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Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson

The identity crisis and Erik Erikson's renowned psychosocial development theory are two of his most well-known theories. His views brought about a significant shift in how people view personality; rather than concentrating only on early childhood experiences, his psychosocial theory considers how social forces shape our characters throughout our lives.

Erikson's mother, Karla Abrahamsen, came from a prominent Jewish family in Copenhagen, Denmark. She was married to Jewish stockbroker Valdemar Isidor Salomonsen but had been estranged from him for several months at the time Erik was conceived. Little is known about Erik's biological father except that he was a non-Jewish Dane. On discovering her pregnancy, Karla fled to Frankfurt am Main in Germany where Erik was born on 15 June 1902 and was given the surname Salomonsen. She fled due to conceiving Erik out of wedlock, and the identity of Erik's birth father was never made clear.

"The oldest and most important virtue ingrained in the condition of life is hope. Hope must endure if life continues, even in situations where trust and confidence are damaged.", in The Erik Erikson Reader, 2000, Erik Erikson.

Erikson's Notoriety

The lifespan of human development has attracted attention and has been the subject of research thanks to Erikson's stage theory of psychological evolution. Erikson, an ego psychologist, and student of Anna Freud, developed psychoanalytic theory by examining lifelong development, including experiences in adolescence, adulthood, and old age.


Frankfurt, Germany, was the place of Erik Erikson's birth on June 15, 1902. Karla Abrahamsen, Erik's young Jewish mother, raised Erik on her alone for a while before being hitched to Dr Theodore Homberger.

The widely accepted narrative was that his mother and father had divorced before he was born. Still, the closely guarded truth was that he was the result of his mother's adulterous relationship. He never got to meet his mother's first spouse or his biological father." - Erikson's obituary, The New York Times, May 13, 1994.


This early experience sparked his interest in the emergence of identity. Later, he would say that he frequently experienced identity and social integration issues as a youngster. Even though this may seem like a fascinating anecdote about Erikson's background, the uncertainty surrounding his biological parents was a significant driving element behind his later interest in identity development.

His own experiences in school led to the further developing of his interest in identity. He endured bullying at his Jewish temple school for being a tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and Nordic-looking child who stuck out from the other students. He was sent away from grammar school due to his Jewish heritage. These early encounters sparked his interest in identity creation, which also influenced his work later in life.

Young Adulthood

Notably, Erikson never earned a formal degree in psychology or medicine. He was primarily interested in history, Latin, and art while attending the Das Humanistische Gymnasium. Erikson spent a brief time in art school. Despite his stepfather, a physician, wanting him to attend medical school. He quickly left and spent time travelling over Europe with friends as he thought about who he was.


"We saw each other virtually daily, and I paid Miss Freud $7 per month. My analysis helped me become self-aware, which helped me overcome my anxiety about being who I am. Defence mechanisms and pseudoscientific terminology weren't commonly used back then; therefore, the process of self-awareness, while occasionally unpleasant, emerged in a freeing environment."


At the institution where he worked, Erikson met Joan Season, a Canadian dance instructor. After being married in 1930, the couple had three kids. American sociologist Kai T. Erikson, his son, is well-known.

Erikson immigrated to the country in 1933 and was allowed to teach at Harvard Medical School despite not having a formal education. Additionally, he changed his name from Erik Homberger to Erik H. Erikson, to create a new persona for himself. He held a post at Harvard and private child psychoanalysis practice.

Later Years

He eventually had teaching posts at Yale, the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute, the Austen Riggs Centre, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Centre for Advanced Studies of the Behavioural Sciences. His views and research were the subject of several books, including "Childhood and Society" and "The Life Cycle Completed." Gandhi's Truth, his book, won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

8 Psychosocial Stages

Erikson was a Neo-Freudian psychologist who contributed his theories and beliefs while accepting many of the fundamental principles of Freudian theory. His view of psychosocial development is based on the idea that everyone goes through a set of eight stages, known as the epigenetic principle. People experience a crisis at each psychosocial stage that must be successfully overcome to develop the psychological quality necessary for each level.

Personality Psychology

Every psychology student discovers the eight stages of Erikson's psychosocial theory when they study the development of personality psychology. Erikson shared the view of psychotherapist Sigmund Freud that personality changes over time in a succession of stages. Erikson's thesis signalled a departure from Freud's psychosexual theory since it discusses how social experiences affect people throughout their lives rather than just focusing on childhood events.

Erikson's development theory characterised development from birth until death, whereas Freud's idea of psychosexual development terminates in early adulthood.

The eight key stages he described were:

  1. Trust vs Mistrust: This stage lasts from birth to 1.5 years old and is focused on helping children learn to trust their caregivers and other people. Children can grow the psychological trait of hope when they get attentive care.
  2. Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt: Between 18 months and three years, a person goes through this stage, which entails developing a sense of independence and self-control. Success in this phase enables people to strengthen their willpower and resolve.
  3. Initiative vs Guilt: Children start to explore their environment and exercise more control over their decisions between the ages of 3 and 6. Children can gain a sense of purpose by passing through this stage successfully.
  4. Industry vs Inferiority: Between the ages of 6 and 12, there is a stage that focuses on fostering a sense of self-worth and achievement. At this stage of development, success breeds competence.
  5. Identity vs Confusion: Adolescence is a time of introspection. Those who successfully create a solid identity grow a sense of loyalty. Those who struggle to succeed in this period could feel uncertain about their place and function in life.
  6. Intimacy vs Isolation: The early adult stage focuses on developing positive relationships with others. The ability to establish caring, enduring, and loving relationships with people results from success.
  7. Generativity vs Stagnation: People start to worry about contributing to society and leaving their mark on the world throughout the stage of middle adulthood. The two most important things that influence success at this point are having a family and a career.
  8. Integrity vs Despair: Looking back on life is the final stage of psychosocial growth, which occurs in late adulthood. People who reflect on the past with a sense of satisfaction grow in integrity and wisdom, but those who are left with regrets may go through bitterness and despair.

Identity Crisis

Have you ever been unsure about where you belong in life or if you genuinely know who you are? In that case, you might be going through an identity crisis. The phrase "identity crisis" was first used by Erikson, who saw this as one of the most significant conflicts people go through as they mature. Erikson defined an identity crisis as a period of intense self-examination and investigation of many perspectives.

Contributions to Psychology

Erik Erikson researched the Yurok of northern California and the Sioux of South Dakota. He used the information he learned about social, cultural, and environmental variables to advance his psychoanalytic theory.

While Erikson's inclusion of additional influences widened and expanded psychoanalytic theory, Freud's theory concentrated on the psychosexual aspects of development. He also improved our understanding of how personality changes and evolves throughout a person's lifespan.

His observations of kids also paved the way for more investigation. In his obituary in the New York Times, he stated, "You see a youngster play, and it is so similar to witnessing an artist create, for, in space, a child says things without uttering a word.

You can observe his problem-solving techniques. You can also follow the issue. Mainly young kids are creative, and when they play freely, whatever's inside them comes out."


For additional reading, check out a few of Erikson's works here:

  • Childhood and Society, Erikson EH. 1950; New York: Norton.
  • Identity: Youth and Crisis, Erikson EH. Norton, New York, 1968.
  • Life History and the Historical Moment. Erikson EH. 1975, New York: Norton.
  • Conversation with Erik Erikson, Erikson EH. Jason Aronson, Inc.; 1995, Evans RI, ed.

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