The evolving self

My new role as parent has given me the opportunity to think about my son’s social, psychological and emotional development as he grows.

Of the many theories of psycho-social development,  I think Erik Erikson’s resonates with me the most.

This theory suggests that during each of its eight stages, an individual is faced with a developmental task to resolve. Completing each task requires varying degrees of self-awareness and vulnerability, and ultimately leads to greater social potential and self-realisation. Erikson posed that the more successfully an individual resolves these tasks, the healthier social development will be.

Trust versus mistrust
ages 0-1
Infants are totally dependent on caregivers for their physical and emotional safety and well-being. Developing trust or mistrust in infancy will set the tone for the rest of an individual’s life.

Autonomy versus shame and doubt
ages 2-3
In this stage, toddlers develop a sense of independence and learn to assert their will within the family dynamic. Excessive punishment or restraint can lead to feelings of shame and doubt.

Initiative versus guilt
ages 4-5
As toddlers grow into preschoolers, they are likely to develop a sense of responsibility to go with their newfound independence. This stage involves navigating the practical and emotional consequences (such as guilt) arising from irresponsible behaviour.

Industry versus inferiority
ages 6-10
This stage involves mastering knowledge and skill. A child who is unable to demonstrate competence in something is likely to feel inferior when compared to peers.

Identity versus identity confusion
ages 11-19
It’s well known that adolescence is a time for self-discovery. This is the stage where an individual develops a sense of identity that is separate from the family of origin. Confusion may arise without the freedom to explore a variety of identities and value-systems.

Intimacy versus isolation
ages 20-39
This stage is typically when we seek to form intimate relationships with others. Not just romantically, but also the sense of being known and understood by close friends or colleagues. When we do not feel understood by others, we are likely to feel a sense of isolation.

Generativity versus stagnation
ages 40-59
Individuals during this time of life will usually wish to help younger generations lead productive lives. The feeling of having done nothing to help future generations is stagnation.

Integrity versus despair
ages 60+
This is the time when an individual typically reflects on his or her own life; their achievements, regrets and legacies. A life well-spent will lead to integrity, however excessive regrets and doubt will lead to despair.

To my mind, this theory invites us to be active participants in our lives, rather than passive observers. While these dichotomies are not posed to us explicitly, we are invited to choose what sort of life we want for ourselves. And this is definitely something I’ll be teaching my son about.

Photo credit: University of Arkansas
Source: Santrock J. W. (2014) Lifespan development Australia/New Zealand, McGraw Hill Education

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