867353_17218413Erikson claims that healthily developing human beings should pass through eight stages between infancy and late adulthood. In each stage, a person confronts, and hopefully masters, new challenges. Each stage builds on the successful completion of earlier stages. If challenges are not successfully completed at any given stage, they can be expected to reappear as problems in the future.

Main elements of Erikson’s theory:

  • Ego Identity: Ego refers to the conscious sense of self that we develop through social interaction. According to Erikson, our ego identity is constantly changing due to new experiences and information we acquire through our daily interaction with others.


  • Competence: In addition to ego identity, Erikson believed that a sense of competence motivates behaviors and actions. Each stage in Erikson’s theory is concerned with becoming competent in an area of life. If the stage is handled well, the person will feel satisfied and confident. If the stage is managed poorly, the person will emerge with a sense of inadequacy.


  • Conflict: In each stage, Erikson believed people experience a conflict that serves as a turning point in development. In Erikson’s view, these conflicts are centered on either developing a psychological quality or failing to develop that quality. During these times, the potential for personal growth is high, but so is the potential for failure.


Stage Basic Conflict Important Events Outcome
Infancy (birth to 18 months) Trust vs. Mistrust Feeding Children develop a sense of trust when caregivers provide reliability, care, and affection. A lack of this will lead to mistrust.
Early Childhood (2 to 3 years) Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt Toilet Training Children develop a sense of personal control over physical skills and a sense of independence. Success leads to feelings of autonomy. Lack of success results in feelings of shame and doubt.
Preschool (3 to 5 years) Initiative vs. Guilt Exploration Children begin asserting control and power over the environment. Success at this stage leads to a sense of purpose. Children who try to exert too much power experience disapproval, resulting in a sense of guilt.
School Age (6 to 11 years) Industry vs. Inferiority School Children need to cope with new social and academic demands. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.
Adolescence (12 to 18 years) Identity vs. Role Confusion Social Relationships During adolescence, children are exploring their independence and developing a sense of self. Those who receive proper encouragement and reinforcement through personal exploration will emerge from this stage with a strong sense of self and a feeling of independence and control. Those who remain unsure of their beliefs and desires tend to face insecurity and confusion about both their identity and their future.
Early Adulthood (19 to 40 years) Intimacy vs. Isolation Relationships Young adults form intimate, loving relationships with other people. Having a strong sense of identity is key to this. Success leads to secure and committed relationships, while a lack of success can result in feelings of loneliness and emotional isolation.
Middle Adulthood (40 to 65 years) Generativity vs. Stagnation Work and Parenthood Adults need to create or nurture things that will outlast them, often by having children or creating a positive change that benefits other people. Success leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, while failure results in shallow involvement in the world.
Maturity(65 to death) Ego Integrity vs. Despair Reflection on Life Older adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfilment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair.