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Understanding Erikson's theory of psychosocial development and its benefits


Erikson's theory of psychosocial development outlines eight stages that individuals go through from infancy to adulthood, each characterized by a specific conflict. Successfully resolving these conflicts leads to psychological strengths and virtues. The benefits of understanding this theory include better insight into human behavior, improved mental health strategies, and enhanced ability to support others through various life stages.

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What is Erikson's theory of psychosocial development?

The framework of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development is a pattern that consists on three important factors that must manifest in order to develop both cognitively but, most importantly, socially.

  • age
  • pivotal event
  • change

By age Erikson means chronological age. This is because, in psychosocial theory, real age is extremely important and should not be bypassed by mental age.

When a specific age is reached, there are events that normally occur as a result of the changes in the typical lives of individuals. These changes are the pivotal events. These events can be happy and positive but, by natural law, not all facts of life are positive. Erikson explains that, when the challenges come, the way in which we overcome them lets us move on to the next stage of maturity.

Erikson's psychosocial stages consist on the contradictory events that occur during development. These events are matched to an age range. The idea behind it is that, if the challenge is overcome, the result will be the positive part of the stage. This moves the individual to the next stage on. If the challenge is not overcome, the result will be the negative aspect of the stage. This means that the individual will remain stagnant until the challenge of the stage is resolved. These "unfinished businesses" may take years to complete and become dissonant to the age to which they belong.

The stages are:

Infancy- Trust vs. Mistrust- if a child is well taken care of, she will learn to trust adults; neglected children, however, feel on the edge as a natural defense mechanism. This is why dysfunctional parenthood is more likely to develop dysfunctional children.

Autonomy vs. Shame/Doubt- the relationship of children with others (head start/pre-k) and with their parents is essential to develop autonomy and self sufficiency when parents are not always there.

Initiative vs. Guilt- this is the stage caretaker/teachers must take into consideration because it is they who motivate or de-motivate children to be leaders and defend themselves.

Industry vs. Inferiority- again, if teachers and parents discipline through humiliations and guilt the child will just see himself as a burden and will begin to act like one.

Identity vs. Confusion- during the teenage years the odd changes teens make are a result of needing to fit somewhere. This is their identity, whether social, sexual, or academic. When these dynamics are reprimanded through humiliation and guilt, confusion will be a result that lasts through adulthood.

Intimacy vs. Isolation- the exploration of early committed relationships with others during early adulthood

Generativity vs. Stagnation- here we ask ourselves what have we done in life thus far. These are the mid-adulthood years. Usually this is midway before the retirement years.

Integrity vs. Despair- this is when, during our elder years, we look back in time and contemplate our lives. If you reach your elder years satisfied, you play the role of the eldest in the family with pride. Otherwise, you are driven, as the stage says, to despair.

Therefore, Erikson's theory is more detailed as far as how events correlate to age and in pointing out the importance of these events in how we react to our environment.

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What are the benefits of using Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development?

Erik Erikson's stages of psychosocial development describes how people develop their personality through various stages of their life, starting from birth. The theory includes eight stages, each of which include a psychosocial crisis which, based on how the individual resolves the conflict, can either have a positive or negative impact on personality development. These stages include trust versus mistrust (birth to one and a half years old), autonomy versus shame (one and a half to three years old), initiative versus guilt (three to five years old), industry versus inferiority (five to twelve years old), identity versus role confusion (twelve to eighteen years old), intimacy versus isolation (eighteen to forty years old), generativity versus stagnation (forty to sixty-five years old), and ego integrity versus despair (sixty-five years old and above).

There are a few benefits of using this theory. First, the stages are outlined well into adulthood, meaning it can be applied throughout various stages of life.

Second, the theory explains that—should an individual successfully navigate a psychosocial crisis—at the conclusion of each stage, they will acquire a basic virtue. These virtues include hope, purpose, and care.

Finally, each stage includes an existential question that an individual may unconsciously be asking themselves as they move through the stage or navigate a crisis. For example, in the first stage, trust versus mistrust, a young child is essentially asking, "Can I trust the world?" In this stage, the young child is exploring new things and relationships to determine whether they are trustworthy.

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