Why Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory Is Relevant Today

I believe that our life is a series of stages and psychology has an exact explanation for it. Let’s learn more about Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory and its relevance today.

The psychosocial development theory is about the belief that we all undergo eight stages in life. Each stage has different crises, and when we pass or survive them, we develop our traits and strengths. This leads us to a healthier and more confident life.

This theory by Erik Erikson is famous and is often used in educational sectors. In fact, it’s one of the foundations of some educational philosophies alongside Vygotsky, Rogers, etc. Teachers usually use this theory to understand every student’s behavior and abilities inside the classroom.

But for this post, let’s see this theory’s relevance not just inside the classroom but in today’s occurrences. 

What is the Psychosocial Development Theory?

Why Erik Erikson's Psychosocial Development Theory Is Relevant Today

Erikson’s theory has been widely used and acknowledged in personality development. His psychosocial development theory includes predetermined eight stages, which are in order and build up to each other. It simply means that before you can move on to the next stage, you must undergo and experience the previous stage.

This development starts from infancy and then continues to adulthood. One important thing Erikson revealed about this theory is that there’s a corresponding psychosocial crisis in every stage. This crisis can positively or negatively affect an individual’s personality development.

He called it a “psychosocial crisis” because these experiences involve and revolve around the psychological needs of humans while conflicting with society’s needs.

But what happens if you surpass and complete each stage?

Erikson noted that surviving each stage will give you a healthy personality and life. This is also where you’ll start to develop basic virtues and strengths you can use to solve future crises.

8 Stages of Psychosocial Development Theory

Here are Erik Erikson’s predetermined eight stages.

  1. Trust vs. Mistrust
  2. Autonomy vs. Shame
  3. Initiative vs. Guilt
  4. Industry vs. Inferiority
  5. Identity vs. Role Confusion
  6. Intimacy vs. Isolation
  7. Generativity vs. Stagnation
  8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair

For a more elaborative discussion, here it is.

Trust vs. Mistrust (0-1 ½ years old)

This stage begins at birth and until 18 months of the baby’s age. The baby is fully dependent on his or her parent or called the primary caregiver in terms of care and stability.

Here’s what you need to take note of at this stage.

  • If the infant receives reliable and consistent care at such a young age, it will develop TRUST. The infant will feel secure and use this trust in future relationships.
  • If the infant DOESN’T RECEIVE consistent and reliable care, a sense of MISTRUST will develop. It will also cause anxiety and suspicion in the infant. 
  • Success in this stage will give the infant the basic virtue of HOPE.
  • Failure at this stage will give the infant FEAR.

Autonomy vs Shame (1½ – 3 years old)

At this stage, children are explorers. This is where they start to develop a sense of control regarding their physical skills and utilize their sense of independence.

Here’s what you need to take note of at this stage.

  • If the child receives the support and encouragement they crave, it will lead to increased independence and confidence about their abilities, also called autonomy.
  • If the child is overly controlled or criticized by the people around them, they’ll become dependent on others, have low self-esteem, and develop shame about themselves.
  • Success in this stage will give the child the basic virtue of WILL.
  • Failure at this stage will give the child DOUBT of himself.

Initiative vs. Guilt (3 – 5 years old)

This stage is where children become more assertive, which can be seen as aggressive. It is also the moment when children interact with other children a lot, especially at school. Likewise, the highlight of this stage is playing, and it gives children a chance to discover and strengthen their interpersonal skills. 

Here’s what you need to take note of at this stage.

  • If the child can interact with other children and plan and make up games independently, without being overly controlled by other people, they will develop a sense of INITIATIVE.
  • If the child is controlled and doesn’t have the chance to explore on their own, then they’ll develop GUILT. This guilt can be a hindrance and will affect how they interact with each other.
  • In this stage, a balance between initiative and guilt is a must. 
  • Success in this stage will give the child the virtue of PURPOSE.
  • Failure in this stage will give the child a SENSE OF GUILT.

Industry vs. Inferiority (5 – 12 years old)

This is the stage where learning takes place. Children explore writing, reading, mathematics, etc. Here, teachers play an important role in the development of the child.

Peer groups are also one of the highlights of this stage and become the primary source of the child’s self-esteem. Children in this stage crave approval from others, and they do it by demonstrating different competencies that they think are accepted by society. The good thing about here is they learn to have a sense of pride whenever they accomplish something.

Here’s what you need to take note of at this stage.

  • If the child feels reinforced and encouraged for their initiative in doing things, they’ll feel competent, industrious, and confident. These two traits are essential in achieving their goals.
  • If the child feels they are not encouraged and supported and experience more restriction from their parents or teacher, they’ll feel inferior. This will lead to doubt about their abilities, affecting their potential.
  • Success in this stage leads to the basic virtue of COMPETENCE.
  • Failure in this stage leads to MODESTY, but again this stage needs a healthy balance between modesty and competence.

Identity vs. Role Confusion (12 – 18 years old)

This stage explores adolescence, and this is where the discovery of personal identity happens. At this point, there’s an intense discovery of goals, values, and beliefs, and this transition from childhood to adulthood is important.

Individuals in this stage explore the following.

  • Relationships
  • Career
  • Housing
  • Family
  • And more

Here’s what you need to take note of at this stage.

  • Adolescents will feel uncomfortable with the changes they have in their bodies, but if they succeed in adapting to this change, it’ll lead them to the basic virtue called FIDELITY. Fidelity is when you can commit yourself to others despite differences.
  • Failure to adapt to the changes leads to ROLE CONFUSION. It involves being unsure of who they are and their role in society.

Intimacy vs. Isolation (18 – 40 years old)

This is where intimate relationships happen. Individuals seek long-term commitments with someone.

Here’s what you need to take note of at this stage.

  • Success in this stage gives them the virtue of LOVE.
  • Failure leads to ISOLATION AND LONELINESS.

Generativity vs. Stagnation (40 – 65 years old)

This stage is about making your mark on society or the world by creating positive changes or legacies that can help others.

It’s the phase when we want to give back to our society by growing our children properly and being efficient and productive. Individuals in this stage also crave community activities, which creates a sense of belongingness.

Here’s what you need to take note of at this stage.

  • Success in this stage leads to them the virtue of CARE.
  • Failure leads to SHALLOW INVOLVEMENT in society. This can lead to being stagnant.

Ego Integrity vs. Despair (65+ years old)

This final stage focuses more on reflection. It’s where we slow down, looks back at our life, and think whether it’s fulfilling or full of regrets. 

Either you see your life as productive with achieved goals or are dissatisfied and guilty about your past.

Here’s what you need to take note of at this stage.

  • Success in this stage leads to them the virtue of WISDOM.
  • Failure leads to DEPRESSION AND DESPAIR. 

Why is Psychosocial Development Theory relevant today?

As you can see, each stage has challenges, and it’s pretty interesting to know why this theory is relevant today. 

Here’s why I think Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory is relevant today.

Children are more exposed to and concerned with social norms today than yesterday.

One thing I have noticed about today’s children is that they are exposed to what we call social norms early. Social norms are what we think society demands from us or things widely accepted by society. Some of these norms are good, while some are bad.

This exposure mainly comes from the use of social media. Today, parents give their children gadgets and expose them to the internet world as early as 3 years old.

Some even use these gadgets to become their child’s babysitter, when in fact, parents should be the ones to give these children consistent and reliable care in this stage.

Early exposure to these things give children negative effects on their personality development due to the following:

  • They think what they see online is fun and right.
  • They imitate and adapt these things to their own life.
  • They trust their gadgets and rely on their entertainment and life for such.
  • The connection and bond between the child and his or her primary caregiver are weak.

People are becoming more competent.

Believe it or not, people, especially children, are more competent today than yesterday. Most feel they need to win society’s approval by displaying their accomplishments.

As stage 4 (Industry vs. Inferiority) of psychosocial theory shows, a balance between modesty and competence is important. 

Showcasing accomplishments is not a bad idea. In fact, it’s a great way to build a child’s self-esteem. However, as a parent, you need to support your child if they fail to achieve something. The reason for this is to still develop modesty and to teach them that not all that society demands is possible to achieve.

There are lots of challenges arising from different aspects.

There were lots of challenges in the past two years, and some of them include:

  • COVID19.
  • Lack of interaction between teachers and students.
  • Not enough programs focus on helping students build their self-esteem and self-worth.
  • The rising unemployment rate in some countries.
  • Falling of other countries such as Sri Lanka.
  • Ukraine and Russia war.

These are just some challenges that keep the world changing. All these have impacted each of us in one way or another. And you must know how to utilize Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory in challenging times like these.

This is especially true if you have children at home. All these are new to them, and it’s important to give them the support and guidance they need at such a young age. In this way, they can equip themselves with the skills and experiences they can use to face future challenges or crises.

People are more pressured in today’s life.

As society progresses, the expectations of individuals increase. 

One example is the pressure to get into a good college. If you do not get accepted into a college, it will affect your future career and life opportunities. The pressure that comes from this can lead to anxiety and depression among students.

Another example includes social media again. Many people need to post pictures of themselves doing fun activities and having fun with friends to obtain approval from their peers. 

This can cause depression because if someone does not receive enough likes or comments on their posts, they may feel like they’re not good enough or worthy enough to be liked by others.

Psychosocial theory wants to teach us how to surpass these challenges without losing ourselves. And that surpassing these crises will give us the virtue we can use in the coming challenges of life.

More people are starting to fight for what they know is right.

In the past, people did not dare to stand up for what they believed in. They were afraid of the consequences and of being judged by others. However, this is changing as more people fight for what they know is right.

Some of these include:

All these have been prominently discussed in recent years due to increased awareness of various injustices surrounding these topics. People have started fighting back against these injustices and not just through peaceful protest but also through violence. 

This shows that they no longer feel ashamed or guilty about speaking up against things like racism or sexism because they’ve learned from past mistakes, where those things lead nowhere good!

Likewise, the abovementioned issues play an important role in personality development, especially in seeking personal identity and a sense of belongingness.

Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory is a must to look at and examine today!

In a nutshell, the psychosocial development theory is relevant today because it provides a framework for understanding how people develop and change throughout their lives. It helps us understand what young people need to grow into well-adjusted adults, what adults need to remain satisfied with their lives, and how we can help children and adults along the way.

As a society, we are constantly changing, and Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory helps us understand this change. It can also help us to understand what comes next. 

  • What will replace the current trends? 
  • What new ideas will become popular? 
  • What kind of person will be valued by society at large?

It’s an exciting time to be alive!

I know it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forget that our actions have consequences for decades to come. But the more we understand how our actions affect the world around us, the better we can make choices that will benefit everyone, not just ourselves.

Garo Kotchounian

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