Lifespan Development

Lifespan Development

Sociologists and psychologists have one thing in common in the sense that both their practices are fashioned and informed by theories. Theories are explanations that tend to assert why things are as they are. There are a number of theories offer explanations on human behaviour and development. A concise understanding of lifespan development is gained by approaching the whole issue via multidimensionality. The multidimensional approach allows a practitioner in the field of human development to understand the contribution of various parties to the practices that they are employing in their practices. The essay that follows will attempt to apply Erik Erikson’s theory on psychosocial development in understanding lifespan development.

Erik Erikson was a German psychoanalyst that relocated to Vienna to take up a career in teaching and arts. It is during his tenure as a teacher that he was introduced into the Freudian Circle and later on, he was admitted to Vienna’s Psychoanalytic Institute where he serves as a child analyst. Erikson worked with Anne Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology (Miller, 2002). Erikson’s involvement at the institute allowed him to work closely with Anne applying her father’s study. Sigmund Freud initially established the Psychoanalysis movement. Most of the studies and research into the field of psychoanalysis are founded from the original studies of Sigmund Freud. The other researches that followed including Erikson’s it diverged from the parent theory laid down by Sigmund Freud.

Freud presented a five-stage model of human development, which he called psychosexual model of development. This model laid much emphasis on infancy as the period of substantial human development. This theory led to increased research into the field of psychoanalysis with other theorists trying to either revisit or re-evaluate the theory. Erikson acknowledged the contribution made by Freud in explaining human development. He redeveloped Freud’s theory to introduce a life span view to human development.

The new model introduced by Erikson had eight stages. He called the model, the eight-stage model of psychosocial development. The psychosocial model focused on the influences that the social environment on the development of personality. Unlike Freud’s model that concentrated on the infancy period of human development, Erikson’s model addressed development that occurs from infancy all the way to adulthood (Miller, 2002). The psychosocial model observes that newborn babies are not a blank slate. They become influenced and they influence the new social environment that they are born into. This point will be clarified when the various stages are discussed.

According to Erikson (1959), the basis purpose and principle that governs life rests in finding one’s identity. The process of finding ones identity is gradual and cumulative in nature. A person finds his identity as his ego progresses as it interacts with the demands placed on the individual by the society. Erikson’s model of development is said to be culturally relative. This means that the social environment that influences an individual finds a way to adapt itself to meet the new needs presented by the individual.

Erikson is commonly referred to as an ego psychologist because of his thoughts on the ego. Erikson placed much importance; he argued that the ego had a life form of its own. He added that the ego represented more of the summation of a person’s personality that the id. Erikson also placed much emphasis on social interactions as the primary source of development and sought to dispute Freud’s psychosexual model (Erikson, 1959).

The Stages of Development

Erickson observed that each stage of development presented unique challenges, which he referred to as crises. He believed that the crises that affected the ego also challenged an individual’s identity. He asserted that successful development of an individual’s personality hinges on meeting and overcoming the crises. Erikson’s model proceeds in an epigenetic manner. This term has been borrowed from embryology where it means that the success of a successive stage of the embryonic development hinges on the success of the preceding step. For instance, if in stage one the embryo failed to develop a limb, then this embryo will continue with other stages of development without the limb (Harms, 2010). This explanation can be extrapolated to explain the exogenesis process. Some aspect of personality is a counterpart of the limb. If anything disturbs the psychosocial process, then the individual will go through the other stages without the aspect that was not developed in the preceding stages.

For each of Erikson’s stages there is a basic strength and core pathology. The basic strength emanates from the successful resolution of the crisis that an individual faces at a particular stage of development. The stages of Erikson’s psychosocial development are defined hereunder:

Stage 1: Basic trust versus Basic Mistrust

The first stage in psychosocial development occurs when the child has just been born into the world. At this stage, the baby faces a crisis that presents a virtue in the name of trust and a vice in the name of mistrust. The basic strength of this stage is hope or optimism while the core pathology is withdrawal. Optimism teaches the baby a vital lesson that it will carry throughout the other stages of life. The lesson is that everything will work together for good and that things will turn out for the best.

At this first stage, the baby is very young and the mother happens to be his main social interaction. It is through the interaction with the mother that the child gets to learn the lessons on trust and mistrust. According to Erickson (1959), a healthy child is one who has been allowed to grow up in an environment that has a fair measure of trust and mistrust. He argues that it is healthy for babies to learn some healthy sense of mistrust to be able to deal with other untrustworthy social interactions that they will meet in the course of their lifespan. The child needs attention and tender loving care. This should be provided in fair proportion to allow his ego grows but at the same time, the child should also be taught the importance of delayed gratification.

The relationship between a mother and her baby is unique. She is the first teacher to the kid; she provides comfort and nurturance to the baby. The child must go beyond trusting the mother into trusting itself so that when it comes to some later time of infancy it can exercise self-regulation. Trust building and ego development is said to have occurred in a child if it learns to accept its mother’s absence without much anxiety (Beckett, & Taylor, 2010).

Stage 2: Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt

Erickson says that at this stage the child has developed into a toddler. The toddler is trying to gain some sense of control over its bodily functions. This is evidenced when the toddler develops skills that include talking, walking, feeding, dressing, and controlling bowel functions. It will be seen that the child will increasingly want to exercise autonomy by accomplishing these tasks by itself without any help from the parent (Beckett, & Taylor, 2010). A feeling of doubt and shame will be expressed by a child who tries to accomplish a certain task and fails at it.

The basic strength of this stage is the will. The parent must be careful to allow and guide the toddler towards accomplishing the task that can be executed by them. Compulsion is the antithesis for this stage. Parents should not let their children to have their way in everything because they might grow up as rebellious people. At the same time, parents are advised against being too controlling; this might lead to the emergence of individuals who are always ashamed and lack autonomy (Erickson, 1959).

Stage 3: Initiative versus Guilt

A t this stage the child has grown and can now exercise some form of autonomy especially in accomplishing basic bodily functions. The child is still young and bombarded with the crises such as incest taboo, infantile sexuality among others. The child enters a phase in, which he act as a career of tradition. The child uses his skill of observation and imitation to learn the basic lessons of this stage (Beckett, & Taylor, 2010). The child’s initiative is exemplified when it takes time to imitate what it sees around the home environment. Guilt comes in when the child feel that his that it is competing with the parent. Children at this stage are locomotive and they learn and experiment through imaginative plays. The basic strength of this stage is purpose while inhibition is its anti thesis.

Stage 4: Industry versus Inferiority

The child at his stage has mastered on how to employ his skills in making things. The child adjusts itself to both the tool world and the inorganic laws that operate them. The child gets to learn the work principle, which will help him taste the satisfaction that one feels after completing something(Beckett, & Taylor, 2010). The basic strength of this stage is competence while inertia is the stage’s antithesis. Inner conflicts experience by a child at these stage causes the child to increase in mastery of skill and learning.

Stage 5: Identity versus Role Confusion

This stage kicks on at the beginning of adolescence. Adolescence is regarded as a stage where young people are faced with multiple crises and challenges. The child’s preoccupation in this stage is to separate self from parents. Teens that now get to a serious inquiry into knowing who they are then follows as the teens try to invent and define themselves. Teens define their lives around role models who include athletes, film and movie stars, teachers, patents, and coaches. Teens experiment with piercings and tattoos just to define who they are. The parent or guardian must be careful to set up rules to protect the teenage (Sigelman, & Rider, 2011).

The parents can prohibit their teens from partaking in permissive sexual behaviour, dug experimentation, and hanging with the wrong crowd (Kroger, 1996). Again, parents are not to be seen as controlling the teens lest they rebel. The parents experience some conflict in this level: how much control to assume and how much freedom to allow. The establishment of mutual respect between the parent and the teen is important. In deed the teen years is a period of identity crisis for the teenagers. The basic strength of this stage is fidelity while its core pathology is repudiation.

Step 6: Intimacy versus Isolation

This stage of lifespan development is entered into by individuals that have matured from teenage. Erikson asserts that intimacy between couples is only possible if the two first took time to mature separately. Persons that opt to marry before the couple has taken time to mature properly stand a risk of dissolving the marriage and adding to the already big number of failed marriages of this generation. It is worth noting that maturity does not come with age; some people mature early, while others mature late in life. Marriage should only be entered into by two mature people. Intimacy is the basic strength of this stage while isolation is its core pathology (Beckett, & Taylor, 2010).

Stage 7: Generatively versus Stagnation

Erikson uses the concept of generatively to show that individuals need to coin their affairs along practices that will ensure sustainability in the future. He recognized that individuals could live fulfilled lives without having children. The antithesis to this is stagnation, which refers to the loss of self in what can be said to be self-absorption.

Stage 8: Integrity versus Despair

At this stage, an individual has reached the peak of his life. It is a time that most people take to look back and reflect on their lives. The basic strength of this stage is integrity while its antithesis is despair. Integrity brings about a feeling of satisfaction when one looks back and sees the great achievements he has been able to make. Despair sets in when one looks back and feels that he has not achieved enough or he wasted his life.

In summary, the stages of human development and lifespan have been captured best by Erikson’s psychosocial model of development. A clear understanding of these stages is key in helping us optimize our basic strengths in all stages while keeping the core pathologies at bay.



Beckett, C., & Taylor, H. (2010). Human Growth and Development. London: Sage Publications.

Erikson, H, E. (1959. Identity and the life cycle. New York. Norton.

Harms, L. (2010). Understanding Human Development – A multidimensional approach (2nd e.d). Melbourne, Victoria. Oxford University Press.

Kroger, J. (1996). Adolescence as identity synthesis: Erikson’s psychosocial approach. Identity in Adolescence – The balance between self and other (pp.13 – 47). NewYork. Routledge.

Miller, H, P. (2002). Theories of Developmental Psychology (4th e.d.). United States of America. Worth Publishers.

Sigelman, C. K., & Rider, E. A. (2011). Life-span human development. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

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