Erik Erikson created a theory of human development that states that we all have eight crises that are essential to resolve in our lifetime in order to know our selves. His theory is called The Eight Stages of Psychosocial Conflicts, often known as Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development.1 These stages are essential since they create one’s sense of self.
Because developmental changes are happening throughout the entire lifespan, many obstacles may present themselves and interrupt these growth stages. Illness can certainly be one of those impediments, and deserves consideration whether you are the diagnosed individual or a caregiver. The intense focus of illness can waylay one’s process of becoming oneself, and create additional areas of challenge.
To provide a basis for this discussion, please consider the following outline by Erik Erikson for expected stages of development:
1. INFANCY: BIRTH TO 18 MONTHS | Basic Trust vs. Mistrust – Hope
During the first or second year of life, the major emphasis is on the parents’ ability to respond to a child’s needs. The child will develop trust and security if properly nurtured. If a child does not experience trust, he or she may develop insecurity, worthlessness, and general mistrust of the world.
2. TODDLER / EARLY CHILDHOOD: 18 MONTHS TO 3 YEARS | Autonomy vs. Shame – Will
The second stage occurs between 18 months and 3 years. At this point, the child can build self-esteem and autonomy as he or she learns new skills and right from wrong. A child who is nurtured at this age is sure of him/herself, possessing pride rather than shame.
3. PRESCHOOLER: 3 TO 5 YEARS | Initiative vs. Guilt – Purpose
During this period, we experience a desire to copy the adults around us, trying out different roles to see how they “fit” or not. Children in this age group play out different roles in their play, and with toys. The family is the most important source of praise and recognition as the young child tries out various ways of being and interacting.
4. SCHOOL AGE CHILD: 6 TO 12 YEARS | Industry vs. Inferiority – Competence
This is also a very social stage of development, and how our peers see us and interact with us contributes further to a sense of who we are in the world. If the social atmosphere is not welcoming or friendly, there can be difficulty feeling self-esteem and a sense of ones’ strengths. Naturally, during this time, school becomes more important, and the role of parents is not as primary in forming a sense of self.
5. ADOLESCENT: 12 TO 18 YEARS | Identity vs. Role Confusion – Fidelity
Rather than being dependent upon what others and the world do to him/her, at this point in development, successful adaption depends primarily upon what a person does for themselves. An adolescent must find his or her own identity, while managing social interactions and “fitting in,” as well as developing a sense of morality and right vs. wrong.
6. YOUNG ADULT: 18 TO 35 | Intimacy and Solidarity vs. Isolation – Love
At the young adult stage, people tend to seek companionship and love. Some also begin to “settle down” and start families. Young adults seek deep intimacy and satisfying relationships but, if unsuccessful, isolation may occur. Significant relationships at this stage are with romantic partners and friends.
7. MIDDLE-AGED ADULT: 35 TO 55 OR 65 | Generativity vs. Self-absorption or Stagnation – Care
Career and work are the most important things at this stage, along with family. For this stage, it is about producing something that makes a difference to society, be it at work, a child, or a cause. Major life shifts can occur during this stage. For example, children leave the household, careers can change, and so on. Some may struggle with finding purpose. Significant relationships are those within the family, workplace, and community.
8. LATE ADULT: 55 OR 65 TO DEATH | Integrity vs. Despair – Wisdom
Erikson believed that much of life is preparing for the middle adulthood stage, and that the last stage involves much reflection. As older adults, some will look back with a feeling of fulfillment, having led a meaningful life and made a valuable contribution to society. Some may have a sense of despair as they review their life choices. They may struggle to find a purpose to their lives, wondering, “What was the point of life? Was it worth it?”
Considering these pieces of becoming our “selves,” we can imagine the cross-challenges going on in a family who has ongoing health crises.