Abstract. Erik Erikson. Contributions to developmental psychology.

Erik Homburger Erikson – biographical information

The researcher's fate unfolded in an unusual way. Erikson was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1902. In 1928 he began studying psychoanalysis. He was the son of an extramarital affair between Carla Abrahamsen, a Jewish woman from a wealthy family, and a Danish man. Carla's mother died when she was fifteen. Biographers do not have more information about his father. Since Carla was married to a Jew, Waldemar Salomonsen, the child received the surname Salomonsen. Then Erikson's mother became a nurse, moved to the city of Karlsruhe and remarried. Erik Salomonsen became Erik Homburger, who was adopted by her second husband, pediatrician Theodor Homburger. In 1930, Erikson married Joan Serson, a dancer and artist from Canada, and then moved from Europe to America. Finally, Eric Homburger changes his last name to “Erickson” - “adopting himself,” as he jokingly explained it. And Erickson kept his previous surname as his middle name.

Perhaps it was precisely because of his difficult fate that Erikson was so concerned about the issue of identity. As a child, he was not told about his father. In Jewish schools, Erickson was teased by his peers for his blond hair and blue eyes (“Nordic appearance”), and in secular school, for his Judaism. More and more he realized that his father had non-Jewish roots.

After moving to America, the scientist continued his research at Harvard University and then at Yale. From 1960 to 1968, Erickson worked as a professor at Harvard. Erikson was a student of Anna Freud. But Erickson decided to oppose Freud’s theory with his own. The scientist divided human life not into 5, but into 8 stages. He renamed the “genital stage” “Youth”. Erikson also added three more stages related to the period of adulthood. He believed that the influence of personality development on its formation in society is the merit not of subconscious drives, but of the work of the Ego. Erik Erikson is also the originator of the concept of “Ego Psychology.” In it, the Ego is not the servant of unconscious impulses. Erickson was convinced that it was the human Ego that was responsible for organizing life, communicating with people, and personal growth.

Scientific activity

At the age of 25, Eric met the Freuds. The psychoanalyst's daughter Anna helped him become a lecturer at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. The young man took up child psychology. At the same time, he studied the Montessori method, which is based on attention to child development and the stages of sexual changes. In 1933, the psychologist received his diploma.

After moving to the United States, Erickson became the first child psychoanalyst in Boston. He first worked at the Massachusetts General Hospital, then at the Judge Baker Center and Harvard Medical School. He was also a doctor at a psychological clinic. In 1936, Eric was offered a position at the School of Medicine and the Institute of Social Relations at Yale University. In addition to psychoanalysis, the researcher studied the connection between anthropology and psychology, interacting with authoritative representatives of both directions.

In 1938, Erickson completed his work at Yale and traveled to South Dakota to observe the Sioux tribe and then became familiar with the traditions of the Yurok tribe in California. By comparing the characteristics of child development in communities, the psychologist found differences. They motivated the scientist to research the impact of events occurring during adolescence on the psyche. A year later, Erickson and his family moved to California, where he joined a team at the Berkeley Social Welfare Institute researching child development. He also practiced in San Francisco.

In his new location, Eric re-traveled to the Yurok Tribe and completed a second exploration. In 1950, the book “Childhood and Society” was published, which brought him fame. It described thoughts regarding the world of childhood and the influence of society on it. In the same year, the scientist left the University of California.

From 1951 to 1960, Erick Erickson taught at the Austin Riggs Center and worked with emotionally troubled young people. At the same time, he spoke at the University of Pittsburgh as a visiting professor. In 1958, a book by a scientist called “Young Luther” was published.

Returning to Harvard in the late 1960s, he served as a professor until 1970. Erikson's book Identity: Youth and Crisis was published in 1968. In 1973, the researcher spoke at the Jefferson Lecture and received the highest US award from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The scientist made a significant contribution to psychology. Accepting Freud's theory, he did not concentrate on the idea of ​​​​the relationship between children and parents, but put interest in the individual at the forefront. His theory of personality development divided psychological development not into 5 stages, but into 8 stages of the life cycle. In addition to the phases described by Freud, 3 more periods of the adult state appeared in the scheme.

Discussing identity confusion, Erikson created the following periodization of developmental stages: oral-sensory, musculo-anal, locomotor-genital, latent, adolescent, early maturity (youth), middle maturity, late maturity (old age).

He attached great importance to the ego, believing that its identity allows each person to be an individual. Role distortions lead to the fact that the subject may not succeed as a member of society. The researcher believed that the environment significantly influences the child’s adaptation, the formation of self-awareness and identity. The ego is responsible for harmony with the environment, personal growth and fulfillment, and self-confidence.

Erikson's stages of personality development

Erikson divided personality development into eight stages, during which the process of ego identity formation unfolds.

  1. The first stage - infancy - lasts from birth to 1 year. The basic crisis is the formation of trust or distrust in the outside world. The source of energy here is hope. Alienation provokes temporary confusion.
  2. Early childhood stage – from 1 year to 3 years. The basic crisis is the opposition of personal autonomy to doubt and shame. The source of energy is will, and alienation occurs due to distorted self-awareness.
  3. Stage 3 to 6 years, or play age. The crisis consists of a conflict between initiative and a sense of guilt. The source of energy at this stage is the ability to formulate goals and objectives. Alienation occurs due to the rigid predetermination of the social role.
  4. From 6 to 12 years old, the child is at the school age stage, when failure is opposed to competence. A potential source of energy for the psyche here is confidence, and alienation is provoked by stagnation of activity.
  5. Next comes the stage of adolescence, which Erikson ranged from 12 years to 21 years. It is here that the confrontation between identity and role confusion occurs. The crisis is expressed by the question: who am I? The teenager strives for independence and wants to be free from responsibility for his life. Adolescence is the age during which the future professional development of the individual is determined, and attempts are made for the first time to build a romantic relationship.
  6. The stage of early maturity lasts from 21 to 25 years. Here, intimate relationships are contrasted with isolation. The question at this age is: am I able to build trusting relationships with others?
  7. The stage of middle maturity lasts from 25 to 60 years. It contrasts stagnation in action with productive life. The question that expresses the basic conflict of this age is what does my life mean? What am I going to do with it?
  8. The eighth stage is called the late maturity stage. It involves a process that Erikson’s theory of personality development calls ego integration. The question of this period was: did my life have meaning?

Stage 3: initiative versus guilt

The third stage of E. Erikson’s epigenetic theory is associated with the development of a sense of initiative in children. From this point on, peers become more important as little individuals begin to interact more with them in their neighborhood or in the classroom. Children begin to pretend to play games and socialize more, often creating fun activities and planning activities with others like themselves.

At this stage of Erikson's epigenetic theory of development, it is important for the individual to make judgments and plan their actions. Children also begin to assert more power and control over the world around them. During this period, parents and guardians should encourage them to explore and also make decisions accordingly.

Important points about taking initiative versus guilt:

  1. Children who successfully cope with this stage take initiative, while those who do not may feel guilty.
  2. The virtue at the center of this stage is the goal, or feeling that they have control and power over certain things in the world.

Erikson's Theory of Personality Development and Ego Identity

What does the term mean that Erickson was so interested in that he devoted much of his research to it? Strictly speaking, identity is the identity of a person with himself. Erikson sought to expand this concept. Identity, he believed, is both an image of oneself in relation to the world around us, and a person’s ability to qualitatively solve the difficulties that arise before him, and an indicator of the maturity of the individual.

Transitions between stages of personality development are crises. But they are not neurotic in nature, but are only turning points in development. Erikson's special attitude towards adolescence can be seen in many of his works. At this stage, the scientist believed, the deepest psychological crisis occurs. Three powerful forces lead to it: physiological maturation, problems communicating with peers, and professional choice.

Erickson gave a special name to the period between adolescence and adulthood - mental moratorium. The course of this crisis largely depends on the previous stages. The result of adolescence is either a mature personality or a personality with a “diffuse identity.” If the crisis of adolescence has not been overcome, then the result is pathological development of the individual. It is expressed in the following characteristics:

  • Increased, persistent feeling of anxiety;
  • Feeling of loneliness and emptiness;
  • Reluctance to take responsibility; the desire to delay the acquisition of adult status for as long as possible;
  • Social fears, as well as the inability to interact emotionally with people of the opposite sex;
  • Denial of the value of all social roles, including male and female.

The period of adulthood is also of particular importance for ego identity. If a person does what he loves and has managed to build a family, this is a good sign. If he is lonely, he does not have a good job or a satisfying hobby, stagnation begins. The individual experiences emotional and physiological stress.

Stage 4: Environment vs. Inferiority

During the school years through adolescence, children enter a psychosocial stage that Erikson calls “environment versus inferiority” in his epigenetic theory of development. During this time, they focus on developing a sense of competence. It is not surprising that school plays an important role at this stage of development.

As children grow older, they acquire the ability to solve increasingly complex problems. They are also interested in becoming skilled and proficient at various things, and they develop an aptitude for learning new skills and solving problems. Ideally, children will be supported and praised for completing various activities such as drawing, reading and writing. By receiving this positive attention and reinforcement, rising individuals begin to develop the self-confidence necessary to achieve success.

So what happens if children do not receive praise and attention from others for mastering something new is an obvious question. Erikson's epigenetic theory of personality believed that failure to master this stage of development would ultimately lead to feelings of inferiority and self-doubt. The fundamental virtue resulting from the successful completion of this psychosocial stage is known as competence.

Basics of psychosocial development depending on the industry:

  1. Supporting and encouraging children helps them learn new skills while gaining a sense of competence.
  2. Children who struggle at this stage may have problems with self-confidence as they get older.

What is Ego Integration?

The feeling of ego integration is the feeling of the integrity of one’s “I”. Initially, children do not have a sense of “I”. For them, the world around them and themselves are one and the same. The famous psychologist Jean Piaget emphasized that infants have no personality boundaries. They begin to form only by 2-3 years.

The highest level of personal development is a state when the world for a person becomes an ideal place to satisfy his needs (both spiritual and lower order). This state is called integration in psychology. From an evolutionary point of view, it means the highest degree of fitness.

The integrated personality is a clipboard between society and the inner world. She is able to avoid harmful factors, enhance beneficial ones, and even turn evil into good. A high degree of integration is characterized by professional development of the individual at a serious level.

According to Erikson, ego integration arises as a property of late life. But only if a person was able to experience numerous victories and defeats during his life and was an inspiration for others. Ego integration of an elderly person is a look at the past years and their positive assessment: “I am satisfied with the life I have lived.” Such people are not afraid of death. Indeed, in their descendants or creative achievements, they were able, in a certain sense, to gain immortality.

On the other side of the barricades are those who have “wasted their lives.” They look at the time they have lived with regret: it now seems like a series of missed opportunities. At the end of their lives, they feel that it is too late to start something. Erikson's theory of personality development identifies two types of mentality in such people. First, they regret that life cannot be lived again. Secondly, they deny their own shortcomings, projecting them onto the world around them. “Despair means that there is too little time left to choose another path to wholeness; That’s why old people try to embellish their memories,” Erikson writes in his works. Feelings of anxiety and self-pity in their extreme cases lead to mental disorders in old age. These are hypochondria, paranoia, depression and dementia.

Freud and Erikson: theoretical differences

Erikson himself insisted that his concepts were nothing more than a continuation of Freud's psychoanalytic theory. But in fact, he moved so far away from it that in modern science Erikson’s theory is considered separately. What is the difference between the views of Freud and Erikson on personality development, human character and its formation in the process of life?

  • Freud gave the main role in personality development to unconscious drives, or Id. He was convinced that it was the conflict between the unconscious and social restrictions that was the cause of all diseases and neuroses. Erikson insisted on the dominant role of the ego, due to which Erikson’s theory was called “Ego psychology.” Freud believed that the Ego is a component that, as if between a rock and a hard place, is trying to reduce the restrictions of society and the drives of the Id. Erickson believed that the ego is a separately functioning system that works with the outside world through perception, thinking, memory and attention.
  • Freud's and Erikson's views on the parental role in character formation differ. The development of personality is influenced to a greater extent by the conditions in which a person was born and lives, and the historical era. Erikson came to this conclusion by observing the development of children in different cultures. The scientist was sure that the Ego inevitably develops and changes under the influence of external conditions.

Erikson's theory of personality development differs from Freud's concept in understanding psychosexual conflicts. Freud focused on the influence the unconscious has on human life. He was also convinced that the cause of adult conflicts was unresolved childhood trauma. Erikson, on the contrary, placed the main emphasis on understanding the adult as an individual who can cope with difficulties. His theory is centered on the concept of the Ego with all its virtues, which are revealed in the process of life.

Erik Erikson: German psychologist - about modern problems

“All problems come from childhood!” - today this phrase is highly popular. Many experienced scientists and psychologists write books and conduct master classes where they talk about creating a happy childhood for an ideal future. It’s hard to argue with this opinion, but childhood is not the only area that influences a person’s life. In addition, the carefree first years of life are not a guarantee of a cloudless future.

Erik Homburger Erikson, a prominent psychologist from Germany, did not place particular emphasis on any specific period of an individual's life, but he developed eight age categories, showed how strongly culture influences human development, and became one of Freud's most ambiguous and controversial followers.


Erik Erikson was born on June 15, 1902 in Germany. Like all Germans, he turned out to be a very hardworking, pedantic and observant boy.

Perhaps young Eric became interested in psychology because he himself encountered some problems in childhood and adolescence. There is an assumption that the famous scientist’s parents were unable to save the marriage and separated, leaving Eric with serious psychological trauma. According to one version, the future psychologist never saw his father; according to another, he knew the parent, but did not communicate. In addition to family problems, Erickson constantly endured ridicule and bullying from his classmates: the boys thought the boy’s appearance was funny. He attended classes at a Jewish school, and his tall height, blue eyes and blond hair were often the subject of caustic jokes.

These negative events prompted Erikson to study personality and ways to develop it. Having matured, the young scientist tried his hand at art, traveled around the world and even was a teacher, and a little later he met Sigmund Freud, opened a private clinic and began child psychoanalysis.

Not according to Freud

Despite similar views with Freud, Erikson also highlighted his own individual theories, which sometimes contradicted Sigmund’s directions. For example, Eric went beyond the “child-family” relationship and said that the development of a person’s personality is affected not only by family values ​​and family traditions, but also by historical conditions, as well as the level of culture in society. Each of his theories is the result of careful observation of people of different cultures, with different value systems.

One of the most important differences between great scientists is their approach to the study of personality. Freud believed that great attention should be paid to childhood, and Erikson was not limited to one age period and confidently noted that it was necessary to cover the entire period of a person’s life.

Crisis is good

For almost every person, the word “crisis” evokes sad associations. Eric stated that a crisis is the final stage of any stage. In other words, it is necessary for a person to have the opportunity to develop further.

Another big discovery that modern psychologists like to use is identity crisis. Erikson believed that people tend to search for their place in life and doubt the chosen path. By the way, famous psychologists again disagreed on this issue: Freud took a fatal position, declaring that any personality is doomed to social extinction if given the opportunity to obey one’s instincts and aspirations, Erickson held rosy views and explained that a personal crisis leads to further development and helps you find the right path in life.

Eight stages of development

In his book Childhood and Society, Erikson described in detail the eight stages of personality development.

The first stage is “Infancy: trust - distrust.” It is this temporary step that serves as the foundation for the formation of a healthy personality, because during infancy the child feels inner certainty, gets acquainted with the environment and learns to perceive the world as a cozy and safe place.

The second stage is “Early childhood: independence - doubt.” The first point has already prepared a comfortable platform for a healthy personality and gave the child determination and trust; the next period is independent acquaintance with surrounding objects. The scientist advises during this period to give the child the opportunity to explore the world on his own and strengthen his sense of need, usefulness and curiosity.

The third stage is “Age of play: initiative - guilt.” Erikson calls this stage the last preschool conflict. At this age, the child develops a sense of responsibility for himself and his things. Success in development allows you to compete with peers: who runs faster, who reads better, who writes more beautifully. The guys easily agree to competitions and various games in order to prove to others their advantage in any endeavor. The destructive effect during this period is too strict parental control, which imposes a feeling of guilt on the child and deprives him of the ability to demand love and attention in the future.

The fourth stage is “School: hard work - inferiority.” Erikson believed that industriousness occurs when children begin to study their culture and historical background; many children discover their logical mind or creative impulses. The danger of this point lies in the possible unfavorable environment at school. If a child doubts his abilities and feels insecure around his peers, this can negatively affect learning and development.

At the fourth stage, the periods of childhood end, but Erikson describes the sequential development of personality in the remaining directions in the book “Childhood and Society”.

The most important works of the scientist are still used in their practice by the best psychologists today. Erik Erikson made several fundamental discoveries: he wrote detailed “instructions” point by point for high-quality human development; proved that an identity crisis is a necessary milestone and a way of personal growth. He also expressed optimism regarding the issue of fears and complexes, because the psychologist believed that all problems are a kind of challenge for a person that must be overcome in order to continue his development.

Lydia Ozerova


No matter how much Erikson's theory of personality development is opposed to Freud's psychoanalysis, they also have something in common. In both theories, the stages of human development are predetermined. The order in which they are completed also remains unchanged. Erikson was convinced that conflicts in previous stages could also occur in subsequent stages. The eight tasks that Erikson identified in his theory are solved throughout life. If a person was unable to cope with any crisis in a timely manner, he has a chance to do it later - but with great effort. After all, every period of life “throws up” new difficulties. According to Erikson, a crisis is not a disaster, but just a turning point. It can both maladapt a personality and be a source of strength.

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