Erikson’s Stages of Development theory

Erikson's Stages of Development theory - Toolshero

Erikson’s stages of development: this article explains Erikson’s stages of development in a practical way. The article starts with infromation about the origins of this theory, followed by an explanation of the main concept of the 8 stages. You will also find a detailed explanation of every stage of Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development in this article, including the outcomes or consequences for completing or failing to complete each stage. Enjoy reading!

What are Erikson’s stages of development?

Erikson’s psychosocial theory on the stages of development is a comprehensive psychoanalytic theory that describes human development in 8 stages. The theory is also known as the psychosocial development theory.

The eight stages take place from birth to late adulthood. According to the theory, events and results of each stage influence the results of the following stages.

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The research was published by Erik Erikson (1902-1994) and Joan Erikson in the book Childhood and Society. Erikson’s work was influenced by Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual development. Initially Erikson continued to work on Freud’s theory, but soon went beyond that theory and developed his own ideas.

Erikson’s stages of development theory

The theory is characterized by the concepts of biological and socio-cultural forces. These two opposing forces are in constant conflict with each other. The extent to which an individual is able to reconcile these, determines whether one can successfully complete a stage.

An example of this is a baby who successfully moves through the stage of autonomy versus shame and doubt with more confidence than mistrust. The virtues of this success are carried along in the remaining stages of life.

The stage challenges that are not successfully completed are expected to recur as problems in the future. It is not required to master everything from one stage before switching to the next stage.

Stage 1: Trust versus Mistrust (Virtue: Hope)

The first stage of Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development is about trust versus mistrust. This stage starts when a baby is born until the age of about 1 year. It is the most fundamental stage in a person’s life. A baby is completely dependent on other people. Therefore, the baby’s development is completely based on the reliability and quality of the child’s caregivers.

For everything the baby needs to survive, it depends on the parents or caregivers. This includes food, love, hygienic care, safety and warmth. If a caregiver is unable to provide this care and love, a baby will feel that adults in life cannot be trusted.

Outcome stage 1 of the Erikson’s stages of development

If this child does develop trust towards adults, the child will feel safe in the world. After all, there are plenty of adults who protect, care for and love them. Caregivers who are inconsistent, or unavailable and dismissive, therefore, contribute to feelings of distrust. Not developing the right level of trust can lead to anxiety disorders and the belief that the world is unpredictable and unfair.

No child will develop 100% trust or 100% distrust, but according to Erikson, successful development is all about how these two opposing things relate to each other. Ideally, a state arises where the child experiences the openness to experience, tempered by some caution and the realization that danger might be present.

Stage 2: Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt (Virtue: Will)

Stage 2 of Erikson’s stages of development theory is about autonomy versus shame and doubt. This stage starts from about the first year of life and normally lasts several years into early childhood. In this stage, children develop some sense of personal control.

Compared to the first stage of the theory, children develop a little independence. They perform basic actions themselves and make simple decisions about what they prefer to do. It is important to give children the space in this stage to make their own decisions. By giving them some control, parents can help their children develop a sense of autonomy.

Potty training normally also begins at this stage. This is an essential theme in the education of children, especially in the development of a sense of autonomy.

Like Sigmund Freud, Erikson believed that toilet training is very important, but for different reasons. According to Erikson, learning to control bodily functions is necessary for creating a sense of independence. Other factors that contribute to this are choices about food, toys and clothing.

Outcome stage 2

Children who are not allowed and unable to make their own choices will later be ashamed of accidents or mistakes they make. So they are left without a sense of control. On the other hand, success at this stage will lead to feelings of autonomy.

Erikson believed that a good balance between autonomy and shame leads to the belief that children can act with intent, within reasonable limits.

Stage 3: Initiative versus Guilt (Virtue: Purpose)

The third stage of Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development is about taking initiative versus feeling guilt. This stage begins during the period before the toddlers start school, the preschool years. At this stage of their development, children begin to demonstrate their power and control over the world through participation in games and other social interactions.

Outcome stage 3

Children who successfully go through this stage feel able to take the lead in social situations and to lead others. Those who do not acquire these skills are left with feelings of guilt and doubt. They show a lack of initiative and possibly a lack of self-confidence.

The most important thing about this stage is that children must begin to exercise control and power over their environment. Success in this stage will lead to a sense of independency.

Stage 4: Industry versus Inferiority (Virtue: Competence)

This fourth stage revolves around industriousness versus inferiority and is somewhat similar to the previous stage. The fourth psychosocial stage begins approximately from the age of five, up to about 11 years of age. In this stage, children begin to develop a sense of pride in their abilities and achievements through social interactions.

In these years children learn to deal with pressure and new and social and academic demands. Success in meeting these challenges will lead to a sense of competence. Failure can lead to a feeling of inferiority. This is also related to previous stages. If children are taught earlier that they are allowed to make mistakes, failure later in life is less likely to lead to feelings of failure or inferiority.

Outcome stage 4

Children who receive extra encouragement from their parents and teachers at this stage will develop a deep belief in their abilities. Those who receive little or no encouragement are more likely to doubt their ability to be successful.

Finding a balance in this stage of psychosocial theory leads to a force known as goal orientation.

Stage 5: Identity versus Confusion (Virtue: Fidelity)

The fifth psychosocial stage of Erikson’s stages of development concerns the formation of identity. This stage takes place during the teenage years, which are often turbulent. This stage plays a crucial role in developing a personal identity. This identity remains with this person for the rest of one’s life and has a major influence on behavior and development.

Teens need to build a sense of self and personal identity during this stage. Success at this stage will lead to a strong ability to be true to yourself and believe in yourself, while failure will lead to role confusion and a weak sense of self.

During adolescence, young people explore their independence and are supposed to develop themselves. Those who receive the appropriate encouragement and reinforcement will emerge from this stage with a strong sense of self and confidence. Those who come out of this stage less well are more likely to struggle with insecure feelings and will feel confused more often.

When psychologists talk about identity, they often refer to a person’s ideals and beliefs. Successful completion of this stage leads to the ability to live according to society’s norms and expectations, according to Erikson.

Erik Erikson believed that every stage of psychosocial theory was important, but he placed a particular emphasis on the development of ego-identity. The ego identity is the conscious sense of self that people develop through social interactions. This becomes a focal point during the identity formation stage versus the confusion stage.

Outcome stage 5 of the Erikson’s stages of development

Personal identity gives people an integrated and cohesive sense of ourselves that lasts throughout life. This sense of personal identity is shaped by interactions with others. This identity helps people to direct actions, beliefs and behaviors while growing older.

Stage 6: Intimacy versus Isolation (Virtue: Love)

The sixth stage is about developing intimacy versus isolation. This stage of Erikson’s psychosocial theory begins in early adulthood, the period when people form, test, and explore intimate relationships.

Erikson believed that it is vital that people, and especially young adults, establish committed relationships with others. Those who are successful in this stage are better able to form lasting and secure relationships.

Outcome stage 6 of the Erikson’s stages of development

Each stage builds on the skills learned in the previous stages. Erikson therefore believed that a strong sense of self and personal identity contributes to the ability to develop relationships with others. Studies have since shown that people with low self-esteem have much more trouble starting a committed relationship. They are more prone to loneliness, depression and emotional isolation. Successfully passing through this stage yields a virtue known as love. It is characterized by the ability to form loving and meaningful relationships.

Stage 7: Generativity versus Stagnation (Virtue: Care)

The seventh stage of Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development is about generativity versus stagnation. Adults at this stage should nurture or create things that will last for a long time. Success in this stage leads to feelings of success and achievement, while failure leads to feelings of superficial involvement with the world. Generativity is the desire of adults to leave something behind that will survive them after death. In a general sense, this is about having children.

This stage roughly begins when people have reached middle age. During adulthood, people continue to build their lives. The focus is mainly on career and family. Those who are successful in this stage have a strong sense of contributing to the world by being active in their families and communities. Those who do not engage in this sometimes feel unproductive and disengaged.

Outcome stage 7 of the Erikson’s stages of development

The product of success at this stage is care. A sense of pride is also experienced when people in this stage see their children grow up into adults who themselves form a new identity.

Stage 8: Integrity versus Despair (Virtue: Wisdom)

The eighth and final stage of Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development takes place in old age and focuses on looking back at life. At this point in people’s development, they look back on certain events and determine whether they are happy with the life they have had. Often people in this stage regret things they have done or have not done.

Erikson’s theory on the stages of psychosocial development is one of the few theories that describes a stage in old age. Success in this stage leads to feelings of wisdom. Failure at this stage leads to regret, bitterness, and despair.

In this stage people make up the balance. They either feel grateful and satisfied, or afraid and dissatisfied. The elderly may feel that their lives are wasted. The person will then be left with feelings of bitterness until the moment of death.

Outcome stage 8 of the Erikson’s stages of development

Those who do take pride in their achievements will develop a sense of integrity and wisdom. Being successful in this stage means that there is little or no regret present. A general feeling of satisfaction predominates. These individuals are seen by others as wise and powerful, even when faced with death.

Strong and weak points of Erikon’s stages of development theory

Erikson’s theory has both strengths and weaknesses. For example, it is not clearly described which experiences about events can force people to move from one phase to the next. And what exactly does that transition look like? Exactly how much time can there be between two phases?

A strong feature of the theory is that it offers a broad framework from which the entire development of a human life can be viewed. It allows the user to find out the social nature of people and identify the main influences related to social relationships and development in general.

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Now It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Do you recognize Erikson’s explanation of the psychosocial development theory? Do you recognize some of Erikson’s stages of development in your own development? Or do you see the stages clearly reflected in the children you see growing up? Which stages do you think are the most crucial for good development? What tips and comments can you give?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Erikson, E. H., & Erikson, J. M. (1998). The life cycle completed (extended version). W. W. Norton & Company.
  2. Erikson, E. H. (1994). Identity and the life cycle. W. W. Norton & Company.
  3. Erikson, E. H. (1993). Childhood and society. W. W. Norton & Company.

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Janse, B. (2022). Erikson’s Stages of Development. Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Original publication date: 07/27/2022 | Last update: 04/29/2023

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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