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Eriksonian paradigm of stage development Essay


Erik Erikson is one of the most popular modern psychologists and is considered to be an evolutionary psychologist; his theory of psychosocial development stipulates that an individual goes through eight evolutionary stages of human development. His contribution to the field of psychology, particularly personality developmental, is phenomenal.

Additionally, his theory is considered to be one of the most influential neo-Freudian human development theories; it is also considered to be an improvement of Freudian Psychosexual theory (Schachter, 2009). Erikson, like Freud, divides personality development into several stages. Freud’s psychosexual theory proposes five stages of personality development, a theory in which Erikson seems not only to borrow from but also make improvement on.

However, Erickson stipulates that there are eight stages of human development, unlike Freud’s five, and that human development starts at birth and ends at death. Therefore, Erickson is the first human development theorist to develop a theory that encompasses human development throughout a person’s life (Newman & Newman, 2009). Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development has grown in popularity.

In the face of such popularity the theory is herein tested against a carefully selected subject for this assignment. The subject, herein referred to as Jane, is a twenty year old female student. The test focuses on Erickson’s fifth stage of personality development, Identity vs. Role Confusion.

Information for the assignment is got through a face to face interview, and is used to determine the extent to which Erickson’s theory is effective. Attempt are also be made to compare Erickson’s fifth stage of psychosocial development with Freud’s fifth stage of psychosexual development.

Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory of personality development

In his Psychosocial Theory of personality development, Erik Erikson, like Sigmund Freud, proposes that an individual goes through several progressive stages of personality development. Unlike Freud who proposes five psychosexual stages of personality development, Erickson proposes eight major stages, beginning at birth and ending at death. In this theory, Erickson stipulates that the development of a healthy personality is hinged on a person’s ability to go through all the stages successfully.

In each stage of Erickson’s personality development, there are vital psychosocial skills that a person ought to master, besides the attainment of a corresponding virtue. However, graduation to the next stage is not solely dependent on the masterly of vital psychosocial skills at the previous stage.

This implies that it is possible for an individual to skip certain developmental milestones with regards to Erickson’s psychosocial theory of personality development. A brief summary of Erickson’s developmental stages is described below, together with the Freudian equivalent of the Erickson’s first five stages of personality development.

Stage Age Crisis Attainable virtue Freudian equivalent
1: Infant 0-1 Trust vs. Mistrust Hope Oral
2: Toddler 2-3 Autonomy vs. Shame/Doubt Will Anal
3: Pre-School 4-6 Initiative vs. Guilt Purpose Phallic
4: School 7-12 Industry vs. Inferiority Competence Latent
5: Adolescence 13-19 Identity vs. Role confusion Fidelity Genital
6: Early Adulthood 20-34 Intimacy vs. Isolation Love
7: Middle Adulthood 35-65 Creativity vs. Stagnation Care
8: late Adulthood 65+ Integrity vs. Despair Wisdom

Erickson’s fifth stage: Identity vs. Role Confusion

According to Erickson (1968), Identity vs. Role Confusion occurs between the ages of 13 to 19 years. During teenage, teenagers are primarily preoccupied with identity formation. Appearance, both personal and social, is the major concern for individuals. According to Stevens (1983) Erikson’s theory proposes that there are a number of challenges (crises) inherent in each stage of personality development.

The biggest struggle in a person’s life is learning to overcome such challenges. Similarly, Erikson (1968) states that identity formation is the biggest challenge facing individuals at the Identity vs. Role Confusion stage of personality development. With regards to this, Erickson coined the term identity crisis, which describes identity crisis as the “failure to achieve ego identity during adolescence” (Schultz and Schultz, 2009 p. 229).

According to Erikson (1968), while all the eight stages are important in developing a healthy personality, the fifth stage seems to be the defining moment in human development. During this stage, a person comes face to face with conflicting identity realities. These are ‘who one wants to be’, ‘who one is’ and the ‘person the society expects one to be. Identity crisis occurs when a person tries to reconcile these identity realities.

As such, Erikson (1968) equates Identity vs. Role Confusion with a major crossroad where every decision significantly influences outcomes in later life. In addition to this, Erikson (1968) as cited in Gross (1987), asserts that the maturity of ones personality is hinged on the ability not only to reconcile ‘identity realities’ but also the ability to “forge past life experiences with a positive mind” (p. 39).

Doing this is not simple task according to Erikson (1968). Forging past the identify crises requires one to synthesize childhood experiences with future expectations without loosing the essence of the present challenges, especially with regards to inherent changes that accompany adolescence.

Description of the subject

The purpose of this paper is to evaluate Erikson’s Fifth stage of psychosocial development against a carefully selected subject, who in this case is a twenty year old girl. The real identity of the subject is concealed for the sake of privacy and confidentiality. However, for the purpose of this assignment, the client shall herein be referred to as Jane (not her real name). Jane is a twenty year old Nursing student, and the first born in a family of five.

She lives with her mother and her step father in a small family house. Jane has never known her biological father; her mother resists any request by Jane to reveal his real identity. According to Jane, her step father is a kind and loving man and has two boys from his previous marriage, both younger than her.

Jane describes her present family set up as close knit, loving and kind. Nevertheless, she has never felt a sense of belonging since, despite appreciating the care and love offered by her step father to her and the entire family she is convinced that her true happiness lies in finding her biological father.

Jane is pleasantly kind, respectful, polite, and like her mother, is fairly social. This can be traced back to her strict religious upbringing; her mother is a staunch catholic, while her father is a confessed Presbyterian. This implies that her present philosophy on life is based on conservative Christian beliefs.

Jane has been taught to obey not only her parents but also anyone older than her. Her choice of career as is her social life also seems to be influenced by her upbringing; her parents, especially her mother who has enormous influence on her, convinced Jane to pursue a career in which she would offer service to her community.

Jane Vis a Vis Erickson’s Identity vs. Role Confusion

Jane seems to be in an identity crisis, whose manifestation is described as follows. Jane comes from a reservedly conservative Christian family that frowns upon the excesses and indulgencies of the modern day youth. Thus there is an identify conflict taking place in Jane’s life. For instance, most of her friends ‘love to live on the fast lane and attend numerous wild parties’ something that Jane has no major problem with (Jane, personal communication, March 26, 2012).

According to her, one can attend such parties and associate with whoever one pleases, as long as one does not succumb to negative influence from others. In other words, Jane asserts that one has the ability to remain true to ones own values, regardless of the company one keeps.

Nevertheless, her actions portray overt differences between them and her personal value system. At times she is forced to guiltily lie to her parents so as to find time to attend night parties with her friends. She nevertheless confesses that this is the only way to keep her present friends, and that it is normal in modern societies (Jane, personal communication, March 26, 2012).

As mentioned earlier, teenagers are primarily preoccupied with both social and personal appearance issues. Jane is always apprehensive of how others perceive her; her appearance is a matter of constant concern to her. As such she always tries to fit in the situation. This is reflected in her tendencies to spend all her savings on clothes and make-up, most of which lose fashion value immediately.

This is because her choice of dress and make-up is largely influenced by her “desire to look like her friends” (Jane, personal communication, March 26, 2012). This reflects a lack of confidence in her choices. As explained by Stevens (1983) this is one of the major crises facing adolescents.

According to Sigelman and Rider (2011) role confusion is characterized by fear to commit fully to given philosophies; this can be transferred to other stages of life development. While this can negatively influence personality development in later life, Erikson (1968) believes that it occurs due to the fact that teenagers are in constant state of experimentation.

Such phobias can however be overcome under the right conditions; appropriate conditions entail giving teenagers the necessary space and time to experiment and should be accompanied by firm and sober guidance as it enhances the development of a health social and emotional self.

In view of these assertions, it is imperative to highlight a few issues regarding Jane’s relationship with her parents and her peers, and how Sigelman and Rider’s (2011) as well as Erikson’s (1968) assertions are mirrored in them. As mentioned earlier, Jane’s parents, especially her mother, significantly influences Jane’s choices.

However, as Jane notes, her parents acknowledge that she is now a grown up and therefore let her live her life without interfering too much with what she does, provided it is generally acceptable (Jane, personal communication, March 26, 2012). While this alludes to freedom to experiment, her relationship with her peers depicts that Jane has commitment phobia.

For instance, Nursing is a demanding course and besides caring for her step brothers, she has to find time to go out with friends. As a result her studies suffer due to the fact that a lot of study time is spent out with friends. As such Jane seems to have a fear of full commitment to her studies, since she associates such commitment with loss of social identity.

According to Stevens (1983) Identity vs. Role Confusion is accompanied by the need to establish personal and social boundaries. This is commonly referred to as re-establishment of oneself and occurs in a hostile social environment. Such confusion emanates from the fact that the society places certain demands on teenagers before they acquire the relevant psychosocial skills that enables them to satisfy those demands.

As such, teenagers usually experience role confusion. Stevens (1983) views can be observed through Jane, who confesses to feeling overwhelmed by somewhat unrealistic demands placed upon her by her parents. While Jane fully accepts her role as a caregiver to her young step brothers, she feels that such a role interferes with her personal life. This seems to be reflected in Freud’s fifth stage in which teenagers crave for independence from parents (Cioffi, 2005).

Nevertheless, she confesses that she cannot dare complain since she is expected to model responsible behavior to her siblings. This not only precipitates role confusion but has also impinges on Jane’s identity formation. Nevertheless, Stevens (1983) adds that role confusion is short lived and as Erikson (1968) explains when the society gives time and space to teenagers for self discovery, a healthy personality is developed.

Sigelman and Rider’s (2011) assertions with regards to commitment phobia are also evidenced in Jane’s current relationship status. Jane is currently single and is unenthusiastic about being in a committed relationship with any of her several male admirers. Jane confesses that such phobia emanates from the fear of upsetting her parents, especially her mother, and the fact that she claims to have learned from her mother’s mistake.

This further depicts what Erikson refers to as the manifestations of “bio-psycho-social forces at work” (Gross, 1987 p. 39). Bee and Boyd (2009) define bio-psycho-social forces as the influences of external forces on individual ideology formation. Erikson (1968) adds that this usually intensifies conflict with superiors over social and religious matters.

According to Erikson (1968) identity formation also involves understanding of ones gender, the corresponding gender roles, and how such roles play out socially and biologically. This is referred to as sexual identity. Additionally, Erikson (1968) adds that sexual identities are formed in later adolescence and not only enables in worldview formation but also helps to shape ones personality.

Jane’s fear of single motherhood and her perceptions of the role of men and women in relationships and marriages indicate that she has a-fully-developed sexual identity. This indicates that she has accepted herself as a woman and a mother to be, but feels that she can only be a mother to a child whose father is ever present. These assertions correspond with her attitudes towards relationships. Jane asserts that maintaining cordial relationships with her male peers makes her feel valued and loved.

The fact that she is attractive to the opposite sex gives her a sense of emotional satisfaction (Jane, personal communication, March 26, 2012). This seems to correspond to Freud’s genital stage of personality development, a stage in which an individual substitutes the need for physical sexual gratification with intellectual sexual gratification which manifests itself in mutual emotional relationships with members of the opposite sex.

Concerning ones career, Erickson (1968) asserts that the choice of career precipitates identity crisis. Additionally, Broderick and Blewitt (2006) add that external forces (ones parents and societal expectations), play decisive roles with regards to career choice. Many a time, external forces can be domineering. As such, an individual succumbs to external pressures and pursues careers not concurrent with ones wishes.

Erickson (1968) regrettably concludes that even though this helps one to settle on a personality trait early in life, it impinges on experimentation. True discovery of oneself is thus never achieved. While these assertions allude to the formation of a false personality, they are reflected in Jane’s life.

Even though she willingly agreed to pursue Nursing upon her mother’s request, she overtly harbors admiration for women who venture into careers perceived as a preserve of men. Jane confesses that “God willing she hopes to purse further studies in Neurosurgery” (Jane, personal communication, March 26, 2012). In this way, she will not only fulfill her parent’s wishes of serving the community but also fulfill her own ambition, which entails venturing into careers previously dominated by men.

As mentioned earlier each stage of personality development has a corresponding attainable virtue; in this case fidelity is the attainable virtue (Erikson, 1968). Stevens (1983) defines fidelity as “the ability to sustain loyalties freely pledged in spite of the inevitable contradictions and confusions of value systems” (p. 50).

Erikson (1968) further adds that fidelity is only attained when adolescents harmonize identity realities (who I am, who I can be) with what one can do with what one has. In regard to this, Jane seem not to have acquired fidelity; she is torn between who she is, the conflicting roles the society (peers and family) expects her to play and who she really wants to be.

This is despite the fact that she has passed Erikson’s 19 year age limit. Nevertheless Erikson (1968) asserts that depending on ones life experiences, it is possible to cap off Identity vs. Role confusion at 20 years, and sometimes as late as 30 years.


With regards to Jane, Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development, especially the fifth stage is found to be effective. Jane despite, her age seems to be a girl facing an identity crisis. This is manifested through a number of ways. She is torn between conforming to her friends’ carefree attitude and her overwhelming social expectations from her parents and siblings.

Nevertheless, she seems to cope well under the circumstances, despite the fact that her studies suffer as a result of the existing role confusion. It is also important to note that there are some similarities between Erickson’s fifth stages of psychosocial development with Freud’s fifth stage of psychosexual development.

For instance Jane seems to derive emotional satisfaction from the notion that she is attractive to males. Additionally, the fact that she has accepted her social role as a female and mother to be not only depicts Erickson’s sexual identity formation but also alludes to Freud’s personality formation through sexual identity.

In sum, Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development is found to be effective with regards to personality development. Moreover, there are areas where Erickson’s theory assumptions overlap with other theories especially Freud’s theory of psychosexual development. This implies that personality is complex and cannot be limited to within the scope of a single theory.

Reference List

Bee, H. and Boyd, D. (2009). The developing child. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Broderick, P. and Blewitt, P. (2006). The life span – human development for helping professionals. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

Cioffi, F (2005). Sigmund Freud. New York: Oxford University Press

Erikson, E. (1968). Identity, youth and crisis. New York: Norton.

Gross, F. (1987). Introducing Erik Erikson: An invitation to his thinking. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Newman, B. and Newman, P. (2009). Development through Life: A psychosocial approach. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning

Schachter, E. (2009). Erikson meets the postmodern: can classic identity theory rise to the challenge? Identity, 5(2), 137-160.

Schultz, D. and Schultz, S. (2009). Theories of personality. New York: Wadsworth Cengage Learning

Sigelman, C. and Rider, E. (2011). Life-span human development. Ontario: Cengage Learning

Stevens, R. (1983). Erik Erikson: An Introduction. New York: St. Martin’s.

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