The Web address of this article is
Clicking underlined links here will open a
new window. Other links will open an informational popup,
so please turn off your
browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site.
Follow underlined links after
finishing this article to avoid getting lost.
This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 6
- learn what typical kids need as they grow, and how to fill their needs
effectively over two decades without neglecting yourself. The range and
scope of major social
problems suggests that U.S. parents are failing at
This page is adapted
from a 1997
on psychologist Erik Erickson's theory of psychosocial development,
The original authors
Cramer, Bernadette Flynn, and Ann La Fave of the State University of New
York (SUNY) College at Cortland, NY.
I have added comments after their summary.
Erikson's ideas were presented in his
classic 1963 book
Childhood and Society.
Main links in the table below connect with Web
commentary on each stage by the authors.
This brief YouTube video on "maturity" augments what you'll read
in this article::
"Erikson's theory proposes eight stages of human development.
Each stage is characterized by a different conflict that must be resolved by the
person. When the environment makes new demands on people, the conflicts
arise. 'The person is faced with a choice between two ways of coping with
each crisis, an adaptive, or maladaptive way.
when each crisis is
resolved, which involves a change in the personality, does the person have
sufficient strength to deal with the next stages of development'
and Schultz, 1987). If a person is unable to resolve a conflict at a
particular stage, they will confront and struggle with it later in life."
Dr. Erik Erickson's 8 Stages of Human Development
Note the correspondence of Erikson's "conflicts" (in red below)
with what this Web site calls "psychological wounds."
The child's energies
are directed toward the development of physical skills, including
walking, grasping, and rectal sphincter control. The child learns
control but may develop
shame and doubt if not handled well.
The culmination is a
sense of oneself as one is, and of feeling fulfilled.
fact that Erikson's ideas are still widely referred to and discussed
(and disputed) 50 years later suggests the relevance of his desire
to understanding and promote human health and growth. In deciding if and how to validate and apply Erikson's theory,
consider these points:
(1902 - 1994) studied Sigmund Freud's ideas, and
was a stepson and a psychologist. His
suggests he was probably a
Grown Wounded Child, long before the concept became debated.
His premises were developed
before the widespread acceptance of
in the 1950s.
Major implications of this include...
His ideas focus on the individual, and
do acknowledge (elsewhere) the powerful effect of a young
nurturance level on his/her development - though
Erikson was (presumably) unaware of the
effects of the lethal [wounds + unawareness)
I don't know whether Erikson proposed that
a child's success or failure to master these stages is directly
proportional to their caregivers' mastery of the same stages. My
36-year clinical experience suggests it is
Since Erikson's ideas originated before
the advent of the current U.S. divorce
epidemic and the related surge in American stepfamily formation,
I suspect his writings do not comment on
minor kids' needs to fill these family
adjustment needs in order to master the
eight stages of psychosocial growth. Family restructuring
(separation, divorce, and remarriage) probably makes adaptive responses to
the childhood crises significantly harder.
Erikson's eight stages don't
mention personal or family
(vs. religion) as an integral part of healthy human
development. This probably reflects his Era's psychiatric convention
of excluding spirituality from treating human dysfunction.
Dr. Erikson's generation of clinicians were trained several decades
before the family system, inner-child, and dissociative disorder (e.g. "multiple
personality") concepts were added to
clinical and lay awarenesses. Presumably, he felt the human
personality was "monolithic,' which limited his ability to explain
failure to master any of the developmental stages. Erikson's stages
don't acknowledge or discuss..
parents and grandparents can influence kids in their confronting
The inner-family system of subselves proposed in
online Lesson 1
here suggests that the overarching developmental crisis of a
child's pre-adult years is to develop a personality
the resident true Self and other Manager subselves. Failure
to master this "crisis" implies a
environment and dominance of protective
false selves. Until corrected, these will inhibit mastery of all other
It's misleading to think that the conflicts in each psychosocial
stage are discrete linear events, rather than
evolving organically and overlapping in the multi-decade process of personal development, It would be useful
to know if Erikson proposed specific criteria for assessing a
person's mastery of each developmental "crisis." For
examples of such criteria,
see the descriptions of each psychological
when you finish here. Also see this perspective on personal
Note that the table of stages above suggests that mastering each developmental "crisis" is
either successful or not, rather than proposing degrees of
success that change over the years.
authors summary above quote a source (Schultz and Schultz)
which suggests Erikson thought that human development is a series of
"adaptive or maladaptive" ways of coping with each developmental conflict or
"crisis." One way of interpreting this using the
is that "maladaptive" ways are caused by well-meaning
("false selves") who distrust and
Erikson's stages correlate
with some of the six psychological wounds
proposed in this Web site - e.g. excessive
and inability to
bond (stage 1),
(stage 2) and
(stage 3). His stages don't propose mastering a conflict over
vs. perceiving it clearly. This mastery occurs when the resident true
Self consistently leads the other subselves.
The stages also don't
include learning to
well as a childhood crisis. My clinical experience with
hundreds of clients is that many (most?) kids and adults are
unaware of bonding, loss, and grief basics, and of how to mourn
inevitable life-losses effectively.Lesson 3
in this Web site focuses on healthy grieving.
To my knowledge, Erikson doesn't treat the development of
or the abilities to feel, give, and receive love as major
developmental tasks or stages. My clinical experience suggests
failure to develop these vital abilities is one of six inherited
core question posed by Erikson's scheme is whether an adult who
has not "successfully resolved" one or more early developmental
conflicts can proactively "redo" the conflict-resolution process and
create a more "adaptive" outcome.
Erikson's proposed growth stages imply that
(healthy) human development...
requires mastering a series of
interactive "conflicts" over time, and...
continues across each
person's whole life span, not just childhood.
This parallels the
premise that relationships and
family systems pass
through a series of developmental
stages over time as members age and negotiate their
dynamic mosaics of individual growth stages.
Status Check: Review the eight stages
in the table above, and then pause, breathe, and reflect.
On a scale
of 1 (I totally agree) to 10 (I totally disagree), how do you rank
your acceptance of Erikson's growth "crises" applied to yourself
and other important adults and kids? If you
disagree, how would you describe your theory of human
If you feel Erikson's scheme is credible, thoughtfully decide
whether you feel you made an "adaptive" choice with the
conflict in each stage (so far). Then reflect on what you and any
family adults need to do to help any dependent kids master
each stage successfully, over time.
This article summarizes psychologist
Erik Erikson's widely accepted premise that human growth occurs
eight discrete stages that each person must negotiate across their life. Based on these premises, this
article offers perspective on these stages, in the
context of childhood
nurturance levels, personality
Erikson's theory was formed well before...
the present widespread clinical
family-systems theory as an effective way to
understand human development and behavior, and before...
current ideas about human
dissociation became known
For perspective, note these
developmental needs and typical
family-adjustment needs that typical
kids of divorce and parental re/marriage need to fill with
knowledgeable adult help. Also explore this worksheet on
How mature are you?
Bottom line - Erikson's scheme of 8 stages is a useful, somewhat
outdated introduction to the complex subjects of child development
and effective parenting. The knowledge that we have today about
family systems, personal development, and wholistic health makes his
scheme a useful baseline to build on.