Erik Erikson was a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychosocial development of human beings. It is said that his lifelong interest in the psychology of identity may be traced back to his childhood. Erik Erikson was born June 15, 1902 in Frankfurt, Germany. His mother and father had separated before he was born; in fact he never even met his birth father at all. Eventually his mother married a physician, Dr. Theodor Homberger years after he was born. The fact that Dr. Theodor Homberger was not his biological father was hidden from him for many years.

When he finally did learn the truth, he was left with a feeling of confusion about who he really was. This early experience helped trigger his interest in the establishment of identity. Along with him finding out that who he thought was his biological father all along really wasn’t, he also encountered many other experiences throughout his childhood that sparked his interest in the identity crisis. For example at his temple school, the other children teased him because he was extremely tall, blonde, and blue-eyed. At grammar school, he was rejected because of his Jewish background.

These early experiences throughout his childhood helped fuel his interest in his later career and continued to influence his work throughout his life. Erik Erikson’s career began at a young age. When Erikson finished high school, he tried getting into art and spent some time traveling Europe. Later on Erikson eventually studied psychoanalysis and earned a certificate from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Erikson later got married and moved to the United States in 1933 and was offered a teaching position at Harvard Medical School.

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Later, he held teaching positions at the University of California at Berkeley, Yale, the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute, Austen Riggs Center, and the Center for Advanced Studies of the Behavioral Sciences. He also published several books on his theories and research, including Childhood and Society and The Life Cycle Completed. His book Gandhi’s Truth was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and a national Book Award. As mentioned earlier, Erik Erikson is best known for his theory on psychosocial development of human beings. He may be most famous for creating the phrase identity crisis.

Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development shows the effect of external factors, parents and society on personality development from childhood to adulthood. According to Erikson’s theory, every person must go through a series of eight stages over the entire life cycle. These eight stages, spanning from birth to death, are split into age ranges. The first stage would be basic trust vs. mistrust. At this stage there is a major emphasis on the mother and father’s nurturing ability and care for their child. The second stage is autonomy vs. shame.

At this point, the child has an opportunity to build self-esteem and independence as they learn right from wrong. The third stage is initiative vs. guilt. During this period the child will experience a desire to copy the adults around them and create play situations. The fourth stage is industry vs. inferiority. At this stage children are capable of learning, creating and accomplishing numerous new skills and knowledge. The fifth stage is identity vs. role confusion. At this point development now depends primarily upon what a person does.

The sixth stage is intimacy and solidarity vs. isolation. Young adults look for intimacy and satisfying relationships, but if unsuccessful, isolation may occur. The seventh stage is generativity vs. self absortion. A person’s career and work are the most important things at this stage, along with family as well. Lastly the eighth and final stage is integrity vs. despair. Erikson believed that the last stage involves a lot of reflection. This means that as older adults, some can look back with contentment that they have lived a meaningful life.

Others may look back during this stage reflecting upon their experiences and failures. Along with his theories, Erik Erikson had many contributions to psychology as well. His experiences throughout his life helped to broaden the psychoanalytic theory. While Freud’s theory had focused on the psychosexual aspects of development, Erikson’s ideas helped expand the psychoanalytic theory. He also contributed to our understanding of personality as it is developed over his lifespan. His observations of children also helped set the stage for further research.


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