Erik Erikson Quotes

Words of Wisdom From the Renowned Psychoanalyst

Erik H. Erikson was a German-born psychoanalyst who became one of the most famous and influential thinkers of the twentieth century. He is best remembered for his well-known psychosocial theory of development and for coining the term identity crisis.

In addition to holding teaching positions at Harvard, the University of California-Berkeley, and Yale, he also wrote a number of popular books including The Life Cycle Completed and Identity: Youth and Crisis.

You can learn more about Erik Erikson by reading this brief biography of his life, further explore his psychosocial theory, and take a closer look at each of the eight stages of human development.

The following are just a few famous quotations from his works.

On Hope and Will

"Hope is both the earliest and the most indispensable virtue inherent in the state of being alive. [...] If life is to be sustained hope must remain, even where confidence is wounded, trust impaired. " (Human Strength and the Cycle of Generations, 1964)

"Hope is the enduring belief in the attainability of fervent wishes, in spite of the dark urges and rages which mark the beginning of existence. Hope is the ontogenetic basis of faith, and is nourished by the adult faith which pervades patterns of care." (Human Strength and the Cycle of Generations, 1964)

"Will, therefore, is the unbroken determination to exercise free choice as well as self-restraint, in spite of the unavoidable experience of shame and doubt in infancy." (Human Strength and the Cycle of Generations, 1964)

On Children

"The growing child must derive a vitalizing sense of reality from the awareness that his individual way of mastering experience (his ego synthesis) is a successful variant of a group identity and is in accord with its space-time and life plan." (Identity and the Life Cycle, 1959)

"Someday, maybe, there will exist a well-informed, well considered and yet fervent public conviction that the most deadly of all possible sins is the mutilation of a child’s spirit; for such mutilation undercuts the life principle of trust, without which every human act, may it feel ever so good and seem ever so right is prone to perversion by destructive forms of conscientiousness." (Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History, 1958)

"It is only after a reasonable sense of identity has been established that real intimacy with the other sex (or, for that matter, with any other person or even with oneself) is possible. [...] The youth who is not sure of his identity shies away from interpersonal intimacy, but the surer he becomes of himself, the more he seeks it in the form of friendship, combat, leadership, love, and inspiration." (Growth and Crises of the Healthy Personality, 1950)

"Children love and want to be loved and they very much prefer the joy of accomplishment to the triumph of hateful failure. Do not mistake a child for his symptom." (Childhood and Society, 1950)

On Doubt and Despair

"Doubt is the brother of shame." ("The Problem of Ego Identity," Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 1956)

"Despair expresses the feeling that time is short, too short for the attempt to start a new life and to try out alternate roads to integrity. Such a despair is often hidden behind a show of disgust, a misanthropy, or a chronic contemptuous displeasure with particular institutions and particular people . . . Ego integrity, therefore, implies an emotional integration which permits participation by followership as well as acceptance of the responsibility of leadership." (Growth and Crises of the Healthy Personality, 1950)

On Freud

"What was Freud's Galapagos, what species fluttered what kinds of wings before his searching eyes? It has often been pointed out derisively: his creative laboratory was the neurologist's office, the dominant species hysterical ladies." (The First Psychoanalyst, 1957)

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  • Erik Erikson, 91, psychoanalyst who reshaped views of human growth, diesThe New York Times. Published May 13, 1994.

  • Coles, R (ed.). Erik Erikson Reader. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company; 2000.

  • Erikson, E. Childhood and Society. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company; 1950.

  • Erikson, E. Identity and the Life Cycle. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company; 1959.

  • Erikson, E. Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company; 1958.

  • Erikson, EH. The problem of ego identityJournal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 1956;4: 56–121. doi:10.1177/000306515600400104