During his lifetime, Erik Erikson produced a vitally important theory of psychological development. Psychosocial theory expanded on Freud’s concept of psychosexual development, explored the overall development of a person throughout the lifespan, and provided a means in which to understand normal versus arrested development during specific psychological stages. In this essay, I will explore Early Childhood psychosocial development, its links to Jung’s theories underlying analytical psychology, and how our early foundational journey sets the stage for future Self-realized development to occur.
Erik Erikson (1963) believed that three systems interact to produce lived experience. These systems are “the somatic process, the ego process, and the social process” which are part of the academic fields of “biology, psychology, and the social sciences” (Erikson, 1963, p. 36). The interaction of these three systems lends validity to the claims Erikson made concerning how internal and external pressures promote lived experience. Concerning the strengths that the psychosocial approach has to other developmental theories, Newman and Newman (2003) stated:
First, psychosocial theory addresses growth across the lifespan, identifying and differentiating central issues from infancy through old age. It also suggests that experiences of adolescence or adulthood can lead to a review and reinterpretation of earlier periods. Second, psychosocial theory assumes that individuals have the capacity to contribute to their psychological development… the direction of development is shaped by self-regulation as well as by the ongoing interaction of biological and societal influences. Third, the theory takes into consideration the active contribution of culture to individual growth. (p. 39)
The epigenetic principle underlies Erikson’s developmental theory. Erikson (1959) stated that “this principle states that anything that grows has a ground plan, and that out of this ground plan the parts arise, each having its time of special ascendancy, until all parts have arisen to form a functioning whole” (p. 52). The epigenetic principle shows that a-priori genetic sequences drive the natural progression of the psyche. This theory is similar to Jung’s belief that a-priori symbols drive individuation. Both Jung (1928/1966) and Erikson (1959) showed that the human personality unfolds from a specific sequence that leads towards a more holistic consciousness. Jung (1928/1966) stated that individuation is a “destination, a possible goal… [which] means becoming an ‘in-dividual,’ and, in so far as ‘individuality’ embraces our innermost, last, and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one’s own self” (p. 173).
Erikson (1963) believed that each developmental stage produces a psychosocial crisis that must be resolved. Erikson assumed that the psyche develops by working the paradoxes that naturally unfold during the developmental sequence. Therefore, a person can undergo both positive and negative developmental sequences. Like Jung, Erikson’s psychology is dualistic; both theorists believed that the psyche has the capability to mend its dichotomized nature. While Erikson provided developmental themes, Jung focused on the dual nature symbolism has on the psyche. Both theorists proposed that personality development occurs through mending the split nature of consciousness.
Erikson’s theory lends periphery evidence to the plight Siddhartha undertook to realize his true nature. In Hesse’s (2002) story, Siddhartha suffered a developmental arrest due to his inability to attach to his primary caregivers. However, from a psychosocial perspective, Siddhartha could develop into a realized being through revisiting early developmental failures.
Erikson’s (1963) first stage of development occurs during infancy, ends about two years of age, and culminates with the psychosocial crisis of trust versus mistrust (Newman & Newman, 2003). Like Freud, Erikson believed that feeding and bowel movements represents the process from which infants learn to master their environment. Through feeding and learning to control bowel movements, the psyche learns its first developmental lesson: How to establish trust in one’s ability to relate to and take control of the environment.
The first demonstration of social trust in the baby is the ease of his feeding, the depth of his sleep, the relaxation of his bowels. The experience of a mutual regulation of his increasingly receptive capacities with the maternal techniques of provision gradually helps him to balance the discomfort caused by the immaturity of homeostasis with which he was born… Forms of comfort, and people associated with them, become as familiar as the gnawing discomfort of the bowels. The infant’s first social achievement, then, is his willingness to let the mother out of sight without undue anxiety or rage, because she has become an inner certainty as well as an outer predictability. Such consistency, continuity, and sameness of experience provide a rudimentary sense of ego identity which depends, I think, on the recognition that there is an inner population of remembered and anticipated sensations and images which are firmly correlated with the outer population of familiar and predictable things and people. (Erikson, 1963, p. 247)
The ability to gain control of one’s internal environment leads to outside environmental control. Because human infants are helpless and require parental nurturing, the role parents assume in meeting an infant’s physiological and psychological needs assures the attachment needed for a child to grow in relationship with other individuals. The initial trust developed by consistent parenting assures environmental trust to occur. Secondarily, by establishing trust in one’s environment, an infant can develop hope in their ability to solve increasingly complex tasks required that will be required of them during their lifespan.
If an infant develops mistrust, pathological issues can arise that will affect their entire outlook on life.
In psychopathology the absence of basic trust can best be studied in infantile schizophrenia, while lifelong underlying weakness of such trust is apparent in adult personalities in whom withdrawal into schizoid and depressive states is habitual. The re-establishment of a state of trust has been found to be the basic requirement for therapy in these cases. For no matter what conditions may have caused a psychotic break, the bizarreness and withdrawal in the behavior of many very sick individuals hides an attempt to recover social mutuality by a testing of the borderlines between sense and physical reality, between words and social meanings (Erikson, 1963, p. 248).
The development of trust is a psychological necessity. It is imperative that an infant develops a trusting bond with their parent(s) to assure survival. An infant that can trust in their ability to work within the environment will have a better chance at successfully navigating the stresses life imposes. If mistrust occurs, a maturing person can face such pathologies as depression, personality disorders of the borderline, schizoid, and narcissistic type, and internal disorganization common to psychosis.
Siddhartha never developed trust for other individuals. In Hesse’s (2002) story, Siddhartha presented as aloof; never having secured attachment with his mother or father, Siddhartha mistrusted the lessons he was taught by other individuals. From the perspective of object relations’ theory, Siddhartha had a schizoid pre-disposition from which he engaged other individuals. He never allowed himself to trust that the lessons taught by others could lead him to realize his true nature. Siddhartha sought Atman; however, in his quest to fid himself, Siddhartha failed to relate with others.
Erikson’s second stage occurs during toddler-hood, culminates with the psychosocial crisis of autonomy versus shame and doubt, and correlates to Freud’s anal stage. Muscular development during this stage allows a toddler to control their internal physiological states. This allows a toddler to develop mastery over their internal and external environment. Erikson supported Freud’s view that the primary task associated to the anal autoerotic stage consists of learning to control fecal matter, which leads to self-control, and in turn assures autonomy.
Muscular maturation sets the stage for experimentation with two simultaneous sets of social modalities: holding on and letting go. As is the case with all of these modalities, their basic conflicts can lead in the end to either hostile or benign expectations and attitudes. Thus, to hold can become a destructive and cruel retaining or restraining, and it can become a pattern of care: to have and to hold. To let go, too, can turn into an inimical letting loose of destructive forces, or it can become a relaxed “to let pass” and “to let be.” Outer control at this stage, therefore, must be firmly reassuring. The infant must come to feel that the basic faith in existence, which is the lasting treasure saved from the rages of the oral stage, will not be jeopardized by this about-face of his, this sudden violent wish to have a choice, to appropriate demandingly, and eliminate stubbornly. (Erikson, 1963, pp. 251-252)
The developmental tasks common to this stage include language development, increasing control of locomotion, and symbolic fantasy play (Newman & Newman, 2003). A child masters this developmental stage by imitating others. Erikson (1963) believed “from a sense of self-control without loss of self-esteem comes a lasting sense of good will and pride” and “from a sense of loss of sense of self control and of foreign overcontrol [sic] comes a lasting propensity for doubt and shame” (p. 254). A toddler must learn the adaptive quality of willpower to master this stage. Through will, a toddler establishes mastery over their body, and once achieved, they can project this success towards mastering environmental events. By willing events to occur, then taking the necessary action needed to carry through with a willed event, a toddler learns to master autonomous behaviors.
If a developmental arrest occurs during the second stage of psychosocial development, it can lead to shame and doubt. This affects later developmental stages by establishing inability to function autonomously. The development of shame and guilt also corresponds to superego development, which relates it to the moral commandment and prohibitive polarities common to the father archetype. If superego development fails, the ego begins to doubt in its ability to be independent. This process is further prompted by shame and ridicule from one’s peer group.
Doubt is the brother of shame. Where shame is dependent on the consciousness of being upright and exposed, doubt, so clinical observation leads me to believe, has much to do with a consciousness of having a… “behind.” For this reverse area of the body, with its aggressive and libidinal focus in the sphincters and in the buttocks, cannot be seen by the child, and yet it can be dominated by the will of others. The “behind” is the small beings dark continent, an area of the body which can be magically dominated and effectively invaded by those who would attack one’s power of autonomy and who would designate as evil those products of the bowels which were felt to be all right when they were being passed. This basic sense of doubt in whatever one has left behind forms a substratum for later and more verbal forms of compulsive doubting; this finds its adult expression in paranoiac fears concerning hidden persecutors and secret persecutions threatening from behind (and from within the behind). (Erikson, 1963, pp. 253-254)
A developmental arrest during this stage leads to an ego that doubts in its ability to function independently. If shame and doubt occurs, it can lead to neurotic tendencies in which the ego attacks itself to decrease primary anxiety states, which inevitably leads to the development of further anxiety.
The schizoid nature presented by the protagonist in Hesse’s story caused him to function completely autonomously. Because he had no conception of other individuals, Siddhartha showed no shame about any action he partook in during his lifespan. Siddhartha doubted everyone, but showed autonomous resolve to find his goal, Atman, or die trying. Because the protagonist was completely immersed in his own autonomy, he showed obsessive traits of self-control. This is evident in the unwavering stance he took when he stood up to his father’s resolve to take leave of home. While Siddhartha was autonomous, which suggests success in his navigation of Erikson’s (1963) second stage, his autonomy was actually pathologically mistrusting. The protagonist’s aloof nature, need for obsessive self-control, and questioning of all that was good in his life caused the protagonist to develop a narcissistic predisposition.
The third stage of psychosocial development correlates to Freud’s phallic stage, occurs during the early school years (four to six years of age), and culminates with the psychosocial crisis of initiative versus guilt (Newman & Newman, 2003).
There is in every child at every stage a new miracle of vigorous unfolding, which constitutes a new hope and a new responsibility for all. Such is the sense and the pervading quality of initiative. The criteria for all these senses and qualities are the same; a crisis, more or less best with fumbling and fear, is resolved, in that the child suddenly seems to “grow together” both in his person and his body… He is in free possession of a surplus of energy which permits him to forget failures quickly and to approach what seems desirable (even if it also seems uncertain and even dangerous) with undiminished and more accurate direction. Initiative adds to autonomy the quality of undertaking, planning and “attacking” a task for the sake of being active and on the move, where before self-will, more often than not, inspired acts of defiance or, at any rate, protested independence. (Erikson, 1963, p. 255)
The developmental tasks associated to this stage include the development of a coherent ego, gender identity, the beginning development of relationships, and early moral development (Newman & Newman, 2003). Erikson (1963) stated that during this crisis “the most fateful split and transformation in the emotional powerhouse occurs, a split between potential human glory and a potential total destruction. For here the child becomes forever divided in himself” (p. 256). This stage runs parallel to Freud’s oedipal complex, presents the psyche with the religious quandary of falling from grace, and represents the initial formation of complex consciousness (Johnson, 1993) associated with subjective and objective reasoning. By categorizing the nature of environmental entities, the psyche develops the ability to formulate guilt about personal action. The functional adaptation of the ego during this stage of development provides the child with a sense of purpose.
Erikson (1963) believed that a sense of guilt overcomes a child that is not able to develop proper initiative. If early developmental failures occur, an individual can fall behind in social expectations to take initiative and complete ordinary tasks. The guilt associated to this developmental stage is either internal or external. Initiative suggests the ability to anticipate outcomes. These expectations drive a person to develop plans to solve complex problems; when a problem cannot be solved individually, a person has the developing mental capacity to form relationships as a means to help solve them solve that problem. Pathologies that can arise due to an arrest during this developmental stage include denial, neurotic inhibition, and impotence in one’s ability to carry out daily functions (Newman & Newman, 2003).
Siddhartha took initiative to leave his family home and never look back upon the family lineage he left behind. Siddhartha’s failure to attach to any primary caregiver allowed him to take initiative to pursue his individual path. While Siddhartha took initiative to pursue his own path, this initiative was an attempt to escape the problems his mediocre childhood psychological development imposed upon him. The aloof child sought to run away, rather than face his problems, chasing an unknowable entity that promised the riches the young falcon in the story sought.
Erik Erikson produced a theory of human development that examines the entire lifespan, includes biological, social, and psychological aspects, and is inclusive of the dialectic tension that exists within the psyche. The works of Carl Jung also found their way into the theories developed by Erikson through a relationship he formed with a Jungian analyst named Joseph Wheelwright (Erikson, 1987). The dialectic tensions held by each developmental stage correlates to the dialectic tension of the archetypes that produce the undercurrent of the psychological complexes that drive individuated development. While Erikson was a psychoanalyst, many of his works were similar to the theories that Jung incorporated into his theoretical discourse on individuation.
Erikson, E. (1959). Identity and the lifecycle: Selected papers. In Psychological Issues (Monograph 1). New York: International Universities Press.
Erikson, E. (1963). Childhood and society (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.
Erikson, E.H. (1987). For Joseph Wheelwright, my Jungian friend. In S. Schlein (Ed.), A way of looking at things: Selected papers from 1930 to 1980 (pp. 713-715). New York: Norton.
Hesse, H. (2002). Siddhartha: A new translation with an introduction by Paul W. Morris. (C. S. Kohn, Trans.) Boston, MA: Shambhala.
Johnson, R. (1993). Transformation: Understanding the three levels of masculine consciousness. San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins.
Jung, C. G. (1928/1966). The relations between the ego and the unconscious. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, & W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (R. F. Hull, Trans., Vol 7, pp. 123-245). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published in 1928).
Newman, B. M., & Newman, P. R. (2003). Development through life: A psychosocial approach (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.