What personal conflicts are most likely to be experienced by individuals of the following ages: (a) three; (b)
ten; (c) fifteen? What can parents or teachers do to help the individual achieve a healthy resolution?
A. Erikson's Theory (1963) of Psychosocial development
Development functions by the
: we develop through a predetermined unfolding of our
personalities in eight stages. Our progress through each stage is in part determined by our success, or lack of success,
in all the previous stages. A little like the unfolding of a rose bud, each petal opens up at a certain time, in a certain
order, which nature, through its genetics, has determined. If we interfere in the natural order of development by pulling
a petal forward prematurely or out of order, we ruin the development of the entire flower.
The various tasks are referred to by two terms. The infant's task, for example, is called "trust-mistrust." At first, it
might seem obvious that the infant must learn trust and not mistrust. But Erikson made it clear that there it is a balance
we must learn: Certainly, we need to learn mostly trust; but we also need to learn a little mistrust, so as not to grow up
to become gullible fools!
Each stage has a certain
as well. It is no use trying to rush children into adulthood, as is so common
among people who are obsessed with success. Neither is it possible to slow the pace or to try to protect our children
from the demands of life. There is a time for each task.
If a stage is managed well, we carry away a certain
or psychosocial strength which will help us through the rest
of the stages of our lives. On the other hand, if we don't do so well, we may develop maladaptations and malignancies,
as well as endanger all our future development. A malignancy is the worse of the two, and involves too little of the
positive and too much of the negative aspect of the task, such as a person who can't trust others. A maladaptation is not
quite as bad and involves too much of the positive and too little of the negative, such as a person who trusts too much.
Children and adults
Perhaps Erikson's greatest innovation was to postulate not five stages, as Freud had done, but eight.
The ways in which our lives inter-mesh are terribly complex and very frustrating to the theorist. But ignoring them is
to ignore something vitally important about our development and our personalities.
I (0-1) --
trust vs. mistrust
to get, to give in returnhope, faith
sensory distortion --
II (2-3) --
shame and doubt