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Erik H. Erikson's Epigenetic Scheme
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Erik Homburger Erikson
Erik H. Erikson (1902–94)

A good goal of life is to pass through its dominant phases on their plus sides and thereby reap the id (libido) fair and square. Thus, as an infant you may gain trust, wellbeing and good sharing. How justified such a positive outcome is, depends largely on the mother figure involved, on the likely outcomes of the postivity later, and on the conditions for growth. A table gives a rough outline, and not nuances and qualifications. There are many books that deal with sad outcomes of the developmental challenges. Neuroses are the milder ones. There are books on such issues below.

Stage (age) 1 (0-1) - infant

Psychosocial crisis: Trust v mistrust

Significant relations: Mother

Psychosocial modalities: To get, to give in return

Psychosocial virtues: Hope, faith

Maladaptations and malignancies: Sensory distortion - withdrawal

Stage (age) 2 (2-3) - toddler

Psychosocial crisis: autonomy v shame and doubt

Significant relations: parents

Psychosocial modalities: to hold on, to let go

Psychosocial virtues: will, determination

Maladaptations and malignancies: impulsivity - compulsion

Stage (age) 3 (3-6) - preschooler

Psychosocial crisis: initiative v guilt

Significant relations: family

Psychosocial modalities: to go after, to play

Psychosocial virtues: purpose, courage

Maladaptations and malignancies: ruthlessness - inhibition

Stage (age) 4 (7-12 or so) - school-age child

Psychosocial crisis: industry v inferiority

Significant relations: neighbourhood and school

Psychosocial modalities: to complete, to make things together

Psychosocial virtues: competence

Maladaptations and malignancies: narrow virtuosity - inertia

Stage (age) 5 (12-18 or so) - adolescence

Psychosocial crisis: ego-identity v role-confusion

Significant relations: peer groups, role models

Psychosocial modalities: to be oneself, to share oneself

Psychosocial virtues: fidelity, loyalty

Maladaptations and malignancies: fanaticism - repudiation

Stage (age) 6 (the 20s) - young adult

Psychosocial crisis: intimacy v isolation

Significant relations: partners, friends

Psychosocial modalities: to lose and find oneself in a another

Psychosocial virtues: love

Maladaptations and malignancies: promiscuity - exclusivity

Stage (age) 7 (late 20s to 50's) - middle adult

Psychosocial crisis: generativity v self-absorption

Significant relations: household, workmates

Psychosocial modalities: to make be, to take care of

Psychosocial virtues: care

Maladaptations and malignancies: overextension - rejectivity

Stage (age) 8 (50s and beyond) - old adult

Psychosocial crisis: integrity v despair

Significant relations: mankind or "my kind"

Psychosocial modalities: to be, through having been, to face not being wisdom

Psychosocial virtues: wisdom

Maladaptations and malignancies: presumption - despair

Stage (age) 9 (added) - of a postulated, ripe old age

Psychosocial crisis: Being oneself and tidying up v game-playing social strategems.

Significant relations: God.

Psychosocial modalities: Doing away with masks, and with role-enacting and social pretences.

Psychosocial virtues: Transcending old customs and other forms of comme il faut. Having a "last chance" to be in the limelight somehow.

Maladaptations and malignancies: Groaning, yet keen on (figurative) pair-dances.

Comment. A ninth stage, Old Age, has been eluded to by Erikson's widow Joan Erikson in The Life Cycle Completed. The stage is, suggestedly, "Transcendance" (!) with the virtue of "faith".

Should I add to that? I would decide to call that dance a pavane, a slow processional dance. It is danced to in pairs. The dancers usually step forward, lift up their legs, and point their toes. Historically, in the 1600s the pavane flourished again with under French name tombeau (tombstone). And outcomes of the stage seem to be (a) showing one's true colours, thowing the masks, versus (b) wearing masks and make-ups - the forms of disguises. It should not be considered flattering not to have done away with "masks", including role-enacting", in the "pavane stage". That is my opinion.

How to relate the ninth stage to the one(s) before? Wisdom takes us to being ourselves at least, and preferably to showing ourselves too, while we have a last chance to do it. On the other hand, the other "road" of pretence and presumption may lead into masks that stick, but with despair underneath. Further, I hardly think "faith" is into the Pavane Stage, contrary to Joan Erikson, but a deeper integrity than that of youth.

The first five and the others

For decades Erikson's concept of eight stages of human development has deeply influenced the field of psychology in our times. According to Erik Erikson there are eight life stages. The five first of them relate to the five stages in Sigmund Freud's theory of libido (id) development, but Erikson expands the Freudian views into the socal sphere too, and his widow, Joan Erikson, postulates an added ninth stage.

Erikson thinks that as a grown-up, part of your challenge is to master the quite typical challenges that each of three main life phases tends to bring. Each of the eight stages of the life-span is marked by (a) psychosocial sensitivity (maybe "crisis" is a somewhat ill-chosen word); (b) significant relations; (c) things to go for or prefer; (d) marked or profiled virtues; and (e) thare are also risks of maldaptations and malignancies.

A beneficient goal of life is to pass through the phases on their plus sides, without plots, disturbances, thwartings, opposing enemies on every hand - so as to prosper and live well. Some stumbling is difficult to avoid, especially in the sensitive start phases of each phase, and where others are ruthless.

One or more of these stages may be involved in encounters. Below are the eight life-stage virtues again, in the order they may be acquired, according to Erikson:

  1. Hope, faith - Basic Trust vs. Mistrust - To what degree does the child come to believe its caregivers are reliable?
  2. Will, determination - Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt - Child needs assistance to learn to explore the world. A parent may be too smothering or too neglectful.
  3. Purpose, courage - Initiative vs. Guilt - How well the child can plan or do things on his own. If "guilty" about making his or her own choices, the child will not function well. Erikson holds that at this stage much guilt is quickly compensated by accomplishment.
  4. Competence - Industry vs. Inferiority - The child studies self worth and worth allotted to others, etc.
  5. Fidelity, loyalty - Identity vs. Role Confusion - Ego identity enables each person to have a sense of individuality, it is said. Questioning such as "Who am I, how do I fit in? Where am I going?"
  6. Love (in intimate relationships, work and family) - Intimacy vs. Isolation - One question: "Will I settle down?"
  7. Caring - Generativity vs. Stagnation - A wish to assist younger generations. Stagnation is the feeling of not having done anything to help the next generation.
  8. Wisdom - Ego Integrity vs. Despair - Some handle death well. One gauges or evaluates accomplishments in the lifetime, reflect on the past, "and moves on".
  9. Sincerity (- added by me here) should be a fine thing too, as compared to feigning and pretending. The older you get, the less there may be to lose from sincerity, sincere ways and dealings. Old sins and evils done may start to "weigh heavily on the chest" at that stage if not before, and so on.

Erik Homburger Erikson (1902-94)

The American psychoanalyst and developmental psychologist Erikson was born in Frankfurt am Main to Danish parents. His writings on individual identity conjunct with social developments and interactions influenced many, and became quite popular, and Erikson is famous for coining the phrase identity crisis.

While young, Erikson Erikson, a student and teacher of arts, and travelled around Europe and underwent training at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute to become a psychoanalyst. He also studied the Montessori method of education, which focused on child development. In 1933 he emigrated to the United States and establishing a solid reputation as an outstanding clinician. He taught at Harvard (1933–36; 1960–70) and engaged in a variety of clinical work. He sought to study how the ego, or consciousness, operates creatively in sane, well-ordered individuals.

Influenced by studies among Native Americans, Erikson set forth a theory that all societies develop institutions to accommodate personality development but that the solutions to similar problems differ between different societies.

His first major exposition on psychosocial development, Childhood and Society (1950), was ten years in the making. (1950). Erikson conceived eight stages of development, each confronting the individual with its own psychosocial demands. Personality development, says Erikson, takes place through a series of crises - I would say sensitive periods - that must be overcome - I would say successfully resolved - There is a series of such ongoing stages. The first five stages of his are heavily influenced by the theory of Freud. A successful outcome of one stage makes it easier to pass through the next stage without damage.

Erikson postulated three more stages of development than Sigmund Freud had done with his psychosexual stages. The ninth stage was added in Erikson's book "The Life Cycle Completed." Most empirical research into Erikson's theories has focused on his views about how adolescents seek to establish an identity. His theoretical approach has found support as well.

Erikson applied his insights into human nature on historical figures like Gandhi and Martin Luther. He linked psychoanalysis to history, political science, philosophy, and theology.

Erikson quotations

Healthy children will not fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death.

Every society consists of men in the process of developing from children into parents.

The playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery . . . Child's play is the infantile form of the human ability to deal with experience by creating model situations and to master reality by experiment and planning.

Freud was once asked what he thought a normal person should be able to do well. Freud said: "Lieben und arbeiten" (to love and to work). It pays to ponder on this simple formula; it gets deeper as you think about it.

The adolescent is faced with the question: freedom from what and at what price?

Let models help thinking

Erik Erikson has given the world sound model thinking - it is a major part of psychodynamic theory. Here are some models and their thinking too.

Heidi Klum, may actually live out aspects of the Epigenetic Scheme of Erik H. Erikson
Heidi Klum, supermodel

If chronological age were all that go into one's development, the model Heidi Klum (1971-) might be in her seventh phase according to a scheme of Erikson. In that life phase a central issue has to do with generativity and self-absorption.

We have a saying in Germany. It is better to have loved and lost than to engage in a land war with Russia in the winter. - Heidi Klum

Fashion is a very particular world, as you know. - Heidi Klum

I think if you give your best as a parent, then that's all you can do. - Heidi Klum

It's not difficult for me to stay healthy. I like healthy food. - Heidi Klum


Cindy Crawford at the Cannes Film Festival, perhaps sticking to the Epigenetic Scheme of Erik H. Erikson
Cindy Crawford at a Cannes Film Festival.

Cindy Crawford (1966-) appears to have chosen generativity. Now, in the seventh life phase, significant focus is directed to workmates or household relations, and a deep need to take care of (others) should emerge. Care would be fit. If so, good luck.

Every woman hates herself from behind. - Cindy Crawford

Even I don't wake up looking like Cindy Crawford. - Cindy Crawford

Erik Homburger Erikson, Epigenetic Scheme of Erik H. Erikson, personality development theory, Literature  

Erikson, Erik H. Childhood and Society. Reissue paperback ed. New York: Norton and Co., 1993. ⍽▢⍽ Erikson's epigenetic scheme is here.

⸻. Dimensions of a New Identity. Paperback ed. New York: Norton and Co., 1979.

⸻. Identity: Youth and Crisis. Reissue paperback ed. New York: Norton and Co., 1994.

⸻. The Life Cycle Completed (Extended Version). New York: Norton and Co., 1999.

⸻. Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (Austen Riggs Monograph). Reissue paperback ed. New York: Norton and Co., 1993.

Ewen, Robert. B. An Introduction to Theories of Personality. New York: Psychology Press, 2014. ⍽▢⍽ Chapter 8 is devoted to Erik Erikson's theories. The book gives a good overview of great theorists and their various contributions.

Fenichel, Otto. The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis. Abingdon, UK: Taylor and Francis, 2005 (1946).

Freud, Sigmund. Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1949 (1922).

⸻. On Sexuality: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and Other Works. New ed. Paperback. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Hoare, Carol Hren. Erikson on Development in Adulthood: New Insights from the Unpublished Papers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. ⍽▢⍽ Professor Hoare exposes Erikson's substantial contributions. Here is a synthesis of Erikson's views on adult development during the life span. During the last decades of his life, adult development was Erikson's main interest.

Horney, Karen. Our Inner Conflicts: A Constructive Theory of Neurosis. New York: Norton and Co., 1945.

Wikipedia, "Erik Erikson", and "Erikson's stages of psychosocial development".

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