Psychosocial Theory: Erikson

Alan Clifton, Haverford '95
Doug Davis

The Epigenetic Psychosexual Stages

Erikson believed that childhood is very important in personality development. He accepted many of Freud's theories, including the id, ego, and superego, and Freud's theory of infantile sexuality. But Erikson rejected Freud's attempt to describe personality solely on the basis of sexuality, and, unlike Freud, felt that personality continued to develop beyond five years of age.

All of the stages in Erikson's epigenetic theory are present at birth, but unfold according to an innate plan, with each stage building on the preceding stages, and paving the way for subsequent stages. Each stage is characterized by a psychosocial crisis, which is based on physiological development, but also on demands put on the individual by parents and/or society. Ideally, the crisis in each stage should be resolved by the ego in that stage, in order for development to proceed correctly. The outcome of one stage is not permanent, but can be altered by later experiences. Everyone has a mixture of the traits attained at each stage, but personality development is considered successful if the individual has more of the "good" traits than the "bad" traits.

Ego Psychology

Erikson's theory of ego psychology holds certain tenets that differentiate his theory from Freud's. Some of these include:

Erikson's theory was more comprehensive than Freud's, and included information about "normal" personality as well as neurotics. He also broadened the scope of personality to incorporate society and culture, not just sexuality. Criticisms of his theories, in addition to the factors discussed in class, have noted that he did no statistical research to generate his theories, and it is very hard to test his theories in order to validate them.

Zones, Modes, and Modalities

Trust/Mistrust	        incorporative1	        getting
	                incorporative2	        taking	         Hope
Autonomy/Shame	        retentive	        holding on      
	                eliminative	        letting go       Willpower
Initiative/Guilt        intrusive	        making	         Purpose
Industry/Inferiority			                         Competence
Identity/Role Confusion	                                         Fidelity
Intimacy/Isolation	                                         Love
Generativity/Stagnation	                                         Care
Integrity/Despair                                                Wisdom

Stage 1 - Basic Trust vs. Mistrust

Stage 2 - Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

Stage 3 - Initiative vs. Guilt

After Stage 3, one may the whole repetoire of previous modalities, modes, and zones for industrious, identity-maintaining, intimate, legacy-producing, dispair-countering purposes.

Stage 4 - Industry vs. Inferiority

Stage 5 - Identity vs. Role Confusion

Stage 6 - Intimacy vs. Isolation

Erikson's listed criteria for "genital utopia":

Stage 7 - Generativity vs. Stagnation

Stage 8 - Ego Integrity vs. Despair