Erikson is one of the prominent philosophers who impacted psychology significantly. Having studied psychoanalysis, Erikson focused on understanding the various developmental and psychosexual stages in human beings (Syed & Fish, 2018). His childhood played a significant role in influencing his professional life. Having been raised by a stepfather, Erikson lacked enough guidance during his teenagehood, making him undergo many challenges. His theory of Psychosocial Development is often regarded as an extension of Sigmund’s five stages of development (Syed & Fish, 2018). Erikson’s theory contains eight development stages that influence a person’s surroundings. According to this theory, one’s environment tends to influence adjustment, identity, and self-awareness (Syed & Fish, 2018). The eight stages of Erikson’s theory include infancy, early childhood, preschool, school, adolescence, early adulthood, middle age, and old age.
Erikson’s Development Theory
Specific psychosocial crises at each level characterize the eight developmental stages of Erikson’s psychosocial theory. Successful completion of the crisis at each stage leads to a positive outcome and lays a foundation for succeeding in the next psychosocial crisis (Orenstein & Lewis, 2021). When one completes the stages, they acquire particular personality and virtues at each stage, giving them an identity. Being unable to solve the psychosocial crisis at a particular stage may reduce the ability to solve the successive stages. In such an instance, one is likely to develop an undesirable personality. However, Erikson argues that a person can successfully resolve their personality if put in a conducive environment that enables them to analyze and effectively solve the psychosocial crisis.
In the infancy stage, the psychosocial crisis that the child is faced with is trust vs. mistrust. Successful completion of this stage results in the acquisition of the virtue of hope (Orenstein & Lewis, 2021). If the child receives adequate care and love, they will develop basic trust in their caregiver. However, if the care is inconsistent and insufficient, the child is likely to develop mistrust and anxiety. This sense of trust is likely to affect their future relationships depending on how others treat them. A child who develops trust is often hopeful of the support of people in their lives. However, if they develop mistrust, they will often have fear and insecurities regarding the people around them. The child experiences autonomy vs. shame and doubt crisis in the early childhood stage. This crisis is often influenced by the need to be independent and develop a sense of personal control (Orenstein & Lewis, 2021). Successful completion of this crisis enables the child to develop the virtue of will. Therefore the child gains the confidence to explore and survive in their environment.
At the preschool stage, the child experiences the crisis of initiative vs. guilt. The child spends most of the time interacting with others and initiating activities relating to their interpersonal skills (Orenstein & Lewis, 2021). At this level, the child feels secure interacting with others and exploring their environment to discover their abilities. However, when the child is criticized for their initiatives, they tend to develop guilt for their choices, which is likely to limit their interaction. Completing this level leads to the acquisition of the virtue of purpose. At the school age, the psychosocial crisis involves industry vs. inferiority (Orenstein & Lewis, 2021). Teachers play a significant role in shaping the child’s behavior at this level. They become industrious if the child is supported in their initiatives and interpersonal skills. However, when they are discouraged, they become inferior (Orenstein & Lewis, 2021). The virtue acquired at this level is competence which gives the child the confidence to engage in more activities.
Identity vs. role confusion is the psychosocial crisis at the adolescence stage. During this stage, the person becomes more independent and aware of their future. This stage enables one to identify their position in society as an adult. Most adolescents try to fit into society by copying what their peers are doing. People in this stage tend to feel uncomfortable about their body appearance but progressively adapt to changes. Successful completion of this level leads to the acquisition of the virtue of fidelity (Orenstein & Lewis, 2021). This level may lead to an identity crisis where the person does not know their life purpose and starts experimenting with various lifestyles. In the early adulthood stage, a person faces the psychosocial crisis of intimacy vs. isolation (Orenstein & Lewis, 2021). The person is faced with the need to establish long-term relationships. Commitment and care are among the leading values that guide one in their relationships. When one completes this stage, they develop the virtue of love.
The seventh stage of development of Erikson’s theory is the middle adulthood stage, characterized by the psychosocial crisis of generativity versus stagnation. At this stage, the person becomes more productive and focuses on giving back to society by becoming more involved in matters (Orenstein & Lewis, 2021). The virtue acquired at this stage is caring for the people in one’s life. However, when one fails to make accomplishments at this stage, they become unproductive and stagnant. Lastly, in the old age stage, one faces the crisis of ego integrity vs. despair (Orenstein & Lewis, 2021). When reflecting on their lives with a sense of pride and happiness having successfully accomplished their goals, they develop integrity. On the contrary, when one fails to achieve their goals in life, they tend to reflect on their lives with regret and hence develop despair. Successful completion of this stage leads to the development of the virtue of wisdom.
My interviewee was named John, a 21-year-old white male in his early adulthood. Based on his interview responses regarding his adolescence, Erikson’s psychosocial crisis of the adolescent stage, identity versus role confusion, is brought. For instance, when asked to describe his adolescence, John responded that his peers mostly influenced his adolescent period. He lacked focus on what he wanted in life and therefore tried to copy other people’s lives. This form of confusion demonstrates identity crisis, a significant characteristic of adolescents. Additionally, regarding his memorable moments in adolescence, John explained that he loved attending parties and making new friends, especially of the opposite gender. This demonstrates that he was explorative and wanted to identify to fit in the society (Maree, 2021). During adolescence, John admits that he did not reason critically before making decisions. Instead, most of his decisions were influenced by his environment and his peers. He made choices that conform to the expectations of his peers rather than based on the consequences of their decisions. This shows that he lacked clarity and therefore did not know his identity.
John admits being uncomfortable when he realizes the changes in his physical appearance. He felt awkward, especially with his biceps and the protrusion of Adam’s apple. Furthermore, breaking his voice made him feel shy talking to people. However, he adapted to the changes after some time and started feeling optimistic about himself. Erikson argued that teens become more aware of their bodies during the adolescent stage and learn to accommodate the changes they experience (Maree, 2021). John’s response regarding his body changes conforms to this statement. During his adolescent stage, John engaged in several relationships. However, the relationship was not long-lasting but explorative. He was not fully committed to his relationships because he wanted to be free to socialize and engage with different people. John’s socialization was essential in enabling him to know his identity, which would shape his behavior during early adulthood. This response conforms to Erikson’s theory that the adolescent stage is characterized by confusion (Maree, 2021). When one overcomes this confusion, they develop the virtue of fidelity and commitment, which are essential in establishing and maintaining relationships.
John revealed that his peers primarily influenced his behavior and that his morality was derived from the people around him, especially his friends. According to Erikson’s identity versus confusion psychosocial crisis in adolescence, the increased interaction between a person and his peers tends to determine their behavior. Most adolescents make decisions depending on peer pressure to enable them to fit in a group and have a sense of belonging (Maree, 2021). John developed a behavior that conformed to the expectations of his peers. The fear of being isolated forced him to submit himself to peer pressure. John admits that he often perceives his adolescence negatively because he feels he lived according to the influence of other people. This feeling is often familiar in people who failed in handling the identity versus confusion crisis (Maree, 2021). As a result, they suffered an identity crisis that influenced them to live according to the expectations of their peers.
In conclusion, Erikson’s development theory outlines the crisis people face at each of the eight levels. Successful completion of each level leads to acquiring virtues that enable one to handle the other stages. John’s responses reflect the various assumptions of Erikson’s theory at the adolescent stage. The identity versus confusion crisis characterizes this stage. John’s responses demonstrate higher levels of confusion and identity crisis that influenced him to live according to the expectations of his peers to fit in their group and avoid isolation.
Maree, J. G. (2021). The psychosocial development theory of Erik Erikson: critical overview. Early Child Development and Care, 191(7-8), 1107-1121.
Orenstein, G. A., & Lewis, L. (2021). Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. Available from:
Syed, M., & Fish, J. (2018). Revisiting Erik Erikson’s legacy on culture, race, and ethnicity. Identity, 18(4), 274-283.