How do intimacy and isolation differ?

Phases of psychosocial development according to Erik Homburger Erikson

In addition to the psychosexual phases that Freud describes, Eric H. Erikson postulates the psychosocial phases of ego development in which the individual finds a new orientation to himself and to the people around him, which Freud limits to childhood. For each phase development tasks are formulated that can be mastered positively or negatively. These directions are recorded in the heading for the phases.

The model assumes that every person develops in stages that are inherent in everyone from birth. Each of these levels has a special topic that is relevant to the relevant level. The topicality of a topic ultimately increases to one crisis. When the crisis has been overcome, the next stage follows, etc. It is important that the individual topics are present from birth, but only become dominant at a certain stage. In order for a healthy personality to develop, the individual crises must be successfully overcome. 'Successful' is determined by the respective culture. If there are problems in personal development, the levels can be used to find out which crisis has not yet been successfully overcome. This knowledge helps the therapist, for example, to intervene at the right point. The eight stages with their specific crises are described against the background of western industrial society, which of course limits its universality.

Trust versus distrust (1st year of life)

Basic trust arises from the experience that there is agreement between the world and personal needs. In this phase a basic attitude emerges that runs through the rest of life. A newborn baby depends on being cared for. These experiences lead to trust in the mother and the father. In addition to the experience of trust, mistrust is also experienced. B. the mother begins to be there not only for the baby, d. that is, she leaves the child alone to run the household, etc. These times when the newborn is alone encourages his suspicion. It is important for a child to learn about trust and distrust. It is crucial for a healthy personality development that trust develops more strongly.

Autonomy against shame and doubt (2nd, 3rd year of life)

During this time, the emacipation from the mother takes place, which is supported by the new skills of walking, speaking and chair control. The problem of autonomy and shame is transformed into holding on and letting go. Specifically, the child has to learn to hold onto things or let them go. Freud and Erikson therefore point to the education on cleanliness, which psychoanalysts also refer to as the anal phase. During this time the child also develops ideas about "I" and "You". It learns that it is an individual. In order to ensure healthy development, Erikson points out that parents are taken as role models. In doing so, the children also take into account the feelings they experience in connection with their parents. Successful coping assumes that autonomy develops more strongly than shame and doubt.

Initiative against feelings of guilt (4th, 5th year of life)

The child increasingly differentiates itself from the environment and tries to explore reality, which is expressed in countless questions as well as in trying out different roles in the game. Because the child has now learned to walk, they can explore their surroundings more independently. It is important that the toddler learns to do things without outside help, e.g. B. to explore all possible objects. This promotes the initiative. On the other hand, the child is now starting to deal more and more with its gender. This ultimately leads to the oedipal situation. In going through this crisis, the toddler also learns to feel guilty. During this time the conscience is formed. A successful experience of this level is given when the child has learned to take initiative and to deal with his feelings of guilt.

Factory sense against feeling of inferiority (6 years of age to puberty)

The child is eager to learn - "I am what I learn". It learns recognition through the making of things, through cognitive skills. Being successful is important. In addition to the urge to play, the child develops a sense of work, i. That is, it is about doing something useful. The school, which is attended at this age and for longer, tries to meet these two requirements. In addition to learning through play, the school should offer the learners the opportunity to confirm themselves by doing something useful. If there is no sense of achievement, a feeling of inferiority develops over time. Fixations that can arise concern fear of failure or the fear of certain tasks in general. At this age, a lack of self-confidence that overshadows all of life can also be fundamental. For a healthy development it is therefore necessary that the children are enabled to experience success. At this level, children want to observe everything and actively participate themselves; they want to be shown by others how to do something and then try it out for themselves. So the sense of work is the child's need to do something useful, because they want to participate at least partially in the adult world. At the same time, some children have the feeling that they are inferior in this phase of their life, for example when their skills are not yet sufficient to do what an adult can do without problems. This is why some children of this age overwhelm themselves.

Identity against identity diffusion (13 to 20 years of age)

All of the preceding phases provide elements for this phase: trust, autonomy, initiative, diligence. Then there are the physical changes and new demands of the environment. The young person questions himself and seeks his identity. This identity should be found against the background of new social roles: discussion and questioning of the caregiver, role in the peer group, dealing with the opposite sex, role in the job. With the accelerated physical development, the question arises more and more: Who am I? The answer is to combine the experiences gained so far, which consist of overcoming previous crises, into an ego identity. This identity formation works better if you have had as many positive experiences as possible and therefore have a healthy level of self-confidence. If this is not the case, identity diffusion occurs. The individual adolescent or the individual adolescent cannot develop a stable self-identity. One consequence of this is that such young people like to join groups that have clear structures.

Intimacy and solidarity against isolation (20 to around 45 years)

Clarified identity allows stable partnership and intimacy. Erikson describes the phase as losing oneself and finding oneself in the other. With the help of a solid I-identity it becomes possible to experience intimacy in a couple relationship. The presence of the identity makes it possible to open up to the partner. On the other hand, there is isolation, which can be explained by the fact that no stable ego identity has yet been developed. But it is important that the experience of isolation or distancing is important for everyone. Again, it is about a meaningful relationship that must develop between intimacy and isolation.

Generativity against self-encapsulation (45 to 65 years)

Families are formed as a result of intimacy. This phase is characterized by the need to create, pass on and secure values ​​for future generations. These in turn lead to the fact that children are born. Erikson understands generativity to mean bringing up the next generation, be it as parents or in some other way that has this goal in mind. This attitude only develops when there is a basic sense of trust. The opposite is known as self-absorption. This is understood to mean isolation, d. that is, interpersonal relationships are poorly maintained, etc. This attitude leads to loneliness.

Integrity Against Despair (65 Years To Death)

In the best case scenario, it comes to full maturity at this stage, to the willingness to accept its one and only life cycle, as something that had to be and that inevitably did not allow for a replacement. This last phase is about accepting previous lives as they were, with all positive and negative experiences and events. This makes it possible to live in peace. Often this also forms the basis for people to take on management tasks. If one does not succeed in accepting one's life, life disgust arises. This creates disappointment and dissatisfaction with his life.

There is a high probability that the psychological development of a person will be disturbed if it is not possible to cope with the crises that arise in the respective phases.

Erikson at a glance (after Tücke 1999)

A clear and detailed tabular representation can be found in Herbert Mück (2005):


Phases + modes

 Psychosocial crises

more important


Core Pathology / Basic Antipathies


Related principles of social order

Binding rituals




Oral-respiratory; sensory kinesthetic (modes of incorporation)

Basic trust / basic distrust

Maternal person



I am what I am given.

Cosmic order

The numinous




II: early childhood

Anal-urethral (modes of retention and elimination

Autonomy / shame + doubt




I am what I want

Law and order





III: Age of play

Infantile-genital, locomotor (modes of penetration and shooting around)

Initiative / guilt

Nuclear family



I am what I can imagine becoming.

Ideal guiding principles

The dramatic



IV: school age


Liveliness / inferiority

Neighborhood, school



I am what I am learning.

Technological order

The formal (of the technology)



V: adolescence


Identity / identity confusion

Peer groups and foreign groups



I am what I am.

Ideological worldview

The ideological




VI: Early adulthood


Intimacy /


Partner in friendship, sexuality, competition, cooperation



I am what makes me adorable.

Basic pattern of cooperation and rivalry

The unifying


VII: adulthood


Generativity / stagnation

Division of labor and common household



I am what I am ready to give.

Current trends in education and tradition

The creative




Generalization of the body modes

Integrity / despair

Humanity, people of my kind



I am what I have appropriated.


The philosophical


Erik Homburger Erikson was born on June 15, 1902 in Frankfurt, Germany, his biological father was an unnamed Dane who left Erik's mother before the child was born. His mother, Karla Abrahamsen, was a young Jew who raised him alone for the first three years of his life. Then she married Dr. Theodor Homberger, Erik's pediatrician, and the family moved to Karlsruhe in southern Germany. The evolution of identity seems to have been one of the biggest questions in Erikson's life as well as in his theory. During his childhood and early adult years, he was Erik Homberger, his parents still keeping the details of his birth a secret. He was a tall, blond, blue-eyed Jewish boy. In the synagogue school, the other children teased him about his Nordic appearance; at high school they teased him because he was a Jew. After graduating from high school, Erik wanted to become an artist. When he wasn't attending classes, he traveled Europe, visited museums, slept under bridges. He lived the life of a carefree rebel. When he was 25, his friend Peter Blos - an artist who would later become a psychoanalyst - suggested that he apply for the position of teacher at an experimental school for American students run by Dorothy Burlingham, a friend of Anna Freud, was directed. He not only taught art, but received a certificate in Montessori education and one from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. He personally subjected himself to a psychoanalysis by Anna Freud. During this time he also met Joan Serson, a Canadian dance teacher at the school. They had three children, one of whom became a sociologist. When the Nazis came to power, the family left Vienna and moved first to Copenhagen, then to Boston. Erikson was offered a position at Harvard Medical School and privately he practiced as a child psychologist. During this time he met psychologists such as Henry Murray and Kurt Lewin, as well as anthropologists such as Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. He later taught at Yale, and then at the University of California at Berkeley. It was during this period that his investigations into modern Lakota and Yurok life emerged. When he received American citizenship, he officially changed his name to Erik Erikson. In 1950 he wrote Childhood and Society, which contained summaries of his studies among the Native Americans, as well as analyzes of Maxim Gorky and Adolph Hitler, a discussion of the "American personality" and an outline of his version of Freud's theory. These themes - the influence of culture on personality and the analysis of historical figures - were repeated in other works, one of which won Gandhi's Truth, the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. In 1950, Erikson left Berkeley during the reign of terror of Senator Joseph McCarthy because the professors were asked to sign so-called loyalty oaths. He spent ten years in Massachusetts, where he worked and taught at a clinic, then another ten years at Harvard. After retiring in 1970, he continued to write and research with his wife. Erik Erikson died in 1994.


Boeree, C. G. (1997). Personality Theories. ERIK ERIKSON. Translation by D. Wieser.
WWW: (12-06-09)

Mück, Herbert (2005). Erik H. Erikson life cycle.
WWW: (06-05-18)

Tücke, M. (1999). Developmental psychology of childhood and adolescence for (future) teachers.
WWW: (06-01-06)

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