Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development
To launch into my series on Identity (Politics), I am going to rely heavily on Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development.
At the heart of anarchism there is a claim about the developmental psychology of human beings. It concerns the universal potential for human creativity to flourish if developed without fetters. This is the positive liberty described by numerous anarchists and it is the basis of all hopes that anarchist society can achieve.
[Wikipedia] Erik Erikson
[Wikipedia] Erikson Institute
Biography of Erik Erikson (1902-1994)
“Erik Erikson was born on June 15, 1902, in Frankfurt, Germany. His young Jewish mother, Karla Abrahamsen, raised Erik by herself for a time before marrying a physician, Dr. Theodore Homberger. The fact that Homberger was not his biological father was concealed from Erikson for many years. When he finally did learn the truth, Erikson was left with a feeling of confusion about who he really was.”
“This early experience helped spark his interest in the formation of identity. He would later explain that as a child he often felt confused about who he was and how he fit into his community…”
“His interest in identity was further developed based on his own experiences in school. At his Jewish temple school, he was teased for being a tall, blue-eyed, blonde, Nordic-looking boy who stood out among the rest of the kids.
At grammar school, he was rejected because of his Jewish background. These early experiences helped fuel his interest in identity formation and continued to influence his work throughout his life.”
“He also changed his name from Erik Homberger to Erik H. Erikson”
Erik Erikson | Department of Psychology
“Erikson’s humanist theory of psychosocial development deviated significantly from the traditional Freudian psychosexual theory of human development in two ways. Erikson believed that humans’ personalities continued to develop past the age of five, and he believed that the development of personality depended directly on the resolution of existential crises like trust, autonomy, intimacy, individuality, integrity, and identity (which were viewed in traditional psychoanalytic theory as mere by-products of the resolution of sexual crises). Erikson’s highly influential eight-stage theory of development also expanded Freud’s original five stages to encompass the years of life after early childhood. Within this theory, Erikson introduced and described the characteristics of adolescent identity crisis and the adult’s midlife crisis.”
Erik Erikson: A Psychoanalyst Looks at Hitler
Erik H. Erikson, a psychoanalyst who had understood Hitler’s intentions early, immigrated to the United States in 1933 after the completion of his psychoanalytic training in Vienna. Erikson’s timing was notable. He was well ahead of the large wave of Jewish refugees, including Sigmund and Anna Freud, who fled Europe once Hitler invaded Austria in 1938. (Erikson’s own mother and stepfather were Jewish, but he never knew his biological father and remained ambivalent about his own Jewishness.)
On the voyage to America, Erikson happened to meet George F. Kennan, an influential young American diplomat and future author of the “containment” doctrine, which would later commit the United States to contesting any expansion of Soviet influence. Kennan was impressed with the young psychoanalyst and his work. On the ship, they discussed an essay Erikson was writing about Hitler and his appeal to German youth. Kennan helped Erikson translate the essay into English. One wonders whether Kennan let the American government know about his remarkable find.”
“According to Erikson, the legend of his childhood that Hitler retailed in Mein Kampf was a powerful myth that resonated with German culture. “To study a myth critically,” Erikson said, means “to analyze its images and themes in their relation to the culture area affected.”
As Hitler told it, the essential elements of his childhood were his adoration of his devoted mother and what Erikson saw as “young Adolf’s heroic opposition” to his aged bully of a father. But unlike Walter Langer, Erikson had been learning from then-current cultural anthropologists like Ruth Benedict, A.L. Krober, and Margaret Mead. Erikson believed that in Germany the cultural institutions that traditionally contained adolescent conflicts had broken down—and that this social breakdown facilitated the rise of a tyranny. When Hitler’s rhetoric celebrated the sacred motherland and expressed bitter hatred of the senile old men who led the traditional order in Europe, Erikson understood that his imagery would have special appeal for young Germans. These postwar adolescents had been deprived of their ability to admire their elders and to find a constructive place in society. Hitler, “the adolescent who refused to become a father,” thus functioned not as a substitute father, but as a kind of permissive older brother who did away with conscience and indeed with history.”
“In the 1960s, a revised edition of Childhood and Society (from which I have quoted) became one of the best-selling books on college campuses, providing humane inspiration for many members of the civil rights and antiwar movements. Of the first edition, psychiatrist Robert Knight said that Erikson had thought his way “far out of the consulting room into the social matrix where people live and are shaped.””
Life History and the Historical Moment
“Erik Erikson is probably the closest thing to an intellectual hero in American culture today. He has added striking new phrases to our language—“life cycle,” “identity crisis,” “inner space,” “psychohistory”—words that signify new ways to interpret and confront our lives. As a psychoanalyst he has played with children and unraveled marvelous hidden depths and resonances in their play. He has evoked the joy and dread of adolescence with a rare vividness and sympathy, and disclosed new dimensions of meaning in experiences we thought we knew all too well. In his many case histories he has shown us people in their full actuality, neither horribly grotesque nor transcendently holy, with needs and fears and longings…”
“He has used his splendid literary gifts to make the basic Freudian family drama more credible and compelling than ever, by showing how it works in a variety of radically different worlds: in Austrian mountain villages, Indian reservations, industrial cities. California suburbs; among the rich and the poor, the rooted and the uprooted, those who are geographically, culturally or socially on the move, whether up or down.”
“Two of the guiding stars in Erikson’s universe are ideas that he calls “basic trust” and “wholeness.“ Basic trust is a feeling that should (and, despite everything, usually does) flow between an infant and its mother. It is “a general sense of warmth and mutuality,” “an actual sense of the reality of ‘good’ powers, outside and within oneself.” It is the source of the self’s power to receive and of its power to give. Basic trust is the groundwork of all later viable identities; it will enable the developing person to “combine a sense of being ‘all right,’ of being oneself, and of becoming what other people trust one will become.” This quality of trust, not only in himself but in life, infuses Erikson’s own thought, and gives his best writing a vivid radiance and spiritual
“Wholeness” is the form in which Erikson believes every self should strive to develop. This means that we should strive to accept our pasts, our parents, our diverse and disparate impulses and needs and yearnings. Instead of rejecting or repressing the parts of ourselves that we fear—“if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out”—we should aim to assimilate and integrate all the diverse and disparate strands and streams of our being. The power and glory of the ego, as Erikson understands it, is synthesis: it should do for the individual self what the Hegelian dialectic is supposed to do for the spirit of the world as a whole. And Erikson is convinced that the ego can do all”
“Erikson’s latest book, “Life History and the Historical Moment,” should give us a chance to interpret his recent visions and achievements, and to try to ascertain his place in our culture today. The book consists of nine essays, one published in 1955, the rest belonging to the late sixties and seventies. The essays are connected in only the loosest way, but most of them deal in one or another way with the culture and political upheavals of the sixties.
There is an article “On the Revolt of Humanist Youth”; an address on “Freedom and Nonviolence” (given in response to an invitation from the students of Cape Town University, South Africa, in 1968); a long discussion of Gandhi that parallels material in “Gandhi’s Truth”; a paper on “Psychoanalysis: Adjustment or Freedom?”; “Once More the Inner Space,” a response to feminist attacks on some of his earlier work and a further meditation on the meanings of femi ninity. In addition, there are several minor pieces: two reviews of books by and about Freud, and a brief restatement of Erikson’s theoretical perspective. Finally, there is a long essay, ‘Identity Crisis’ in Autobiographic Perspective,” in which Erikson comes as close as he has ever come to talking about his own life.”
“Erikson’s evasion of his Jewish identity casts further doubt on his vision of a universal identity. “One all‐human outlook” is a lovely ideal, and may be a dire world necessity as well. But a universality that can be attained only by suppressing one’s own particularity is a phony universality, built on a lie, rotten to the core. So many modern Jews, espe cially Jews with a German Kultur, have been only too eager to offer up their religious, cultural, ethnic and historical being for the sake of universal peace. For some reason, even after all our self‐denials and self‐betrayals, peace has still not arrived. Erikson, a psychoanalyst as well as Jew, should be more skeptical about identities that are built on systematic repressions and “noble” lies.
There are further ironies‐here. Those who resist and resent Erilcson’s glad tidings have often said that his affirmations seem unearned: they can’t take him seriously because he doesn’t seem to have suffered enough. By refusing to confront himself as a Jew, Erikson represses at least one experience of dreadful suffering that we know he went through: He was a victim of Nazism…”
[Wikipedia] Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development
“Erikson was originally influenced by Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual stages of development. He began by working with Freud’s theories specifically, but as he began to dive deeper into biopsychosocial development and how other environmental factors affect human development, he soon progressed past Freud’s theories and developed his own ideas.”