When discussing the development theory, Erikson had been the frontier with many major contributions. Unlike Freud and Piaget, Erikson’s theory of development focused much more on social interactions. While most of us agreed that children do become toilet-trained between ages one and three, Erikson’s theory also went further to acknowledge that children also learn to talk, walk, feed themselves, etc.
In order to understand Erikson’s theory of development, we need to focus on three main principles: dynamic balance of opposites, vital involvement and life in time.
Dynamic balance of opposites:
There are two opposing tendencies in dynamic balance of opposites: dystonic (negative) and syntonic (positive). Erikson believed there were eight stages, and at each one, the individual resolved a crisis between the positive (syntonic) and negative (dystonic) tendencies (Erikson & Kivnick 1986). A resolution of crisis does not mean that a person rejects either syntonic or dystonic completely, but rather that a person should find a balance between two of those tendencies.
For instance, our American culture has frequently taught parents to never say “no” to their children because that could potentially damage a child’s self-esteem. However, Erikson would disagree and say that children do need to hear “no” sometimes to understand that the whole world does not revolve around them. Erikson would also say that telling the child “no” all of the time is bad as well. Vital involvement depends on the balance of syntonic and dystonic tendencies.
Erikson developed eight stages of development. First, the trust versus mistrust stage, where infants start to learn that either the world is good and can be trusted, or is bad and can’t be trusted (Erikson et.al 1986). For instance, Erikson would state that babies learn to trust their caregivers for not letting them go hungry, but babies also learn to mistrust their caregivers for yelling at them and not feeding them consistently. Second, the autonomy versus shame and doubt stage where children learn about their own “selves” which is separate from their caregivers (Erikson et.al 1986).
In this stage, children usually develop their own will and desires and apply them well by saying “no”. When children start to feel comfortable using “no” as a way to reach their desires, they have reached the initiative versus guilt stage. In this stage, children learn to internalize values from the elder and also acquire the sense of guilt for wrongdoing. The next stage is industry versus inferiority where children explore the greater world in elementary school and their surroundings. Erikson did pay a lot of attention in the identity versus confusion stage because it focuses on adolescents and their identity crisis.
Fidelity is the heart of identity because adolescents share some of their parent’s values, as well as develop their own. The last three stages include intimacy versus isolation, generativity versus stagnation, and integrity versus despair. Each of these stages focuses greatly on the continuity of human development until death. Erikson recognized that there are certain time periods when it might be easier for some to develop and harder for others to develop, depending on the environment that influence them.
For instance, some children who faced hardships (family separation, family violence, etc.) might have trouble in certain stages or even all of the stages, depending on where the factors start. Life in time:
Erikson referred to his theory of development as epigenesis. Epigenesis is relevant to evolution (the past and the future) and genetics. Erikson explained, “…epi can mean ‘above’ in space as well as ‘before’ in time, and connected with genesis can well represent the space-time nature of all development” (Erikson et.al 1986). Erikson did not refer epigenetic to individual genetic make-up and how it influences individual development. Rather, Erikson was concerned with how personality and behavior is influenced after birth and so on. For instance, my mother has had a hard time adjusting with American culture when we first migrated here from Vietnam.
My sister and I started to adapt to the new culture right away—from clothing style, hairstyle, hobbies, etc. in which my mother had a very difficult time to accept. She wanted us to keep our traditional customs at home, as well as outside our home. At first, we felt reluctant because we felt she did not understand the importance of “fitting-in” at school. However, as we started college, my sister and I started to realize that our culture and traditions are unique and understand where my mother was coming
from (Identity/ confusion stage).
Erikson had dedicated his life by contributing to developmental psychology in major ways. Erikson’s theory of development is still widely used and studied by many scholars.