Erik famous chapter ‘Eight Ages of Man’, Erikson

Erikson’s model of lifespan development is a highly significant and meaningful
concept which revolutionised developmental thought (Hoare, 2002). Introduced in
his famous chapter ‘Eight Ages of Man’, Erikson (1950) roots much of his theory
in Freud’s psychosexual theory of ego psychology. However, Erikson determines
that psychosocial development emerges as a result of the interplay between the
individual psyche, the social/historical/cultural context, and the developing
biological organism (Seligman & Shamrock, 1998). Psychosocial is described as that which pertains to the interaction
between social factors and the psychological system (Newman & Newman,
2006). By involving social and cultural backgrounds and interplay, Erikson modifies
the concept of ego development as an individual identity process. He was also
the first to introduce a lifespan theory as developing over a trajectory of an
entire lifetime. The central idea of Erikson’s model revolves around the
acquisition of an ego-identity, and the examination of identity issues emerges
as a primary attribute of adolescence.  Although
the particular nature of one’s identity varies between cultures, the realisation
of the developmental tasks have commonalities in all cultures (Erikson, 2006). Erikson
is considered an ego psychologist, as are many post-Freud psychologists
involved in the psychoanalytical field, meaning he considered the ego to have a
life of its own. Conscious or unconscious, the ego more clearly represents the
personality than does the id (Fleming, 2008). Erikson argues that the ego is a
positive force which establishes a self-identity. Throughout childhood, the ego
is feeble and weak; however, by adolescence the ego is strengthened and begins
to materialise. Over the course of life, the ego consolidates personality and
protects against indivisibility. Erikson considered the ego a somewhat
unconscious coordinating agency that combines current experiences with past
self-identities and also anticipated images of self (Schultz &Schultz,
2005), defining it as a person’s ability to unify experiences and actions in an
adaptive manner (Erikson, 1963).

An overview of Erikson’s model of
lifespan development

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theory is based on the epigenetic
principle of development, borrowed from embryology, which states “that
anything that grows has a ground plan, and that out of this ground plan the
parts arise, each part having its time of special ascendancy, until all parts
have risen to form a functional whole” (Erikson, 1968: 92). The term epigenesis was initially used in
describing physiological development, beginning with an embryo, then foetus,
and then child. If the development of the embryo (a leg, for example) is
disrupted at the critical stage of its development, the limb will never
correctly develop. The psychosocial correlative of the limb is a facet of the
personality. Erikson concurs with Freud in the belief that successful
advancement in each stage is essential for successful advancement in subsequent
stages. For Erikson, however, epigenesis encompasses more than just a sequence
of stages: “It also determines certain laws in the fundamental relations of the
growing parts to each other. . .” (Erikson, 1982: 28). Without each component
arising at its particular appropriate time, the development of “a succession of
potentials for significant interaction” with significant others and the “mores
that govern them” is threatened. The biological analogy relates to an extent,
however, Erikson argued that one could address and resolve earlier conflicts in
subsequent stages. With the psychosocial development model spanning an entire
lifetime, Erikson identifies eight stages wherein the personality develops to
form an ego identity. Each stage presents a crisis
to be resolved, spurring on further development of new ego qualities (Erikson,
1950). Erikson utilised the term crisis “in a developmental sense to connote
not a threat of catastrophe, but a turning point, a crucial period of increased
vulnerability and heightened potential” (Erikson, 1968: 96). The crisis
involves a shift in perspective, requiring us to refocus our instinctual energy
in accordance with the needs of each stage of the life cycle (Shultz &
Shultz, 2005). The resolution of each crisis causes a fusion of opposite
‘attitudes towards life’ inspiring a new ‘dynamic balance’ of ego strength that
is qualitatively separate from, yet building on, earlier ego qualities
(Stevens, 1983). These developments of ego were considered by Erikson as
intertwined with the evolving needs and competency of the biological organism
as it grows over time. The emerging ego capacity acquired at each stage of
development, therefore, is determined by the social environment’s ability to
endorse that development (Stevens, 1983).