German-American psychologist, Erik Erikson, proposed that as we progress through our human journey, we face crises during each of eight stages of life. Our experiences in each of these stages build upon each other—responses in one stage set the trajectory for the next stage. While positive responses can reinforce virtues, negative responses can lead to maldevelopment.
Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust (Birth to 2-years)
Trust influences the virtue of hope. Mistrust influences withdrawal. A child’s relationship with their mother is foundational in this all-important first stage. One of a mother’s primary duties is to provide a safe and secure home environment. With regular access to affection, cleanliness, and food, babies learn to trust others. Infants who don’t receive adequate nourishment, care, or warmth tend to withdraw and mistrust others.
Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt (2-years to 3-years)
Autonomy influences the virtue of free will. Shame and doubt influence self-consciousness. Within a safe and secure home environment, children tend to develop self-sufficiency—walking, talking, and moving forward in life with self-confidence. Toddlers who lack a safe and secure home environment tend to doubt their abilities and respond to crises compulsively. More than any other stage, temperaments are volatile, emotions are unpredictable, and children express themselves strongly as they search for their own identity.
Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt (4-years to 5-years)
Initiative influences the virtue of purpose. Guilt influences inhibition. As children start taking initiative, they learn which behaviors are allowed vs. not allowed. These lessons teach them how to be a socially attractive playdate: a crucially important developmental milestone. They’ll often undertake adult-like tasks, sometimes overstepping limits set by caregivers. Through dramatic play and stories, children develop a conscience; this concept of right vs. wrong helps them stay within reasonable boundaries. As they learn what is considered acceptable or unacceptable, this maturation process helps them choose appropriate responses. The natural progression for parents is to gradually grant more independence. When considering how much freedom to give, mom manages the delicate balance being between too permissive and too restrictive.
Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority (6-years to 12-years)
Industry influences the virtue of competence. Inferiority influences passivity. When mothers set reasonable expectations, provide encouragement, and praise accomplishments, children are more determined to be productive and successful. Failure—along with inaccurate perceptions of failure—can lead to feelings of inferiority. Success doesn’t only manifest in the school setting, but in all domains of life: unique projects, sports, dance, art, music, and in just being an awesome child. A mother’s poise during this stage can influence her children towards feelings of self-confidence and competence for the rest of their lives.
Stage 5: Identity vs. Identity Confusion (13-years to 19-years)
As teenagers develop a healthy identity, this process influences the virtue of faithfulness. Conversely, identity confusion can lead to self-doubt. During adolescence, children start to engage in more immersive life experiences outside of the family unit with a much greater emphasis on relationships with their peers. Between their aspirations, encounters with social expectations, and still-developing value systems, teenagers “find themselves.” Friends, family, social trends, and pop culture all influence identity. It is important for mothers to help teens learn healthy ways to manage transitions and handle disappointments. Mom should keep open the lines of communication and encourage teenagers to continue to build upon the value system we’ve helped instill in them over the years.
Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation (20-years to 40-years)
Intimacy influences the virtue of love. Isolation influences loneliness. Intimate relationships are supposed to be reciprocal, but sometimes people let us down and we experience rejection or other feelings that cause emotional withdrawal. It’s important to remember that no one is perfect—if there is one guarantee in life—it is that people will disappoint us. Sometimes easier said than done, we should strive to forbid negative incidents from ruining our lives. With a commitment to openness and sharing with others, we align our lives to experience love and repel loneliness.
Stage 7: Generativity vs. Stagnation / Self-Absorption (40-years to 65-years)
Generativity is the propensity to promote the well-being of younger generations, helping ensure the long-term survival of our species; generativity personifies the virtue of care. Stagnation and self-absorption tend to influence feelings associated with a lack of meaning. Parenting, coaching, and teaching the next generation help us feel that our time here was worth something, a piece of our legacy to share with those who come after us. Generativity gives meaning and purpose to our lives.
Stage 8: Integrity vs. Despair (65-years to Death)
Integrity influences the virtue of wisdom. Despair influences disdain. Those who feel fulfilled by their lives face aging with a sense of pride, graciously accepting death as an unavoidable reality. If we feel that we largely mismanaged our lives, we may face aging with a sense of incompleteness. Our experience during this stage is predicated entirely on how we lived through each prior stage, a final domino of sorts.
Advancing through Erikson’s Eight Stages of Life, we grow and encounter crises. Two opposing psychological forces influence either virtue or maldevelopment. If virtue is adopted, we tend to resolve conflict in healthy ways, nurturing optimistic biases which support us during our progression through life. If maldevelopment is adopted, we tend to resolve conflict in unhealthy ways that impede us from living our best, most fruitful lives. Relative to how we see ourselves and the outside world, the stages are like sequential, each infusing the next with inclinations towards either stability or instability.
PLEASE NOTE: As an Amazon Associate, Mothers Truly Matter earns from qualifying purchases. The information in this post should not be construed as providing specific psychiatric, psychological, or medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand the lives and health of themselves and their children. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist.