Erik Erikson

Although Erik Erikson (1902-1994) was born in Frankfurt, Germany, his parents were Danish. His father was Protestant and his mother Jewish. When Erik was in his 30s, he moved to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1936.

Erikson emphasized the impact of society on the ego, the continuity of the present and the past, and the importance of personal identity (an inner sense of uniqueness) and identity confusion. Erikson saw ego as a creative problem solver. The ego helps organize one’s personality, and synthesizes the conscious and unconscious experiences. It works toward effective performance, as well as avoiding anxiety.

The ego also develops strengths at each stage of development. According to Erikson, there are eight stages in all. The first 5 stages are comparable to Freud’s, including infancy (oral), muscular (anal), locomotor (genital), latency, and adolescence. In Erikson’s sixth stage, the young adult struggles with intimacy and the development of love. As an adult, the seventh stage which extends from the mid-twenties to age 65, people focus on caring for their children and being productive in their careers. Maturity, the eighth stage, included the development of wisdom and a struggle to turn the fear of death into integrated self.

These stages show how children try to understand and relate to the world. According to Erikson, development stages are epigenetic (upon emergence), sequential (occur only in one order) and hierarchical (personality becomes more complex). The behaviors from one stage don’t disappear when the next one starts but each stage has its own characteristic crisis and virtue. A crisis is a battle between opposites (trust vs. distrust). A virtue is what you acquire when you have mastered that stage (hope).

Here are the crises and virtues for Erikson’s stages:

1. Trust vs distrust: Hope
2. Autonomy vs shame-doubt: Will
3. Initiative vs guilt: Purpose
4. Industry vs inferiority: Competence
5. Ego identity vs role confusion: Fidelity
6. Intimacy vs isolation: Love
7. Generativity vs stagnation: Care
8. Ego integrity vs despair: Wisdom

In his later years, Erikson studied the Sioux Indians (S Dakota) and the Yurok salmon fishermen of northern California. He found the Sioux to be trusting and generous, while the Yurok were miserly and suspicious. According to Erikson, the difference in behavior was the result of their cultures.

Check out this video about Erikson and the other NeoFreudians.

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