Erik Erikson


About Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson was born in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, to a young Jewish woman. His mother raised Erik by herself for a very long time, she eventually married a man named Dr. Theodor Homberger. Erikson grew up believing that Homberger was his biological father. When he learned that he was not Erikson felt very confused and led him to question his identity. After finishing high school Erikson traveled through Europe pursuing his interest in art, but he went on to study psychoanalysis, which was recommended by a friend, and he eventually earned a certificate from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. He married a woman named Joan Serson, who was a dancer. They had three children together. In 1993 he decided to move to the United States. He worked at multiple Universities throughout his time in the United States, including Harvard, Yale, and University of California at Berkeley. He changed his name from Erik Erikson to Erik Homberger and then again to Erik H. Erikson. He published multiple books on his theories and research. He died May 12, 1994 (Cherry, n.d.).

Contributions to Psychology

Erikson is known for his theory that there are different stages of life and with every stage there is a psychological struggle. His theory describes the impact that society has on a person throughout their life.

  • Trust vs. Mistrust: During the first stage infants are unsure about their environment, they look to their care givers to stability and consistency. Being successful in this stage will lead to hope while failure will lead to fear. (McLeod, 2008).
  • Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt: This stage focuses on children become more independent; if the child is successful then they will be confident and have higher sense in independence, but those who fail will feel inadequate. (McLeod, 2008).
  • Initiative vs.Guilt: At this stage children will start to become more curious about the world and begin asking questions. If the parents view the questions as dumb, unimportant and embarrassing, then the child will begin to feel guilty for being "annoying" (McLeod, 2008).
  • Industry vs. Inferiority: If a child is encouraged a praised their confidence will rise and feel competent. However, if the child is encouraged the will begin to feel inferior (McLeod, 2008).
  • Identity vs. Confusion: This stage allows children to find out who they are and develop and sense of identity and true self, those who complete this stage successfully feel very independent while those who do not feel insecure about who they are (McLeod, 2008).
  • Intimacy vs. Isolation: This stage deals with developing person relationships with people, Erikson believed that this was important in order to build relationships that are successful and last a long time. People successful in this stage will learn how to love (McLeod, 2008).
  • Generativity vs. Stagnation: Those who are successful during this stage will enjoy their life and feel like they are an active part of the community and care for their life, while those who fail to succeed in this stage will feel uninvolved in the world (McLeod, 2008).
  • Integrity vs. Despair: This is the last stage of Erikson's psycho social theory. It involves one looking back and reflecting on their life. If the individual is successful during this stage they will feel happy and contempt with their life while an individual who is unsuccessful will feel like they have wasted their life (McLeod, 2008).
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Erik Erikson is criticized because he is very vague in describing the stages. He does not go into detail about the kind of experiences that people need to go through in order to resolve certain psychosocial issues in order to move on to the next stage successfully and he does not explain how the outcome of one psychosocial stage effects other stages (McLeod, 2008).


Cherry, K. (n.d.). How Erik Erikson's Own Identity Crisis Shaped His Theories. Retrieved September 15, 2014, from

McLeod, S. (2008, January 1). Erik Erikson. Retrieved September 15, 2014, from