Erik Erikson Erik Erikson is possibly the best known of Sigmund Freud’s many followers. He grew up in Europe and spent his young adult life under the direction of Freud. In 1933 when Hitler was in power of Germany, Erikson immigrated to the U. S. and began teaching at Harvard University. His clinical work and studies were based on children, college students, and victims of combat fatigue during WWII, civil rights workers, and American Indians. It was these studies that led Erikson to believe that Freud misjudged some important aspects of human development.
Erikson has influenced the way psychologists view the importance of identity during adolescents. Erikson’s psychosocial model was influenced by Freud and shares a number of ideas. For example, both Freud and Erikson agree that every individual is born with a number of basic instincts, that development occurs through stages, and that the order of these stages is influenced by biological maturation (Sigelman, and Shaffer). Erikson also believes, as did Freud, that personality has three components: the id, the ego, and the superego.
However, Erikson does argue that social and cultural influences have a critical role in shaping human development and less significance should be placed on the role of sexual urges. Freud did note however, that social agents such as parents should be regarded as important, but it is Erikson who highlights it within a broader social environment, including peers, teachers and schools which are highly important according to Erikson. Erikson moves more towards the ‘nurture’ side of the nature – nurture debate than did Freud, viewing nurture as equally important in development.
This ‘nurture’ outlook shows the emphasis on environmental forces within Erikson’s model. Experiences in life, changes achieved through learning, the influence of methods of child rearing, societal changes and culture all have a really important role on human development according to Erickson. He also regards the individual as having responsibility during each stage of development and that they also have the opportunity to achieve a positive and healthy outcome to the ‘crisis’ experienced.
He puts less emphasis on the id and instead places more emphasis on the ego. His view, human beings are rational creatures whose thoughts, feelings, and actions are largely controlled by the ego and it is the ego’s development in which he is interested in. Erikson’s model consists of eight stage of development, with each stage unfolding as the individual goes through the life cycle. Each stage consists of a ‘crisis’ that must be confronted. The term epigenetic principle was used by Erikson to describe the process that guides development through the life cycle.
Within this it is important that everything that grows has a blue print, each having a special time of control, until all of the parts have came to form a ‘functional whole’ (Siglemann and Shaffer). It has been shown that Erikson’s psychosocial model consists of eight stages of development which continue throughout the life-span of an individual. This idea of ‘discontinuity’ suggests that development occurs using a series of sudden changes that develop from one stage to another. He believes that an individual experiences a rapid period of change and reorganization before going to a new and more advanced stage of development.
Theorists however, would argue that human development is a process that occurs in small steps, without sudden change. Physical growth and language development, for example, show smooth, gradual and continuous growth. Erikson doesn’t totally rule out this argument. He suggests that experiences in the early stages have an approach on the experiences in the later stages, this shows that earlier and later development are joined in a way as to suggest connection. This suggests that Erikson didn’t side himself with either point of view. He recognized that some parts of development are ongoing, where others show stage-like characteristics.
What he has formed is a series of important periods in the human life cycle. However, he did not mean that the crisis was by any means major, but that they stand for important developments in which an important turn, one way or another is unavoidable (wikipedia). Erikson’s psychosocial model is much generalized and he himself accepted that no attempt was made to copy the differences in ego development between the sexes. He justifies this decision by arguing that beyond childhood there are no steady differences between the development of men and women.
Some have criticized the overlapping of the stages, though this may reflect the way things really are rather than any defect in the account. Erikson’s model was based on his clinical work and studies of people from all stages of life, which provided excellent access to details of their life experiences. Erikson goes on to deepen his input to our understanding of the life cycle in two particular ways. One is shown by his biographical studies of the lives of specific individuals. The other is to show in greater detail on the issue which first come to ‘ascendancy’ (wikipedia), as we become adult, identity.
Erikson believed that adolescence was a time of major change. He was the one who characterized adolescence as a ‘critical period in the life long process of forming one’s identity’ (Sileman and Shaffer). The concept of identity is a consistent topic throughout his work and there are several reasons why it assumes so much importance for Erikson, one of which is its significance in modern life. According to Erikson the nature of society will reflect in the psychological problems characteristically experienced by the members of that society (wikipedia).
Today, he claims, identity confusion is the most important issue. According to Erikson, during his ‘identity versus identity confusion’ stage, adolescents are faced with finding out who they are and where they are going in life. Many new roles are being explored and parents must allow their child to fully do so in a healthy manner, which will help arrive at a positive identity. However, if an identity is forced upon an adolescent and they are not allowed to explore for themselves, then ‘identity confusion reigns’ (Santrock). Some individuals may withdraw or turn to drugs and alcohol to relieve anxiety.
There are a number of good reasons why his theory may be correct, and an individual’s sense of identity may change a lot through adolescence. It’s this period of the life cycle that physical changes occur, which will affect an individual’s body image or sense of physical self. Also during this period a pattern of sexual relationships needs to be decided upon while societal expectations urge a young person to make some choice of work. The work on identity status and its attempt to show Erikson’s ideas has shown some interesting findings but can be criticized on three counts.
First, it’s not the case that adolescents experience the standstill status in different topic areas at the same time. It is clear that at a single point in time, one happy area (e. g. religious belief), may be stable while another area of life decision (e. g. sexuality), is in crisis. Secondly, a problem can occur at any point in time during adult life, but identity development is leading in the early adult years (Cowie and Smith). Finally, it has been discovered that for most young people, most of the time ‘changes in identity are gradual’ (Cowie and Smith), and are not limited to individual stage-like xperiences. It would therefore show that the status categories are not such a useful tool for effectively measuring identity as first expected. In conclusion, I feel Erikson doesn’t try to redefine the fundamentals of psychoanalysis but instead improve, simplify and extend it by taking into account the importance of culture and historical background. He was also able to show the nature of their influence on individual identity. Therefore his theory is best seen, to adopt his own words, as ‘a tool to think with’ rather than ‘a prescription to abide by’ (wikipedia).
I feel this helped me understand and learn to look at the whole theory in a different way, giving me a different point of view of the subject. Works Cited Cowie. H, & Smith. P. K. (2008), ‘Understanding Children’s Development, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers Ltd. Rice. F. P, (2007), ‘Title Human development: a life-span approach Santrock. J. W, (2008), ‘Title Life-span development, Iowa, W. C. Brown. Sigelman. C. K. & Shaffer. D. R. (2007), ‘Life-span Human development’, U. S. A, Wadsworth, Inc. Erikson, Erik. Home page. 28 Mar. 2009. 15 May http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Erik_Erikson
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