Temperaments in human beings come in opposing pairs. One could either be emotional or unemotional, independent or dependent, aggressive or passive, adventurous or cautious, optimistic or pessimistic, leader or follower etc. Most of the mentioned character traits are inborn but some are developed based on past challenges and support.
In his study, Erik Erikson discovered the dependence of behavior on culture and external stimuli like depression and wars. This paper explores the psychosocial theory of Erik Erikson and analyses its application in professional practice (Cherry, 2010, p. 1).
Erikson’s psychosocial theory basically divides life into eight “psychosocial crises” that determine growth and personality. Each of these crises has a “syntonic and a dystonic” which are the two opposing emotional forces/dispositions. Although the stages are experienced in a fixed sequence, their timings depend on individuals and circumstances. Thus Erikson did not use strict age definitions in his theory. The crises are as follows:
Trust V Mistrust. Erikson stipulated that a healthy balance between the two dispositions is achieved if an infant is taken care of and not over-protected or over-indulged.
Autonomy V Shame & Doubt. A child develops basic confidence or over-reliance on other people from his/her parents reactions during early stages like the potty stage.
Initiative V Guilt. The level of encouragement of children to indulge in game playing and adventure makes them develop the ability to devise projects or the fear of disapproval.
Industry V Inferiority. A child who positively succeeds, especially, during school years will be industrious. Contrarily, a child who fails in an activity will get a feeling of inferiority and uselessness and thus he/she will fear purposeful activities.
Identity V Role confusion. During adolescence, people either develop individuality or lack of identity (identity crisis) depending on their experiences.
Intimacy V Isolation. This is also known as young adulthood. People seek companionships and love in this stage. A person will therefore decide to be intimate or lonely depending on earlier experiences.
Generativity V Stagnation. This stage determines if a person will be selfless in giving and caring especially for his children. It can also be extended to productive activities. Its negative side is self-absorption and self-interest.
Integrity V Despair. At this stage, a person is either in peace with himself/herself and the world or he/she feels that he/she has not lived the way they ought to have lived. It is therefore a review of one’s own life even before old age (Winters, 2005, p. 1).
Successful transition through each stage is achieved by balancing of the conflicting extremes. Therefore, inclination towards the desirable extreme will lead to under-development. Thus Erikson shows that too much of syntonic dispositions do not translate to a well-balanced personality (Cherry, 2010, p. 3).
Erikson was a humanitarian as well as a psychoanalyst and therefore his theory has extensive applicability in practice. The theory is applicable in all situations involving personal development and awareness.
With its strength in explaining the development of behavior in people, it can be used to ensure healthy behavioral development. It can also be used to mitigate the effects of negative behavior developed by a person in earlier stages. Thus the person can be controlled to ensure that his/her later stages are not affected by failures in earlier stages.
From the above explanation, Erikson’s theory is applicable in parenting, managing and coaching, self understanding, dealing with conflict, teaching, etc. Given the contemporary pressures on relationships and personal fulfillment and development, Erikson’s theory is, probably, more applicable today than when it was first outlined (Cherry, 2010, p. 2).
The theory also shows the undeniable influence of generations on each other. He shows how parental actions can affect the development of a child and how a parent’s psychosocial development can be affected by the pressures of raising their children. This analysis can be very useful in guiding parental actions to ensure that parents do not affect the psychosocial development of their children negatively.
This will have dual productivity by leading to well-balanced psychosocial development of the child and the parent since a parent’s Integrity V Despair stage is highly determined by the success that the parent has achieved in raising his/her children. The outcome of most of the discussed stages is dependent on the maintenance of a positive attitude in challenging situations.
The theory can therefore be applied by psychiatrists to identify challenges that could impact the psychosocial lives of their clients and ensure that the effects of these challenges are mitigated (Harder, 2002, p. 1).
Cherry, K. (2010). Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from, http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/psychosocial.htm
Harder, A. (2002). The Developmental Stages of Erik Erikson. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from, http://www.learningplaceonline.com/stages/organize/Erikson.htm
Winters, A. (2005). Erikson’s Theory of Human Development. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from,