Erikson’s Stages of Development

Erik Erikson was one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. As a psychosocial, Erikson claimed that social factors like society’s expectations, biases, and forbiddance play a key role in a child’s personality development.

And that biological and psychosexual factors as suggested by Freud are not the only ones influencing personality development.

In his theory, Erikson combined the psychological, social, and biological factors in his theory of development. And that’s how he defined Erikson’s stages of development or Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development.

Advanced Psychology

He claimed that human personality continues to develop beyond childhood.

Furthermore, each stage of childhood has its own critical conflicts. It is important to resolve these conflicts for the child to develop a healthy personality. The neurotic conflicts experienced in adulthood are not different from the conflicts lived through in childhood. And that every adult carries these childhood conflicts in the nooks of his/her personality.

Developmental Theorists

There have been many developmental theorists who gave various theories of development. These theories help us understand how human development takes place. One of the influential development psychologists includes Jean Piaget who developed the theory of cognitive development. His theory focuses on the cognitive development of children in various stages of childhood.

Another influential figure associated with developmental psychology includes Sigmund Freud. Freud believed that personality development happens in early childhood.

Freud’s psychosexual theory of development holds that a source of basic psychological energy called Libido is present in each newborn child. This libido or sexual energy becomes fixated on various parts of the child’s body together with people and objects.

Further, such a fixation happens during the course of the child’s emotional development in five stages including oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages. Freud claimed that adult emotional problems occur either from lack of or excessive satisfaction during these stages.

Thus, a child with his libido fixated at one of these stages shows neurotic symptoms in adulthood like anxiety.

Erikson Vs Freud

A major difference between Erikson and Freud is of the time period during which personality development takes place. Freud restricted personality development to early childhood. According to him, the first five years are very important to the formation of an adult personality.

Contrary to this, as per Erikson, personality development is a continuous process and extends beyond the first five years and all throughout the life span. He modified Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis as psychosocial development theory.

Erikson emphasized that social factors too influence human development and not just sexual factors. In other words, the way we interact with those around us impacts our sense of self also called the ego identity.

As per Erikson, we go through eight stages of development through our lifespan from infancy to late adulthood. Each stage has its own conflicts that must be resolved. Successful solving of these conflicts leads to a feeling of accomplishment and makes for a healthy personality.

However, one feels inadequate if these conflicts are left unresolved at any stage. Thus, Erikson deals with human growth in terms of inner and outer conflicts that a healthy personality lives through.

Let’s first have a look at Erikson’s Stages of Development Chart to have an understanding of Erikson’s stages of development.

Also Read: Obvious Signs of Mental Illness

What are the Various Types of Mental Illness

Erikson’s Stages of Development Chart

The Epigenetic Principle

Erikson claims that one must consider the epigenetic principle to understand growth. This principle is obtained from the growth of human beings in the mother’s uterus.

According to this principle, anything that grows has a layout, a plan from which various parts emerge. Further, each of these parts has its own time of special influence until all the parts emerge to form a functioning whole.

Thus, when a child is born, he leaves his mother’s womb for his society’s social exchange system. His slowly increasing potentialities come in contact with the opportunities and shortcomings of his culture.

This way the organism continues to grow by an established sequence of locomotor, sensory, and social capacities and not by the development of organs.

Erikson points out that Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis gives us an understanding of our inner conflicts. These inner conflicts make each of us a different personality. But given these conflicts, if the child is given proper guidelines, he can follow the inner laws that create series of potentialities in him.

These potentialities allow him to interact with those around him, who look after him. And such interaction of the child with his caretakers varies from culture to culture. In addition to this, such interaction must take place at a proper rate and in a proper sequence that controls the growth of personality and the living being.

That’s why Erikson’s theory of development is a stage theory. He uses an epigenetic diagram much like the one used to analyze Freud’s psychosexual stages. The objective is to modify the psychosexual theory and include the knowledge of the child’s physical and social growth within his family and social structure.

Erikson’s Stages of Development Chart

Here are Erikson’s stages of development chart. The following table clearly shows Erikson’s stages of development with ages, the sequence of stages, and the eventual development of the component parts. It specifies that each of the components that define a healthy personality is related to every other component. In addition to this, each component exists in some form before its critical time arrives.

StageAgesBasic ConflictImportant EventSummary
1. Oral SensoryBirth to 12 to 18 monthsTrust Vs MistrustFeedingThe infant must develop the first loving, trusting relationship with the caregiver. If that doesn’t happen he/she develops a sense of mistrust.
2. Muscular- Anal18 months to 3 yearsAutonomy Vs Shame and DoubtToilet TrainingIn this stage, the child’s energies are channelized towards developing physical skills and a sense of independence. Success in this stage results in autonomy. However, failure leads to feelings of shame or doubt.
3. Locomotor3 to 6 yearsInitiative Vs GuiltIndependenceChildren in this stage start exercising control and power over the environment. Success here results in a sense of purpose. However, those who exercise excessive power receive objection which results in feeling of guilt.
4. Latency6 to 12 yearsIndustry Vs InferioritySchoolChildren in this stage need to deal with new academic and social demands. Success results in feeling competent However, failure leads to feelings of inferiority.
5. Adolescence12 to 18 yearsIdentity Vs Role ConfusionPeer RelationshipsTeenagers must develop a sense of self and personal identity. Success results in ability to be true to oneself. However, failure results in role confusion and a weak self identity.
6. Young Adulthood19 to 40 yearsIntimacy Vs IsolationLove RelationshipsYoung adults must form intimate relationships with others. Success in this stages results in strong intimate relationships. Whereas a failure in this stage leads to loneliness and isolation.
7. Middle Adulthood40 to 65 yearsGenerativity Vs StagnationParentingIn this stage, adults must create things that live after them. This includes having children or bringing about positive changes that benefit others. Success results in a sense of usefulness and accomplishment. However, failure leads to a shallow involvement in the world.
8. Maturity65 to deathEgo Integrity Vs DespairReflection on and acceptance of one’s lifeThe older adults in this stage require to reflect back on life and feel fulfilled. Success in this stage leads to sense of wisdom. However, a failure results in feelings of bitterness and despair.

Erikson’s Stages of Development

Stage I. Basic Trust Vs Mistrust

A. Trust in Erikson’s Stages of Development

Erick Erickson designates “a sense of basic trust” as the first component of a healthy personality. He defines basic trust as an attitude towards oneself as well as to the world. This comes from the experiences of a child during the first year of life.

Further, as per Erikson’s theory, the term trust means reasonable truthfulness that an individual seeks in oneself as well as others.

Likewise, the term ‘basic’ means that neither the trust nor any other component is especially conscious either in childhood or adulthood.

As per Erikson, all these components constitute the whole personality of an individual when developed in childhood and integrated into adulthood.

Though, the crisis of each of these components in childhood and their impairment in adulthood are clearly defined.

Further, Erikson uses the term “a sense of” to define growth and its crisis as a development of a series of alternative basic attitudes. Much like a “sense of health” or a “sense of not being well”, these senses spread through both the surface and the depth of an individual. That is, consciousness and unconsciousness.

Further, these senses are ways of:

  • Conscious experience available through introspection,
  • Behavior that others can observe, and
  • Inner unconscious states determined through tests and analysis.

B. Mistrust in Erikson’s Stages of Development

The impairment of basic trust is expressed as a basic mistrust in the case of adults. Thus, individuals experiencing basic mistrust are the ones who withdraw into themselves in specific ways when in conflict with themselves and others.

Such ways are found in people who regress in psychotic states. In such a state, the individuals typically close up, refuse food and comfort, and become insensitive to companionship.

Such people with the help of psychotherapy are reached out in certain ways and are convinced that they can trust the world as well as themselves.

Thus, psychotherapists regard basic trust as the cornerstone of a healthy personality. This is because of the sudden regressions and the infantile layer of their not-so-sick patients.

Further, Erikson justifies to why he places the crisis and the ascendancy of trust as a component at the beginning of life.

Consider the case when a newly-born infant is separated from his mother’s body. At this time, his coordinated ability to take in through mouth meets his mother’s coordinated ability and intention to feed and welcome him.

You must remember that at this stage, the newborn infant lives as well as loves via his mouth. On the other hand, the mother at this stage lives as well as loves via her breasts.

Now, this is a difficult and late achievement for a mother. Further, such achievement of the mother is dependent on the following factors:

  • Mother’s development as a woman
  • Her unconscious attitude towards the child
  • Mother’s way of living during pregnancy and delivery
  • And her community’s attitude towards nursing

Thus, the mouth is the focus of a general first approach to life for the child. This approach is called the incorporative approach.

C. Incorporative Approach

The Incorporative Approach is typically called the Oral Stage in Psychoanalysis.

In this stage, the mouth is the focus of the child’s first approach to life. However, you must note that the baby soon becomes receptive in many other ways in addition to the immense need for food.

For instance, the baby becomes willing and is able to suck on appropriate objects and take in whatever fluids they emit. Likewise, he also becomes willing and able to absorb whatever enters his visual field via his eyes.

Similarly, the baby’s tactual senses also take in whatever feels good to him. Therefore, we can say that the Incorporative stage is the one in which the baby is receptive to whatever is offered to him.

However, there are many infants who are sensitive as well as vulnerable too during the Oral Stage. Therefore, we need to ensure that their first experience in the world keeps them alive as well as helps them coordinate their sensitive breathing, metabolic, and circulatory rhythms.

To do this, we must make sure that we offer to their senses stimuli and food in the right intensity and at right time. However, the infant’s willingness to accept may change suddenly into diffuse defense or lethargy if we fail to do so.

Now, it is clear what must take place and what should not take place to keep the baby alive. However, one can be flexible with regard to what may happen to keep the baby alive.

D. Cultural Patterns

It is important to understand that different cultures play an important role and use their privileges to decide what is necessary and workable to keep the baby alive.

For instance, some people think that the baby must be wrapped completely for a good part of the day and the greater part of the first year. Similarly, the baby should be rocked and fed whenever he cries.

Contrary to this, there are others who think that the baby should feel free to kick his legs as early as possible. Also, the baby should be compelled to cry for his meals until he gets blue in the face.

Thus, all of this is associated with a specific culture’s general aim and system. Therefore, there is some internal wisdom, unconscious planning, and superstition involved in various ways of child training.

Accordingly, what is good for the baby and what may happen to him depends on what he is supposed to become and where.

You must remember that in an infant’s earliest encounters, he comes face-to-face with the basic processes of his culture. The simplest and the earliest method that he comes across is “to get”.

Now, “to get” does not mean “to go and get”. But, it means receiving and accepting what is given to him as an infant.

Further, the unstable newborn learns this method only as he learns to manage his willingness to get along with the methods of his mother. Likewise, the mother in turn will allow the infant to coordinate his means of getting as she develops her means of giving.

Now, this mutuality of relaxation developed between the mother and the child is of utmost importance for the first experience of friendly otherness.

As per Psychoanalysis, the baby develops the much-needed base to be a giver so as to identify with the mother. However, this happens only when the baby is getting what is given and is learning to get someone to do what the baby wishes to have done for him.

When Does The Baby Go Against the Cultural Pattern?

There are times when the situation gets bad or worse. This is because the child tries to control the situation via duress instead of reciprocity.

In other words, the baby tries to get by random activity that he could not get by central suction. Thus, he will either exhaust himself or find his thumb and damn the world.

In this case, the mother may respond by nervously changing her hours, formulas, and methods in order to control the situation. Thus, it is not clear that what exactly happens to the baby.

However, it is clear that certain individuals are sensitive or are the ones whose early frustration was not compensated for. In such cases, the situation acts as a model for radical disturbance in their relationship to the people, the world, and their loved ones.

Now, there are ways in which this reciprocity can be maintained. These include giving the baby what he can get via other forms of feeding. Such reciprocity can also be maintained by compensating for what is missed orally via satiation of receptors other than the oral receptors.

These could be the baby’s pleasure in being held, warmed, smiled at, talked to, rocked, etc. Such compensation is horizontal in nature. That is, compensation is given at the same stage of development.

You can also provide many longitudinal compensations to the infant. That is the compensations that come out of the later stages of the life cycle.

E. Second Phase of Oral Stage

As per Erikson, the potentiality and pleasure in a more active and directed Incorporative Approach mature during the second Oral Stage. For instance, the infant’s teeth develop, and with them develops the pleasure in biting on, through, and of things.

This active incorporative mode is marked by a variety of activities. For example, the eyes now learn to focus, distinguish, and grasp objects from vaguer backgrounds. Similarly, the hearing organs learn to distinguish the important sounds, find their source, and guide a proper change in position.

Further, the arms learn to reach out to things earnestly and the hands learn to grasp firmly. With this, a wide variety of interpersonal patterns are developed. These interpersonal patterns are formed via social processes of taking and holding on to things. That is things that are freely offered and given, and things that have a tendency to slip away.

As the baby learns to roll over and change position, he perfects the mechanism of grasping, distributing, holding, and chewing all that is within his reach. You must note that the crisis of the Oral Stage comes during the second half of the first year and are hard to assess and verify.

During this period of crisis, three developments coincide:

  • Physiological – The tension related to an aggressive drive to incorporate, appropriate, and observe more actively
  • Psychological Development – Development related to the baby’s increasing awareness about himself as a distinct person
  • Environmental Development – This Development takes place when the mother turns away from the baby towards activities she had left during late pregnancy and postnatal care. One of these activities includes a return to conjugal intimacy that may result in a new pregnancy.

Further, the breastfeeding continues until the biting stage. At this time, it becomes necessary for the baby to learn how to keep sucking without biting? This is so because the mother may pull back from breastfeeding out of pain or anger if the baby doesn’t learn to suck without biting.

As per clinical research, this point in the baby’s early history offers him some sense of a basic loss. Furthermore, this loss leaves an impression that there was a time when the baby’s unity with the maternal matrix was destroyed.

Thus, weaning should not be like a sudden loss of the breast and the mother’s reassuring presence for the baby. Weaning is the process of slowly introducing the baby to an adult diet while withdrawing the supply of mother’s milk.

So, a sudden loss of the mother who loves the baby is used to without an appropriate substitution at this stage can result in acute infantile depression. Or, it can result in a mild but chronic state of mourning which is capable to give a depressive undertone to the remaining life of the child.

However, under more favorable conditions also, the Oral Stage introduces a sense of division and a universal nostalgia for a lost paradise into the psychic life of the baby.

Therefore, you must remember that one should develop and maintain basic trust during the Oral Stage. And this trust is against the impressions of being deprived, divided, or abandoned. This is because all of these impressions leave remnants of mistrust.

Trust Vs Confidence

Therese Benedek terms trust in Erikson’s Theory as confidence. Erikson says that he prefers the word Trust because there is more innocence and mutuality attached to it. A baby can be said to be trusting. However, it would be too much to say that he has confidence.

Furthermore, trust here means that the child has not only learned to rely on the continuity and the sameness of the outside providers. But, he has also learned to trust himself and the potentiality of his own organs to deal with urges.

Oral Character or Oral Sadism

As per psychiatric literature, the term Oral Character is frequently used. Oral Character in Psychiatry means a deviation in one’s character based on the unresolved conflicts of the Oral Stage.

Thus, such unresolved conflicts lead to infantile fears like being left empty, being left, and being starved of stimulation. These fears can be understood in the depressive forms of being empty and being no good wherever oral pessimism rules and become exclusive.

Further, these fears hold the potentiality to give orality a specific avaricious quality. Such quality in Psychoanalysis is called Oral Sadism. Oral Sadism is nothing but an evil need to get and take in ways that are harmful to others.

However, there exists an optimistic Oral Character as well. Baby with such a character learns how to make giving and receiving the most important thing in his life.

Furthermore, orality normally exists in all individuals. That is, it remains as a lasting remnant of this first stage of dependency on powerful providers. It comes to the forefront in our times of dependencies and nostalgias as well as too hopeful or hopeless states.

The combining of the Oral Stage with other stages that follow leads to adulthood and a combination of both faith and realism. You must remember that the pathology and unreasonability of the oral trends depend solely on the:

  • The extent to which they get consolidated with the rest of our personality,
  • The extent to which they fit into our general cultural pattern
  • The extent to which an infant makes use of interpersonal techniques for expressing themselves

Therefore, it becomes important to discuss the expression of infantile urges in cultural patterns considered as a pathological deviation in a culture or a nation.

Infantile Urges Considered As A Pathological Deviation

Typically, an infant gets all the enjoyable reassurances from old and new taste sensations, inhaling and imbibing, munching, and swallowing. However, such pleasurable reassurances can convert into mass addictions. These addictions do not in any way express the kind of trust that people of a specific culture have in their minds.

Similarly, individuals with mental diseases too express the underlying unresolved conflicts of basic trust – the first stage of the Oral Stage. It is believed that individuals whose basic sense of trust is established in their earliest childhood are less dependent on cruel forms of addition, self-delusion, and greedy appropriation.

Thus, all psychiatrists, pediatricians, anthropologists today agree that firm establishment of basic trust is the first component of a budding personality. Therefore, it should be the first task of all maternal care.

However, it is important to note that the amount of trust established during the earliest infantile experience does not depend on the fixed quantities of food or demonstrations of love. Rather, they depend on the quality of maternal relationships.

Mothers are able to create a sense of trust in their children through quality administration. Such an administration combines sensitive care of the infant’s individual needs and a strong sense of strong personal trustworthiness within their community’s lifestyle.

You must remember that this becomes the very basis in a child for a sense of identity. This sense of identity later comes together with a sense of being “all right” of being oneself. Further, it also comes together with a sense of becoming what other people trust him or her to become.

Therefore, as a parent, you must come up with ways of guiding your child via prohibition and permission. In addition to this, you must also be able to provide the child with a bodily conviction that there is meaning to what your child does.

Now, in this sense, the traditional childcare system makes as one of the factors for trust. This is even if certain aspects of the traditional approach may seem unreasonable or cruel if taken individually.

In this case, a lot depends on whether the parent forces these unreasonable aspects on the child in a belief that this is the only way to do things. Or, whether the parent misuses his task of administering the baby to reduce anger, fear, or win an argument with the child or someone else.

You must remember that during times of change, a generation comes out to be so distinct from another such that aspects of tradition tend to become disturbances. For instance, conflicts between the mother’s ways and means and one’s self-made ways and means may disturb the mother’s trust in herself.

Similarly, changes in American life on a mass level like urbanization, immigration, etc. hold the potentiality to disturb young mothers in tasks that are simple yet extensive.

Trust Vs Religion

Another institution deeply related to trust as per Erikson is religion. It is not a psychologist’s job to discuss if religion should be practiced or not. Instead, he or she musk ask whether religion and tradition are creating the kind of faith and conviction that becomes a part of both the parent’s personality and strengthens the child’s basic trust in the world’s trustworthiness.

There are a number of people who cannot live without religion. Likewise, there are many people who derive faith from other religious beliefs like fellowship, social action, productive work, scientific and artistic pursuits, etc.

In addition to this, there are people who assert faith, yet in reality mistrust both man and life. Given all this, one can say that religion has served to restore trust over the centuries

Furthermore, it has done so at regular intervals in the form of faith and personified evil which it proclaims to prohibit.

All the religions of the world surrender to a provider who is responsible for all the earthly fortunes as well as spiritual health.

Likewise, religions believe in considering oneself small and dependent on this provider via a humble gesture. Further, it advises people to sing songs of misdeeds and admission as they pray.

Further, it claims that individual trust must become a common faith whereas mistrust is a commonly formulated evil.

Thus, one’s need for restoration must become a common practice for all and a sign of trustworthiness in the community.

Therefore, people who believe in religion must derive fail from it and transmit the same to their infants in the form of basic trust. Likewise, people who claim that they do not need religion must derive basic faith from elsewhere.

Stage II. Autonomy Vs Shame and Doubt

According to Erikson, there are some common issues parents face with their one-year-olds. Some of these issues include:

  • The child getting more dependent and independent at the same time
  • Avoiding accidents
  • You putting poisons out of reach
  • The child dropping and throwing things
  • How to make your child leave certain things alone, etc.

All these issues indicate certain disturbing forces that are let loose in this stage. Erikson defines this stage where guerilla warfare of unequal wills takes place. This is because the child is unequal to his violent drives. Likewise, the parent and child are unequal to one another.

Why is This Stage Important?

The importance of this stage rests in the following things:

  • maturation of the muscle system. In the other words, the resultant potentiality to coordinate a host of opposing action patterns like ‘holding on’ and ‘letting go’ and
  • the high value with which the still dependent child begins to present his autonomous will

Further, psychoanalysis defines this stage as the ‘anal stage’. Anality is nothing but specific pleasurableness and willfulness that typically attaches to the eliminative organs at this stage.

Thus, the process of clearing the bowels and bladder as thoroughly as is possible is improved by the premium of feeling good. This premium of ‘feeling good’ in a way conveys the message of ‘Well Done’ to the child.

Towards the beginning of life, this premium is or must be the cause of regular discomfort and tension borne by the infant. This is because the bowels learn to perform their routine work at this stage.

Further, two major developments take place during this stage that eventually make these anal experiences weighty.

  • coming of the better-formed stool
  • the coordination of the muscle system that allows the development of voluntary release, dropping, and throwing away

Now you must note that this new voluntary dropping and releasing dimension is not limited to the anal muscles alone. This also develops a general ability or an aggressive need to throw away, withhold, or expel at one’s own will.

Culture’s Influence on Anality

Much depends on what the culture surrounding the child wants to make out of anality. According to Erikson, there are cultures where parents ignore anality outrightly. In fact, parents leave it on the elder children so that these elder children guide the little one to the bushes. This is to make the toddler’s compliance in this issue match his desire to imitate the elder one.

However, western culture takes anality a bit seriously. It assumes that early and thorough training is mandatory. This is to develop a personality that functions efficiently in a mechanized world that demands orderliness, punctuality, and thrift.

But there are signs that show that western people have gone too far in achieving this. They have assumed that humans too can be tuned, much like machines. Whereas, human merits can only grow eventually, in steps.

This had led to neurosis in the form of over compulsive personalities. These individuals are stingy and diligent in matters of time, money ,and issues related to their bowels.

Daniel Levinson Theory Vs Erik Erikson Stages of Development

Yale psychologist Daniel Levinson presented his theory of development in his 1978 book ‘The Seasons of a Man’s Life.’

He based his theory on detailed interviews with 40 men aged between 35 and 45. He also interviewed women later in 1996.

As per Levinson, these adults carry an image of the future that encourages them. Such an image is called ‘the dream’. When it came to men, this dream was how their course of career would be. And where exactly would they be at the midlife.

In the case of women, this dream was a ‘split dream’ where they had an image of the future in respect of both work and family life.

In addition to this, they had worries in respect of both when and how will they coordinate between the two.

Needless to say, dreams are very encouraging. And they carry some sought of perfection till the time they lie in future. But, as one moves near to realizing such dreams, the realization of dreams may not live up to the images made by men and women.

Accordingly, if the image matches the realization, all is good But if it doesn’t, then the image either must be changed or replaced. Therefore, one makes plans, makes efforts, and reevaluates the plans in adulthood.

Levinsons’ 7 Stages of Development

AgePeriodDevelopment Issues
17 – 22 yearsEarly Adult TransitionLeave home and family; make first choices in respect of education and career
22 – 28 yearsEntering the adult worldDefining goals, committing oneself to a specific occupation, and searching for intimate relationships
28 – 33 yearsAge 30 transitionReanalyzing choices made previously, and making required changes.
33 – 40 yearsSettling downGetting involved in community work; reinvesting in family and work commitments
40 – 45 yearsMidlife transitionReanalyzing the prior commitments, and making sudden changes if needed. Further, giving importance to passions ignored previously. In addition to this, one also feels the necessity to know about life and its purpose
45 – 50 yearsEntering middle adulthoodDedicating oneself to the new commitments made and channelizing one’s energies towards them

How Was Levinson’s Theory Different From Erikson’s Stages of Development?

  • Levinson did not base his theory on the fact that there are conflicts specific to each stage of development. And that these conflicts must be resolved for the development of a healthy personality. Instead, he claimed that major transitions in life take place due to the development of physiological, psychological, and role-directed changes.
  • Levinson’s developmental stages were based on interviews with adults. However, Erikson based his stages on clinical work majorly with young people.

Therefore, Levinson’s stages depended majorly on events within their chronological range. Whereas, Erikson’s stages combined both existing and potential strengths and weaknesses from across the lifecycle.

For instance, Erikson reported life events in terms of those acceptable and not acceptable to one’s ego. Whereas, Levinson reported events as independent, thus making them points that defined where one is and where when can go.

Real-Life Examples of Erikson’s Stages of Development

Here are some of the real-life examples of Erikson’s stages of development:

  • Maria makes sure that her newborn is fed, cleaned, loved and warmed whenever the new born need it. Similarly, she ensures that she’s holding the baby in her arms when he cries or is upset. Basically, Maria is trying to develop a general sense of trust in the baby by fulfilling his basic needs. For if this initial trust is not developed, the child will continue to have trust issues throughout his life.
  • Sara is a toddler who is now being potty trained by her mother Raschel. Sara decides to use the potty by begins to undress in the loving area where her other family members are sitting. This is certainly not the right place and time to undress.

Raschel handles the situation in the right way. She appreciates Sara for identifying the need that she needs to potty. However, she also reminds Sara that area where everyone is sitting is not the right place and time to undress.

  • Mike is a preschooler who has infection in his stomach. His father David takes him to the hospital where the doctor needs to give Mike an injection. Learning this, he starts that he will never trouble David again and that he shouldn’t be given such a punishment. David explains Mike that this is no punishment and that he will have to take this injection if he needs to get well.

Causes of Identity Crisis

Typically, identity crisis is identified to take place during teenage or during midlife crises. According to Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, one faces identity crises during the teenage years. This is the time when individuals witness identity vs role confusion.

Teenagers experience a number of changes in respect of their bodies, hormones, emotions, and reasoning abilities. That is the first time they try to understand a lot of things. For example, their societal role, career, their values, interests, etc.

Identity Achievement and Identity Diffusion

According to Erikson, if people take knowing their identities seriously, it can be really beneficial for them. This is because they will be able to consciously choose a path for themselves when they step into adulthood.

This is a situation that Erikson calls ‘Identity Achievement’. However, if the teenagers suffer from identity issues, they will lead themselves into ‘identity diffusion. Identity diffusion will interfere with their upcoming developmental tasks.

However, midlife crises are also one time during which people face identity issues. Identity issues take place when a sudden or dramatic change occurs in your life. These changes could relate to both personal life or some major social events.

Seeing the current situation and modern-day challenges, identity issues are experienced more than ever.

Some of the common causes of identity crisis include:

  • Losing someone close
  • Entering into a new relationship or getting married
  • Ending a relationship – like marriage, partnership, etc
  • Starting or ending a new job
  • Going through trauma
  • Shifting to a new place, changing schools, etc
  • Knowing about a health issue like diabetes, cancer, etc

Thus, all of these causes can really interfere with your routine functioning, Further, these may change your perspective towards what you think about yourself, your values, interests, etc.

Identity Crisis Symptoms

As such, there are no defined identity crisis symptoms, like allergies, colds, and flu. However, there are certain signs that help you in identifying identity crises. For instance, you may feel that you are in a state of fix or lack meaningful growth.

Likewise, you may no feel fulfilled and experience mental issues like anxiety, depression.

Accordingly, some of the common identity crisis symptoms include:

  • Questioning who you are in general or specifically in respect of your career, values, beliefs, purpose, relationships, etc
  • Facing a fight with yourself with too many questions about yourself, your character, and your function in the society
  • Experiencing some sudden, dramatic changes like marriage, divorce, changing a place, job, etc
  • Searching for your passion, purpose, why you are here

Questioning yourself for your purpose, passion, etc is not wrong. This is because we evolve with time and asking such questions is completely normal. It becomes pathological when too much questioning interferes with your day-to-day functioning.

Identity Crisis Test

There are developmental psychologists who too Erik Erikson’s stages of development a little further. Developmental Psychologist James E Marcia, Ph.D., came up with a framework that resulted in a good amount of work done on adolescent identity development.

James Marica identified four different ways in which teenagers solved their issues. These ways were known as Identity Statuses.

The four identity statuses were developed considering the high and low positions on the following two dimensions.

Identity Dimensions

Dimension I – Commitment

People High on identity Commitment – These are the ones who have a strong sense of their identity and are confident of the choices they make.

People Low in Identity Commitment – These individuals are uncertain of who they are

Dimension II – Exploration

People High on Exploration – These are people who are continuously questioning their identity and are in search of ways to reach a decision.

People Low on Exploration – They are individuals who are not questioning their identity at all.

Taken these two dimensions as the base, the following four identity statues are defined:

4 Identity Statuses

Identity Achieved – High On Commitment, High on Exploration

These are people who are categorized as ‘Identity Achieved’, much like Erikson. This is the most desirable status.

Identity Diffusion – Low on Commitment, Low on Exploration

The other extreme category is called ‘Identity Diffusers’, much the same in Erikson’s theory. These people can engage in high-risk behaviors.

Identity Moratorium – Low on Commitment, High on Exploration

These people are categorized under ‘Moratorium’. This is because they are thinking too much about who they are but are not ready to commit. These people are likely to become rebellious teens.

Identity Foreclosure – High on Commitment, Low on Exploration

People in this category are called ‘Foreclosed’. This is because they have a strong sense of identity, but they have never questioned themselves as to what they truly want. These people are the ones whose identity commitment matches with what their parents wanted them to be.

Such people may during midlife face crises as they do not question who they truly are and go by their parent’s expectations.

Based on these statuses, Developmental Psychologist and Ph.D. S.K. Whitbourne came up with the following identity crisis questionnaire. This is taken from her book The Search for Fulfillment.

S.K. Whitbourne Identity Crisis Questionnaire

I. Politics is something that I –

  • can never be too sure about because things change so fast. But I do think it’s important to know what I can politically stand for and believe in.
  • haven’t really considered it because it doesn’t excite me much.
  • feel pretty much the same way as my family. I follow what they do in terms of voting and such.
  • have thought it through. I realize I can agree with some and not other aspects of what my family believes.

II. When it comes to religion I –

  • am not sure what religion means to me. I’d like to make up my mind but I’m not done looking yet.
  • don’t give religion much thought and it doesn’t bother me one way or the other.
  • have gone through a period of serious questions about faith and can now say I understand what I believe in as an individual.
  • have never really questioned my religion. If it’s right for my family it must be right for me.

III. Regarding my career choice I –

  • haven’t really settled on a career and I’m just taking whatever jobs are available until something good comes along.
  • am still trying to decide where my career interests lie and actively thinking about what jobs will be right for me.
  • thought a little about my career, but there’s never really any question since my parents said what they wanted for me.
  • Took a while to figure it out, but now I really know that I am on the right career path.

IV. With regard to men’s and women’s roles I –

  • posses view identical to those of my family. What has worked for them will obviously work for me.
  • have never really seriously considered men’s and women’s roles. It just doesn’t seem to concern me.
  • have spent some time thinking about men’s and women’s roles and I’ve decided what works best for me.
  • think there are so many ways to define men’s and women’s roles, I’m trying to decide what will work for me.

Key To Answers

  1. Politics

Option 1 – Moratorium

Option 2 – Diffuse

Option 3 – Foreclosed

Option 4 – Achieved

  1. Religion

Option 1 – Moratorium

Option 2 – Diffuse

Option 3 – Achieved

Option 4 – Foreclosed

III. Career

Option 1 – Diffuse

Option 2 – Moratorium

Option 3 – Foreclosed

Option 4 – Achieved

III. Gender Role

Option 1 – Foreclosed

Option 2 – Diffuse

Option 3 – Achieved

Option 4 – Moratorium

History of Identity Crisis

There are many theories of development that talk about identity formation. The following are the theories that directly deal with the process of identity formation.

Erickson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development was developed in the 1950s by psychoanalyst Erik. H. Erikson. His theory was based on Freud’s theory of psychosexual development. Accordingly, he suggested that in addition to Freud’s psychosexual and biological factors, social factors too played an important role in developing a person’s personality.

Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development consists of eight stages of human development. Each of these stages is guided by biological, psychological, and social factors throughout the life of individuals.

Further, each stage has its own conflicts that must be resolved so as to develop a healthy personality. Unlike Freud, Erikson believed that personality development continues to take place throughout life.

James E Marcia And Self-Identity

James E Marcia is one of the development psychologists who expanded on Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development.

His theory was first published during the 1960s and continues to be improved to date. As mentioned under the identity crisis test, Marcia identified four main identity statuses based on the two dimensions of identity commitment and exploration.

These four statuses defined identity conditions ranging from identity achievement, identity moratorium, identity foreclosure to identity diffusion.

Just like Erikson, Marcia believed that certain crises situations across the statuses triggered internal conflict and emotional disturbance. This leads teenagers to question their values, beliefs, and purpose.

Erikson’s Stages of Development PDF

Download our Erikson’s stages of development PDF here to know Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development in detail.

Erikson’s Stages of Development Journal

Some of the journal articles on Erik Erikson Stages of Development are as follows:

Erik Erikson’s Stages of Development Worksheet

Here are Erik Erikson’s Stages of Development Worksheets that can be used by teachers to access students on Erikson’s eight stages of development.

Erikson’s Stages of Development Nursing

Erikson’s stages of development theory can be used by mental health professionals. This is to help children or people experiencing a phase of adjustment or a sudden change in their lives.

This theory can really help such individuals have greater awareness and understanding of the self. Erikson’s psychosocial theory contains many stages that deal with the early half of life.

However, this theory can also be used to help and guide people in later stages of life.

Erikson defines eight stages of psychosocial development. Furthermore, he claims that each of these eight stages of life has its own conflicts. These include both positive and negative psychosocial conflicts.

And by supporting the positive side of each stage, one can help children progress successfully through each stage.

Thus, by facing these conflicts of each stage, an individual can successfully cross through that stage to the next one.

Erik Erikson Stages of Development Book

Erik Erikson wrote a number books during his life on Identity Development. However, the Erik Erikson Stages of Development book is titled ‘Identity and Lifecycle‘.

This book contains three papers written by Erikson on identity. These include:

  • ‘Ego Development and Historical Change’
  • Growth and Crises of the Healthy Personality
  • The Problem of Ego Identity

Another book titled ‘Lifecycle Completed‘ extends on Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development and is written by Erik’s wife Joan Mowat Erikson.

This book defines the challenges and rewards of very old age, thus completing the circle of Erikson’s theories.

How to Cite Erikson’s Stages of Development


1. Is identity crisis a mental illness?

Identity crisis is not a mental illness but an event in which you start questioning your sense of self and purpose in the world. Identity crisis as a term first originated in Erik Erikson’s theory of development.

According to him, identity formation is one of the critical conflicts people face. In fact, people vulnerable to such crisis may lead to mental illness like depression, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

2. What are identity issues?

These are concerns relating to your sense of self and your purpose in this world. Identity issues involve a person questioning who he is in general or specifically in respect of his career, relationships, etc. Such person questions his values, beliefs, interests, and his role in the society.

Basically, he is searching for meaning in life, or his reason of existence.

3. What are the four types of identity?

According to James E. Marcia, there are four types of identity statuses that people go through as they develop their identity. These include Identity Achievement, Identity Diffusion, Identity Moratorium, and Identity Foreclosure.

Identity achievement is when a person has explored different identities and had committed to one of them. Identity Diffusion is when the person nether explores nor commits to any one identity.

Moratorium is when the person is exploring continuously but is not ready to commit to any one identity. Finally, foreclosure is when a person makes commitment to an identity without attempting to explore.

4. What are the theories of identity?

There are many theories of development that have been given. But two of the important theories of identity or developmental theories that deal directly with identity include:

  • Erikson’s Theory of Identity Vs Role Confusion
  • Marcia’s Identity Status Theory

5. What are three characteristics of establishing an identity?

Defining oneself within the world, feeling a sense of belonging nad feeling unique are the three characteristics of establishing an identity.

6. Erik Erikson stages of development mnemonic or How to Remember Erik Erikson Stages of Development?

Erik Erikson stages of development mnemonic include different mnemonics used to remember Erikson’s age stages.

The first one is ‘HOW POCO FOOL COW.’ This takes into account the virtues attached to each stage which are H – Hope, W – Will, P – Purpose, C – Competence, F – Fidelity, L – Love, C – Care, and W – Wisdom.

The other mnemonic is given by Michael Brit in this video. Still another is mentioned on website for your reference.

Advanced Psychology