief life stage issues and the relationships that occur at that stage are a reminder for when such things happen in our lives. Erikson has got one virtue and mixed it with the next virtue and that is when he arrived at a basic strength. The main point in all this is that through every stage when the crises are effectively performed there is strength that is derived from such an experience (Newman & Newman, 2019).

Basic Virtues and the Results of Strengths

Crisis in adaptation of strength

Secondary and basic virtue and the outcomes of strength:

Trust v mistrust

Faith is the main product of this stage. This is an emotion of having and anticipating the best in life and all its outcomes are favorable. At this stage one must risk and have no fear to be exposed because it is a way of measuring strength when there is a doubt filled with uncertainty.

Autonomy v shame and doubt

At this stage there is the will of power and control. Self-determination, self-reliance, self-belief, confidence and courage are gotten by a person through persistency and self-discipline that is in him/her. At this stage there a sense of responsibility and judgment.

Initiative v guilt

Purpose and direction. At this stages there are sense, purpose, making choices, leading others, initiative projects, ability to define one and being able to take the necessary risk required in an appropriate manner.

Industry v inferiority

Competence and method. It includes making things, applying skills, and running the process in a very effective manner. At this stage there are the feeling of being valued, capable of contributing, ability to have an application of method, having objectives and pursuing; to be able to respond to ideas and activeness in the busy productive life that one has.

Identify v role confusion

Fidelity and devotion at this phase bring self-confidence and self-esteem to an individual and there is free will to associate with people. Ideas are based on merit, social, and also interpersonal integrity is involved. Personal standard, integrity, seeing useful personnel rules appear.

Intimacy v isolation

Love and affiliation – this is the capacity that one has to give and, in the same aspect, receive the same love emotionally and physically. There has to be connectivity with every person that one interacts with; social, inter-personal, and a comfortable aspect are necessary to form honest relationships. Friendships are formed on this phase, the commitment to have a bond and commitment with other individuals for only mutual benefits. Every relationship that is formed at this stage has to be highly effective in a good way.

Generativity v stagnation

Giving care and productivity in an unconditional way, by giving care to the child or the community and the world where it is possible. Making a contribution to the greater good is very important and also being positive. At this stage one has to help other people as they go through their crisis stages.

Integrity v despair

Wisdom and renunciation. This is where one has calmness and tolerance that are appropriate in an emotional detachment. There is projection, no regrets on any basis, acceptance of inevitable death, finally becoming spiritual person or having a universal reconciliation.

Negative Outcomes

Erikson later developed what he called maladaptation and also malignancies. They were to represent all the negative outcomes that may arise from any unhelpful outcome that may be achieved from experience in the crisis stage (Newman & Newman, 2019). These negative results can also be got from revisiting crisis, since people do not regress to younger age. People tend to revisit their experiences that they may have got from their earlier life.


Erikson does not effectively represent his ideas on the cause of the development. The experiences, which people should have, have not been clearly indicated, what one must concur to progress the next stage. Erikson’s theory is more descriptive discussing how humans deal with their social and emotional ties. The strength of the theory is its ability to associate psychosocial development that lasts the entire life of an individual. This psychosocial theory consists of eight different stages that cover the entire life of an individual. Each stage brings different challenges that people undergo through in order to attain the progression to the next step. Social and cultural factors were also emphasized by Erikson. He believed that these aspects had a great relation to development. There are essential procedures that are involved in coming up with a proper identification according to Erikson. The theory describes the wholes life of every person through the prism of eight stages and crises that form one’s personal experience and life worldviews.

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