This post is the fourth in a series about Erik Erikson’s Stage Theory of Psychosocial Development. If you would like to know more about this series, go here. To see the second post on stages 1 and 2, go here. To see the third post on stage 3, go here.
Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority
In Erikson’s 4th stage, Industry vs. Inferiority (typically ages 6-12), the task is achieving competence. If all goes well enough, children begin to build a sense of who they are (self esteem) based upon what they can do, building upon earlier developmental milestones.
“Look what I can do!” “I won!” And similar exclamations reflect the sense of achievement and need for that to be recognized that is typical of this stage. Winning and losing are a big deal. Learning to spell, memorize facts, complete a craft or science project, run fast, etc, build confidence especially when tasks are achievable and encouraged by caregivers. If caregivers expect more than is achievable, don’t recognize achievements, or discount achievements a sense of failure, shame, or inferiority may follow. Sad face!
If earlier developmental stages were completed less than optimally, individuals can begin to lean heavily on competence to compensate for earlier gaps in development. For example, if someone lacks a solid foundation in Trust vs. Mistrust, s/he may more easily gravitate toward over-focus on achieving in work or school, saying friends or relationships are not worth it. Conversely, a foundation of good friendships and trusting relationships can temper the urge to win at any cost in the pursuit of competence and self esteem.
Stuckness later in life related to this stage can look like becoming easily discouraged or insecure when faced with a task/challenge, preoccupation with ‘winning’ or being good enough, and/or low self esteem. Focus on “I’m really good at ….” or competition with others without good sportsmanship can also be indicative of disrupted development in this area.
Healthy or complete-enough development in this stage includes having a balanced and generally accurate view of self – seeing ones own talents, strengths and weaknesses, and knowing others have talents, strengths and weaknesses, too. Being willing to try new things, persevere through long or complicated tasks, and try again after failure are all indications that development in this area is strong.
Therapy-related focus for individuals struggling with issues related to industry vs. inferiority may include SMART goals, enhancing and celebrating small successes, and healing unprocessed memories related to early experiences of self as incompetent or inferior. You can support loved ones by encouraging their efforts and small success, letting go of comparisons, and accepting their talents, strengths and weaknesses as well as your own.