In sharp contrast to Freud’s supposition that identity is fixed during childhood, Erikson theorized that identity formation continues throughout our lifetime emphasizing significant changes to an individual’s sense of self as they experience major developmental milestones (Friedman & Schustack, 2012). Erikson believed a healthy personality would result from successful negotiation of eight specific developmental stages: (1) trust versus mistrust; (2) autonomy versus shame and doubt; (3) initiative versus guilt; (4) industry versus inferiority; (5) identity versus role confusion; (6) intimacy versus isolation; (7) generativity versus stagnation; and, (8) ego integrity versus despair. An important caveat to note is that successful negotiation of these stages, i.e., resolving the pertinent ego crises, is not equated with complete supplication of the positive trait over the negative, but, rather, a balance between the two because overemphasis of any trait can be detrimental to one’s identity (Friedman & Schustack, 2012). Furthermore, although successful negotiation is beneficial to advancing through additional development stages, individuals are not precluded from psychologically, i.e., mentally, revisiting prior issues, and resolving them in a more favorable manner. In addition, Erikson stressed that these issues are never absolutely concluded, rather, individuals face these issues iteratively throughout their lifetime as one’s identity evolves and matures (Hamachek, 1990).
Although Erikson’s first five stages are similar to Freud’s psychosexual stages, his sixth, seventh, and eighth stages begin where Freud’s stages end. Specifically, Erikson’s intimacy versus isolation stage occurs during young adulthood (ages 20 to 35 years), generativity versus stagnation occurs during middle adulthood to late adulthood (ages 35 years to retirement), and ego integrity versus despair occurs during late adulthood as we enter senior citizenship (retirement age) (Hamachek, 1990). These three stages are of paramount importance in healthy personalities. For instance, during the intimacy versus isolation stage the individual must find a balance between intimacy in interpersonal relationships, while at the same time maintaining their own individual sense of self, lest their own identity become lost in the process. Unsuccessful resolution of this ego crisis resulting in an overemphasis in intimacy could result in complete loss of individuality and/or codependency, whereas an inability to relate interpersonally with others could result in terminal isolation and loneliness. Successful resolution of this stage is most likely to result in strong, long-lasting interpersonal relationships, such as lifelong friendships and marriages exemplifying trust, commitment, tolerance, and compromise (Hamachek, 1990).
During the generativity versus stagnation stage, middle adults begin to explore their place within the social fabric of the world, realizing they are but one piece of a far larger puzzle. It is during this stage that individuals develop the ability to give altruistically to others, such as children, the elderly, and to the community in an effort to benefit the greater good. Individuals who have successfully accomplished generativity demonstrate the characteristics of caring and giving to others, expressions of creativity, and tend to exemplify beneficent values and attitudes. One of the most common acts of generativity is having and raising children, which inherently requires some level of self-sacrifice. On the other hand, those struggling with this stage tend to be more self-focused, less likely to have and care for children or others, and less interested in supporting activities that do not directly benefit themselves (Hamachek, 1990).
Friedman, H. S., & Schustack, M. W. (2012). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Hamachek, D. (1990, July). Evaluating self-concept and ego status in Erikson’s last three psychosocial stages. Journal of Counseling and Development, 68(6), 677-683. http://dx.doi.org/http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.1556-6676.1990.tb01436.x/abstract