Erikson said that there were eight distinct stages of ego development. He said that if one didn't complete the work at one stage successfully, that person's life was affected forever because of that.
I will give you the essence of these stages because so many other theories of development - moral and spiritual - are modeled after Erikson's. There are extremes at each level that must be embraced or held in tension for the person to move forward.
1. Basic trust versus mistrust
This stage coveres the first year of life. Does the infant learn to trust? This is not merely a matter of nurture but whether the primary caretaker is trustworthy. Failure to develop this trust will result in fear in the baby and a belief that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable.
2. Autonomy versus shame
This stage covers from year one to three and is the time the infant is learning to master toilet training.
3. Purpose: Initiative versus guilt
This covers years three to six. Does the child develop the ability to do things on their own, such as dress him or herself. If the child is made to feel "guilty" about their choices, the child will not function well.
4. Competence - Industry versus inferiority
This covers years 6 - 11. Here the child begins to compare his or her sense of self-worth to others. The child begins to notice major disparities in personal abilities relative to other children.
5. Fidelity - Identity versus Role Confusion
This covers years 12 - 18. Here the questions begin to arise. Who am I? Where and how do I fit in? Where am I going in life? If parents allow the child to explore, they will conclude their own identity. However, if parents continually push the developing adult to conform to their views, the teen will face identity confusion.
6. Intimacy versus isolation
This is the first stage of adult development. It usually happens between the ages of 18 and 35. Dating, marriage, family and friendships are important during this stage. By successfully forming loving relationships with others, individuals are able to experience love and intimacy. Those who don't do this may feel isolated and alone.
7. Generativity versus stagnation
This covers the period of life from age 35 to 65. During this period of life people are normally settled in their life and know what is important to them. They are either on the path they want and are happy with it or are regretful about the decisions they have made and feel a sense of uselessness.
8. Ego integrity versus despair
This is, and remember this is only Erikson's take, the period from 65 on. This is the last chapter of the book of life. Here people look back on the lives they have lived with a sense of satisfaction, a sense of integrity. Or, if they have had trouble at earlier stages, may have a sense of despair.
In my own work and for my own purposes I later condensed all of this into three words and now, when I teach about it - which is what I suppose I'm doing here - call it "the three B's." They are Bonding, Behavior and Beliefs.
If we are lucky, we get a mother who is "just good enough." We don't get either over-whelmed or under-whelmed; smothered or abandoned. Sometimes unfortunate things happen in this bonding experience. Perhaps mother dies in childbirth, or she is overwhelmed by already having too much children or other life events. Perhaps she is alcoholic or crazy or she lives in a war zone or some other horrible circumstance. The bonding the infant experiences is important because it teaches something about whether the world is a safe and trustworthy place. For far too many children the world is not a safe place.
The behaviors the growing child experiences communicates something about stability. How is the child treated by parents and siblings. Is there abuse? Children are naturally narcissistic so they interpret everything that happens as having to do with them. "Daddy hit mother. It must be because I did something wrong."
The third "B" has to do with the sea os beliefs in which the child is immersed. What is held to be true about others, other religions, other races, other countries, other economic classes, other political parties and so forth.
Bonding affects how we see the world in which we live - safe or not.
Behaviors affect what we think about ourselves.
Beliefs determine how we grow to think about others.
Virtually all of this goes underground and lives in our unconscious and does not begin to make itself known until sometime late in the fourth decade of life.
I wanted you to know this information about Erickson's "discoveries" because his work laid the foundation for all that was to follow.