Erik Erikson, an acclaimed psychologist, who developed the famous theory of 8 Stages of Development, has put Basic Trust vs. Mistrust right at the beginning of all future development.
If children learn to trust their mother and other caregivers when they are young, they will likely also trust others in the future. On the other hand, if children experience fear or continuous disappointment, they develop doubt and mistrust.
Erikson’s theory of Development
Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development identifies eight stages in which a healthy individual should pass through from birth to death. At each stage, we encounter different needs, ask new questions, and meet people who influence our behavior and learning.
1. Basic Trust vs. Mistrust, Infancy (1 – 2 years)
As infants, we ask ourselves if we can trust the world, and we wonder if it’s safe. We learn that if we can trust someone now, we can also trust others in the future. If we experience fear, we develop doubt and mistrust. The key to our development is our mother.
2. Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt, Early childhood (2 – 4 years)
In our early childhood, we experience ourselves and discover our bodies. We ask: “is it okay to be me?” If we are allowed to find out ourselves, then we develop self-confidence. If we are not, we can create shame and self-doubt. Both parents now play a significant role.
3. Initiative vs. Guilt, Preschool Age (4 – 5 years)
In preschool, we take the initiative, try new things, and learn basic principles like how round things roll. We ask: “Is it okay for me to do what I do?” If we are encouraged, we can follow our interests. If we are held back or told that what we do is silly, we can develop guilt. We are now learning from the entire family.
4. Industry vs. Inferiority, School Age (5 – 12 years)
Now, we discover our interests and realize that we are different from others. We want to show that we can do things right. Do we ask if we can make it in this world? If we receive recognition from our teachers or peers, we become industrious, which is another word for hard-working. If we get too much negative feedback, we start to feel inferior and lose motivation. Our neighbors and schools now influence us the most.
5. Identity vs. Role Confusion, Adolescence (13 – 19 years)
During adolescence, we learn that we have different social roles. We are friends, students, children, and citizens. Many teenagers then experience an identity crisis. If our parents now allow us to go out and explore, we can find an identity. If they push us to conform to their views, we can face role confusion and feel lost. Key to our learning is our peers and role models.
6. Intimacy vs. Isolation, Early Adulthood (20 – 40 years)
As young adults, we slowly understand who we are, and we start to let go of the relationships we had built earlier to fit in. We ask ourselves if we can love? If we can make a long-term commitment, we are confident and happy. If we cannot form intimate relationships, we might end up feeling isolated and lonely. Our friends and partners are now central to our development.
7. Generativity vs. Stagnation – Adulthood (40 – 65)
When we reach our forties, we become comfortable, use our leisure time creatively, and maybe contribute to society. Our concern is Generativity. If we think that we can lead the next generation into this world, we are happy. If we did not resolve some conflicts earlier, we could become pessimistic and experience stagnation. People at home and work are now who influence us most.
8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair, Maturity (65 – death)
As we grow older, we tend to slow down and begin to look back on our lives. We ask: “how have I done?” If we think we did well, we develop feelings of contentment and integrity. If not, we can experience despair and become grumpy and bitter—time to compare ourselves with humankind.
About Erik Erikson
Erik Erikson was a German-American psychologist who, together with his wife Joan, became known for psychosocial development. He was influenced by Sigmund and Anna Freud and became famous for coining the phrase “identity crisis.” Although Erikson lacked even a bachelor’s degree, he served as a professor at Harvard and Yale.