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An easy way to recall Erikson’s 8 stages of psychosocial development

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Do you need an easy way to recall Erik Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development? If you are a visual learner, then the video, slideshow, and free pdf download included within this article should work especially well for you.

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Why might you need to know these eight stages? Perhaps, you are a psychology student. Perhaps you are an educational major or teacher wishing to better understand the stages through which your students might travel, figuratively speaking. Perhaps you need to learn this for a Praxis test or some other teacher preparatory test. Perhaps you simply would like to understand how people tick, so to speak.

As reported in Simply Psychology.org, “Erikson’s (1959) theory of psychosocial development has eight distinct stages.”

Stage One: Trust versus Mistrust

Stage one takes place from zero months to approximately 18 months of age. This stage is called “Trust versus Mistrust.” In short, if the infant is given more reasons to trust his or her caregivers, the infant gains the “basic virtue” of “hope.” Otherwise, the young one might develop a feeling of mistrust.

An example of this is the infant who cries either because he or she is hungry, needs a diaper changed, or is in need of comfort and nurture. The parent might be tired and decides to let the child cry himself or herself to sleep. If this happens too often, the child loses trust that the world is a safe place. He or she also loses that sense of hope.

Stage Two: Autonomy versus Shame or Doubt

Stage two takes place from approximately 18 months through age three. This stage is called “Autonomy versus Shame” or doubt. Think back to your experience with children. You might have heard the expression “the terrible twos.” Children at that age wish to do things their own way. They want to become more independent. The adult caregiver can either help the child experience autonomy in a safe environment or doubt or shame. “Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of will.”

An example of this is the child who wants to pick out the clothes that he or she will wear that day. Or perhaps the child wants to get dressed on his or her own rather than allow the parent to help in any way. The parent might be in a rush to get the child dressed so that he or she can drop the child off at daycare before rushing to get to work. In the stress of the moment, the parent can fly off the handle and cause the child to feel shame or doubt. There is the tug of war, so to speak, between the child’s will and the parent’s will. If the parent wins, the child might go into a decline. If the child wins, the adult might be late to work. Is it any wonder that the expression “the terrible twos” got coined?

Stage Three: Initiative versus Guilt

Stage three takes place between the approximate ages of three to five. This stage is called “Initiative versus Guilt.” Children want to be able to take the initiative to gain more skills and to accomplish more. The adult caregiver can either support these efforts or squelch them in such a way that the child experiences feelings of guilt. The child wishes to acquire that “basic virtue” of “purpose.”

An example of this is the child who attempts to make breakfast in bed for their mother or father. The child has this good intention but might not quite have the set of skills necessary to fully succeed in this venture. Perhaps the child makes a mess in the kitchen. Perhaps the child spills the food as he or she attempts to carry this food from the kitchen to the bedroom of the parent. The parent has to find the balance between expressing appreciation for the child’s wish to be thoughtful without making the child feel guilty for making a mess.

Stage Four: Industry versus Inferiority

Stage four takes place between the approximate ages of five to 12. This stage is called “Industry versus Inferiority.” These school-age children are striving to develop their talents, skills, abilities, and proclivities. If they are successful, they achieve that “basic virtue” of feeling “competency.” If they fail, they feel inferior.

Think back to your own childhood and the many things you strived to accomplish and learn how to do when you were in kindergarten through sixth grade. Some things probably came easy for you. Other things might have presented quite a challenge or even felt impossible.

An example of this is rope-climbing. Did you ever, like the author, have to climb a rope in gym class? If so, were you able to follow the instructor’s instructions and climb the rope to the top the first time you tried? Perhaps it took several tries before you succeeded. You industriously tried again and again. But how did you feel if in spite of your best efforts you were never able to succeed? How would you feel then? If you saw several of your classmates succeed, you might even have felt inferior to them.

Fortunately, your identity would not be compromised based on the lack of ability to rope-climb. Most likely, there were multiple areas where you were largely successful. There were probably some areas where you absolutely shined.

But imagine, if you will, a group of individuals who felt like they failed in more areas than they succeeded. Those individuals might experience a crisis of faith, so to speak, and ultimately decide that they were incompetent and unprepared for life’s challenges and demands.

An example of this might be a child who appeared incapable of learning to read, write, and spell due to the reading disorder of dyslexia. Until it was discovered and compensated for by specific teaching methods, the teacher, parent, and child all might feel great despair. But once handled properly, the child could indeed learn to read, write, and spell.

Just for fun, click this link to see a long list of famous people who were diagnosed as being dyslexic.

In other words, all these people were able to overcome this reading handicap and become quite successful. It probably took a good deal of industry on their part and by their various teachers. As these people overcame this handicap, they probably no longer felt inferior or incompetent. It simply took hard work and the appropriate teaching approach.

Stage Five: Ego identity versus Role confusion

Stage five takes place between the approximate ages of 12 to 18. This stage is known as “Ego identity versus Role confusion.” Think back to your middle school and high school years. You probably found it a struggle to figure out who exactly you were, what role you were meant to play in this world, and the best way to interact with others. There is a lot of ego involved in those years. Were you a leader? Were you a follower? Were you considered to be popular or unpopular or somewhere in between?

The “basic virtue” to be gained is that of “fidelity.” Did you have more fidelity or loyalty toward a certain group as opposed to your parents or caregivers? Did you care more what your peers thought of you than your parents, teachers, or even you thought of you? Who or what did you swear allegiance to, so to speak?

An example of this is a pre-teen or teenage girl feeling that many of the kids she knew were more like fair-weather friends. They only appeared to like her when she was smiling or laughing. When she was sad or lonely, they removed themselves from her life, leaving her feeling sadder and lonelier than before. So, perhaps this girl decided to put on a shield, so to speak. She forced herself to laugh and smile all the time. She reserved her sad feelings and feelings of despair for when she was safely alone.

Then, perhaps, there came a day when she was so successful at this endeavor that she no longer knew where her shield left off and her true identity kicked in. Now, she felt like she was having an identity crisis.

Some young people who experience an identity crisis for this reason or other reasons might choose unhealthy ways to deal with this such as overeating, joining a gang, drinking, smoking, or trying drugs. Other young people might even experience a nervous breakdown.

Being a teenager today is way more challenging than it was years ago. The teen has to walk a tightrope, so to speak, between what they know to be right, what they are told is right, and those who purposely wish to play rebel and steer them in more negative directions.

There are guidance counselors who can help. There are hopefully parents or caregivers to whom they can turn for help. There are teachers and perhaps religious leaders who can be a resource as well. But ultimately, it is going to be up to each young person to figure out his or her “ego identity” and the role that he or she intends to play as he or she continues to proceed through his or her life.

Stage Six: Intimacy versus Isolation

Stage six takes place between the approximate ages of 18 to 40. This stage is called “Intimacy versus Isolation.” The “basic virtue” of this stage is that pendulum-swing between “love” or lack of love. Does this young adult or mature adult find a significant other with whom to share an intimate or caring relationship with or does he or she feel isolated and alone?

An example of this is a male or female finding someone trustworthy to date and perhaps eventually marry. Many a movie has been created and many a book has been written over this endeavor. Perhaps a movie could be created or a book written about your own search for love. Here’s hoping that each and every one of you achieve that sometimes illusive “happily ever after.”

Stage Seven: Generativity versus Stagnation

Stage seven takes place between the approximate ages of 40 to 65. This stage is called “Generativity versus Stagnation.” The “basic virtue” to be achieved is “care.”

An example of this is the woman or man who might have raised a family. Another example is the people who go into the care-giving professions of being a teacher, a nurse, a doctor, a dentist, a religious leader, a humane society employee, a veterinarian, etc. During this stretch of time between the ages of 40 to 65, those people look back on their lives and question, “Did I make a difference or positive impact on others? Was I successful at my goals?” If the answer was yes, that person probably experiences a great feeling of accomplishment. If the answer was no, that person might feel stagnated and overwhelming feelings of stress.

Stage Eight: Ego integrity versus Despair

Stage eight takes place beginning around the traditional retirement age of 65. That stage is called “Ego integrity versus Despair.” The “basic virtue” to be gained is “wisdom.”

These senior citizens look back at their life and either feel positive ego feelings of a life well-lived and a well-earned retirement or they battle great feelings of despair of a wasted life.

An example of this is a true story. When the author was in college, she spent a summer living with her grandmother and her step-grandfather in San Francisco. This man was strong-willed yet had a rather fragile ego. Before meeting friends for a get-together, she decided to call the bus line to get exact directions of which buses to take. Her step-grandfather had already told her which buses to take but the explanation felt a bit garbled and incomplete. Not wishing to get lost or stranded after dark, she called the bus line for confirmation of what he had said. He was greatly offended that she did not simply take what he had said as “gospel”, so to speak. She was glad she had called because some of what he said and what she learned from the dispatcher differed. It was obvious to her that he felt despair that his self-proclaimed great wisdom was doubted. Her own common sense told her that it was best to get a second opinion when it came down to her remaining safe in an unfamiliar city.

At the age of twenty, the author was unequipped for dealing with the rage he expressed at this suggested slight of his wisdom. She was not fully aware at the time that he had been an alcoholic since the age of twenty. He and his family had lost a lot of money during the “Great Depression.” So this man probably fought an inner battle on a frequent basis between his pride over the good things he had accomplished and despair over all the slights and mishaps he had received and experienced through the years. As a result, any suggestion that he was not as smart or respected as he liked to believe sent him into a rage.

Free printable PDF download

So now, you should have a better understanding of Erik Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development. To get a free printable PDF download of the pictures you see in the slideshow and video, click the link below.

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