I believe that having a good understanding of developmental psychology is important to one’s holistic wellness. It is for this reason I previously wrote about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Erik Erikson’s eight stage theory of psychosocial development is one of the leading theories in developmental psychology, and in a way is similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy. He believed that if any stage was missed that it would affect other stages of development, keeping one from achieving his or her maximum potential. He felt the course of development is determined by the interaction of the body (genetic biological programming), mind (psychological), and cultural (ethos) influences. Both theories essentially lead to one achieving their potential in life.
Infancy: Birth to 18 Months
Trust vs. Mistrust
Erikson also referred to infancy as the Oral Sensory Stage (as most anyone can see by watching a baby try and put anything in its mouth) where the major emphasis is on the mother’s positive and loving care for the child, with a big emphasis on visual contact and touch. If we pass successfully through this period of life, we will feel safe and secure in the world. If we have inconsistent caregivers who are emotionally distant we may end up with a feeling of worthlessness and a mistrust of the world in general.
Early Childhood: 18 Months to 3 Years
Autonomy vs. Shame
During this stage we learn to master skills for ourselves. We learn to walk, talk and feed ourselves. We are also learning finer motor development as well as the the importance of toilet training. Here we have a chance to develop autonomy and self-esteem as we gain more control over our bodies and begin to learn right from wrong. Successful completion of this stage leads to confidence while failure to complete it could lead to feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and shame.
Play Age: 3 to 5 Years
Initiative vs. Guilt
During this period we experience a desire to copy the adults around us and take initiative in creating play situations. We may play house and try to experience what we believe it means to be an adult. We may also begin to ask a lot of question about the world around us. Children who are successful at this stage feel capable and able to lead others. If we’re frustrated over natural desires and goals, we may easily experience guilt.
School Age: 6 to 12 Years
Industry vs. Inferiority
During this stage, often called the Latency, we are capable of learning, creating and accomplishing a number of new skills and knowledge, thus developing a sense of industry. Through social interactions we begin to develop a sense of pride in our abilities and accomplishments. If we are encouraged and commended by parents and teachers we develop feelings of competence and a belief in our skills. If we receive little or no encouragement from parents, teachers, or peers we will doubt our ability to be successful and may develop feelings of inferiority.
Adolescence: 12 to 18 Years
Identity vs. Role Confusion
Up to this stage, according to Erikson, development mostly depends upon what is done to us. From here on out, development depends primarily upon what we do. And while adolescence is a stage at which we are neither a child nor an adult, life is definitely getting more complex as we attempt to find our own identity, struggle with social interactions, and grapple with moral issues.
Our task is to discover who we are as individuals separate from our family of origin and as members of a wider society. Many of us go into a period of withdrawing from responsibilities, which Erikson called a “moratorium.” And if we are unsuccessful in navigating this stage, we will experience role confusion and upheaval.
It is my experience that this is one of the most important times in ones life. It seems as if these days that this stage last longer, into our 20s, than it used to. While children may be growing faster physically than before, they seem to be growing slower mentally.
Young adulthood: 18 to 35
Intimacy and Solidarity vs. Isolation
This step seems to blend well with Stage 5. This stage and the last play a large part in the “quarter life crisis”, which I will talk about in more detail at a later date.
In the initial stage of being an adult we seek one or more companions and love. As we try to find mutually satisfying relationships, primarily through marriage and friends, we may also begin to start a family, though this age has been pushed back for many couples who today don’t start their families until their late thirties. If negotiating this stage is successful, we can experience intimacy on a deep level.
If we’re not successful, isolation and distance from others may occur. And when we don’t find it easy to create satisfying relationships, our world can begin to shrink as, in defense, we can feel superior to others.
Middle Adulthood: 35 to 55 or 65
Generativity vs. Stagnation
At this stage work is most crucial. Erikson observed that middle-age is when we tend to be occupied with creative and meaningful work and with issues surrounding our family.
The significant task is to perpetuate culture and transmit values of the culture through the family (raising the kids) and working to establish a stable and comfortable environment. Strength comes through care of others and production of something that contributes to the betterment of society, which Erikson calls generativity, so when we’re in this stage we often fear inactivity and meaninglessness.
As our children leave home, or our relationships or goals change, we may be faced with major life changes—the mid-life crisis—and struggle with finding new meanings and purposes. If we don’t get through this stage successfully, we can become self-absorbed and stagnate.
Late Adulthood: 55 or 65 to Death
Integrity vs. Despair
Erikson felt that much of life is preparing for the middle adulthood stage and the last stage is recovering from it. Perhaps that is because as older adults we can often look back on our lives with happiness and are content, feeling fulfilled with a deep sense that life has meaning and we’ve made a contribution to life, a feeling Erikson calls integrity.
On the other hand, some adults may reach this stage and despair at their experiences and perceived failures. They may fear death as they struggle to find a purpose to their lives, wondering if it was all worth it. Alternatively, they may feel they have all the answers (not unlike going back to adolescence) and end with a strong dogmatism that only their view is correct.
Relating it to Holistic Wellness
It is very easy for us to become stuck in any one of these stages and “fall behind” our peers developmentally. This can cause great stress, much to the detriment of our overall wellness. If we keep this framework in mind it may become easier to prioritize tasks and thought into what will help us move onto the next stage in life. This framework, as mentioned above, can help people resolve certain crises in life.
When it comes to holistic wellness, specifically mental wellness, Erikson’s work will help us a great deal throughout our lives. Take a second glance at the eight stages. Did one of them stick out in your mind as the stage you might be in now?