Erik Erikson (1902-1994) was a prominent German-American psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychosocial development. He expanded upon Freud's psychosexual stages, emphasizing the importance of social and cultural factors in human development. Erikson's theory proposed eight stages of psychosocial development, each characterized by a specific conflict or challenge that individuals must successfully resolve to achieve healthy psychological growth and a well-rounded sense of self. His work has significantly influenced the fields of developmental psychology and education.

Here find a summary of Erikson's eight stages and how they contribute to our personal growth and self-identity, followed by a quick Erikson-based practice question.

Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust (Infancy, 0-1)

The first stage lays the foundation for future relationships and self-perception. A sense of security with caregivers fosters trust. Mistrust stems from inconsistent caregiving or traumatic experiences. Individuals who struggle with mistrust may develop difficulties in forming intimate bonds and might harbor deep-seated anxieties throughout their lives. 

Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (Toddlerhood, 1-3)

The struggle for autonomy in toddlerhood can lead to both positive outcomes and negative repercussions. While a healthy sense of independence can boost self-confidence, excessive criticism or over-control can lead to shame and doubt. Those who face these negative outcomes might become overly self-critical or hesitant to explore their potential.

Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt (Preschool, 3-6)

Preschoolers are eager to explore the world around them and take initiative. Successfully navigating this stage encourages a sense of purpose and ambition. However, excessive guilt or criticism for their efforts can stifle creativity and leave individuals burdened with self-doubt and fear of failure.

Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority (School Age, 7-11)

The school-age years demand competence and productivity. Triumph in this stage instills a sense of accomplishment and the motivation to pursue goals. Conversely, repeated feelings of inferiority can manifest in low self-esteem and a reluctance to take on new challenges.

Stage 5: Identity vs. Role Confusion (Adolescence, 12-18)

Adolescents grapple with self-discovery and identity formation. Positive outcomes involve a secure sense of self and clear life direction. Unresolved movement through this stage can result in a struggle to find one’s place in society, potentially leading to risky behaviors or a lack of direction.

Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation (Young Adulthood, 19-29)

Young adults seek intimacy and meaningful connections with others. Success in this stage fosters profound relationships and emotional depth. Challenges here can result in isolation and difficulty in forming healthy connections, potentially leading to loneliness and detachment.

Stage 7: Generativity vs. Stagnation (Middle Adulthood, 30-64)

Middle adulthood emphasizes contributing to society and future generations (for example, via work and/or parenting…or social work!). Those who find purpose in their endeavors experience generativity. Unfulfilled aspirations or perceived lack of impact can lead to feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction (aka stagnation).

Stage 8: Integrity vs. Despair (Late Adulthood, 65-)

The final stage revolves around reflecting on one's life. Achieving integrity allows individuals to embrace their life's journey, including both successes and failures, with wisdom and acceptance. However, unresolved conflicts and regrets can lead to despair, with individuals grappling with feelings of hopelessness and fear of mortality.

What might this all look like on the social work exam? It could be as simple as this:

A 45-year-old client who recently lost his job is struggling with feelings of inadequacy and is questioning his self-worth. During their sessions, the client often expresses regret over past decisions and feels like he hasn't achieved much in life. He seems to be comparing himself to his peers, which further intensifies his negative emotions. Using Erik Erikson's psychosocial development theory, which stage is the client likely experiencing?

A) Trust vs. Mistrust 

B) Identity vs. Role Confusion 

C) Generativity vs. Stagnation 

D) Integrity vs. Despair

Have your answer? It’s the middle age one, but which one is that? Without checking, you can probably deduce that the first couple (trust, identity) are for kids or teens. That leaves two to choose from. But which…?

It’s Generativity vs. Stagnation (C). This stage typically occurs during middle adulthood, around 40 to 65. (All you really needed to answer was “Erikson” and “45.”)

Now you know. 

Find questions about Erikson's stages and lots, lots, lots more in SWTP’s full-length practice tests.

Get started now.

July 27, 2023
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