Many people are aware of physical developmental milestones to be met throughout a person’s life – holding up our heads, sitting up, crawling, walking, running, puberty, and beyond. However, did you know that there are psychological milestones? Ever since psychology has become its own distinctive field, many theorists have come up with various explanations for the general stages that all humans go through in order to grow into a mature and fully functioning adult.
One such theorist was Erik Erikson, who came up with an eight stage theory of psychosocial development (1959). Within his theory, there is a “crisis” in each stage – meaning that there is some new psychological challenge to be met and processed, and there are two outcomes (positive and negative). If the outcome is positive, then that person is capable of progressing healthily into the next stage. Otherwise, that person goes through that stage with a negative outcome, which can negatively impact how they progress through the next stage. What does that mean? Within this theory, that means that there are 30 year olds out in the world who may still be acting like 8 year olds sometimes because they have not successfully worked through that psychosocial stage.
Now you’re probably curious what the stages are:
Stage 1: birth – 18 months: Trust vs. Mistrust
Stage 2: 18 moths – 3 years: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
Stage 3: 3-5 years: Initiative vs. Guilt
Stage 4: 5-12 years: Industry vs. Inferiority
Stage 5: 12-18 years: Identity vs. Role Confusion
Stage 6: 18-40 years: Intimacy vs. Isolation
Stage 7: 40-65: Generativity vs. Stagnation
Stage 8: 65+: Ego Integrity vs. Despair
That may sound like a lot of words and it may be difficult to understand what it all means! That’s why we’re going to run a series of blog posts during the next few weeks explaining each stage of Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development with applications of what it looks to have processed it positively or negatively. Feel free to make comments on posts if you have any questions. We hope that this series will be educational and helpful to you!
Posted by Niki Montecillo on May 22, 2018
We are born into the world helpless and vulnerable. The way we are cared for in the very first moments of life – from birth until 12-18 months – will determine if we can trust the world around us.
When we cry, does our caretaker respond to us quickly and consistently? When we’re hungry, are we fed? Are we cuddled and touched in loving ways? Can we depend on our loved ones to keep us safe, clean, warm, fed, and healthy? If the answer is yes, an infant will develop a sense of trust in the world.
Trust is established through time and experience. An infant whose caregiver provides loving, consistent care teaches an infant that the world – and other people – can be trusted. Once trust is established, the child can have hope that they will continued to be cared for in the future.
According to Erikson, if a child develops trust during this stage of life, it will affect their relationships through adulthood. They may find it easier to bond, or attach, to others in safe relationships.
On the flip side, if an infant experiences abuse, neglect, or inconsistent care they will develop a mistrust of the world. In their experience, the world is unpredictable and will not meet their needs. Erikson believed that these infants would then grow into adults who were anxious, distrusting and unable to form healthy, safe relationships.
How do you help your infant pass successfully through this stage?
1. Respond to your child’s cries as quickly and consistently as you are able.
2. Hold your child often, even when they’re not in distress.
3. If you’re able, ask for help from a trusted friend or family member to help you meet your infant’s needs when you are drained and need a nap/break/a shower.
In therapy, most intervention would be around supporting the primary caregiver in meeting the needs of the infant. A therapist trained in caregiver-infant attachment could help increase feeling of security by baby through interventions implemented by the parents.
Posted by Niki Montecillo on May 25, 2018
As a child becomes mobile, via scooting, crawling, cruising and walking, it gains a whole new world of independence. Now, a child can achieve their goals without as much help from a caregiver.
Between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, a child’s abilities develop at a rapid pace, and can lead to a newfound sense of independence, or autonomy. This stage builds upon the first in that, a child with a secure attachment and general trust of the world, is more likely to explore and try new things with abandon.
A child who trusts its caregiver, will begin their exploration in small ways, often looking back at the caregiver to provide encouragement and reassurance. Soon, a child may move from small adventures to big ones, from small tasks, such as using silverware, to larger tasks of dressing and toileting. Children will also begin to choose their own toys and initiate caregivers or peers in play.
If a caregiver is able to allow the child enough freedom to explore, while at the same time coming to their aid when needed, a child will develop confidence and independence. If a caregiver is able to praise the child’s successes and reassure them in their failings, a child will develop even more autonomy.
However, if a caretaker is too controlling, not allowing the child to try new things on their own, the child will be given the message that they are incapable and may not gain that feeling of independence and confidence.Similarly, if a caretaker is critical or shaming of a child’s attempts and failings, that child will be discouraged from exploring and may stop trying new things with the same frequency and vigor. These children make have low self-esteem, higher anxiety, and over dependence on others.
How do you help your 18 month-3 year old pass successfully through this stage?
1. Thoroughly toddler-proof your home, and remove anything that you don’t want to be broken/destroyed (such as important paperwork, fragile decorations, etc.). Create a safe space for your child to explore.
2. Do not shame or punish your child if they accidentally break something. Remember that mistakes will happen during this exploration stage, and are not a sign of your child being purposefully “bad”.
3. Be positive and encouraging while your child explores.
Posted by Niki Montecillo on May 25, 2018
This stage spans the age range of 3-5 years old, otherwise known as the preschool years. Assuming that the first two stages have been successfully achieved, then the 3-5 year old trusts the world and has a healthy sense of autonomy (as much as could be expected from a 3 year old generally – feeding, toileting, etc).
In the preschool years, children begin to become more deeply involved in their play; this is how they explore the world and express themselves. This makes sense, doesn’t it? Do you remember being obsessed with trains and acting out scenarios, or playing with a baby doll, or building something out of blocks? That was exploratory and expressive play!
Initiative vs. guilt could also be understood as “I’m a good kid who can try things, sometimes succeeding, sometimes making mistakes” vs. “I’m a bad kid who has bad ideas”. At this stage it is important that parents and caretakers encourage their children (when reasonable) to make some of their own choices: what they play with, who they play with, what they’re interested in. This builds up a child’s sense of initiative, or security in one’s own abilities and decision-making skills. If the answer to any child-led idea or direction is often put down or squelched, then the tendency is for the child to assume that they are a nuisance and therefore “bad.”
How do you help your 3-5 year old pass successfully through this stage?
1. Take the time to notice what your child is doing in their play
“You really know how to take care of that doll” emphasizes your child’s ability to nurture and empathize with others.
“That tower game is hard to get right, but you keep trying anyway!” emphasizes your child’s ability to be persistent and hard-working.
2. Listen to your child’s ideas and treat them seriously
3. Make an effort to compromise with your child on ideas they might have
In therapy, the counselor would help your child achieve these goals through play therapy and by coaching parents in developing the parenting skills they need to foster initiative in their preschool-aged children.
Posted by Niki Montecillo on May 29, 2018
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.
Posted by Niki Montecillo on May 31, 2018
Have you ever looked back on your teenage years and thought, “what was I thinking dressing like that?!” Or perhaps, do you have the same thoughts about your current teenage child? Or do you wonder why all of a sudden their friends seem to matter so much more to them than their own family members?
Rest assured, these are all natural aspects to this psychosocial developmental stage, which spans the age range of 12-18 years. In this stage, the teenager is seeking to figure out his identity – what he values, what circles he will move in, what his interests are, what he will commit to in life. This is all part of forming an identity. Teenagers are more interested in spending time with friends and on their interests as they form the foundation for the sort of person they are going to be in the adult world.
What others say and how they react to a teenager is very important in this stage. Teenagers remain very sensitive to the reinforcement (positive or negative) and encouragement that they will receive from their family, friends, teachers, and coaches. That’s why a deep sense of relationship needs to be fostered with your teenager so that he feels comfortable coming to you with the “tough stuff.”
At the same time, teenagers require enough freedom to make more choices than they were allowed in the past. Of course, with choices comes more responsibility, and a teenager should be made well aware of that. If a teenager is blocked from having more freedom to choose and move about as he will, he might end up fighting against that by hiding what he is doing or making choices that he knows others would disapprove of.
In short, a teenager coming to a sense of solid identity needs more freedom, more responsibility, and deeper and encouraging relationships with those who can guide him rightly. If a teenager does not end up successfully forming an identity at this stage, he ends up having role confusion: he is not sure of who he is, what he likes, what values he is committed to, what his interests in career options are, and he is left feeling disappointed and confused about who he is and lacking a sense of direction.
In therapy, the counselor would encourage parents to shift perspective and allow more freedom for their teenager and/or form deeper relationships with their teenager (according to what is lacking). At the same time, the counselor would probably give more autonomy to the teenager in sessions – making it clear that she will only share what is absolutely necessary with the parents. A counselor can help a teenager process through old relational processes that block the teenager’s ability to make social connections and help them become more aware of their strengths and interests and encourage their development and exploration within the context of the therapeutic relationship.
Posted by Niki Montecillo on June 6, 2018
This stage refers to the ages between 18 and 35/40 and presuming the individual has successfully established an identity based on the first 5 stages, the young adult is now able to form close and meaningful relationships with another person outside of their family of origin. These intimate relationships are not exclusive to romantic relationships, as in this stage the young adult also develops in his/her ability to engage in finding satisfying work.
In this stage the young adult grows in the virtue of love in the sense that s/he is able to take the love received as a child and begin to love and care for others. The challenges in this stage involve finding a balance between maintaining autonomy while also being attached to others. When the young adult fails to achieve intimacy this can result in alienation, isolation, loneliness, and depression. This failure may be due to a fear of commitment and avoiding intimacy (that can be due to unsuccessful completions of earlier stages). Isolation involves self-absorption that can inhibit the ability to develop deep relationships.
In therapy, the counselor may work with the young adult to identify their own set of values versus those of their parents as a means of developing a sense of self. This may involve repairing insecure attachment styles. After this, the counselor would then work on teaching the young adult how to relate to others emotionally, intellectually, physically and/or spiritually.
Posted by Niki Montecillo on June 15, 2018
This stage typically occurs between age 31 and 60 (adulthood). The main focus of this stage is becoming a productive member of society. This is defined by procreation and taking responsibility for caring for one’s own children and the children of others.
In addition to getting married and raising children, this stage is characterized by being a contributing member of society and fully accepting responsibility for developing the next generation. Passing on the cultural norms and values not only to your own children but in an altruistic way helps to develop society as a whole.
Generativity refers to being productive and creative. Whether it’s creating yourself and those around you or producing new and innovative products that ultimately help society, generativity is about continuing to improve and always working to become something new, something better and realizing one’s full potential. Generativity is a product of a well-developed ego (or self-concept) and the ability to have healthy intimate relationships with others.
The opposite of generativity is self-absorption, stagnation and underdeveloped ego strength. Stagnation is when a person is too self-absorbed and self-indulgent to care for the needs of others or society. In the unsuccessful completion of this stage, generativity and productivity have given way to self-centeredness and provincialism and the most basic strength of adulthood, caring for others, has been set aside.
Although there are lots of therapeutic approaches to helping someone stuck in stagnation and self-absorption, one approach might be to begin by addressing ego strength. Feeling good about one’s self and being happy with who we are is vitally important to being able to develop and maintain intimate relationships. Generativity is built out of hope for a better future and the confidence to produce that future.
Posted by Niki Montecillo on June 18, 2018
One of our favorite things to do during family get-togethers, holidays, birthday is reminisce.
As a child I thought our family had all the jokes, but thankfully and beautifully, I grew up and found out every family has their own stories and jokes that are both hilarious and heartwarming. It is beautiful to sit with any family during a meal and hear not only the updates of how everyone is doing but to go back in time and experience an old story for the first time or for the hundredth time and giggle away. Watching everyone get excited about sharing a forgotten detail is fun; listening to people add emphasis to an impossible happenstance or outcome is hilarious. These are some of the best ways to connect with family, whether they are your family or someone else’s.
As adults mature, reflection time can be a gratifying activity. Looking back on accomplishments can bring a sense of pride, feelings of contentment and satisfaction. Gratitude usually follows, just for the experiences, places visited, and especially the relationships and connections encountered.
At the age of 65, adults enter into Erik Erikson’s Final Stage of PsychoSocial Development, Maturity. Maturity or late adulthood carries a conflict between integrity and despair. The pinnacle of this stage is looking back on one’s entire life – all of the experiences, situations and relationships, in a positive light. Erikson posits that coming to terms with and accepting oneself fully, helps create a sense of integrity and completeness.
Living a life of acceptance for the self, assuming responsibility for one’s life, without the possibility of undoing any decision or action, and being okay with it all is crucial to satisfaction with self and with life.
For those unable to achieve this; feeling regret or wishing for second chances to do something over, leads to despair. Feeling that life is unfinished, incomplete or that the self is unrealized can lead to a fear of death. Failing to resolve life’s challenges can leave a person with unfulfilled desires which can lead to a blaming stance. Sometimes bitterness or even disgust are felt.
When a person has successfully faced life’s challenges or has learned through his or her mistakes, they may realize in late adulthood that what they went through, gave them wisdom. They own their decisions, their emotions, and have no regrets, which in turn brings peace of mind.
In therapy, the counselor would help the person in this stage resolve any previously unsuccessful psychodevelopmental stages using a variety of theoretical approaches – existential, psychodynamic, trauma-oriented, and attachment oriented, to name a few. Resolving old issues helps make the person in this stage more free to embrace a hopeful and satisfied stance at the end of life.
Posted by Niki Montecillo on June 20, 2018