Throughout the life of any person they go through specific stages of psychosocial development that can contribute or impede our happiness and our emotional and psychological health. This explains a theory put forward by Erik Erikson, an American psychologist and psychoanalyst born in Germany in 1902. Erikson died in 1994, leaving his legacy not only his eight-stage theory of psychological development but also the term “identity crisis.”
At each stage of psychosocial development, each of us faces a specific conflict, according to Erikson. Next, you will know a brief description of these stages, the conflict that defines each one, and how it can help shape mental health.
Trust vs mistrust. In the early stages of childhood, we are faced with the question of who we can count on in our lives to care for us and who we cannot. Children who learn that they can trust and depend on parents and other caregivers emerge from the early stage of psychosocial development with a sense of security. Those who cannot trust their caregivers may be left with the feeling that the world is not a place where they can be trusted.
Autonomy against shame and doubt. As children become more and more independent, having the opportunity to be self-reliant and not depending on others for everything, they are likely to develop a strong sense of independence and autonomy. When parents and caregivers do everything for children , they may feel insecure and think that they are not capable of doing things for themselves.
Initiative vs guilt. When children are allowed to participate in self-directed activities and play on their own, they learn how to take initiative for their own growth and development. Children who successfully resolve this conflict develop a sense of purpose, while those who do not handle this conflict well may be left with feelings of guilt.
Feeling inferior to others. School and peers play an important role in the outcome of this conflict . Children who get along well with other children their age and who do well in school will come out of this stage feeling competent. Those who cannot successfully navigate social interactions and academic challenges may end up feeling inferior and lacking in self-confidence.
Identity and role confusion . This stage of psychosocial development occurs during adolescence when children begin to explore new roles as they approach adulthood. Handling this conflict well leads to a strong sense of personal identity. Those who struggle at this stage may feel confused about who they are and what they want to do with their lives.
Intimacy and isolation. Forming strong bonds with other people, especially romantic bonds, plays a vital role in resolving this early adulthood conflict. Those who succeed can develop strong and lasting relationships, while those who fail can end up feeling isolated and alone.
Generativity vs stagnation. People want to feel like they have contributed something to the world, so successfully navigating this conflict involves accomplishments like raising a family , being successful at work, and volunteering in the community. During this stage of middle adulthood, people who cannot do this often feel disconnected from the rest of the world.
Integrity vs despair. During this last stage of Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, older people who look back on their lives and feel satisfied with all that they have experienced and accomplished will emerge with a sense of wisdom and satisfaction. Those who repent and cannot acknowledge their successes or appreciate the richness of the lives they have lived may end up feeling bitter.