Erik Erikson’s Theory of Developmental Stages

Topic: Developmental Psychology
Words: 1428 Pages: 5


Erik Erikson was a renowned psychologist who refined the field of psychoanalysis and developmental psychology. The theorist came up with an eight-stage paradigm that explained the peculiarities of people’s development. Erikson believed that people had to address a number of crises during their lifetime and the successful accomplishment of certain goals was a key to a person’s mental wellbeing. The psychologist paid much attention to childhood development but was specifically interested in such periods as adolescence, which is the stage of the exploration of one’s identity. At this developmental level, people build an understanding of themselves and ways to achieve self-fulfillment.


Erik Erikson is one of the renowned psychologists who tried to explain the peculiarities of people’s development from their birth to their last days. The psychologist’s theory of developmental stages is based on the assumption that people have to solve several crises during their life to achieve certain levels of development (Essa & Burnham, 2019). Erikson identified eight developmental stages each person has to pass to successfully evolve and develop a strong identity (Beaver et al., 2016).

Based on the theory he developed and the methods the psychologist employed, it is possible to assume that the primary goal of the person’s existence was developing a strong identity through addressing the challenges life has to offer. The purpose of education stems from this philosophy and can be formulated as older generations’ passing knowledge necessary for the successful development of younger generations in search of their identities. Erikson’s theory of psychological development has become an important milestone in the understanding of the adolescent stage of personal development and self-fulfillment.

Background and Cultural Context

People’s core beliefs are formed in the course of their lives while individuals are affected by internal and external forces. Erik Erikson’s biography can shed light on the background of his assumptions and values. The psychologist was born to a Jewish mother in Germany in 1902 (McLean, 2016). He did not know who his biological father was and thought that his father was his mother’s second husband, professor Homburger. Notably, the legal status of the child was not properly arranged for several years, which could have an impact on Erikson later in his life.

The major challenge the future psychologist faced and the one that marked his entire life was the search for his identity once he learned about his indefinite origin. Notably, Erikson first studied art and then received certification in education and studied psychology (McLean, 2016). The last two areas became his true calling where he became a prominent figure. Erik Erikson worked as a professor at several prominent universities of the United States and implemented profound studies in anthropology, psychology, and education. He developed his theory in the middle of the twentieth century and worked on its further refinement during his entire life.

Philosophy of Education

As mentioned above, Erikson was a certified educator and used diverse teaching methods and frameworks, including Montessori educational strategies. It is possible to apply such a philosophical label as progressivism to Erikson’s philosophy of education. Progressivists focus on the needs of the child and individuals’ development and growth. It is believed that each person has to pass from one stage to another to grow and achieve self-fulfillment (Stevens-Fulbrook, 2020). He believed that each person passes certain stages during their lifespan and their success at each stage defines their further development and progress.

The stages of psychological crises include trust / mistrust (infancy), autonomy / shame (toddlers), initiative / guilt (three to five years old), industry / inferiority (five to twelve years old), identity / role confusion (adolescence), intimacy / isolation (eighteen to forty years old). The final stages are generativity / stagnation (forty to sixty-five years old) and ego integrity / despair (older than 65 years) (Stevens-Fulbrook, 2020). Although each stage is important, adolescence is central to searching for one’s identity and one’s place in the world. If this stage is not passed properly, a person can find it difficult to be successful in their adulthood.

Theory to Practice

Erik Erikson was a prolific author who published several books that shed light on different aspects of his theory. He wrote books on childhood development, identity, people’s development throughout different stages of their life, and these works became the basis of practitioners’ activities (Essa & Burnham, 2019). Based on Erikson’s stages, educators manage to identify and meet the needs of their students (Stevens-Fulbrook, 2020). This is specifically evident in early childhood education as teachers understand the peculiarities of the developmental stage of a child and support their students’ growth. It is noteworthy that Erikson practiced psychoanalysis and worked with people on their mental health issues, which enabled him to develop and refine his theory through practice. As mentioned above, the theorist was specifically interested in searching one’s identity, and Erikson believed that understanding oneself was the background for a person’s learning and development. The acquisition of knowledge and skills could happen more effectively one’s the person accomplishes the corresponding goals.

Perspectives on Diversity

Erik Erikson traveled a lot during his lifetime, which made him aware of the role cultural norms play in people’s development. Although the author did not pay specific attention to diversity or cultural groups characteristics, he emphasized the importance of cultural influences (McLean, 2016). The psychologist concentrated on the search of the inner self and people’s ability to fit in larger groups, so he did not explore cultural clusters in detail. The theorist saw each person as a unique personality with certain developmental goals typical of a certain age.

Critical Analysis

Erikson was the follower of Freudian ideas and approaches, who refined psychoanalysis and furthered this area considerably. While Freud mainly concentrated on childhood development and the impact childhood experienced had on people’s development, Erikson paid attention to other stages of human life. Erikson believed that people’s growth was predetermined to a certain extent, which was not a unique approach as Jean Piaget supported similar ideas (Essa & Burnham, 2019). Piaget also identified stages of human life and examined the types of skills and knowledge acquired during these periods.

An opposing view on the nature of people’s learning is evident in the works by B. F. Skinner. The theorist was a devout supporter of the behaviorist approach to people’s learning and development (Essa & Burnham, 2019). Skinner focused on the ways people’s behaviors could be shaped through different types of stimuli rather than their search for identity. Instead of supporting people’s journey through self-exploration (supported by Erikson), Skinner offered strategies to achieve the desired learning outcomes. It is also important to mention Erikson’s attitude towards religion and spirituality. The theorist was not a very religious person, but he acknowledged the role religion could play in people’s development (Pendergraft, 2017). The psychologist considered spiritual aspects as they could be instrumental in helping people find their identity and their place in the world.

Implications and Conclusions

Erik Erikson’s contribution to psychology and education can hardly be overestimated as the psychologist created a paradigm that shed light on the way people develop throughout their lives. The search for identity and a place in the world is seen as central to every individual’s life. This framework finds numerous illustrations in the real-life setting as people’s behaviors are often dependent on the way they see themselves or want others to see them. For instance, adolescents’ behavioral patterns that are often regarded as inappropriate or unexplainable are easy to decipher when Erikson’s theory is applied. Young people explore the world around them while trying to understand themselves and come to terms with themselves. This process is often associated with the deviation of some norms and the pursuit of the most appropriate ethical standard that becomes the guiding agenda for their further life.

One of the most valuable contributions of the psychologist is his assumption regarding the need to accomplish certain goals at each stage of a person’s life. Erikson’s theory is instrumental in helping people to identify the core of their psychological distress and come up with an effective strategy to improve the quality of their life. Educators also benefit from the use of Erikson’s paradigm as they are able to develop the most effective methods to assist in young generations’ development. In addition to acquiring a set of certain skills and knowledge, students are able to receive the necessary guidance to find their place in society and achieve self-fulfillment. Finally, the psychologist paved the way for other researchers and practitioners who have worked on the psychological peculiarities of people, as well as the essence and purpose of education.


Beaver, N., Wyatt, S., & Jackman, H. (2016). Early education curriculum: A child’s connection to the world (7th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Essa, E. L., & Burnham, M. M. (2019). Introduction to early childhood education (8th ed.). SAGE Publications.

McLean, K. C. (2016). The co-authored self: Family stories and the construction of personal identity. Oxford University Press.

Pendergraft, R. (2017). Erik Erikson and the Church: Corporate worship that sustains through crises. Philosophy Study, 7(6), 281-291. Web.

Stevens-Fulbrook, P. (2020). An introduction to learning theories: 5 of the most influential learning theories, simplified and explained. Paul Stevens-Fulbrook.

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