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Psychosexual Stages



Unconscious Mind 





Developmental Psychology 

› Erik Erikson  

Erik Erikson 


Saul McLeod

  published 2008, updated 2013 

Erik Erikson (1950, 1963) does not talk about 

psychosexual Stages

, he discusses psychosocial 


His ideas, though, were greatly influenced by Freud, going along with Freud’s ideas about the 

structure and topography of personality.  

However, whereas


 was an id psychologist, Erikson was an ego psychologist.  He 

emphasized the role of culture and society and the conflicts that can take place within the ego 

itself, whereas Freud emphasized the conflict between the 

id and the superego

According to Erikson, the ego develops as it successfully resolves crises that are distinctly social 

in nature. These involve establishing a sense of trust in others, developing a sense of identity in 

society, and helping the next generation prepare for the future. 

Erikson extends on Freudian thoughts by focusing on the adaptive and creative characteristic of 

the ego, and expanding the notion of the stages of personality development to include the entire 


Erikson proposed a lifespan model of development, taking in five stages up to the age of 18 years 

and three further stages beyond, well into adulthood.  Erikson suggests that there is still plenty of 

room for continued growth and development throughout one’s life.  

Erikson put a great deal of emphasis on the adolescent period, feeling it was a crucial stage for 

developing a person’s identity. 

Like Freud and many others, Erik Erikson maintained that personality develops in a 

predetermined order, and build upon each previous stage. This is called this the epigenic 


The outcome of this 'maturation timetable' is a wide and integrated set of life skills and abilities 

that function together within the autonomous individual. However, Instead of focusing on sexual 

development (like Freud), he was interested in how children socialize and how this affects their 

sense of 


Psychosocial Stages 

Erikson’s (1959) theory of psychosocial development has eight distinct stages. 


Like Freud, Erikson assumes that a crises occurs at each stage of development. For Erikson 

(1963), these crises are of a psychosocial in nature because they involve psychological needs of 

the individual (i.e. psycho) conflicting with the needs of society (i.e. social).  

According to the theory, successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality and 

the acquisition of basic virtues. Basic virtues are characteristic strengths which the ego can use to 

resolve subsequent crises. 

Failure to successfully complete a stage can result in a reduced ability to complete further stages 

and therefore a more unhealthy personality and sense of self.  These stages, however, can be 

resolved successfully at a later time. 

1. Trust vs. Mistrust 

Is the world a safe place or is it full of unpredictable events and accidents waiting to happen?  

Erikson's first psychosocial crisis occurs during the first year or so of life (like Freud's oral stage 

of psychosexual development). The crisis is one of trust vs. mistrust. 

During this stage the infant is uncertain about the world in which they live. To resolve these 

feelings of uncertainty the infant looks towards their primary caregiver for stability and 

consistency of care.  

If the care the infant receives is consistent, predictable and reliable they will develop a sense of 

trust which will carry with them to other relationships, and they will be able to feel secure even 

when threatened. 

Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of hope. By developing a sense of trust, the infant can 

have hope that as new crises arise, there is a real possibility that other people will be there are a 

source of support. Failing to acquire the virtue of hope will lead to the development of fear. 

For example, if the care has been harsh or inconsistent, unpredictable and unreliable then the 

infant will develop a sense of mistrust and will not have confidence in the world around them or 

in their abilities to influence events. 

This infant will carry the basic sense of mistrust with them to other relationships. It may result in 

anxiety, heightened insecurities, and an over feeling of mistrust in the world around them. 

Consistent with Erikson's views on the importance of trust, research by 





has outlined how the quality of early experience of attachment can effect relationships with 

others in later life.  

2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt 

The child is developing physically and becoming more mobile. Between the ages of 18 months 

and three, children begin to assert their independence, by walking away from their mother, 

picking which toy to play with, and making choices about what they like to wear, to eat, etc.  

The child is discovering that he or she has many skills and abilities, such as putting on clothes 

and shoes, playing with toys etc. Such skills illustrate the child's growing sense of independence 

and autonomy. Erikson states it is critical that parents allow their children to explore the limits of 

their abilities within an encouraging environment which is tolerant of failure. 

For example, rather than put on a child's clothes a supportive parent should have the patience to 

allow the child to try until they succeed or ask for assistance. 

So, the parents need to encourage the child to becoming more independent whilst at the same 

time protecting the child so that constant failure is avoided.   

A delicate balance is required from the parent .... they must try not to do everything for the child 

but if the child fails at a particular task they must not criticize the child for failures and accidents 

(particularly when toilet training).  The aim has to be “self control without a loss of self-esteem” 

(Gross, 1993).  Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of will

If children in this stage are encouraged and supported in their increased independence, they 

become more confident and secure in their own ability to survive in the world. 

If children are criticized, overly controlled, or not given the opportunity to assert themselves, 

they begin to feel inadequate in their ability to survive, and may then become overly dependent 

upon others, lack self-esteem, and feel a sense of shame or doubt in their own abilities. 

3. Initiative vs. Guilt 

Around age three and continuing to age five, children assert themselves more frequently. These 

are particularly lively, rapid-developing years in a child’s life. According to Bee (1992) it is a 

“time of vigor of action and of behaviors that the parents may see as aggressive". 

During this period the primary feature involves the child regularly interacting with other children 

at school. Central to this stage is play, as it provides children with the opportunity to explore 

their interpersonal skills through initiating activities. 

Children begin to plan activities, make up games, and initiate activities with others.  If given this 

opportunity, children develop a sense of initiative, and feel secure in their ability to lead others 

and make decisions. 

Conversely, if this tendency is squelched, either through criticism or control, children develop a 

sense of guilt. They may feel like a nuisance to others and will therefore remain followers, 

lacking in self-initiative. 

The child takes initiatives which the parents will often try to stop in order to protect the 

child.  The child will often overstep the mark in his forcefulness and the danger is that the 

parents will tend to punish the child and restrict his initiatives too much. 

It is at this stage that the child will begin to ask many questions as his thirst for knowledge 

grows.  If the parents treat the child’s questions as trivial, a nuisance or embarrassing or other 

aspects of their behavior as threatening then the child may have feelings of guilt for “being a 


Too much guilt can make the child slow to interact with others and may inhibit their 

creativity.  Some guilt is, of course, necessary otherwise the child would not know how to 

exercise self control or have a conscience. 

A healthy balance between initiative and guilt is important.  Success in this stage will lead to the 

virtue of purpose


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