Erik Erikson Essay Research Paper Erik Homberger

Erik Erikson Essay, Research Paper Erik Homberger Erikson was born in 1902 near Frankfort, Germany to Danish parents. Erik studied art and a variety of languages during his school years, rather than science courses such as biology and chemistry. He did not prefer the atmosphere that formal schooling produced so instead of going to college he traveled around Europe, keeping a diary of his experiences.

Erik Erikson Essay, Research Paper

Erik Homberger Erikson was born in 1902 near Frankfort, Germany to Danish parents. Erik studied art and a variety of languages during his school years, rather than science courses such as biology and chemistry. He did not prefer the atmosphere that formal schooling produced so instead of going to college he traveled around Europe, keeping a diary of his experiences. After a year of doing this, he returned to Germany and enrolled in art school. After several years, Erickson began to teach art and other subjects to children of Americans who had come to Vienna for Freudian training. He was then admitted into the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. In 1933 he came to the U.S. and became Boston’s first child analyst and obtained a position at the Hayvard Medical School. Later on, he also held positions at institutions including Yale, Berkeley, and the Menninger Foundation. Erickson then returned to California to the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto and later the Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco, where he was a clinician and psychiatric consultant.

Erickson’s interests were spread over a wide area. He studied combat crises in troubled American soldiers in World War II, child-rearing practices among the Sioux in South Dakota and the Yurok along the Pacific Coast, the play of disturbed and normal children, the conversations of troubled adolescent suffering identity crises, and social behavior in India. Erickson was also constantly concerned with the rapid social changes in America and wrote about issues such as the generation gap, racial tensions, juvenile delinquency, changing sexual roles, and the dangers of nuclear war. Erikson proposed that people grow through experiencing a series of crises. They must achieve trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, their own identity, productivity, integrity, and acceptance.

“Erikson’s main contribution was to bridge the gap between the theories of psychoanalysis on the problems of human development, which emphasize private emotions, and the broader social influences that bear upon the individual. He was a strong proponent of the concept that social environment plays a major role in the development of personality. Going beyond the of a child’s early life, Erikson concentrated on broader issues of peer culture, school environment, and cultural values and ideals. This led him to study the period of adolescence, in which he documented the interaction of a person’s inner feelings and impulses with the world that surrounds the person.”

Erikson developed eight stages of human development. Briefly I would describe all eight my I will concentrate on stages five and six which are adolescence and young adulthood. Myer describes the stages in the following manner. Stage one occurs during the first year This stage is called infancy (trust vs. mistrust) during this stage if needs are dependably met, infants develop a sense of basic trust. The second stage is called the toddler stage (autonomy vs. shame and doubt). This stage occurs while the baby is two years old, in this stage toddlers learn to exercise will do things for themselves, or they doubt their abilities. The third stage is called the preschooler between the ages of three and five (initiative vs. guilt). During this stage preschoolers learn to initiate tasks and carry out plans, or they feel guilty about efforts to be independent. The fourth stage is called the elementary school stage (competence vs. inferiority) from the ages of six through puberty. During this stage children learn the pleasure of applying themselves to tasks, or they feel inferior.

In the fifth stage is the adolescence stage (identity vs. role confusion) this stage occurs during the ages of thirteen years into twenties. The sixth stage is called young adulthood (intimacy vs. isolation) during the ages of around 21 through 40 young adults struggle to form close relationships and to gain capacity for intimate love, or they feel socially isolated. The seventh stage is called middle adulthood (generativity vs. stagnation) during the ages of 41 through about 60 the middle-aged discover a sense of contributing to the world, such as through family and work, or they may feel a lack of purpose. During late adulthood ages 60 and up, (integrity vs. despair) during this stage when reflecting on his or her life, the older adult may feel a sense of satisfaction or failure.

According to Dr. C. George Boeree “Erikson is a Freudian ego-psychologist. This means that he accepts Freud’s ideas as basically correct, including the more debatable ideas such as the Oedipal complex, and accepts as well the ideas about the ego that were added by other Freudian loyalist such as Heinz Hartmann and, of course, Anna Freud. However, Erikson is much more society and culture- oriented than most Freudians, as you might except from someone with his anthropological interest, and he often pushes the instincts and the unconscious practically out of the picture. Perhaps because of this, Erikson is popular among Freudians and non-Freudians alike.”

“According to Erikson, personality develops in steps determined by human organism’s readiness to move toward, to be aware of, and to interact with a widening social world – a world that begins with a dim image of mother and ends with an image of humankind.” Erikson’s stages are very interesting; stages five and six are going to be describe in detail in my paper.

Stage five is adolescence, beginning with puberty and ending around 18 or 20 years old. The task during adolescence is to achieve ego identity and avoid role confusion. It was adolescence that interested Erikson first and most, and the patterns he saw here were the bases for his thinking about all the other stages. Ego identity means knowing whom you are and how you fit in to the rest of the society. It requires that you take all you’ve learned about life and mold it into a unified self-image, one that your community finds meaningful.

There are a number of things that make things easier: First, we should have a mainstream adult culture that is worthy of the adolescent’s respect, one with good adult role models and open lines of communication. Further, society should provide clear rites of passage, certain accomplishments and rituals that help to distinguish the adult from the child. In primitive and traditional societies, an adolescent boy may be asked to leave the village for a period of time to live on his own, hunt some symbolic animal, or seek an inspirational vision. Boys and girls may be required to go through certain test of endurance, symbolic ceremonies, or educational events. In one way or another, the distinction between the powerless, but irresponsible, time of childhood and the powerful and responsible time of adulthood, is made clear. Without these things, we are likely to see role confusion, meaning an uncertainty about one’s place in society and the world these things. When an adolescent is confronted by role confusion, Erikson said he or she is suffering from an identity crisis. In fact, a common question adolescents in our society ask is a straight-forward question of identity: “Who am I?”

One of Erikson’s suggestions for adolescence in our society is the psychosocial moratorium. He suggests you take a little “time-out”. If you have money, go to Europe. There is such a thing as too much “ego identity”, where a person is so involved in a particular role in a particular society or subculture that there is no room left for tolerance. Erikson calls this maladaptive tendency fanaticism. A fanatic believes that his way is the only way. Adolescents are of course known for their idealism, and for their tendency to see things in black-and-white. These people will gather other around them and promote their beliefs and life styles with regard to others’ rights to disagree. The lack of identity is perhaps more difficult still, and Erikson refers to the malignant tendency here as repudiation. They repudiate their member in the world of adults and, even more, they repudiate their need for an identity. Some adolescents allow themselves to “fuse” with a group, especially the kind of group that is particularly eager to provide the details of your identity: religious cults, militaristic organizations, groups founded on hatred, groups that have divorced themselves from the painful demands of mainstream society. They become involved in destructive activities, drugs, or alcohol, or you may withdraw into their own psychotic fantasies. After all, being “bad” or “nobody” is better than not knowing who you are. If one successfully negotiates this stage, one will have virtue Erikson called fidelity. Fidelity means loyalty, the ability to live by society standards despite their imperfections and incompleteness and inconsistencies. “For adolescents not only help one another temporarily through much discomfort by forming cliques and by stereotyping themselves, their ideals, and their enemies; they also perversely test each other’s capacity to pledge fidelity”

Stage six is young adulthood, which last from about 18 to about 30. The ages in the adult stages are much fuzzier than in the childhood stages, and people may differ dramatically. The task is to achieve some degree of intimacy, as opposes to remaining in isolation. Intimacy is the ability to be close to others, as a lover, a friend, and as a participant in society. Because one has a clear sense of which one is , one no longer need to fear “losing” oneself, as many adolescents do. The “fear of commitment” some people seem to exhibit is an example of immaturity in this stage. This fear isn’t always so obvious. Many people today are always putting off the progress of their relationships. Neither should the young adult need to prove him- or herself anymore. A teenage relationship is often a matter of trying to establish identity through “couple-hood” Who am I? I’m his girl friend. The young adult relationship should be a matter of two independent egos wanting to create something larger than themselves. We intuitively recognize this when we frown on a relationship between a young adult and a teenager: We see the potential for manipulation of the younger member of the party by the older. Our society hasn’t done much for young adult, either. The emphasis on careers, the isolation of urban living, the splitting apart of relationships because of our need for mobility, and the general impersonal nature of modern life prevent people from naturally developing their intimate relationships. Erikson calls the maladaptive form promiscuity, referring particularly to the tendency to become intimate too free, too easily, and without any depth to ones intimacy. The malignancy he call exclusion, which refers to the tendency to isolate from love, friendship and community, and to develop a certain hatefulness in compensation for one’s loneliness. If one gets through this stage Erikson believes that one has the psychosocial strength to love. “A human being should be potentially able to accomplish mutuality of genital orgasm, but he should also be so constituted as to bear a certain amount of frustration in the matter without undue regression wherever emotional preference or considerations of duty and loyalty call for it”

Erikson left the field of psychology with great achievements he was a great writer a great doctor and a great man. He left behind a great legacy. “If the relation of father and son dominated the last century, then this one is concerned with the self-made man asking himself what he is making of himself.” – Erik H. Erikson, 1964



Boeree C. G., Personality Theories



Erikson H. E., Childhood and Society (1963)

Friedman J. L., Identity’s Architect: A Biography of Erik H. Erikson (1999)

Hall E, Lamb M, Perlmutter M., Child Psychology Today 2nd ED. (1986) pg. 22-25


Myer D., Exploring Psychology 3rd ED. (1996) pg. 93-96