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    There are many ways in which Erikson made major contributions to developmental psychology. A few points worth noting about Erikson's theory:

  • His was a theory of development across the lifespan. Unlike Freud, Piaget or some of the other stage theorists, Erikson's theory covers adult development from birth through old age. To me, this makes a lot more sense than Freud, who says most of the important development occurs before age eight, or Piaget, who thought cognitive development is complete around twelve to fifteen. Personally, I think I, and most of the people I know, have developed a lot since age eight or fifteen - and thank God for that!
  • His is not a psychosexual theory, but a psychosocial one, focusing much more on social interactions than bodily ones. As Erikson said, yes, children do become toilet-trained between ages one and three, but a lot of other things happen as well. They learn to talk, walk, feed themselves, climb, build, draw, etc. for the first time. Surely, says Erikson, all of those accomplishments have an impact on development.
  • Erikson believed there were eight stages, and, at each one, the individual resolved a crisis between a positive and negative alternative.
Freally, really important point followsE

    Resolution of a crisis does NOT mean that a person rejects one alternative completely, but rather, that he or she finds a balance between the two alternatives. Think about it, a person needs a little mistrust - there are some people you just shouldn't trust. Serial killers display no guilt, but I really don't think that's the model in which we want to raise our children.
    A preschool teacher once said to me. "We never say 'no' to our children because psychologists have proven that it damages their self-esteem."
I don't know what psychologists she was talking about, but I think she was simply misunderstanding Erikson, who would have said that children DO need to hear 'no' sometimes, to realize that the whole world does not revolve around them. Of course, telling the child "no" all of the time is bad as well. Erikson, in his book Childhood and society said that there is a limit to how much a child is willing to believe that everything he wants is bad, shameful or dirty, and he may come to conclusion that the only bad thing is that YOU are in the way keeping him from what he wants. Erikson's eight stages are:

TRUST VS MISTRUST where the infant learns that either the world is basically good and can be trusted or is basically bad and can't be relied upon to meet one's needs. Erikson said that what is important is not whether you bottle-feed or breastfeed your baby, but that the baby can count on you not to let him go hungry or cold, to take care of him. Babies who have inconsistent parents, who sometimes feed them when they cry and other times yell at them, learn that people can't be trusted. This is pretty sad, because trust is essential to all close human relationships. How could you ever have a friend or spouse or lover if you couldn't trust that person.

AUTONOMY VS SHAME & DOUBT is the stage when children begin to recognize themselves as separate people with separate ideas from their parents. As every parent or preschool teacher knows, the favorite word of children in this stage is "NO!" They are learning to assert their own desires.

INITIATIVE VS GUILT is a refinement of the previous stage. Children learn not only that they have separate desires, but also to plan out means of reaching those. Erikson said that Americans don't make as much of a distinction between shame and guilt as he thought they should. Shame is the sense of having been publicly exposed doing something bad. Guilt, on the other hand, occurs whether we are caught or not. So, children begin to internalize certain values of their parents, teachers, etc. and feel bad for doing wrong. This is actually very important, because much of what enables us to get along with one another is that we behave in a manner that is socially acceptable, not because we are afraid of being caught and punished as much as because we see ourselves as  a certain kind of person, honest, fair, etc. and just would not feel right behaving in the opposite way. Why do you not  lie when you can get away with it? Because you just don't think it is right and would feel guility about it. Don't get me wrong, you need to have initiative, too, you can't just sit around and do nothing because you are afraid you will do something wrong. As with Erikson's other stages, you want to strike a balance.

IDENTITY VS ROLE CONFUSION occurs during adolescence, when we explore different possibilities for career, interests, friends, etc. At this age,  adolescents are trying different behaviors and values from what they have learned at home. They may experiment with alcohol, drugs, sex, minor crimes, new religions, new hobbies. They are trying to define themselves separate from their parents, although, in the end, most adolescents adopt many of their parents' same values and behaviors as well as unique views of their own. Erikson is probably most well-known for his writings on adolescence, particularly the identity crisis. We will return to Erikson's theory in the section on adolescence.

baseball playing man and tennis playing woman  INTIMACY VS ISOLATION  is the crisis of young adulthood. According to Erikson, intimacy must come after identity because you cannot be sure a person is the right one for you unless you are sure who YOU are. That is, first, you need to define your interests, goals, desires and then you can know if this person fits with those values. Erikson also said that development may occur differently for women, that they define their identity as someone's wife, someone else's mother and that is who they are. Their identity is determined by the people (men) they have relationships with. If you think this is sexist (and I do) you haven't even begun to learn Erikson's theory and some of it is MUCH worse than that. However, I think you need to keep in mind that when Erikson was first developing this theory in the 1950's, some of what he said probably was true. As a woman, your identity, where you lived, what kind of lifestyle you had, who you associated with, was probably determined much more by what your husband's job was than is now the case.

GENERATIVITY VS STAGNATION occurs during middle adulthood. Having established one's values and a close relationship with another person, the adult now wants to pass on what he or she has learned through productive work and through raising or nurturing the next generation.

INTEGRITY VS DESPAIR is the last stage. A person looks back on his or her life, is satisfied with what has been achieved,  and ready to face death, having achieved integrity or is in despair, realizing that, at the end of life, he/she has NOT had  loving relationships, has not met personal goals and has no other choice but to face death as a failure.

    There is one point at which I have to disagree with some of the developmental psychology textbooks, and that is that 'each part of the personality has a particular time in the life span when it must develop if it is going to be developed at all.' That is not exactly what Erikson said. Actually, Erikson did not say that if you don't develop trust as an infant that you are doomed to be lonely and bitter your whole life. He DID say that there are certain time periods when it is easier to develop trust, autonomy, etc. Erikson also said that people who have not resolved a crisis at one period have a harder time with later crises, and it is harder to develop trust, autonomy, initiative, etc. but people CAN work through these crises later in life, it is just harder.

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