The Web address of this article is
Clicking links below will open a full window or an informational
popup, so please turn off
your brow-ser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit, ad-free Web site.
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
suggests that U.S. parents are failing at
This page is adapted
from a 1997
on psychologist Erik Erickson's theory of psychoso-cial 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.
"Erikson's theory consists of eight stages of development. Each stage is
characterized by a differ-ent conflict that must be resolved by the
individual. When the environment makes new demands on peo-ple, the conflicts
arise. 'The person is faced with a choice between two ways of coping with
each crisis, an adaptive, or maladaptive way.
Only 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
12 to 18 months
must form a first loving, trusting relationship
with the caregiver,
or develop a sense of mistrust.
to 3 years
||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
and doubt if not handled well.
3 to 6
||The child continues to
become more assertive and to take more initiative, but may be too
forceful, leading to
6 to 12
||The child must deal
with demands to learn new skills or risk a sense of inferiority,
failure, and incompetence.
12 to 18
||The teenager must
achieve a sense of identity in occupation, sex roles, poli-tics, and
6. Young Adulthood
19 to 40
||The young adult must
develop intim-ate relationships or suffer feelings of isolation.
7. Middle Adulthood
40 to 65
Generativity vs. Stagnation
||Each adult must find
some way to satisfy and support the next genera-tion.
Integrity vs. Despair
on and acceptance of one's life
||The culmination is a
sense of oneself as one is, and of feeling fulfilled.
The reality that Erikson's ideas are still widely referred to and discussed
(and disputed) 40 years later suggests the relevance of his theory
to understanding and promoting 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
long before the concept became debated.
His premises were developed
before the widespread acceptance of
Major implications of this include...
His ideas focus on the individual, and
do acknowledge (elsewhere) the powerful effect of a young
on his/her development - though
Erikson was (presumably) unaware of the
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
30-year clinical experi-ence suggests it is proportional.
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 master these family
adjustment needs in order to master the
eight stages of psy-chosocial growth. Family dis-integration
(separation and divorce) probably makes adaptive respon-ses 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 spiritual-ity from treating human (vs.
Dr. Erikson's generation of clinicians were trained several
decades before the inner-child and disso-ciative disorder (e.g. "multiple
personality") concepts were accepted into
clinical and lay awarenesses. Presumably, he felt the normal 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..
the normal evolution of an
"inner-family" system of
in response to childhood family and social environments, or...
the widespread mid-life adult need to
the wise leader-ship of the resident
The inner-family system of subselves proposed in 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 (b) dominance of a protective
Until corrected, that will inhibit mastery of all other
It is misleading to assume the conflicts in each psychosocial stage
are linear, discrete events, rather than
evolving and overlapping in the flow 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
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.
The SUNY authors reprinted 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 de-velopmental conflict or
"crisis." One way of interpreting this using the
is that "mala-daptive" ways are caused by well-meaning
(a "false self") 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
(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?) U.S. kids and adults are
unaware of bonding, loss, and grief basics, and of how to mourn
inevitable life-losses effectively.
in this Web site focuses on hea-lthy grieving.
A fundamental 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.
My and my
colleagues' consistent clinical experience
is that such
is feasible using
("parts work") to
the resident true Self to
and harmonize other subselves. Requisites for
this seem to be...
accumulating ~35-45 years' life
hitting some form of
commitment to improve personal
The alternative "maladaptive"
(false-self) choice is
overfocusing on immediate comforts, and
illness, social stress,
premature death, and unconsciously passing the
lethal [wounds + unawareness]
on to descendents.
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
through a series of developmental
stages or phases across 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 development?
If you feel Erikson's scheme is credible, thoughtfully decide
whether you feel you made an "adap-tive" 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
Erikson's theory was formed well before...
the present widespread clinical
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 and typical
family-adjustment needs that typical
kids of divorce and parental re/marriage need to fill with empathic,
knowledgeable adult help.
Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you
get what you needed? If not, what
you need? Who's
these questions - your