The 8 Stages of Emotional Development

Different phases of human developmenT Abstract conceptual image

24 Mar The 8 Stages of Emotional Development

It’s important for parents, teachers, and other significant adults, such as staff at teen rehab treatment centers, to be able to guide children and teens through healthy emotional development. To help with this, an understanding of some basic psychology is worthwhile. A psychologist by the name of Erik Erikson identified eight specific stages of development that occur throughout a person’s lifetime. His theory is called psychosocial development. In other settings, it may be referred to as socioemotional development.

Each stage is identified by a particular virtue that must be learned (i.e. hope, will, purpose, etc.), an existential question that must be answered, and significant relationships that are established. How the individual processes and transitions from each stage determines whether he or she will carry the virtue into the remaining life stages. For instance, if an infant transitions into toddlerhood with more trust than mistrust, he or she will carry hope into the other life stages.

#1: Hope: Trust vs. Mistrust (0–2 Years)

In this stage, infants learn trust if they are nurtured, comforted, and made to feel secure. The mother is their most significant relationship during this time and their most pressing existential question is, “Can I trust the world?” If the infant feels unsafe or abandoned or has basic needs that go unmet, he or she will learn that the world is a dangerous place and develop a sense of mistrust.

#2 Will: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (2–4 Years)

The toddler enters a period of exploration and begins to exercise his will. They want (and should be encouraged) to learn to do things on their own. During this stage, they learn how to dress themselves, how to go to the bathroom, etc. The question to be answered is, “Is it okay to be me?” Parents are the significant relationship at this stage. From parents, toddlers learn whether they are capable of doing things. If they are overprotected, controlled, or ridiculed, a negative sense of shame and doubt in their own abilities could develop.

#3 Purpose: Initiative vs. Guilt (4–5 Years)

In this stage, the child’s significant relationships broaden to include all family members and her explorative nature expands to learning things like riding a bike, playing with other children, planning play activities, and leading and following in play. The child will ask many questions. Here the question is, “Is it okay for me to do, move, and act?” If a child is made to feel like a nuisance or is overcorrected, he may develop a sense of guilt that cripples initiative in later stages. However, if parents encourage a healthy balance between confidence (initiative) and self-control, the child is prepared to live life with a sense of purpose.

#4 Competence: Industry vs. Inferiority (5–12 Years)

During this time, the child enters the school years and his or her significant relationships expand to include neighbors, school classmates, and teachers. The child is asking, “Can I make it in the world of people and things?” Now, children enter a stage of production—they complete assignments, participate in sports, or learn a musical instrument. They develop either a sense of self-confidence (I can do this) or a sense of failure and inferiority. Parents and teachers carry an important role of instilling a healthy balance between inferiority and overconfidence. This is called the virtue of competence.

#5 Fidelity: Identity vs. Role Confusion (13–19 Years)

At this stage, the child becomes a teenager and begins exploring the questions, “Who am I?” and “Who can I be?” Peers and role models hold significant influence in their lives and the teenager becomes self-aware and begins to establish personal beliefs, values, and goals. Teenagers exert independence and may express differences with the adults in their lives. The important thing for them to learn at this stage is their role in society. A healthy result of this stage of life is the virtue of fidelity, which is the ability to commit to and accept others, regardless of ideological differences.

#6 Love: Intimacy vs. Isolation (20–39 Years)

Now, the teenager transitions into adulthood and begins developing long-term significant relationships with friends and romantic partners. Young adults are learning how to embrace and experience the positive benefits of intimacy and how to make the sacrifices and compromises required in those types of relationships. When love is not reciprocated (i.e. rejection) or the young adult has difficulty with intimacy and commitments, he or she may revert to isolation, loneliness, and depression. The question in this stage is, “Can I love?”

#7 Care: Generativity vs. Stagnation (40–64 Years)

Adults in their middle years need to feel a sense of guiding the next generation (generativity) and ask, “Can I make my life count?” When an adult feels that he or she is positively contributing to society, a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment results. If not, stagnation results. Their significant relationships extend to their household (i.e. those in their care, which could include teenaged children or aging parents) and workmates. Adults also express this by getting involved in community organizations and activities.

#8 Wisdom: Ego Integrity vs. Despair (65–Death)

Senior citizens enter the stage of retirement, a season where they reflect on their lives and accomplishments and answer the question, “Is it okay to have been me?” If the adult has progressed through all the other stages successfully, a sense of fulfillment and integrity results. Conversely, if aging adults feel they didn’t complete their goals or feel guilt about their past, they may experience despair. The ideal outcome of this stage is the virtue of wisdom, in which the adult imparts their wisdom to mankind.

Understanding the natural stages of life and the healthy virtues to be learned in each will help parents and other mentors guide children and teens into healthy adulthood. At a teen rehab treatment center, stages that were not properly processed may be addressed to help the teen overcome addiction.

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