The Eight Stages of Man

A contraversial title in a world where we are sensitive to gender-specific language.

However, I am referring now to the work of Erik Erikson, a Scandavian Psychologist working on Human Growth and Development in the middle of the twentieth century. This Erikson is not to be confused with Milton Erikson, an American doctor, I have mentioned elsewhere.

With some translation, Erik Erikson’s work has a lot to offer to us today and I will refer, also, to a revision of his work, using a Transactional Analytic (TA) tradition I attribute to Pam Levin.

Erikson’s work is well summarised at:

…. where you can research this area in greater detail.

The stages that make up his theory are as follows:

…. represented in this illustration:

Let’s take a closer look at the background and different stages that make up Erikson’s psychosocial theory.  Erikson believed that our personality developed in a series of eight stages, as listed. He shared with others an interest in the impact of social experience across the whole lifespan.

Erikson was interested in how social interaction and relationships played a role in the development and growth of human beings. He implied that the ‘stage’ was resolved by dissolving a tension between internal drives, as listed above.

Erikson’s theory assumed that healthy growth built on the preceding stages and paves the way for following periods of development.  Each resolution of a stage conflict provided a turning point in development.

Unlike more modern practitioners, Erikson shared with Freud a sense of determinism that healthy development centred on resolving each stage, one after another. The quality of the ‘work’ we did on resolving a development stage had the potential to advance or impede our later development. Small windows of opportunity had potential large impact on our competence in learning to live in a social environment.

In conventional models of human growth and development, there is a general view that handling stages of development well created the necessary sense of mastery, sometimes referred to as ego strength or ego quality. If the stage is managed poorly, the person will emerge with a sense of inadequacy in that aspect of development.

Today, there is less pre-occupation with the need to deal effectively with these stage-conflicts in a ‘correct’ order in order to develop the essential skills needed for a strong sense of self. That said, it is the case that long-term disruption of these stages of development can have long-lasting impact.

Let’s view Erikson’s material with more modern ”life span’ and ‘spiral’ models of human growth and development? Pam Levin is one authority I would mention.  A summary of her work can be found in her text Cycles of Power from which this illustration emerges:

Cycles of Developement - Pamela Levin - Transactional Analysis

What Levin offered was to move the process of development away from the deterministic perspective and turn it towards the idea of ‘skills’ development. All the skills she lists above are going to help us be rounded people, but her spiral implies that we can pick up, practice and hone those skills on several occasions – when the opportunity presents itself.

This information, then,  can inform some safe experiments. For instance, there are ‘phase of life’ experiments that can be done by any-one every 7-10 years. You will notice that Erikson’s ‘stages’ tell us that we experience not only the well-known mid–life crisis but, in fact, a series of cyclical crises every now and again.

Have you noticed how, when approaching a ‘ten’ in our age, we often do some personal appraisal?  Often our society marks these margins – a move to secondary school at 11 years, a move into further study or work in the late teens and a series of relationship changes (or temptations (!) or accommodation shifts at 30, 40 and 50 years – and so on. I am just over 70 years now and I am still working on what it means to be (semi-) retired

you can use any one of these life changes as a focus for many of the safe experiments listed on this web site. In particular, note how the Road Map experiment helps highlight where and when those changes are located on our own personal time-line.

Why not re-visit that and see where it goes?

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What is a nudge