Erik Erikson Has Emerged As One of Term Paper

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Erik Erikson has emerged as one of the most highly regarded contemporary psychoanalytic theorists and his psychosocial stages of development have attracted attention from many personality researchers who seek to explain personality development across the entire span of a person's life (Crain, 2011). Erikson's eight stages of psychosocial development are still taught in college psychology courses, human development courses, and are referred to in developmental research. Nonetheless, there have been some major criticisms of Erikson's work. First, Erikson may have been overly optimistic regarding the potential outcomes of the conflicts of his stages (Crain, 2011). Second, some researchers/theorists have charged Erikson was supporting the status quo in suggesting that an individual must adjust to the norms/mores/rules of the society in which they grow up in a motor to develop properly (Crain, 2011; Sokol, 2009). For example Black and Rubinstein (2009) note how influences of long-standing societal structures/norms actually result in many African-Americans becoming reactive to these societal traditions and expectations. Thus, some researchers have questioned the relevance of Erikson's notions from both the cross-cultural standpoint and from the ability of his psychosocial stages to remain relevant over time (Crain, 2011; Rodriguez, Schwartz, & Whitbourne, 2010). Nonetheless, Erikson's theory of psychosocial stages remains one of the most highly regarded development personality theories (Crain, 2011; Schoklitsch & Baumann, 2012).

In the current paper to senior citizens, one Caucasian and one African-American, were interviewed regarding their experiences, life perspective, and perceived conflicts as they relate to Erikson's psychosocial stages of development. Frank (the names are changed to maintain confidentiality) is an 82-year-old Caucasian male and James is an 84-year-old African-American male. Frank's early childhood and adolescent years took place in a middle-class urban environment where his father worked in an automobile production company, whereas James grew up in a Midwestern coal mining town. Both of the individuals were interviewed regarding their recollections of their experiences growing up and how they resolved specific life -- stage conflicts. The interview questions were developed around the eight stages of Erikson's psychosocial model in order to guide interviews in that context. For instance, questions regarding how the individual recall the early relationships with parents especially regarding whether parents respond to their needs, encouraging other interests, etc. were asked in order to get information pertaining to the earlier stages. Questions regarding their early experiences in school, relationships, with employment, career goals, etc. where used to focus on later stages. Neither of the participants believed that they could provide information that would be relevant regarding their preschool years; however, they were confident in the information that they provided regarding their development once they began attending school.

With respect to the development of trust (Erikson's first stage) Frank reported that his father worked most of the time and he was raised by his stay-at-home mother. She was very attentive to his needs. James' father did not live with his family and he was raised by his mother and older sisters. His mother worked long hours and his sisters cared for him. He remembers his sisters as being attentive to his needs, but that he was responsible for getting his own food, dressing himself, etc. At an early age. Interestingly, Frank reported that he viewed most other people as honest and trustworthy, whereas James believed that while people were "generally trustable" he also mentioned that "people tend to be out for themselves." Thus, while Frank appears to have had a traditional nuclear family where the father was the breadwinner and the mother raised the children, James' experiences were different and the subtle nature of these differences and their respective early upbringing may reflect how they both view the world.

Frank reported that his mother was pretty protective of him as a child, whereas we already know that James was allowed more freedom to fend for himself (stages two and three). Interestingly, Frank never moved far from where he grew up and worked in the same industry as his father. He also appears to maintain some of the values of that generation such as you work hard, develop a trade, raise a family, retire, and that is the meaning of life, whereas Frank moved around the country what a bit, never worked at a particular job more than a few years, reported having children from several different women, and never really settled down into a stable family life. These differences are reflective of some of the cultural differences between the two (Black & Rubinstein, 2009), but also may reflect their relative upbringing in the relations with their parents and then Ericksonian sense. Frank generally finds people to be trustworthy, really never explored the world or questioned his values, and really never initiated a life outside his familiar environment, whereas James thinks people are "trustable" but are also are out for themselves, was not afraid to leave his roots and initiate his own plans, and did not accept the traditional views of his generation regarding work, the meaning of life, and responsibility.

These aforementioned differences appear to become most visible when the participants were discussing their experiences in school and their perceptions regarding their own self-identity/meaning and purpose in life (stages four and five of Erikson's model). Frank reported that in school things were very strict and that the expectations were concrete and straightforward. Teachers were generally punitive (offered little in the way of encouragement but were quick to punish and correct). While there were opportunities for Frank to engage in extracurricular activities even in those days such as some sports, outside groups, etc. Frank never participated in these activities. James on the other hand never attended school. He grew up in a time and place where African-American children were not vigorously required to attend public school. James actually never learned to read or write and to this day has never read a book, has only minimal reading skills, and while he can sign his name and get by he is functionally illiterate. James reported that he was somewhat disappointed that he does not read or write well, but that he also did not believe that these skills were important for him as a person and that he had done all right in life in spite of not being able to read or write. Since he pretty much did what he wanted as a child, fishing, hanging out with friends, not going to school, not having a lot of responsibilities, etc. he also does not get the same satisfaction from the recognition that formal institutions of society provide for accomplishments. He sees no value in awards, formal ceremonies, etc. Nor does he see little value in being a parent or being involved with his family. James instead prefers to spend time with his peers, watch sports, and discuss whatever issues come to mind, whereas Frank seemed pretty much define himself in terms of his years of service to his company, the accomplishments of his children, being involved with his grandchildren, and maintaining strong family ties. However, the real difference between the two was apparent when discussing their identity issues.

Frank, as are determined by the questions and his answers, appears to have identified strongly with his father and his father's values. He most likely would qualify for Marcia's identity status of foreclosure, never really experiencing identity crises and making a commitment to traditional values he imprinted from his family (Crain, 2011). On the other hand, James found his identity and his ethnicity not in any traditional value system acquired from his family or from society. James reported that he noticed early on that white people and black people were treated quite differently and quite unfairly. He also believed that these observed differences were "wrong." James stated more than once during our interview that many of the choices in his life were in direct response to what he perceived as the "inequal" ways his people were treated. In fact, James reported that he became very involved in the civil rights movements in the 1960s and that he attended marches with Dr. Martin Luther King's group. He also reported that early on in his life he believed that white people, all white people, were his "enemies" but that after listening to speeches of men like Dr. Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy he realized that this was not true. James actually appears to have gone through Marcia's identity achievement, having experienced an identity crisis and making a commitment to his own self-identity based on his understanding of the world, his upbringing, and his experiences (Crain, 2011). Frank appears to have pretty much followed Erikson psychosocial stages in the order that Erikson envisioned them, whereas James appears to have struggled with stage 5 issues (identity vs. role confusion) and a very early age and this struggle affected him deeply. Because his upbringing he and experiences this became a major conflict for him and he unsuspectingly dealt with this conflict from a very early age into his early adulthood.

Interestingly, there is empirical evidence that the…

Sources Used in Documents:


Black, H.K., & Rubinstein, R.L. (2009). The effect of suffering on generativity: Accounts of elderly African-American men. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 64(2), 296-303.

Crain, W. (2011). Theories of development: Concepts and applications (6th ed.). Upper Saddle

River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

McAdams, D.P. (2011). Narrative identity. In S.J. Schwartz, K. Luyckx & V.L. Vignoles

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