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Erik Erikson - Stages of Psychosocial Development

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Erik Erikson:

Stages of Psychosocial Development



Erik Erikson was born in Frankfurt, Germany, on June 15, 1902. Erikson's father was a Danish man and abandoned his mother, Karla Abrahamsen, before he was born. Karla raised Erik alone for the first three years of his life in Frankfurt before she remarried Erik's pediatrician, Dr. Theodor Homberger. Karla and Theodor moved to Karlsruhe in southern Germany and raised Erik as their own. Erik's name as a child and young adult was Erik Homberger. After graduating high school Erik roamed Europe taking art classes and visiting museums (Boeree).

When he was twenty-five Erik took a teaching position at an experimental school for American students. Besides teaching art, he gathered a certificate in Montessori education and one from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. While he was teaching at the school he met a Canadian dancer co-worker, Joan Serson, who became his wife and fathered his three children. They left Vienna when the Nazi's came into power. Erikson and his family traveled to many cities throughout Europe before realizing they needed a bigger change (Boeree).

Erik became an American citizen, which is when he changed his name to Erik Erikson. Erikson became the first child psychologist in the New England area (Smith 65).

Erik Erikson: Stages of Psychosocial Development

Eventually Erikson and his family went to Boston where he was offered a position at the Harvard Medical School and practiced child psychoanalysis privately. He later taught at Yale and later still at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1950, Erikson left Berkeley when professors there were asked to sign "loyalty oaths." Also in this year, Erikson wrote, "Childhood and Society, [in which] he divided the human life cycle into eight psychosocial stages of development" ("Erikson..." Columbia). The book also contained summaries of his studies among the Native Americans, analyses of Maxim Gorkiy and Adolph Hitler, and a discussion of the "American personality." He spent ten years working and teaching at a clinic in Massachusetts, and ten years more back at Harvard. Since retiring in 1970, he wrote and did research with his wife. Erikson died in 1994 (Boeree).

Erik Erikson: Stages of Psychosocial Development

Eriksons Theory of Personality Development

Throughout his life, while studying theories of other psychologist's such as Sigmund Freud and Heinz Hartmann, Erikson developed theories of personality development himself. Today Erikson is considered a Freudian ego-psychologist, meaning he agrees with Freud's theories on the id, ego, and super-ego; however, 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 (Porth, 20). Erikson is most famous for his expansion and refinement of Freud's theories of personality development.

Erikson argued that development functions by the epigenetic principle, which says that we develop through a predetermined unfolding of our personalities in eight stages throughout our lifespan. As we progress through each stage our success, or lack of success, in each stage is partially determined by our achievements in the previous stage. Erikson believed that each person has a unique personality, which gradually reveals itself through eight stages, and if we interfere with the progress of our personality development (try to speed things up) we may ruin the development of that individual's personality. Each stage involves certain developmental tasks that are psychosocial in nature. Erikson coined the term identity crisis, a personal psychosocial conflict that shaped a distinct aspect of personality ("Erikson," Britannica). The various tasks are referred to by two terms, the first is what the individual is striving to achieve and the second is what the

Erik Erikson: Stages of Psychosocial Development

individual is at risk of developing if he or she does not successfully achieve the first term. Each stage has an optimal time to be achieved in as well. Each individual has his or her own pace to go through life; therefore, the optimal time to achieve a stage in is more of a general guideline. If a stage is managed well, we carry away a certain virtue or psychosocial strength which will help us through the rest of the stages of our lives. On the other hand, if we don't do so well, we may develop maladaptations and malignancies, as well as endanger all our future development (Boeree). A malignancy is the worse of the two, and involves too little of the positive and too much of the negative aspect of the task, such as a person who can't trust others. A maladaptation is not quite as bad and involves too much of the positive and too little of the negative, such as a person who trusts too much (Smith, 66-7).

Trust v. Mistrust

Trust v. Mistrust is the first stage an individual goes through in his or her personality development. The optimal time for this stage to occur within is the newborn to two years of age. During the time the task is for the infant to develop a sense of trust without completely eliminating the sense of mistrust (Smith, 67). This stage is very dependent on the infant's parents or guardians'. If mom and dad can give the newborn a degree of familiarity, consistency, and continuity, then the child will develop the feeling that the world is a safe place to be, that people are reliable and loving. If the parents are unreliable and inadequate, if they reject the infant or harm it, if other interests cause both parents to turn away from the infants needs to satisfy their own instead, then the infant

Erik Erikson: Stages of Psychosocial Development

will develop mistrust. He or she will be apprehensive and suspicious around people (Boeree).

Parents do not have to be perfect and should teach the infant some sense of mistrust. Parents who immediately tend to their infants' every need are enforcing a sense

of sensory maladjustment (Porth, 33). Erikson refers to sensory maladjustment



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