By Vidya Hattangadi
Our early life experience is very important as regards how we grow as individuals. Our identity evolves at various stages of life. We perceive and present ourselves throughout our lives, as per our sense of identity; we keep searching and understanding ‘who we are’. Understanding this process can lead people to question their ‘negative’ identity labelled by society. Half of life is spent in making big changes in the way we perceive ourselves. Our personalities keep changing as we resolve crises in life, thus each experience brings a change within us.
Erik Homburger Erikson (1902-94) was a German-American developmental psychologist known for his theory on psychological development of human beings. He is famous for coining the phrase ‘identity crisis’, which means a sense of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s identity becomes self-doubting. Erikson developed a classical psychological model of eight stages of human development, which till date is unparalleled.
1. Trust vs Mistrust (0-18 months): This is the first stage of human development. The child builds trust in this stage. Infants develop based upon the quality their caregivers give them to meet their basic needs. If these needs are not consistently met, they develop suspicion, distrust, anxiety. The basic virtue in this stage is hope. According to Erikson, the trust versus mistrust stage is the most important period in a person’s life because it shapes a child’s views of the world perpetually.
2. Autonomy vs Shame (18 months to three years): It is the second stage of Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. It takes place between the age of 18 months to around the age to three years. Children in this stage are focused on developing a greater sense of self-control; a child tries to become self-reliant. The basic virtue in this stage is will; a child develops a sense of personal identity that continues to influence his/her ego identity and development for the rest of life.
3. Initiative vs Guilt (3-5 years): During the initiative versus guilt stage, children begin to assert their power and control over the world, expressing it in their play and other social interaction. The basic virtue in this stage is purpose. They start exploring a lot of things. During this stage, it is important for caregivers to encourage their exploration and to help children make appropriate choices. Caregivers who discourage or act unresponsive may cause children to feel ashamed of themselves and this may affect them in overly depending upon the help of others.
4. Industry vs Inferiority (5-12 years): The basic virtue in this stage is competence. Children learn to read and write, do homework, do sums, do things on their own. School and social interaction play a key role during this time. A child’s social world expands considerably as he/she enters school and develops new friendships. Through social interactions, kids begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments and abilities. Children who do well in school are more likely to develop a sense of competence and confidence, and those who struggle with school work may have a harder time developing feeling of confidence. They tend to feel inadequacy and develop inferiority complex.
5. Identity vs Role Confusion (12-18 years): During this stage of adolescence, children explore their independence and develop a sense of self. In this stage, success leads to an ability to stay true to oneself, while failure leads to confusion and a weak self-image. Children who don’t have a strong sense of their own identity can easily get influenced by others. This stage is crucial because if children get wrongly influenced, they can get into drug addiction, gambling and other dire habits. The virtue in this stage is fidelity.
6. Intimacy vs Isolation (18-40 years): A major concern that arises in the minds of humans in this stage is of love and intimacy in relationships with other people. Isolation occurs when a person fails to find a partner and fulfil the urge of sexual intimacy. If they don’t find a partner, they feel lonely and inferior. The basic virtue in this stage is love. In this stage, humans build romantic relationships.
Erikson believed that close friendships are also important to people in this stage. They develop close, committed relationships with other people. These emotionally intimate relationships in the adulthood play a critical role in this stage. Besides romantic relationships, friendship plays a vital role; closeness, honesty, friendship and love are most required for a nourished life.
7. Generativity vs Stagnation (40-65 years): This stage occurs during middle adulthood. The term generativity was coined by Erikson—it refers to establishing an ethnicity/a culture/a base that will guide the next generation. Generativity also refers to ‘making your mark’ on the world through creating or nurturing things that will outlast an individual. A generative person instigates a change. The virtue in this stage is care.
8. Ego Integrity vs Despair (65 years onwards): Erikson identified that in this stage a person faces internal conflict, which involves reflecting upon one’s life—feeling either satisfied or happy with one’s life, or feeling a deep sense of regret. The basic virtue in this stage is wisdom.
Change is the essence of life; it is a process of emerging, adapting, shifting and moving ahead.
The author is a management thinker and blogger