Monday, July 17, 2006

Erik Erikson
(1902 - 1994)

Erik Erikson: Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson was a developmental psychologist who believed, as most developmental theorists do, that humans develop in stages. Departing from the theories of his teacher, Sigmund Freud, Erikson believed these stages were psychosocial in nature as opposed to psychosexual in nature. These eight stages, Trust vs. Mistrust, Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt, Initiative vs. Guilt, Industry vs. Inferiority, Identity vs. Identity Confusion, Intimacy vs. Isolation, Generativity vs. Stagnation, and Integrity vs. Despair, cover an individual's entire lifespan, from birth through old age. At the culmination of each stage, the individual either resolves the conflict, thereby achieving balance between the two opposing forces, or psychological problems result.

This site is devoted to Erikson's sixth psychosocial stage, Intimacy vs. Isolation. This stage occurs in early adulthood, following the successful resolution of the previous (fifth) stage, Identity vs. Identity Confusion. An individual who has developed a solid sense of his/her identity is capable of achieving the intimacy presented in stage six. Resolution of the fifth stage is critical, however, because an individual who has not established for him/herself a secure identity will struggle to achieve such intimacy in future relationships.

According to Erikson, the intimacy one seeks during this stage relates to friendships and sexual relationships; it can be both intellectual and sexual in nature. If the individual fails to achieve such intimacy, his/her relationships will be superficial and transient, eventually leading to isolation and the rejection of potentially intimate relationships.

General Resources

This site contains a biography of Erikson and his contributions and then goes into some detail about each of his eight psychosocial stages of development. I recommend visiting this page just to read the description of the Intimacy vs. Isolation conflict. Here's an excerpt: "Intimacy is the ability to be close to others, as a lover, a friend, and as a participant in society. Because you have a clear sense of who you are, you no longer need to fear "losing" yourself, as many adolescents do. The "fear of commitment" some people seem to exhibit is an example of immaturity in this stage."

The site was created by Dr. C. George Boeree.

This article, entitled "Identity, intimacy, and 'hooking up,'" brings Erikson's sixth stage to today's college campus and explores the trend of "hooking up" as it relates to this developmental conflict. The author, James Fowler, effectively states, "Intimacy means developing the capacity to engage in closeness with others, including sexual closeness, without needing to use or manipulate the other, and without allowing or fearing the loss or abuse of oneself. Intimacy inherently involves boundaries and mutual commitment."

Here is another interesting article entitled "Creating intimacy after childhood abuse: Avoidant and dependent personalities find true love," written by Natasha Sims. She describes the ways in which a child's upbringing and relationships to family can impact the forming of a secure identity, thereby influencing that individual's ability to resolve the Identity vs. Isolation conflict.

Click this link to read through a study entitled "Loneliness and fear of intimacy among adolescents who were taught not to trust strangers during childhood." The authors, Francis Terrell, Ivanna S. Terrell, and Susan R. Von Drashek, explored self-reported "feelings of loneliness and fear of intimacy among adolescents as a function of whether they were taught not to trust strangers during childhood." Interestingly, data was collected from both the participants (UCLA students) and their parents. (Beware the spam-like appearance of this site, though, complete with flashing banner at the top and ads throughout the text of the study.)

This link goes directly to a page that describes the developmental conflict of "Intimacy and Distantiation versus Self-Absorption." It effectively describes the sixth psychosocial conflict and provides a link to books written by Erik Erikson at the bottom of the page. The site itself (freudianslip) is worth checking out; it describes each of Erikson's eight stages in some detail and contains important information about seminal theorists.

This page provides a very brief description of stage six, including factors that could lead to either a positive or a negative outcome.

This site is a biography of Erik Erikson compiled by Wendy Sharkey in 1997. The site presents a succinct yet detailed synopsis of the psychologist's life and work, complete with a solid description of the eight psychosocial stages of development.

This page provides a brief biography of Erikson and a detailed table illustrating each of the eight psychosocial stages. A description of stage six is also provided below the table.

A well-organized and user-friendly site, provides a description of Erikson's beginnings in psychology and his theory and summarizes each psychosocial stage.

Created by W. Huitt at Valdosta State University, this site provides detailed graphic representations of the eight stages, including what to expect at the resolution of each stage. Also presented is a separate table of the stages of socioemotional development for girls, which I found interesting. The site goes on to discuss ways in which teachers and parents can help encourage the resolution of crises encountered during the earlier stages.

This site provides a brief summary of each of Erikson's eight stages. The page was created by Richard Niolon, Ph.D. as part of a site called


Click here to purchase a copy of Erikson's first book, Childhood and Society, originally published in 1950.

Establishing a secure ego and sense of self is critical if one is to successfully resolve the intimacy versus isolation conflict. This book, Identity and the Life Cycle, compiles three of Erikson's early writings into one volume. The three papers, "Ego development and historical change,"Growth and crises of the healthy personality," and "The problem of ego identity," illustrate the importance of establishing a secure identity prior to entering the subsequent stages of psychosocial development.

Erik Erikson is considered by many to be one of the preeminent theorists in the realm of identity formation. Much of his research and work demonstrates that identity formation is central to the rest of the developmental process. This book, Identity: Youth and Crisis, is a collection of Erikson's essays dealing with the adolescent identity conflict, the resolution of which is vital when an individual enters the Intimacy vs. Isolation stage.

Research Articles

(To view the last five articles you will need your O-Key account ID and password.)

In her dissertation entitled "Differences between pregnant and nonpregnant adolescents on intimacy using Erikson's Psychological Stage Inventory Scale," Jennifer Janay Schmoker (Texas Tech University) explores the differences in intimacy scores among pregnant and nonpregnant adolescent women from rural areas.

Hamachek, D. (1990). Evaluating self-concept and ego status in Erikson's last three psychosocial stages. Journal of Counseling & Development, 68(6), 677-683.

Lobel, T. E., & Winch, G. L. (1988). Psychosocial development, self-concept, and gender. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 149(3), 405-411.

Newcomb, M. D. (1996). Pseudomaturity among adolescents: Construct validation, sex differences, and associations in adulthood. Journal of Drug Issues, 26(2), 477-504.

Raskin, P. M. (1986). The relationship between identity and intimacy in early adulthood. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 147(2), 167-181.

Rosenthal, D. A., Gurney, R. M., & Moore, S. M. (1981). From trust to intimacy: A new inventory for examining Erikson's stages of psychosocial development. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 10(6), 525-537.

This article discusses the development of the Erikson Psychosocial Stage Inventory, an instrument designed to measure whether or not an individual has successfully achieved resolution at each of Erikson's eight stages.