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Erik Erikson’s Psychological Stages

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Erik Erikson was a very significant twentieth centurion, psychoanalyst (Erikson Institute). He is best known for his eight psychological stages of development. Erikson believed that personality develops in a sequence of stages. He believed every person goes through these different eight stages of development and during each stage, each person faces a psychological crisis. This struggle ends in either a positive or negative result for personality development. According to Erikson’s theory, if each stage is completed successfully, it will result in a healthy personality and the achievement of characteristic strengths which a person uses to resolve subsequent crises (McLeod, 2018). If a person does not successfully complete these eight stages, Erikson claims it can result in reduced ability to complete further stages (McLeod, 2018). In turn this would create an unhealthy personality and low self-esteem. Recovery of these ‘failed stages’ can be made later on, however (McLeod, 2018).

Erik Erikson’s theory has eight psychological stages. The stages are as follows: Trust versus mistrust (age birth to 1 year), Autonomy versus shame and doubt (ages 1 year to 3 years), Initiative versus guilt (ages 3 to 6 years), Industry versus inferiority (ages 6 to 12 years), Identity versus role confusion (ages 12 to 18 years), Intimacy versus isolation (ages 18 to 30 years), Generativity versus stagnation (30 years to late adulthood), and Integrity versus despair (late adulthood) (Boyd & Bee, 2015). Finding a balance through many of these stages is important.

Here, we will discuss three of these eight stages. We will focus on Autonomy versus shame and doubt, Identity versus role confusion, and Generativity versus stagnation. An interview has been done on three individuals that fall within these three stages. We will relate the answers to the interview questions to the specific stage to determine exactly how the person falls into that stage.

Each interviewee was asked the same questions; just in different forms to be sure the question was understood for each person. One interviewee was three years old, the second was thirteen years old, and the third was thirty five years old.

Autonomy Versus Shame and Doubt: Braxton, Age 3

Autonomy versus shame and doubt is the second stage of Erikson’s eight stages. This stage takes place during a child’s early childhood years (Boyd & Bee, 2015). The main idea behind this stage is that a child is beginning to learn independence and developing more personal control (Cherry & Gans, 2018). Children who complete the autonomy versus shame and doubt stage successfully will feel confident in themselves; however, if they fail to complete this stage, the child will likely feel inadequate (Cherry & Gans, 2018).

Braxton says that in the future, he looks forward to his job- feeding the animals, which is the same as his current ‘job’. This shows that Braxton is expressing his independence by feeding all of his animals on his own most days. He does not rely on his mom and dad to do his job for him. This also shows that Braxton does not quite have the full capability of thinking futuristically. Braxton’s favorite thing about himself is that he is handsome. We, as adults, may have a list a mile long criticizing ourselves and pointing out every little flaw. However, Braxton still has the innocent mindset and does not think negatively about himself yet. When asked what his least favorite thing about himself is, Braxton insisted that he does like himself. He does not have negative thoughts or think anything about him is ‘bad’. This shows that he is not quite into stage three (Initiative versus guilt) because he does not view things about himself as good or bad. Braxton thinks other people think he is nice and awesome. This goes right along with not noticing negative things about him. Children at this age are so innocent minded and mainly just concentrated on their increased independence.

Braxton’s biggest fears are snakes and bears. This response shows that he has grasped what fear is but it has not consumed him. He understands that these things could hurt him but he does not focus on it all the time, he just knows that these things could be mean to him and that scares him. If Braxton could change anything about the world, he would change his underwear. This makes it very clear that Braxton is not able to see the big picture or see overall negative things in the world at this age. When asked what he would change about himself, he responded that he would change himself into a cowboy. This goes along with the innocent mind and not seeing the negative in him at the age of three. Braxton has been given the opportunity to master his independence at a safe distance. His parents have support and encouraged his independence and it is showing through his development. Patience is huge for parents as their children move through this stage. Even letting children get dressed on their own or put their shoes on themselves helps the child; though it is good for the parents to provide support and to assist if and when the child asks for assistance.

Braxton said he cares most about going to the park and his favorite people at this time are two of his cousins, Silas and Violet. It is not until stage three (Initiative versus guilt) that children really are focused on play and interaction with others. Braxton may be getting very close to entering stage three because he has been much more interested in spending more time with his cousins and playing with them. If Braxton were able to teach someone younger than him something, he said he would teach babies how to walk and how to talk. It is very clear based off of this response alone that Braxton is in the autonomy versus shame and doubt stage. This stage is all about children learning to gain independence and Braxton very clearly would just want to teach someone younger than him that bit of independence that he knows and has mastered. Overall, it seems as if Braxton is mastering the Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt stage. He seems as if he feels confident in himself and will achieve the virtue of will. It does not seem as though Braxton feels inadequate or has low self-esteem. He thinks highly of himself and he loves himself just the way he is.

Identity Versus Role Confusion, Evan, Age 13

Identity versus role confusion is the fifth stage of Erikson’s eight stages. This stage takes place during adolescence, from approximately twelve to eighteen years of age. During identity versus role confusion, the adolescent is going through puberty changes and is learning their sense of personal identity (Cherry & Gans, 2018). This is another stage where independence plays a major role, just in a much different aspect. Adolescents who complete the identity versus role confusion stage successfully will arise with a spirited sense of self and will develop feelings of independence and control (Cherry & Gans, 2018).

During this stage, an adolescent is figuring out who they are and where they are going in their life. Evan’s biggest goal for the future is to go to college and he looks forward to playing baseball professionally in his future. Evan is very into baseball right now and practices or plays every single day of the entire year. He is very focused on his life right now and has realized how much it could affect his future so he is working hard now so he can achieve these goals as he gets older. Evan likes how he pitches in baseball and wishes he were bigger so he could be even better at baseball than he already is. He is very wrapped up in baseball and has a mindset that he absolutely will achieve these goals he has set for himself. Evan does not fear that he will not be able to achieve these dreams and goals. He does however, fear snakes. This shows that Evan is not wrapped up in fear and it does not consume him, but he knows what fear is and he knows things to be afraid of.

Evan feels accomplished when he and his teammates win a tournament and also when he puts in a good day of work. He is starting to mature a lot more since he is realizing that working hard to win and working hard in general are when he feels the most accomplished.

Evan had a few interview questions that he hesitated on an answer and he also felt uncomfortable at times. He is in a stage where he is learning to develop a sense of self and also at this age, most adolescents are concerned what their peers think of them and how their peers view them. Evan insisted that he does not care what others think of him but it absolutely seemed like there was something he wanted to say. He was asked how he believes other people think of him, so it was not even a question in a negative way. Based on the way he answered his question, I think he is beginning to see negative things in himself but does not want his peers and friends to think or see the flaws that Evan notices in him. He wishes that he were bigger (taller) than he is so that he could be even better at baseball and also because I think he feels inferior compared to other kids at school or on his baseball team. He wants to feel like he fits in but he does not feel that way all the time when he thinks about his size compared to everyone else’s.

Evan is able to see futuristically at this stage. When asked what he cares about most, I assumed he would answer baseball since that is such a huge part of his life right now and is what he dreams of doing even when he is older, but Evan said he cares most about money. He loves to buy things and have the best of the best and wear name brand everything. Things like this make adolescents feel like they fit in more and are ‘cooler’ because they have name brand. Evan will work right now because he enjoys it but also because he loves having money and being able to spend it on things he really likes.

Evan does not have any regrets at this point in his life. He does wish the world had more fish in the waters. He wants to be able to catch more fish and he believes that if there were more fish, it would be inevitable that he would be able to catch more.

If Evan had to give any person younger than him advice, he would tell them if they make a bad decision, they need to own up to it and accept their consequences. This made me think Evan may have had a bad experience regarding this and maybe someone he cared about lied or did not own up to something they did and it rubbed Evan the wrong way. This answer shows Evan understands the important parts of life. It shows something bad may have happened to him but he has learned from it and wants to be sure he does own up to his choices because he did not like the way it made him feel when he did not or when a friend did not own up to their bad decisions.

Evan is definitely finding his role in life right now and focuses on things in his life now, like baseball, and knows how it can affect his future.

Generativity Versus Stagnation, Joshua, Age 35

Generativity versus stagnation is Erikson’s seventh stage of psychological development. According to Kendra Cherry (2018), generativity refers to making your mark on the world while stagnation refers to the failure to find a way to contribute. During this stage, a person will focus on creating and developing things that will survive those (Cherry, 2018). In most cases, the main focus in this stage would be on the children of whoever is currently in this stage. When a person accomplishes this stage successfully, they will feel productive in the world around them, like they are contributing (Cherry, 2018).

The first answer Joshua gave when asked what he looks forward to in the future was watching his children grow up. This was a very clear indicator that Joshua is in the generativity versus stagnation stage. His biggest goal is to make sure his family is taken care of and fears not being there for his family and not being able to make sure they are always taken care of. Joshua is a very caring person who is always willing to help anyone, even if they are complete strangers (unless it could put his family in harm’s way). He wants to contribute to the world around him by creating more positivity for people currently in armed forces and veterans. Joshua believes they need more support while on active duty and once they return home. He dreams of one day running hunting services for veterans, primarily who are disabled but not limited to. Joshua would love to do guided hunts and create easier ways for veterans to be able to have the ability to hunt, which is a passion of Joshua’s. This makes it very apparent that Joshua wants to be involved in the community and in the world. He is mastering the basic virtue, care, which is the main virtue received from this stage if it is successfully completed (Cherry, 2018).

Joshua feels most accomplished when he teaches someone something new. He is passionate about hunting and fishing and has many times taken people just to teach them how to do it and he thoroughly enjoys it with every bit of his being. He not only loves teaching his children things, but also loves teaching others new things and introducing them to things he is passionate about. This shows that Joshua is not at all self-centered and is mastering this stage.

Kendra Cherry (2018) says that many people go through a mid-life crisis during this stage. This could be looking back and regretting something a person did not do that they had the opportunity to do. Joshua’s biggest regret is not playing football in college. He had many opportunities but never had the proper guidance so he ended up going to work instead of doing what he loved. This has made him want to give advice to younger people to take advantage of any and all opportunities set before you. He said that life is too short to not continuing to do what you love and life goes by so fast. Joshua is entirely satisfied where his life has taken him but he does wish he would have taken advantage of his college opportunity playing football and getting a degree.

Parenthood and work are both important events during the generativity versus stagnation stage (Cherry, 2018). Joshua definitely focuses on the importance of his parenthood but he also focuses on the importance of his work. He is currently trying to move up in the company he works for, FedEx. Although both his parenthood and his work are extremely important to Joshua, he will always put his family before his work because his family is his number one in life. He is always trying to teach his children new things and hopes they go farther in life than he did.

One main characteristic of generativity versus stagnation is making commitments to other people (Cherry, 2018). Joshua has been married for nearly five years and with his spouse for seven. There is no question as to whether or not he is in the generativity versus stagnation stage based off of this fact and the fact of raising his children successfully and with pride. Joshua said he cares most about his family and the most important people in his life are his wife and children. Joshua very clearly sees his life and the world as a whole and can focus on that. He feels accomplished as a whole.

Conclusion

Overall, I think Erik Erikson’s stages are very accurate with what people in each stage are going through. The one thing I think can fluctuate is the age of the person in each stage. I also believe that some people could be part way in to two different stages. When I interviewed Braxton, it seemed as though he may be on the verge of being in initiative versus guilt as well as being in the autonomy versus shame and doubt stage.

While Erikson’s theory does make much sense, I do not think it is the only way we should view psychological development. There are so many other theorists and it is good that we study many more than just Erikson. He has very good points and ideas but some people may disagree that a person has to succeed in a conflict to arise positively to the next stage. I think every person can relate to some aspect of each stage as they go through life.

According to Erikson’s theory, everyone must go through each and every stage throughout their entire life (David, 2014). His theory believes there are other factors such as parents and society also impact development (David, 2014).

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Erik Erikson’s Psychological Stages. (2019, August 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/eriksons-psychological-stages/
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Erik Erikson’s Psychological Stages. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/eriksons-psychological-stages/> [Accessed 16 Aug. 2022].
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