Conflict During the Stages of Psychosocial Development

The 8 Stages We All Go Through According to Erik Erikson

Psychosocial conflict
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Throughout our lifetimes, we all go through specific stages of psychosocial development that can contribute or impede our happiness and emotional and psychological health. So goes a theory set forth by Erik Erikson, an American psychologist and psychoanalyst who was born in Germany in 1902. Erikson died in 1994, leaving behind not only his eight-stage theory of psychological development but also the term "identity crisis."

At each stage of psychosocial development, each of us faces a specific conflict, Erikson proposed. Here's a brief look at these stages, the conflict that defines each one, and how it's likely to help shape mental health.

Stage 1

Trust versus mistrust. In the earliest stages of childhood, we're faced with the question of who in our lives we can count on to care for us and who we can't. Children who learn that they can trust and depend on parents and other caregivers emerge from the first stage of psychosocial development with a sense of security and safety. Those who aren't able to trust their caregivers may be left with the feeling that the world is unreliable.

Stage 2

Autonomy versus shame and doubt. As children become increasingly independent, being given the opportunity to be self-reliant—in other words, to not have to depend on others for everything—are likely to develop a strong sense of independence and autonomy. When parents and caregivers do everything for a child, she may be left feeling ashamed or doubtful of her abilities.

Stage 3

Initiative versus guilt. When kids are allowed to engage in self-directed activities and play, they learn how to take the initiative for their own growth and development. Children who successfully resolve this conflict develop a sense of purpose, while those who do not manage this conflict well may be left with feelings of guilt.

Stage 4

Industry versus inferiority. School and peers play a major role in the outcome of this conflict. Kids who get along well with other kids their age and who do well in school will emerge from this stage feeling competent. Those who aren't able to successfully navigate social interactions and academic challenges may end up feeling inferior and lack self-confidence.

Stage 5

Identity and role confusion. This stage of psychosocial development occurs during the teen years when kids begin to explore new roles as they approach adulthood. Handling this conflict well leads to a strong sense of personal identity. Those who struggle at this stage may be left feeling confused about who they are and what they want to do with their lives.

Stage 6

Intimacy versus isolation. Forming strong bonds with other people, particularly romantic attachments, plays a vital role in resolving this conflict of early adulthood. Those who succeed are able to develop strong and lasting relationships while those who fail can end up feeling isolated and lonely.

Stage 7

Generativity versus stagnation. People want to feel they've contributed something to the world, and so successfully navigating this conflict involves accomplishments like raising a family, succeeding at work, and volunteering in the community. During this stage of middle adulthood, people who aren't able to do this often feel disconnected from the rest of the world.

Stage 8

Integrity versus despair. During this last stage of Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, older people looking back on their lives who feel satisfied with all they've experienced and accomplished will emerge with a sense of wisdom and satisfaction. Those who have regrets and who aren't able to recognize their successes or appreciate the richness of the lives they've lived may end up feeling bitter.

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