Erikson's stages of development were characterized by conflicts between different needs and feelings. There were eight, and they can be summarized as follows:
- Trust vs. mistrust: an infant learns trust based on the fulfillment of her needs by parents.
- Autonomy vs. doubt and shame: a small child must reconcile newfound freedoms with the doubt and shame that accompany the ability (or inability) to perform new responsibilities.
- Initiative vs. guilt: small children struggle with the to need to take initiative in exploring their surroundings, and may experience guilt at what they perceive as gaining independence from parents.
- Industry vs. feelings of inferiority: In order to master certain competencies, children must resolve the need to work with the feeling that they might not be successful.
- Identity vs. role confusion: this involves the famous "identity crisis" associated with adolescence. Young people must begin to form a sense of self, and their relations with others.
- Intimacy vs. isolation: young adults must learn how to experience intimacy with others.
- Generativity vs. stagnation: adults must remain creative, able to contribute to society and their families, to avoid a sense of stagnation and feelings of worthlessness.
- Integrity vs. despair: the ego is able to sustain its courage and integrity in the face of the fear of death.
The successful resolution of the conflicts in each of these stages, of course, was necessary for mental health. One of Erikson's great achievements was to show that psychological development continued throughout one's life, where Freud had argued that the truly important conflicts were resolved during childhood.