A General Theory of Personality Development (Erikson)

In the previous article we have discussed about Kohlberg's moral development, in this article we will discuss about the stages of personality development. Personality is how we know the characteristics of ourselves and others, how do I acquire a sense of what I know to be the "real me"? Erikson (1968) has described the development of such personal identity as growing out of certain crises in psychosocial development. These crises result in progress or regression in personality growth. They influence whether one's personality becomes more integrated or more diffuse. Erikson's underlying assumption is that the growing person is impelled to become aware of and interact with a widening social community. In the course of these interactions, the child, adn later the adult, has a chance to develop a "healthy" personality-one characterized by mastery of the environment, unity of functioning, and the ability to perceive the world and oneself accurately. These are qualities of the self actualized, fully functioning person as described by such humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.
Erikson sees personal actualization taking place only after an acceptable resolution of certain crises, or basic psychosocial problems, which are discussed below and listed in figure.


Formation of Personality as a Developmental Sequence of Crises in Need of Resolution


A crises is a time of increased vulnerability to particular psychosocial problem. Each crises is related to the others; each exists in some form before the decisive moments for its resolution arrives, and each, as it positively resolved, contributes to the ultimate strength and vigor of the growing personality (Erikson, 1963)
  1. The trust vs mistrust crises occurs in infancy. The quality of life during infancy-including the love, attention, touch, and feeding relationship-influences the child's fundamental and primitive feelings of trust or mistrust of environment. Sleep peacefully, eat food with cozy, and defecated with casually. A pleasant situation and interaction with people who are responsible for causing feelings of comfort on the baby, it makes the baby feel familiar. These feelings pervade all of later life. Habits, consistency and continuity in the daily environment experienced by infants are the basis for the development of social identity feelings. A favorable ratio of trust to mistrust is a form of psychosocial strength.
  2. The crises of autonomy vs shame and doubt occurs during early childhood. The child tests his parents and environment, learning what he can control and what he cannot. Developing a sense of self control without loss of self esteem is necessary to one's feeling of free will. Over control by parents give the child lasting feelings of doubt about his or her capabilities and shame about his or her needs or body. A child's feeling of autonomy grows out of the initial emancipation from one's mother. It depends on the earlier development of trust rather than mistrust.
  3. The crises of initiative vs guilt occurs in middle childhood. With a sense of trust and a feeling of autonomy, the child can develop a sense of initiative. He can go on his own into strange place and let curiosity run its course. A realistic sense of purpose emerges along with rudimentary forms of ambition. The development of initiative and the consequent experience of guilt begin to form the conscience. The parents deny the child permission to do certain things as part of their response to his unbridled exploratory tendencies. Thus the child learns the meaning of "No" a she transgresses those prohibitions, in reality or fantasy, he feels guilt. The parent or teacher who blocks initiative too often may raise a guilty, rather constricted child. The parent or teacher who rebukes too rarely may raise a child without a fully developed conscience. The outcome of balanced resolution of the initiative vs guilt crises is to
    free the child's initiative and sense of purpose for adult tasks which promise (but cannot guarantee) a fulfillment of one's range of capacities. this is prepared in the firmly established, steadily growing conviction, undaunted by guilt, that "I am what I can imagine I will be" (Erikson 1968, p. 122).
  4. The crises of accomplishment vs inferiority occurs during the yeas between kindergarten and puberty. Ther child must become able to do and make some things well, or even perfectly. Being kept from having feelings of accomplishment will leasd to development of feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. Teachers in these years have the responsibility of creating successful experiences for each child, of keeping feelings of ineftness from forming. This requires knowing each student's capabilities and controlling the student's working environment. One particular danger, noted by Erikson, is that work accomplishment will become an end in itself, stifling the person further growth. Feeling of worth based only on work-resulting in the "rate race" that afflict many business and professional worker-must be avoided.
  5. The crises of identity vs confusion occurs in adolescence, that period of Sturm und drang. At this stage, some delay in the integration of personality elements must take place. Boys and girls are becoming men and women and cannot help but feel diffused, estranged, and attached. Their bodies and hormones changes so that sexual force often overwhelm other concerns, capture their imagination, and arouse forbidden desire. A new intimacy with the opposite sex approaches or is sometimes forced upon the inexperienced young person and cannot help but be confusing.
    The central problem of this period is the establishment of a sense identity. The identity the adolescent seeks to clarify is who he or she is, what role in society to take. Is he a child or is he an adult? Does the adolescent have what it takes to be someday a husband and father? A wife and mother? What is he to be as a worker and an earner of money? Can the adolescent feel self confident in spite of the fact that his race or religion or national background makes him a person some people look down upon? Overall, will the adolescent be a success or a failure? By reason of these questions adolescents are sometimes morbidly preoccupied with how they appearin the eyes of others as compared with their own conceptions of themselves, and with how they can make the roles and skills learned earlier match with what is currently in style.
    The inability to come to an understanding of self-a lack of identity-leads to confusion. Failure to resolve this crisis prolongs adolescence and makes for inadequately functioning individuals who take on adult roles without an integrated personality. These individuals will not cope effectively with the postidentity crises of the life cycle.
  6. The crises of intimacy vs isolation arises after identity is functionally established, even if not fixed. Can one share by giving some piece of his own identity over to another, so that "we" supplants "I" in thinking about the present and future? Inability to develop intimate relationships leads to psychological isolation, which is less desirable, perhaps less healthy, for the individual.
  7. The crisis of generativity vs stagnation is the crisis of adulthood. Generativity refers to creativity, productivity, and an interest in guiding the development of the next generation. Maturity requires a dependent, one for whom you are mature. It also requires caring for and nurturing what is in your environment-ideas, thinks, and people. Without a preponderance of generative responses, the adult suffers boredom, apathy, pseudointimacy, interpersonal impoverishment, and pervading sense of stagnation.
  8. The crisis of integrity vs despair occur in old age. The personality is fully integrated when one develops a sense of acceptance of this one and only chance at life on earth and of the important people in it. People and events must be taken at face value. One's children, spouse, parent, and job are what they are. And most important, in recognizing this, one can say. "I am what I am!" Responsibility for what you are is your own. At this stage you can come to have dignity. On the other hand, the development of despair, of unhappiness with yourself and with what you have wrought, can lead to a troubled, self contemptuous, desperate end to the life cycle.
    As Hall and Lindzey (1976)note, few theories of personality are supported by a firm body of quantitative and experimental data. Erikson's theory is no exception. Still, it does have a ring of truth. Embedded in this general theory of development are all the possibilities of personality formation that we see in the people around us. Characteristic like trusting, stingy, creative, altruistic, complacent, wily, assertive, precocious, sensuous, desperate, atc.-all used for describing personalities-can be seen to have roots in the various crises and resolutions described by Erikson.
Reference: Gage, N.L & Berliner, David C.Educational Psychology. p. 168


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