Stages of the Life Cycle: A Psychosocial Theory – Erikson

Mikele Neely

Colorado Technical University

Stages of the Life Cycle: A Psychosocial Theory – Erikson

Life cycle, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is, “The series of stages in form and functional activity through which an organism passes between successive recurrences of a specified primary stage” (2010).  Erik Erikson was a psychoanalyst who lived to the age of ninety-two years old.  He spent his life expanding Freud’s stages of psychosexual development.  Freud’s theory had five stages, which were Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latency, and Genital, which Erikson expanded and evolved into eight stages of his own.  Erikson believed that, “Successfully passing through each of these stages is thought to contribute to the overall development of the individual personality with unique strengths and weaknesses” (Leifer, & Hartson, 2004).

Born in Germany to a young Jewish woman, Karla Abrahamsen, and an unnamed Danish man, who abandoned the family before Erikson was born, his life began rough.  His mother married Theodore Homberger when Erikson was three years old.  Erikson was teased at school for being a “tall, blond, blue-eyed boy who was also Jewish.”  He graduated high school and became an artist and a teacher of art.  Erik changed his birth given name when he moved to America.  His son believes the change was a decision that Erik made to define himself as, “Erik, son of Erik” (Boeree, 1997).

After being psychoanalyzed by Anna Freud, Erikson began to extend Freud’s stages of psychosexual development.  “Erik H. Erikson’s life cycle schema consists of eight stages.  Three are located in infancy and early childhood (ages 1-5), one in childhood (5-12), one in adolescence, and three in adulthood” (Capps, 2004).  The stages of his theory are: Trust vs. Mistrust, Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt, Initiative vs. Guilt, Industry vs. Inferiority, Identity vs. Role Confusion, Intimacy vs. Isolation, Generativity vs. Self-Absorption, and Integrity vs. Despair.  Trust vs. Mistrust happens while in infancy, the child develops trust of others to meet their own needs and begins to trust their self and others.  Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt happens while in toddler years; they gain the ability to act independently and trust themselves to be good.  Initiative vs. Guilt happens in preschool; they gain role models and follow the rules as well as experience self control in social interactions.  Industry vs. Inferiority happens during the school age; they develop the ability to make friends and independently achieve school tasks.  Identity vs. Role Confusion happens in adolescents; they learn to know themselves and what they believe, they also develop a career goal.  Intimacy vs. Isolation happens as a young adult; they develop an ability to share all aspects of life with others.  Generativity vs. Self-Absorption happens as a middle adult; they can contribute to society in a meaningful way.  Last, Integrity vs. Despair happens as an older adult; they maintain a sense of life achievement and absence of deep regret.  Each stage builds to the next guiding the person to reach old age with a sense of life achievement, thus completing the life cycle.  “Growth refers to an increase in physical size…  Development, on the other hand, refers to the progressive acquisition of skills and the capacity to function” (Polan, & Taylor, 2007).

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