Erikson's Crises

Erikson's eight crises and what they mean.

Many psychologists today look to Erikson's crises when examining human development. He was one of the first to say that development continues past adolescence, which was a brand new idea in his time. He looks at development as a series of "crises" a person must go through in order to pass to the next stage.

The first crisis is Trust vs. Mistrust, which occurs from birth to about 1 year of age. This crisis occurs because babies are entirely dependent on their caregivers at this stage. They quickly learn if the caregivers will respond to their needs quickly, efficiently, and lovingly. If their caregivers do meet their needs, they see the world as a safe, trustworthy place. If their caregivers don't meet their needs, then they see the world as a bad, untrustworthy place, and become insecurely attached to their caregivers and wary of the world in general.

The second crisis is Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt, which occurs from ages 1 to 3. This crisis occurs because toddlers are just realizing that they are separate people. Up until this point, they don't draw a distinction between themselves and their parents. They begin fighting for independence, because they need to assert that they are, in fact, separate people. However, they also begin to feel doubt: if they assert their independence, will their parents leave them alone? Will their parents dislike them or stop responding to their needs? Toddlers must learn to be separate people and to get over their feelings of guilt for being separate from their parents in order to solve this crisis.

The third crisis is Intiative vs. Guilt, which occurs from ages 3 to 6. At this age, children begin to show the ability to think and plan, and to have a more definite personality. They will show more aggression and assertiveness. If they feel that they are unable to organize simple activities, or they don't have a sense of purpose, they may feel guilt.

The fourth crisis is Industry vs. Inferiority, which occurs from ages 6 to 12. Children this age are starting school, and they begin to compare themselves to others. Are they working hard enough? Are they succeeding as well as the other children? Children who perceive themselves as working reasonably hard and succeeding pass through this crisis. Children who perceive themselves as not succeeding very well will have feelings of inferiority.

The fifth crisis is Identity vs. Role Confusion, which occurs from ages 12 to 18. Adolescents are often portrayed as "trying to find themselves." And, in many ways, this is true. Adolescents typically have to examine what they really believe and think about the world around them, instead of just accepting what they've been taught as children. Adolescents, therefore, must find out what their "roles" and beliefs are. If they don't figure out their roles, this leads to "role confusion," and may prolong the adolescent period until well past 18.

The sixth crisis is Intimacy vs. Isolation, which occurs from ages 18 to 30. At this stage, young adults must find a life partner, and typically have a family and begin a career. If the young adult does not find a partner or fulfill his/her familial and relationship desires, then s/he will suffer from isolation. Otherwise, s/he has intimacy and will have a family, rich friendships, etc.

The seventh crisis is Generativity vs. Stagnation, which occurs from 30 to old age. Once a person has married and established a family, he must deal with his desire to give back to the world. This crisis deals with needing to have a career, raise children, and do other things to satisfy one's place in the world. It may deal with having grandchildren, volunteering to tutor children, or whatever a person feels is important. This is about giving back to the world. If the person does not meet his goals, and does not contribute to the world, he will feel stagnated.

The eighth crisis is Integrity vs. Despair, which occurs in old age. In old age, death looms near. A person may continue to live life, be involved, visit family, etc., which is integrity. Or, the knowledge of impending death may cripple the person, who may cut himself off from family and friends, refuse to participate in activities, and become depressed. This crisis is successful if a person doesn't bow out of life long before it's actually over.

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