Our Human Life

The human personality develops through eight distinct and predetermined psychosocial development stages from birth to old age. According to psychiatrist Erik Erikson (1902-1994), each stage of human life has its own psychosocial task or crisis that needs a resolution. By successfully managing each stage, we develop as mentally healthy individuals. Failure at any stage results in a mental deficiency (such as having a lack of trust or an overwhelming sense of guilt), that stays with us throughout life.

Stage 1

The first stage begins at birth through an infant’s first year. Infants wrestle with basic trust issues. Securely attached children, of sensitive caring parents, approach life with a sense of basic trust – that the world is predictable and reliable. Erikson attributes basic trust to early parenting. Trust is established when babies are given love, warmth, touching and physical care. Mistrust is caused by the opposite, inadequate attention, and unpredictable care by cold, indifferent, or rejecting parents. Learning mistrust may later cause insecurity, suspiciousness and difficulty, or the inability to relate to others – the unloved child.

Stage 2

During stage two, toddlers age 1 to 3 struggle with autonomy vs shame and doubt. They express themselves by climbing, touching, exploring and trying to do things for themselves. Parents can nurture a child’s sense of autonomy by encouraging him to try new skills. Early efforts will be crude, involving falling, spilling, wetting or other accidents. Parents must not overly criticize, ridicule or overprotect, to avoid causing the child to doubt themselves or feel shameful for their accidents. The child’s willpower will develop as a result of learning both successes and failures.

Stage 3

In stage three, preschool children age 3 to 5, struggle with initiative vs guilt. Children begin to take initiative and learn through playing, how to make plans and carry out tasks. Parents reinforce initiative by giving the child freedom to play, use their imagination, ask questions and decide which game to play. Children also discover that their actions have consequences and can affect others. Feelings of guilt are learned if parents criticize, scold, prevent play or discourage a child’s questions or efforts to be independent. Severe punishment at this stage can inflict paralyzing feelings of guilt and have a lasting affect.

Stage 4

During stage four, elementary school aged children, 6 to 12, begin struggling from the very first day of school, with industry or competence vs inferiority. With incredible speed, the child’s life expands beyond the comfort of the family, where he or she faces a whole series of new and seemingly endless challenges.

The first years of elementary school are the child’s “entrance into life.” Children focus on education and learn social skills that are valued by society. Success or failure affect the child’s feelings of adequacy. Children learn the pleasure of applying themselves, feelings of a sense of industry if they receive praise for a good project or productive activity, and feelings of inferiority if their efforts are childish or inadequate. For the first time teachers, classmates and other adults are as important as their parents in shaping attitudes of themselves.

Stage 5

The turbulent stage five causes teenagers through the early twenties of young adult life to struggle with identity vs their role and, as a result is a very confusing time. Teenagers find themselves caught between being children or adults and face some unique problems. If this stage is successfully negotiated they will be assured a unified sense of self. But the challenges are huge. Teenagers have new feelings, a new body, new attitudes and must work hard at defining, refining and building their own identity. In the process they often get confused, and often try out different “selves” in different situations, perhaps acting out one self at home, another self with friends, and still another at school, at work or online. When overlaps occur, which self should they be? Confusion abounds and a new term “identity crisis” is learned. A term coined by Erikson. Teens and young adults who fail to develop a solid sense of identity can suffer from role confusion, an uncertainty about who they are and where they are going.

Not all adolescents become confused. In fact, many find their identity at a very young age, taking on their parents’ values. Some however, form negative identities in opposition to their parents but in conformity with their peer group.

Stage 6

In stage six, young adults, 20s to 40s, struggle between intimacy vs isolation. After young adults find themselves and establish a stable identity, they feel the need to form close, intimate relationships in their life. The person is prepared to share meaningful love or deep friendships with others or feel socially isolated, feeling alone and uncared for in life. This often causes problems later in life. Today’s young adults are deferring long-term relationships, preferring to prolong their identity explorations into their older years.

Stage 7

In the seventh or penultimate stage, middle adulthood, 40s to 60s, people struggle with guiding the next generation vs the fear of becoming stagnant. Generativity vs stagnation.

Generativity or “making your mark,” may be achieved by guiding our own children or by helping other children, as a teacher, or coach, for example. A person’s concerns and energies can include good productive or creative work, or the welfare of others and society as a whole.

Failure to do this, marked by stagnant concern with one’s own needs and comforts, causes life to lose its meaning. A person feels bitter, dreary or trapped (Friedman, 2004). They may feel a lack of motivation and purpose. 

Stage 8

The eighth and final stage, late adulthood, late 60s and older, is the struggle between integrity vs despair. Old age is a time for reflection, looking back over a person’s life with acceptance and satisfaction and at peace, or despair over past mistakes, things left undone, physical deterioration and the reality of death. Successful negotiation of this stage results in attainment of self-actualization.

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

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