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."

Erikson believed that at each stage of development, people are faced with conflicting forces. People who are able to successfully deal with these conflicts emerge with a virtue that is associated with that point of development. 

According to Erikson, a conflict is a turning point where each person faces a struggle to attain a specific psychological quality. Sometimes referred to as a psychosocial crisis, this can be a time of vulnerability but also strength as people work toward success or failure.

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

Key Conflict: 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

Key Conflict: 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

Key Conflict: 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

Key Conflict: 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

Key Conflict: 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

Key Conflict: 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

Key Conflict: 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

Key Conflict: 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.

A Word From Verywell

Conflicts are something that all of us face in life. Many of these are natural consequences of the stage of life we are in. This doesn't mean that these conflicts are necessarily confined to that point in life or that they will be fully resolved.

For example, while Erikson suggested that identity was largely a challenge during adolescence, it can be an ongoing challenge throughout life as people take on new roles and try on new identities. Creating relationships is certainly important during young adulthood, but those social connections are something that people continue to forge all through life.

While Erikson's theory can provide an overview of some of the developmental conflicts that people face, it is important to remember that each person is different and life does not necessarily unfold in a series of discrete stages.

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