Psychology Primer: Psychoanalytic Theory/Erikson

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Psychology Primer
By Clinton M. Williams, BA Psych



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Erik Erikson


Erik Erikson was a social psychologist and one of the leading forces in the field to this day with regards to his theories on stages of development. Erikson’s insights into personality development are widely accepted axioms in the fields of social work, teaching and child psychology.

Eriksonian principles provide an excellent springboard for a great deal of simming counseling interactions, as they address a number of the issues for which many crewmembers will be referred to or seek counseling. The following excellent summation of his major contributions to the field of psychology are taken from the Wikipedia:

Even though Erikson always insisted that he was a Freudian, he is better described as a Neo-Freudian. Subsequent authors have described him as an "ego psychologist" studying the stages of development, spanning the entire lifespan. Each of Erikson's stages of psychosocial development are marked by a conflict, for which successful resolution will result in a favourable outcome, for example, trust vs. mistrust, and by an important event that this conflict resolves itself around, for example, meaning of one's life.

Favourable outcomes of each stage are sometimes known as "virtues", a term used, in the context of Eriksonian work, as it is applied to medicines, meaning "potencies." For example, the virtue that would emerge from successful resolution. Oddly, and certainly counter-intuitively, Erikson's research suggests that each individual must learn how to hold both extremes of each specific life-stage challenge in tension with one another, not rejecting one end of the tension or the other. Only when both extremes in a life-stage challenge are understood and accepted as both required and useful, can the optimal virtue for that stage surface. Thus, 'trust' and 'mis-trust' must both be understood and accepted, in order for realistic 'hope' to emerge as a viable solution at the first stage. Similarly, 'integrity' and 'despair' must both be understood and embraced, in order for actionable 'wisdom' to emerge as a viable solution at the last stage.

The Erikson life-stage virtues, in the order of the stages in which they may be acquired, are:

  1. hope - Basic Trust vs. Mistrust - Infant stage. Does the child believe its caregivers to be reliable?
  2. will - Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt - Toddler stage. Child needs to learn to explore the world. Bad if the parent is too smothering or completely neglectful.
  3. purpose - Initiative vs. Guilt - Kindergarten - Can the child plan or do things on his own, such as dress him or herself. If "guilty" about making his or her own choices, the child will not function well. Erikson has a positive outlook on this stage, saying that most guilt is quickly compensated by a sense of accomplishment.
  4. competence - Industry vs. Inferiority - Around age 6 to puberty. Child comparing self worth to others (such as in a classroom environment). Child can recognize major disparities in personal abilities relative to other children. Erikson places some emphasis on the teacher, who should ensure that children do not feel inferior.
  5. fidelity - Identity vs. Role Confusion - Teenager. Questioning of self. Who am I, how do I fit in? Where am I going in life? Erikson believes that if the parents allow the child to explore, they will conclude their own identity. However, if the parents continually push him/her to conform to their views, the teen will face identity confusion.
  6. love (in intimate relationships, work and family) - Intimacy vs. Isolation - Young adult. Who do I want to be with or date, what am I going to do with my life? Will I settle down? This stage has begun to last longer as young adults choose to stay in school and not settle.
  7. caring - Generativity vs. Stagnation - the Mid-life crisis. Measure accomplishments/failures. Am I satisfied or not? The need to assist the younger generation. Stagnation is the feeling of not having done anything to help the next generation.
  8. wisdom - Ego Integrity vs. Despair - old age. Some handle death well. Some can be bitter, unhappy, dissatisfied with what they accomplished or failed to accomplish within their life time. They reflect on the past, and either conclude at satisfaction or despair.

On Ego Identity versus Role Confusion, Ego identity enables each person to have a sense of individuality, or as Erikson would say, "Ego identity, then, in its subjective aspect, is the awareness of the fact that there is a self-sameness and continuity to the ego's synthesizing methods and a continuity of one's meaning for others".

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