Erik Erikson’s Theory Of Psycho Social Development


There have been many theories of personality put forward by psychologists over the years. Most people are familiar with Freud’s theory of Psycho-Sexual development with its emphasis on the libido and thanatos that supposedly govern all of our actions. His psychoanalytic school became one of the most controversial and widely spoken of with its deterministic predictions on human behavior. Still, a humanistic theory developed as well with a more optimistic outlook on human nature and the potential for change. Erik Erikson’s alternative view of personality was part of this.

Like other features, his theory divided the human lifespan according to familiar stages such as infancy, adolescence, adulthood and so on. His theory was somewhat different in that it saw each of these stages as a struggle between opposing traits. Should the more positive of the two traits win out, the person would go on to develop a virtue. If the more negative trait won out, the person would continue to struggle at that stage until a resolution was eventually found.

Most of the stages in the theory make sense to both lay people and psychologists alike. The battle between genrativity and stagnation faced by people toward the end of their lives is especially straightforward. What may be a bit more complicated is the struggle between identity and role confusion as well as intimacy and isolation. The world has changed significantly since Erikson’s theory was penned. Many people continue to struggle with their identities as their lives are lived out almost entirely on social media for others to comment on. Seeking acceptance can lead to this struggle continuing indefinitely.

Similarly, the recent economic downturn has made it difficult for many people around the world to start their own households which interrupts the process of achieving and maintaining intimacy rather than becoming isolated. It is common for people to have many superficial friendships and few close ones so that even those who appear to have intimacy are truly isolated.

With only a few adjustments this theory can still have merit for people of this generation and the one to come. The ability that technology has to change human experience should not be underestimated however. Increased globalization can just as easily create systems that make it harder for people to develop into well adjusted and functional adults over time.

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