Erikson’s 8 Stages of Personality Development (A comprehensive guide)

In this brief guide, we will look at Erikson’s 8 stages of personality development, as well as some real life examples of the 8 stages in erikson’s psychosocial theory.

Erikson’s 8 Stages of Personality Development

Erik Erikson’s 8 stages of personality is a psychosocial theory of personality development that takes the lifespan approach, that is, he considers personality as something that grows over time and changes according to the stages of life.

Erikson’s 8 Stages of personality development are:

  • Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust
  • Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
  • Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt
  • Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority
  • Stage 5: Identity vs. Confusion
  • Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation
  • Stage 7: Generativity vs. Stagnation
  • Stage 8: Integrity vs. Despair

Erikson says that these personality stages are dependent on the social context of the individual, and the person develops according to the challenges they face in each area and stage of life.

The reason this theory is called psychosocial is because it exists as an interplay of the social context and the person’s own psychological factors according to this theory in the development of personality.

Personality has been defined as a dynamic system, which means that it changes throughout our life and never stays the same, which fits perfectly into this personality theory.

Erikson also suggested that the developmental process was governed by what he called the epigenetic principle of maturation.

Each confrontation with our environment in every stage is called a crisis.

Each developmental stage has its particular crisis or turning point that necessitates some change in our behavior and personality.

We may respond to the crisis in one of the two ways: a maladaptive (negative) way or an adaptive (positive) way.

Only when one has resolved each conflict can the personality continue its normal developmental sequence and acquire the strength to confront the next stage’s crisis.

However, Erikson believed that ego must incorporate maladaptive as well as adaptive ways of coping.

Ideally, at every stage of development the ego will consist primarily of the positive or adaptive attitude but will be balanced by some portion of the negative attitude.

Only then can the crisis be considered satisfactorily resolved and Erikson also proposed that each of the eight stages provides an opportunity to develop basic strengths.

Erikson’s 8 stages of personality are complicated and he defines the key challenge in each one, as well as the age group in which it may be seen, and these details are discussed in the coming sections.

Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust

The first stage in Erikson’s 8 stages is from the birth to 1 year of age, and it is known as trust vs mistrust.

The earliest basic trust is established during the oral-sensory stage (oral stage) and it may be demonstrated by the infant in its capacity to sleep peacefully, to take nourishment comfortably, and to excrete freely.

The Infant is totally dependent on the mother or primary caregiver for survival, security, and affection.

During this stage, the mouth is of vital importance, however, the infant’s relationship between the infant and his/her world is not exclusively biological, it is also social.

The baby’s interaction with the mother determines whether an attitude of trust or mistrust for future dealings with the environment will be incorporated into his/her personality.

According to this idea, if there is a sense of trust in the baby, due to the mother always being there, or feelings of calmness from the mother, having frequent feeding schedules and so on, there will be feelings of “Consistency, continuity, and sameness”.

On the other hand, a mother that is reproachful or perhaps does not attend to the baby as much, or has troubles of her own, may instill a sense of mistrust in the baby, which may lead to the feelings of “suspicious, fearful, and anxious”.

Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

Stage 2 of Erikson’s 8 stages spans from the ages of 1-3 years, and it is also considered to be the anal-muscular stage or anal stage, where the child starts to learn what is expected of it, what its obligations and privileges are, and what limitations are placed upon it.

Children rapidly develop a variety of physical and mental abilities and are able to do many things for themselves, like communicate more effectively, to walk, climb, push, pull and hold on to an object or let it go.

Children take pride in all these skills and usually want to do as much as possible for themselves.

Of all these abilities that the child has picked up in this stage, Erikson believed the most important involved holding on and letting go.

According to Erikson, this stage marks the “Prototypes” for reacting to later conflicts in behaviors and attitudes, and he speaks particularly of “Autonomous will” which is relevant to self-expression.

The major crisis between parent and child at this stage typically involves toilet training (taught to “hold on” and “let go” only at appropriate times and places.)

Some parents may shame their children for spoiling their pants or for making a mess with their food, which may lead to feelings of shame.

Additionally, when parents thwart and frustrate their child’s attempt to exercise his or her independence, the child develops feelings of self- doubt and a sense of shame in dealing with others.

Ideally, children should develop a proper ratio between autonomy and shame and doubt.

Children who develop too little autonomy will have difficulties in subsequent stages, lacking basic strengths of later stages.

Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt

The third stage of the psychosocial theory of personality by Erikson is from the ages of 3-5 years, and it is considered as corresponding to the genital loco motor stage or phallic stage.

This is a stage of initiative, an age of expanding mastery and responsibility.

This so-called Initiative may also develop in the form of fantasies, manifested in the desire to possess the parent of the opposite sex and in rivalry with the parent of the same sex.

If parents punish the child and otherwise inhibit these displays of initiative, the child will develop persistent feelings of guilt; feelings that will affect self-directed activities throughout his/her life.

The danger of this stage is the feeling of guilt that may haunt the child for an overzealous contemplation of goals, including genital fantasies, and the use of aggressive, manipulative means of achieving these goals.

The child is eager to learn and learns well at this age; it strives to grow in the sense of obligations and performances.

The basic strength called purpose arises from initiative. Purpose involves the courage to envision and pursue goals.

Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority

Stage 4 of the Erikson’s 8 stages is the Industry vs Inferiority, and it goes from the ages of 6-11 years.

This is the fourth stage of the epigenetic process and it corresponds with the latency stage.

In this stage, the child must submit to controlling its exuberant imagination and settling down to formal education.

The child begins to go to school and is exposed to new social influences where they may develop a sense of industry and learn the rewards of perseverance and diligence.

The interest in toys and play is gradually superseded by an interest in productive situations and the implements and tools used for work.

The hazard of this stage is that the child may develop a sense of inferiority if he/she is unable to master the tasks that he/she undertakes or that are set for it by teachers or parents.

The virtue of competence emerges during the industry stage, in addition, according to Erikson’s ideas, this stage will also reflect of sex stereotypes where the boys may go into “boy games”, like building and knocking things down, while the girls might be more involved in playing “house”.

The outcome of the crisis at each of these four childhood stages depends on other people, and often the resolution is a function more of what is done to the child than of what the child can do for himself or herself.

Stage 5: Identity vs. Confusion

The 5th stage in the Erikson theory of personality development is Identity vs confusion and it goes from the ages of 12-18 years.

During adolescence the individual begins to sense a feeling of his/her own identity, a feeling that one is a unique human being yet prepared to fit into some meaningful role in society.

The person becomes aware of individual inherent characteristics, such as likes and dislikes, anticipated goals of the future, and the strength and purpose to control one’s own identity.

In this stage the locus of control develops, that perception that a person has regarding the possibility of dominating an event; whether control is inside or outside of oneself.

Erikson suggested that adolescence was a hiatus between childhood and adulthood, a necessary psychological moratorium to give the person time and energy to play different roles and live with different self-images.

People who emerge from this stage with a strong sense of self-identity are equipped to face adulthood with certainty and confidence.

Those who fail to achieve a cohesive identity, or people who experience an identity crisis, will exhibit a confusion of roles.

They may withdraw from the normal life sequence (education, job, marriage) as Erikson did for a time or seek a negative identity in harmful things like crime or drugs.

Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation

The 6th stage in the psychosocial theory of personality development is from the ages of late adolescence-about 35 years.

Young adults are prepared and willing to unite their identity with others, and this is seen in the fact that they seek relationships of intimacy, partnership, and affiliations and are prepared to develop the necessary strengths to fulfil these commitments despite the sacrifices they may have to make.

Erikson’s views on this stage were not restricted to sexual relationships but also encompassed feelings of caring and commitment, these emotions could be displayed openly, without resorting to self-protective or defensive mechanisms and without fear of losing our sense of self-identity.

Stage 7: Generativity vs. Stagnation

Stage 7 of Erikson’s 8 stages of personality development goes from about 35-55 years, and this is the longest stage in the psychosocial theory of personality development.

This is a stage of maturity, that is, one in which a person needs to be actively involved in teaching and guiding the next generation.

The stage of generativity is characterized by the concern with what is generated-progeny, products, ideas, and so forth-and the establishment and setting forth of guidelines for upcoming generation.

When generativity is weak or not given expression, the personality regresses and takes on a sense of impoverishment and stagnation.

One need not be a parent to display generativity, nor does having children automatically satisfy this urge.

Stage 8: Integrity vs. Despair

The last stage in Erikson’s 8 stages is from late adulthood, about 60 years old, to old age/death.

The final stage of psychosocial development is marked by a confrontation with a choice between ego integrity and despair.

These attitudes govern the way we evaluate our life, and the person’s major endeavors are at or nearing completion, they examine and reflect on their life, taking its final measure.

When they look back with a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, believing they have coped with life’s victories and failures, they are said to possess ego integrity.


In this brief guide, we looked at Erikson’s 8 stages of personality development, as well as some real life examples of the 8 stages in Erikson’s psychosocial theory.

Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory of personality development is considered to be one of the most influential theories of personality, given how detailed it makes the process of development and how much knowledge it provides the person about each stage.

These stages are more than just stages of personality development, they provide crucial knowledge about what the person needs to accomplish in every stage and what happens if they don’t.

If you have any questions or comments about Erikson’s 8 Stages of personality development, please feel free to reach out to us at any time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Erikson’s 8 Stages

Why is Erik Erikson Theory important?

Erik Erikson theory is important because it is a psychosocial theory and it provides a broad framework which allows us to gain a different perspective to development.

The Erik Erikson theory also allows us to emphasize the social nature of human beings and the importance of how much social relationships can change things for us.

What are the 7 stages of development?

Here are the 7 stages of development:

Prenatal Development.
Infancy and Toddlerhood.
Early Childhood.
Middle Childhood.
Early Adulthood.
Middle Adulthood.
Late Adulthood.

Which of Erikson’s stages is the longest?

Stage 7 is the longest of Erikson’s stages, and it is so because it is considered to be the longest part of the individual’s life.

Stage 7, the longest stage, is the part when the individual is working and contributing to society in some way and most people also have and raise children in this stage.

Stage 7 may often be marked by problems if the person is not able to find proper ways to be productive during this period which is what leads to feelings of stagnation.

How do you remember Piaget’s stages?

To remember Piaget’s stages, you may use the mnemonic, “Some People Can Fly” each of these letters stands for one of Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development: sensorimotor, pre operational, concrete operational, and formal operational.


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