Erik Erikson’s Theory of Personality

Erickson’s theory of personality

According to Erickson’s theory of personality, the stages of psychosocial development occur in the entire lifespan of a human being. These stages are essential in developing psychological skills and personality. Erickson’s psychosocial stages are trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus doubt or shame, initiative versus guilt, industry versus inferiority, identity versus role confusion, intimacy versus isolation, generatively versus isolation, and ego integrity versus despair.

Erickson’s stages of psychosocial development.

Trust versus mistrust

This stage is experienced during infancy, and the main activity is feeding. A person develops trust when the caregiver offers reliable affection and care. Absence of care and love leads to mistrust (Douvan, 1997).

Autonomy versus doubt and shame

This stage occurs to children between 2 and 3 years. The main activity is toilet training. Children need to develop a sense of independence and personal control over their physical skills. Thus, when children are successful in gaining control over their physical skills, they gain autonomy, and failing in doing this leads to a feeling of shame and self unconsciousness (Andersen, 1993).

Initiative versus guilt

This stage is common among children between 3 and 5 years. The main activity at this stage is exploration. Children start to assert power and control over the environment. A child develops a sense of purpose when he or she passes this stage successfully. Failure in this stage leads to doubt and shame (Eagle, 1999).

Industry versus inferiority

This occurs at the school-age (6 to 11 years). Children have the duty of coping with academic demands and new social settings. According to Anderson (1993), “success in this stage leads to competence whereas failure results in a sense of inferiority”.

Identity versus role confusion

This occurs in adolescence stage (12 to 18 years) were developing social relationships is the point of focus. In this stage, it is a priority number one for adolescents to understand their needs and be aware of their identities. Success in this stage enables one to develop a positive self-identity whereas failure results in a weak sense of self-identity and role confusion (Douvan, 1997).

Intimacy versus isolation

This stage affects young adults. The main activity is forming an intimate relationship. There is a need to establish a loving relationship with others. Success in this stage is a benefit as it promotes stable relationships, however, failing to establish loving relationships may result in isolation (Eagle, 1999).

Generatively versus stagnation

This stage occurs among individuals in middle adulthood. The main events in this stage are parenthood and work. “Success in this stage creates a sense of accomplishment while failure results in a sense of uselessness” (Andersen, 1993).

Ego integrity versus despair

This is a maturity stage that occurs in adults over 65 years. The main event is the reflection. Reflection helps develop wisdom, otherwise, people may feel regret (Douvan, 1997).

Borderline personality disorder

This personality disorder is characterized by chronic alteration of personality functions and is marked by unusual mood variations. The disorder’s main symptoms are a disturbed individual sense of self-identity, unstable interpersonal relationships, the problem with self-image and behavior, and idealization episodes. These characteristics differ from behaviors considered normal in American culture where a normal individual is supposed to have a positive self-identity, form a stable interpersonal relationship, and have positive self-esteem (Robinson, 2005). This disorder can be managed by psychotherapy or medical treatment. Psychotherapy involves cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic treatment. Medical treatment involves the use of antipsychotic drugs (Paris, 2010).


Andersen, D. C. (1993), Beyond rumor and reductionism: a textual dialogue with Erik H. Erikson. The Psychohistory review 22(1), 35–68.

Douvan, E. (1997). Erik Erikson: critical times, critical theory. Child psychiatry and human development , 28(1); 15–21.

Eagle, M. (1997). Contributions of Erik Erikson. Psychoanalytic review 84(3), 337–47.

Paris, J. (2010). Effectiveness of Different Psychotherapy Approaches in the Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. Current Psychiatry Reports 12(1), 56–60.

Robinson, D. (2005). Disordered Personalities. New York: Rapid Psychler Press.