Erik Erikson: Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson proposed that we all move through eight predictable stages of growth and development. Each stage presents a challenge with a potentially positive outcome and a potentially negative outcome. If one resolves the challenge at each stage, one can then move on to the next stage. Failure at any stage, however, results in difficulty getting beyond that stage. The worst case would be a dramatic failure to achieve a basic sense of trust in infancy, since that would prevent one from achieving satisfactory resolutions at any later stage. In general, having resolved the challenges of the life stages relative to one’s age prepares one for potentially effective leadership of those who are younger and who have therefore not mastered all of those stages.

Age 0-2 Basic Conflict: Basic Trust vs. Basic Mistrust. The infant must form a loving, trusting relationship with the caregiver, or risk developing a sense of mistrust. The basic sense of trust we all need to develop at this stage is also the basis for courage, faith, and empathy for others. The irony at this stage is that the infant is thoroughly dependent on caregivers and is not able to control the process of achieving trust. Studies consistently indicate that habitual antisocial, criminal, and sociopathic behavior correlates strongly with a failure to achieve a basic sense of trust in the beginning of the life cycle. One obvious conclusion is that effective parenting or care-giving is absolutely critical to everything that follows in the life cycle. 

Age 2-3 Basic Conflict: Autonomy vs. Shame/Doubt. The child's energies are directed toward the development of basic physical skills, including grasping, rectal sphincter control, walking, and talking – the skills upon which all future complex skills depend. The child may develop shame and doubt if this stage is not handled well.

Age 4-5 Basic Conflict: Initiative vs.Guilt. The child continues to become more assertive and to take more initiative, learning that its actions have consequences in the world. If the child is too forceful or aggressive and causes damage, guilt feelings may emerge. 

Age 6-14 Basic Conflict: Industry vs.Inferiority. The child must deal with demands to learn new skills and develop habits of sustained work over extended periods of time or risk a sense of inferiority, failure, and incompetence. This is the period of schooling, where sustained effort over several years results in knowledge and competence. It is also the period when future athletes, musicians, and performers in all fields begin to develop habits of sustained effort and training, which lead to significant results but only over extended periods of time.
Age 12-25 Basic Conflict: Identity vs. Role Confusion. The teenager and young adult must achieve a sense of identity in occupation, sex roles, politics, and religion. This is one of the most complex and fascinating stages. Failure at this stage results in a sense of confusion and panic over one's place in the world. A useful, stable sense of identity will not change significantly over time, but must be revised and tweaked regularly to reflect changes in the self and the world.

Age 22-30 Basic Conflict: Intimacy vs. Isolation. The young adult must develop stable intimate relationships or suffer feelings of isolation. The biological imperative here is the need for stable child-rearing relationships, but the psychosocial imperative is about the capacity to maintain long-term relationships with one or a few other individuals.

Erik Erikson
Erik Erikson
Age 30-70 Basic Conflict: Generativity vs. Stagnation. Each adult must find some way to relate to, lead, and support the next generation. This period is inherently a period for leadership. The biological imperative again is about effective parenting, but Erikson claimed that every adult can be generative as long as they are doing “the work of the world.” Failure at this stage results in a sense of stagnation and lagging purpose.

Age 70-death Basic Conflict: Integrity vs.Despair. The culmination is a sense feeling fulfilled in relation to one's purpose in life and one's relationships to significant others. The central issues are about relationships and moral values, not material achievement, wealth, or success. A failure at this stage results in a sense of despair and worthlessness.