I. Erik Erikson A. The Life of Erik Erikson

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I.Erik Erikson

A.The Life of Erik Erikson

1.Erik was born in Germany under the name of his stepfather, Dr. Theodore Homburger. When Erik immigrated to the United States when he was 37, he adopted the name of Erik Homburger Erikson. Erik had Danish parents, and lived in Germany with his Jewish stepfather and Lutheran mother. Although Erikson followed his stepfather’s Jewish heritage, he converted to Christianity later in life. Erikson would describe his own childhood and adolescence as an identity crisis.

2.Erikson trained as a psychoanalyst, was analyzed by Anna Freud, and became a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. Erikson immigrated to Denmark and then Boston, where he became affiliated with Henry Murray’s Harvard clinic. Erikson did research on the child-rearing practices of South Dakota’s Sioux Indians. Later, Erikson went to the University of California at Berkeley to expand his clinical experience, where he saw patients that were normal as well as those who were emotionally disturbed.

3.With Erikson’s work with the American Indian, he noted that certain psychological symptoms appeared to be related to a sense of alienation from cultural traditions and resulted in the lack of a clear self-image or self-identity. This condition he called an identity crisis. Erikson retired in 1970, after teaching at Harvard. He wrote a book on old age when he was 84.

B.Psychosocial States of Personality Development

1.According to Erikson, there are eight psychosocial stages. Erikson believed these stages were governed by the epigenetic principle of maturation, which is internal and has genetics factors. To Erikson, human development involves a series of personal conflicts, where each stage demands certain adaptations. When we confront our environment, the crisis involves a shift in perspective, requiring us to refocus our instinctual energy in accordance with the needs of each stage of life. Each confrontation of Erikson’s stages can have elements of being positive or negative. If the conflict at any stage remains unresolved, we are less likely to be able to adapt to later problems. Erikson also proposed eight basic strengths, or virtues that emerge once the crisis has been resolved in a particular stage of development. The eight basic strengths are hope, the will, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, care, and wisdom.

2.Strength versus Mistrust describes the oral-sensory stage of psychosocial development. Since the infant is totally dependent on the primary caregiver for survival, the positive or negative care given to the infant is crucial for trust now in the child’s future.

3.Autonomy versus Doubt and Shame occurs during the muscular -anal stage during the second and third year. Children rapidly learn language and develop a variety of physical and mental abilities. Children of this age like to have choices and how caregivers respond in allowing a child, within limits; to explore and exercise choice is important for the child’s future self-regulation.

4.Initiative versus Guilt develops during the locomotor-genital stage, which occurs between 3 and 5. The child’s initiative can be channeled toward realistic and socially sanctioned goals in preparation for the development of adult responsibility and morality. Freud would call this the superego.

5.Industriousness versus Inferiority occurs from ages 6 to 11 in the latency stage of psychosocial development. Here the child begins school and displays skills in playing by the rules, doing good work for praise and for the satisfaction of successfully completing a task. The attitudes and behaviors of the caregivers and the teachers largely determine how well children perceive themselves to be developing and using their skills. This stage completes the four childhood psychosocial developmental stages of Erikson.

6.Identity Cohesion versus Role Confusion is the fifth stage of psychosocial development in which we must meet and resolve the crisis of our basic ego identity. We form our self-image during this stage and integrate what we think of ourselves and about what others think of us. People who emerge from this stage have a strong sense of self-identity. People who do not master this stage experience an identity crisis, which is a confusion of roles. Positive or negative persuasion can be found for an individual as they affiliate with peer groups, such as street gangs or religious youth groups.

7.Intimacy versus Isolation extends from adolescence to about the age of 35. This is a time of independence and the establishment of intimate relationships. If a person avoids social contacts and rejects other people, then the person will develop feelings of isolation.

8.Generativity versus Stagnation is a stage of maturity in which we need to be actively involved in teaching and guiding the next generation. A person between the ages of 35 to 55 may become stagnant, bored and be absorbed with their own personal needs and comforts, to the exclusion of others.

9.The final stage of Erikson’s psychosocial development of maturity and old age, is marked by Ego Integrity versus Despair. We evaluate and examine our whole life to either have a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction or feel we are failures in life. We possess ego integrity when we accept our place in life and our past.

C.Basic Weaknesses

1.Although the ego should consist primarily of the adaptive attitude, it will also contain a share of the negative attitude, which could be called basic weaknesses. In an unbalanced development, the ego consists of solely of one attitude, either positive, adaptive, or maladaptive. Erikson labeled this condition as maladaptive. When a positive tendency is present in the ego, it is called “maladaptive”, but when there is a negative tendency, it is called “malignant.” Maladaptions can lead to neurosis and malignancies can lead to psychoses.

D.Questions About Human Nature

1.Erikson believed that although not everyone is successful in attaining hope, purpose, wisdom, and other virtues, we all have the potential to do so. We are capable of resolving each situation, according to Erikson; in a way that is adaptive and strengthening. Even if we fail at one stage and develop a maladaptive response or a basic weakness, there remains hope for change at a later stage. The first four stages are determined partially through parents, teachers, and peer groups. We have more chance to exercise free will during the last four stages. Erikson believed we are guided more by learning and experiences than by heredity.

E.Assessment in Erikson’s Theory

1.Erikson believed that assessment techniques should be selected and modified to fit the unique requirements of the individual patient. To collect his data, Erikson used play therapy, anthropological studies, and psychohistorical analysis. The form an intensity of the play therapy with children revealed aspects of the personality that might not be manifested verbally, because of a child’s limited powers of verbal expression. Psychohistorical analysis was essentially biographical studies, using his life-span theory of personality as a framework to describe the crises and the ways of coping of significant political, religious, and literary figures, such as Gandhi, Martin Luther, and George Bernard Shaw.

F.Research in Erikson’s Theory

1.Erikson used play therapy to conduct research on his theory, focusing on what he called play construction. In his studies, boys and girls constructed a scene for an imaginary movie using dolls, toy animals, automobiles, and wooden blocks. Girls tended to build low enclosures, while boys focused on exteriors, action, and height. Based on biological differences, according to Erikson; girls build low enclosures in which people are walled in, and boys would build towers. Research today still persists that traditional gender stereotyping between girls and boys exists. Girls typically play with dolls, jewelry, and toy kitchen implements, while boys play with trucks, soldiers, and guns.

2.Erikson emphasized the importance of developing an early sense of trust if we are to achieve feelings of well-being later in life. There is also strong support for this in research.

3.There is support in research for Erikson’s Psychosocial Developmental Stages. Psychologists tested Erikson’s belief that positive outcomes in resolving the identity crisis are related to positive outcomes at prior developmental stages.

4.Extensive research on Erikson’s adolescent stage of development identified five psychosocial types, or statuses, for that period, such as identity achievement, moratorium, foreclosure, identity diffusion, and alienated achievement.

5.Erikson believed that social and historical factors affect the formation of ego identity, which in turn affects the nature of the personality. One such example of the work of social factors in personality development is the women’s movement. Studies have found that most adolescent women today include a career orientation as part of their ego identity.

6.Research in the area of identity crisis show that this stage may begin around 12 and be resolved by the time a person is 18. However, for some people, identity may not occur until as late as age 24.

7.Research on the adulthood stage of psychosocial development has shown that generativity in middle-aged research participants is positively correlated with power and with intimacy motivation.

8.Erikson believed that people in the maturity and old age stage of psychosocial development spend time recalling and examining their life, accepting or regretting past choices. However one study showed no significant differences between younger adults compared to older adults in reported frequency of life reflections. However, younger people engaged in reflection to gain self-insight and find solutions to current problems, while older people used reflection of their past to evaluate their lives and achieve a sense of ego integrity.

9.Ethnic differences, the impact of globalization, and gender preference identity were also subjects for research using Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development.

G.Reflections on Erikson’s Theory

1.Erikson contributed to psychology include the recognition of personality development throughout the life span, the concept of the identity crisis in adolescence, and the incorporation in his theory of the impact of cultural, social, and historical forces. While some of his concepts, such as an incomplete description of the developmental stage of maturity and sex differences in his interpretation of play-constructions have come under attack by critics, Erikson showed little interest in responding to his critics. His influence grew through books and the work of succeeding generations of psychologists, psychiatrists, teachers, and counselors who found in his ideas useful ways to describe personality development from infancy through old age.

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