Eric Erikson’s Stages of Emotional Development Worksheet Erikson stages HANDOUT
Contemplate each developmental stage in terms of your personal experiences then mark the box next the trait that you most identify with. Stop when you reach a stage beyond your years.
Trust vs. Mistrust (Infancy)
As small children, our understanding of the world comes from our parents and their interaction with us. They help us answer the most basic of existential questions, “Can I trust the world?” If the parents expose the child to warmth, regularity, and dependable affection, the answer will be yes and basic trust is formed. Should the parents fail to provide a secure environment, attachment will be injured and a sense of mistrust will result. Development of mistrust leads to suspicion, withdrawal, and relational anxiety that persists until resolved. In adults, this may sound like “I don’t trust anybody” or “people are fake,” representing a world view that others will hurt, lie, or take advantage intentionally when given the chance.
Autonomy vs. Shame (Early Childhood)
This is when we explore the world and cultivate personal interests, asking the existential question “Is it OK to be me?” Safety concerns must be balanced with exploration needs. Highly restrictive environments refuse to let children perform tasks of which they are capable, which results in a sense of self doubt Too permissive environments demand too much too soon, or even worse, ridicule early attempts at self-sufficiency. This results reluctance to attempt new challenges. However, when safe and self-sufficient behaviors are encouraged and praised, people develop a sense of autonomy–a sense of being able to handle many problems on their own. When autonomy is not fostered, It might sound like “If they find out I_______, they will not like me anymore,” representing the world view that one is defective, unwanted, or flawed in important respects.
Initiative vs. Guilt (Middle Childhood)
Now we are learning to master the world, learning basic skills and principles of physics, wondering existentially “Is it OK to do?” We want to take on projects that can be readily accomplished, at other times we undertake projects that are beyond our capabilities or that interfere with other people’s plans and activities. Also, we now have complex emotional responses and may feel guilty or frustrated when we fail, which may lead to negative behaviors. If parents encourage and support children’s efforts, while also helping them make realistic and appropriate choices, children develop initiative. But if, instead, adults discourage independent activities or dismiss them as silly and bothersome, children develop guilt about their own needs and desires and will try fewer things. In adults, it sound like blaming others for mistakes or failures, “If you would’ve told me, I would have done better,” representing a world view that one needs considerable help from others to cope with life.
Industry vs. Inferiority (Late Childhood)
We are now able to share and cooperate, and can grasp the concepts of time and space, cause and effect. We also form morals, recognize individual differences, and are eager to accomplish more complex skills (reading, writing, telling time) while wondering “can I make it in the world?” Ideally, school and home life provides many opportunities for children to achieve the recognition of teachers, parents and peers by producing things. If praised and encouraged for effort (not results), industry wins–being diligent, persevering at tasks until completed and putting work before pleasure become norms. If ridiculed or punished for results, feelings of inferiority grow instead. Special talents may be missed and lack of motivation, low self esteem, and lethargy take hold. In adulthood, this may sound like “I can’t do that” or “Yeah but, they can do it so much better,” representing a world view that one must strive to meet very high internalized standards or they will be rejected.
Identity vs. Role Confusion (Adolescence)
As we make the transition from childhood to adulthood, adolescents ponder two major existential questions, “Who am I? What can I be?” Initially, they are apt to experience some role confusion—mixed ideas and feelings about the specific ways in which they will fit into society—and may experiment with a variety of behaviors and activities (e.g. variety of styles, varying political or religious groups, etc). One’s personal ideologies are now chosen for oneself and oftentimes, this leads to conflict with adults. If adults are too insistent, the teenager will acquiesce to external wishes, effectively forcing him or her to ‘foreclose’ on experimentation, leading to role confusion. If given enough space and time to freely experiment and explore what may emerge is a firm sense of identity. When identity is not established, it may sound like “no one understands me” or “I just don’t fit,” representing a world
Intimacy vs. Isolation (Early Adulthood)
This is a time in which we are ready to make long-term commitments to others, wondering “Can I love someone?” We wonder if we are capable of forming intimate, reciprocal relationships (e.g. through close friendships or marriage). There may be disrupted attachment injuries at earlier stages making it difficult to attach to another intimately, such as basic mistrust, which would make it too hard to give intimate secrets away. But if we have resolved each stage on the positive side, we willingly make the sacrifices and compromises that such relationships require. If we cannot form these intimate relationships, a sense of isolation results that may lead to low quality relationships, infidelities, and/or cutoffs with the family of origin. It may sound like “True love isn’t possible,” reflecting a world view that relationships are doomed from the start. This view may lead to excessive subjugation of needs, or excessive emotional control that keeps people at bay.
Generativity vs. Stagnation (Middle Adulthood)
During middle age the primary developmental task is one of contributing to society and helping to guide future generations. We wonder if our life matters in the grand scheme of things. When a person makes a contribution during this period, perhaps by raising a family or working toward the betterment of society, a sense of generativity- a sense of productivity and accomplishment- results. In contrast, a person who is selfish and unable or unwilling to help society move forward develops a feeling of stagnation- a dissatisfaction with the relative lack of productivity. This may sound like “You get what you deserve,” reflecting a world view that people should be harshly punished who does not meet some set of standards. This can also lead to approval seeking and enmeshment, which is the excessive emphasis on gaining approval from other people and putting others needs before developing a secure and true sense of self.
The final developmental task is retrospection: people look back on their lives and accomplishments, asking the existential question “Is it OK to be me?” As we grow older and become senior citizens we tend to slow down our productivity and explore life as a retired person. Or we may find ourselves facing a life or death situation. It is during this time that we contemplate our accomplishments and are able to develop integrity if we see ourselves as leading a successful life. If we see our life as unproductive, or feel that we did not accomplish our life goals, we become dissatisfied with life and develop despair, often leading to depression and hopelessness. Despair may be represented in stating things like “You just can’t count on people,” reflecting a world view that others will not adequately meet one’s needs for nurturance. Or, it may sound like “this life is not the one I am worried about,” reflecting a need for safety from a world view that life may be too hard and not worth living.
Thimm, (2010) Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy Relationships Between Early Maladaptive Schemas andPsychosocial DevelopmentalTask Resolution, Clin. Psychol. Psychother. 17, 219–230