There are a number of development theories which describe the psychological development of humans from infancy to adulthood.

One of the most popular of these theories is Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychological Development.

Born in Germany in 1902, Erik Erikson was an ego psychologist who was highly impressed by the work of Sigmund Freud who presented the famous theory of psychosexual development.

Although there is some reflection of Freud’s theory in Erikson’s work, yet the latter’s theory mainly discusses stages of psychological development only.

Every human being has a unique identity comprising of various traits.

These traits are either positive or negative.

Similarly, humans can inherit these traits from their parents or acquire them as they grow.

Depending upon how strongly the environment influences the growth of a person, they also vary from individual to individual.

In simple words, we as a human have many different characteristics.

Many aspects of our life and environment further refine these characteristics with the passage of time.

Ultimately, they define who we are.

Erik Erikson throws light on almost all the sociocultural factors which affect personal development in his theory.

According to him, these stages are actually crisis or conflicts which every human being has to face at a certain stage of his life.

Furthermore, he has to resolve these conflicts successfully in order to adapt to his environment.

Erikson calls these conflicts as the stages of psychological development.


Before we discuss the eight stages of life in detail, it is imperative to understand what actually the Erikson’s theory is all about.

Erik Erikson argues, just like his mentor Sigmund Freud, that our personality develops in a series of progressing stages from infancy to adulthood.

Freud’s theory mainly concerns with sociosexual aspects of our life.

Erikson’s theory describes all the social and environmental factors which shape our behaviors and characteristics throughout our lives.

Erikson mainly wanted to comprehend how the development and growth of human beings depend upon their relationships and social interactions.

As mentioned above, the life stages in Erik Erikson’s theory are progressive.

Each stage builds on the previous stage and clears the way for the next stage.

The turning point in every development stage is a conflict which all of us have to overcome.

These conflicts are a result of our ability or for that matter, inability to develop a psychological quality.

An average human is most likely to develop during a period of crisis, but he is equally likely to fail during that period.

People develop certain psychological strengths during each stage if they manage to resolve the conflict associated with that stage.

They can, in fact, use these strengths for the rest of their lives as well.

On the other hand, they would not be able to develop a strong sense of self if they fail to effectively deal with these conflicts.

As a result, they also cannot acquire any or all of the necessary life skills.

Erikson further states that most of the motivational actions and behaviors are the direct outcome of a sense of competence.

A person develops a competitive skill in a certain area of life in each of the eight developmental stages.

The feeling of mastery he has after he overcomes a crisis and learns a particular skill is also sometimes called as ego quality or ego strength.

On the other hand, he will develop a feeling of inadequacy if he manages the stage poorly and fails to learn the concerned life skill.


The following are eight stages of psychological development as presented by Erik Erikson.

1. Trust vs. Mistrust

Trust vs. Mistrust is the first stage of psychological development in a person’s life.

This stage starts right from birth and continues until he gets one year of age.

As you can expect, it is the most basic stage of anyone’s life.

Child caregivers play a pivotal role in shaping the child’s personality during this stage.

An infant is totally dependent on others for food, nurturing, safety, love, warmth and everything else he needs to survive.

Therefore, a child actually depends upon the quality and trustworthiness of the caregivers to develop trust.

The equation is very simple here.

A child will come to hate all the elders if his early caretakers somehow fail to treat him with care and love he deserves.

He will also form the opinion that he cannot depend or trust the elders for the rest of his life.

On the other hand, the child considers the world as a safe and dependable place if he manages to develop trust in his elders right from the start.

It is pertinent to mention that emotionally disable and unavailable, rejecting and inconsistent caregivers is one of the biggest reasons an infant develops feelings of mistrust.

He will grow with the belief and fear that the world is a dangerous, unpredictable and inconsistent place for him.

You also need to keep in mind that no child will ever be able to fully trust or doubt his elders and surroundings.

According to Erikson, a child has to maintain a balance between total trust and total mistrust to grow as a useful member of society.

A child also acquires hope if he manages to maintain a balance between two opposites.

As a result, he opens himself to dangerous experiences.

He is also in a better position to prepare against these dangers since he has the necessary awareness about them.

2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

As soon as the child crosses the one year mark, the second stage of psychological development commences. Early childhood is definitely one of the most exciting periods in a person’s life.

It is also the time when he or she develops a sense of personal control.

This particular stage in Erikson’s theory tackles the factors which determine how a child is going to control his life from now on.

As the child grows and starts to have a better understanding of his surroundings, he also gets a little more independent.

He goes to the extent of making simple decisions about what he likes and dislikes.

This is also the stage in which a child starts to perform simple actions on his own.

There are many ways caregivers and parents can help their kids develop a sense of autonomy.

Two of the easiest methods are allowing them to gain control of their life and make their own choices.

One of the most important parts of the child’s upbringing is toilet training.

However, psychologists present different reasons for mandatory toilet training. Eric Erikson opines that a child develops a sense of independence and feeling of control by learning to control his body functions, especially the bowel and bladder movements.

Other important events such as the selection of clothes, toy preferences, and food choices are also an integral part of the process of gaining more control over one’s life.

Children feel confident and secure if they complete this stage successfully.

On the other hand, they develop a sense of self-doubt and inadequacy if they perform poorly during this important psychological development stage.

A child has to achieve a balance between total shame and total autonomy just like the first development stage.

Striking the balance between the two will lead him to “will.” It is the will which instills the belief in a child that he can have intentions while staying within limits and reasons.

3. Initiative vs. Guilt

The third stage of Erikson’s psychological model that is Initiative versus Guilt initiates during the preschool years.

Children do a lot of activities during this stage, which indicates they are exercising greater control and autonomy than ever before.

They socially interact with other children, participate in different types of sports and functions, games and direct play while in the playground.

All these activities enable them to have more control and exert more power over the world around them.

The children develop leadership and decision making skills if they successfully complete this stage of life.

Furthermore, they also feel capable of taking on various challenges later in their life.

Those children who fail at this stage struggle to take necessary initiatives and are left with a sense of doubt and guilt.

The latter usually happens when parents or caregivers try to squelch their children’s attempts to take initiatives and make decisions.

Most of these children become followers, having little to no leadership skills.

Similarly, they often become a nuisance not only to their parents and siblings, but for their relatives, teachers, friends, class fellows and everybody else around them.

Parents often try to prevent a child from taking an initiative in order to protect him.

The child sometimes forcefully breaks free of these restrictions and follows his own heart.

Some parents restrict these initiatives and punish the child too much for breaking the rules.

It is also during this stage that a child starts to ask too many questions in an attempt to quench his growing thirst for knowledge.

The parents, however, take these questions as a trouble and embarrassment.

Some of them even ignore these questions, thinking them to be too trivial to answer.

If a child starts feeling he is becoming a nuisance to his parents, he may also start feeling ashamed and guilty of his “mistakes.”

Parents and caregivers should be careful while criticizing the children because too much guilt can curb their creativity in addition to limiting their social interactions.

A child does need to have some sort of guilt if he is to develop conscience and exercise self-control, but the excess of everything is bad and same is the case with guilt in the children.

A child needs to achieve a healthy balance between initiative and guilt.

Only then he can develop the ego quality commonly referred to as purpose.

4. Industry vs. Inferiority

The fourth stage starts right after the culmination of the third stage that is from early school years.

It normally lasts from age 5 to age 11 and it is one of the most important developmental stages in a person’s life.

It is during this stage that a child starts feeling proud of his abilities and accomplishments, mainly due to his increased social interactions.

Furthermore, he also develops a strong belief in his abilities and skills.

The parents and teachers can further augment children’s belief by encouraging them to partake in healthy social activities.

However, a child starts doubting his abilities to succeed if he receives little to no encouragement from his teachers, parents, friends and class fellows.

It is worth mentioning that a child’s peers play an important role during this particular stage of development.

Children at this stage start to learn reading and writing, do additions and subtractions and do things on their own.

The role of the teachers becomes more and more important because they are the ones who teach various skills to children.

A child develops self-esteem with the help of both his peer and teachers.

This is the stage when a child considers it necessary to gain approval for his activities from the society which the later deem valuable.

Subsequently, he also takes pride in himself by successfully demonstrating these competencies.

Therefore, children need encouragement for their actions and initiatives to become hard working.

It also helps them build confidence and strengthen their belief in their abilities to achieve their goals.

In simple words, a child learns an important life skill that is competence by successfully completing this stage of life.

The lack of encouragement on the parts of teachers and parents as well as unnecessary criticism and restrictions make the child feel insecure, inferior to others and less confident.

He may not be able to perform to his full potential and attain his objectives simply because he doubts his own abilities.

In order for the child to develop modesty and respect toward others, he also needs some failures in life.

Yet again, he must attain a balance between competence and inferiority to live a happy and successful life.

5. Identity vs. Confusion

Identity versus Confusion is the fifth stage in Erikson’s theory of psychological development.

It occurs during the teenage period (age 12 to 18), which is often turbulent as well as tumultuous. Teenagers develop a sense of personal identity during this particular stage.

Being able to truly identify one’s self is important because your identity affects your psychological development and behaviors for the rest of your life.

Children develop a sense of sense and search for their independence during their teenage years.

They will eventually have a strong sense of control and independence as well as a strong sense of sense if they receive proper encouragement and appreciation during the process of self-discovery and exploration of independence.

Those who do not receive any such recognition and encouragement remain confused about themselves and the future ahead of them.

This is because they are never able to properly identify their true beliefs, desires, and strengths.

According to psychologists,  a person’s identity is the combination of his beliefs, values, and ideas which shape and influence his behaviors.

A teenager develops fidelity after successful completion of this stage. Erikson defines fidelity as a person’s ability to conform to society’s norms, expectations, and standards.

It is important to note that Erikson has greatly emphasized the importance of developing an ego identity.

He says that all the psychological stages are important, but the stage in which a person increases social interaction with others to develop the sense of self is the most important.

The battle between the identity and confusion at this stage centers around this sense of self.

Erikson further argues that as we constantly interact with new people on a daily basis, acquire new information and have new experiences, our ego identity constantly changes as well.

We also indulge in various activities and take on certain challenges due to these interactions, which can hamper or expedite the development of our identity.

All of us develop a coherent and integrated identity or sense of self.

This identity becomes an integral part of our personality and remains with us forever.

Our social interactions and experiences shape our personal ego identity which further guides our behaviors, actions and beliefs as we grow.

6. Intimacy vs. Isolation

This stage of psychological development starts during early adulthood (19 years) and lasts till late adulthood (40 years). It is the time of our lives when we start creating and exploring personal relationships.

According to Erikson, it is utmost important for people to develop intimate and close relationships with each other.

He says that successfully forming long lasting and enduring relationships is necessary to spend a satisfied and happy life.

And, the best time to develop such relationships is the early adulthood without any doubt.

Remember that each stage builds on the skills acquired in the previous stage. Erikson suggests it is impossible to develop enduring relationships without having a strong sense of personal identity.

Numerous studies have also shown that people are more likely to suffer from depression, loneliness, and emotional isolation if they do not have an advanced sense of self.

You develop one of the most sort after virtues of life that is love after the successful conclusion of this stage.

The main hallmark of love is the ability to develop close, committed, meaningful and lasting relations with other people.

7. Generativity vs. Stagnation

Middle adulthood (40 to 65 years of age) is an important stage of our life where we do not only build relationships, but also focus on our family and career to build a satisfying and meaningful life for ourselves.

People tend to give something back to society for everything it has done for them.

They try to work diligently and be more productive, raise children and participate in different types of social work and communal activities.

These kinds of activities are also an indication that a person is successfully passing through this particular developmental stage.

On the other hand, people tend to be unproductive, become stagnant and cut themselves from the world if they fail to attain this essential life skill.

When someone handles this stage masterfully, he develops a skill commonly referred to as care.

You can achieve a lot of life goals during this stage such as developing a close bond with your life partner, raising your children and watching them grow into adults and being proud of your overall life and accomplishments.

8. Integrity vs. Dispair

Everyone focuses on what he has been doing all his life during the latter years of his life. The final stage in Erikson’s psychological development theory deals with reflecting back on one’s life.

During this stage, people obviously look back at the life they have spent and whether or not they are happy with how the events have unfolded.

They determine if they are happy with their life so far or do they regret some of the things they did or did not do when they had the time.

As you can imagine, those people who experience regret and think that they have wasted their life usually perform poorly during the last stage of psychological development.

They will eventually develop feelings of despair and bitterness.

On the contrary, people will have a better sense of integrity and pride if they are proud of their life accomplishments and achievements.

Successfully passing this stage means a person is satisfied with his life and has little to no regrets.

These people will ultimately attain wisdom and embrace death gracefully and peacefully.


Concluding, it must be said that Erikson’s theory of psychological development also has its fair share of restrictions and criticism.

What should a person do or the experiences he needs to have to successfully complete each stage of life?

How will he move from one stage to the next?

The theory also only vaguely describes the mechanism to move from a stage to the next stage and how to resolve conflicts.

However, Erikson’s theory succeeds in providing a broad outline to the experts.

They can use this framework to observe the development of a person right from his birth to death.

It also enables us to understand how important relationships are for the development of human beings and their overall social nature.

Erik Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development

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