Attachment Issues

 

Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development

By , About.com Guide

Psychosocial Development in Infancy and Early Childhood

What is Psychosocial Development?

Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is one of the best-known theories of personality in psychology. Much like Sigmund Freud, Erikson believed that personality develops in a series of stages. Unlike Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages, Erikson’s theory describes the impact of social experience across the whole lifespan.

One of the main elements of Erikson’s psychosocial stage theory is the development of ego identity.1 Ego identity is the conscious sense of self that we develop through social interaction. According to Erikson, our ego identity is constantly changing due to new experience and information we acquire in our daily interactions with others. In addition to ego identity, Erikson also believed that a sense of competence also motivates behaviors and actions. Each stage in Erikson’s theory is concerned with becoming competent in an area of life. If the stage is handled well, the person will feel a sense of mastery, which he sometimes referred to as ego strength or ego quality.2 If the stage is managed poorly, the person will emerge with a sense of inadequacy.

In each stage, Erikson believed people experience a conflict that serves as a turning point in development. In Erikson’s view, these conflicts are centered on either developing a psychological quality or failing to develop that quality. During these times, the potential for personal growth is high, but so is the potential for failure.




 

Stage 1 - Trust vs. Mistrust

 
 

Stage 2 - Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

 
 

Stage 3 - Initiative vs. Guilt

 
 

Stage 4 - Industry vs. Inferiority

 
 

Stage 5 - Identity vs. Confusion

 
 

Stage 6 - Intimacy vs. Isolation

 
 

Stage 7 - Generativity vs. Stagnation

 
 

Stage 8 - Integrity vs. Despair

 
 

What is an Identity Crisis?

Are you unsure of your role in life? Do you feel like you don't know the 'real you'? If you answer yes to the previous questions, you may be experiencing an identity crisis. Theorist Erik Erikson coined the term identity crisis and believed that it was one of the most important conflicts people face in development.

According to Erikson, an identity crisis is a time of intensive analysis and exploration of different ways of looking at oneself. Erikson's interest in identity began in childhood. Raised Jewish, Erikson appeared very Scandinavian and often felt that he was an outsider of both groups. His later studies of cultural life among the Yurok of northern California and the Sioux of South Dakota helped formalize Erikson's ideas about identity development and identity crisis.

Erikson described identity as "a subjective sense as well as an observable quality of personal sameness and continuity, paired with some belief in the sameness and continuity of some shared world image. As a quality of unself-conscious living, this can be gloriously obvious in a young person who has found himself as he has found his communality. In him we see emerge a unique unification of what is irreversibly given--that is, body type and temperament, giftedness and vulnerability, infantile models and acquired ideals--with the open choices provided in available roles, occupational possibilities, values offered, mentors met, friendships made, and first sexual encounters." (Erikson, 1970.)

Research on Identity

In Erik Erikson's stages of psychosocial development, the emergence of an identity crisis occurs during the teenage years in which people struggle between feelings of identity versus role confusion. Researcher James Marcia (1966, 1976, 1980) has expanded upon Erikson's initial theory. According to Marcia and his colleagues, the balance between identity and confusion lies in making a commitment to an identity. Marcia also developed an interview method to measure identity as well as four different identity statuses. This methods looks at three different areas of functioning: occupational role, beliefs and values and sexuality.

Identity Statuses

  • Identity achievement occurs when an individual has gone through an exploration of different identities and made a commitment to one.

  • Moratorium is the status of a person who is actively involved in exploring different identities, but has not made a commitment.

  • Foreclosure status is when a person has made a commitment without attempting identity exploration.

  • Identity diffusion occurs when there is neither an identity crisis or commitment.

Researchers have found that those who have made a strong commitment to an identity tend to be happier and healthier than those who have not. Those with a status of identity diffusion tend to feel out of place in the world and don't pursue a sense of identity.

In today's rapidly changing world, identity crises are more common than in Erikson's day. Exploring different aspects of yourself in the different areas of life, including your role at work, within the family, and in romantic relationships, can help strengthen your personal identity.