FYI: A Brief Primer on Erikson

FYI: A Brief Primer on Erikson

If you really don’t care about the bare-bones details of Erikson’s theory of human development, then if I were you I’d skip this and go looking for my posts on the meanings and applications this theory has for the church.   What follows is a general overview on Erikson’s theory and I’m mainly posting it as a reference point for future posts.  

In the late 1950s, Erikson published a theory known as “The Eight Stages of Man” as part of a larger work Childhood and Society and he later fleshed out in The Life Cycle Completed and Youth, Identity and Crisis.  In Childhood and Society, he was seeking to establish the general idea that supports theory, that Humans are psychosocial.  It is the idea that person develops their identity through the interplay of their self (physical and psychological) and their social  surroundings.    At different ages a person physically exists in the world differently (babies, toddlers, teens, etc.), because of this they psychologically engage the world differently; likewise they are engaged differently by the world.  

Erikson, being Freudian, was far more concerned with sexual and genital development as a part of his theory.  I, however, am not.  Further, I have not yet made up mind as to how sexual and genital development figures into that grander picture of human development, but I am sure it is there somehow.

Now for the stages.

The 8 Stages of Humanity
Erikson has categorized these differing engagements in 8 stages and termed them “crises”.  The crisis is between two antithesis that concern a general sense of self and the world (below I only cover the positive).  A person doesn’t come away with one or the other, but ends up somewhere on the continuum between the two.   

In each crisis the person develops a “virtue” particular to that crisis and that virtue shapes how the person engages later crises, so the stages build on each other. (A person is by no means stuck with a virtue and can revisit a crisis and away with a different virtue.)

Lastly, every stage is marked by a “ritual”, the way individuals at that invest in society.  Frankly, until the individual reaches a certain age, they way they invest in society is their reception of a ritual as opposed to acting it out.

1st Crisis: Basic Trust vs. Basic Mistrust
This is the first crisis a person encounters where as an infant they are merely taking in, sensing the world.  The infant is dependent on their caregiver and learns through the care of the caregiver whether or not they can trust their continuation of care and whether or not they can trust themselves with their own urges and their interactions with the caregiver.

The virtue learned in this stage is hope.  If the infant is provided care that enables them to trust their caregiver(s) and they develop a sense of trust, a general sense of hopefulness will result (as opposed to apprehension).

Lastly, the binding ritual of this stage, Erikson terms numinous, described as separateness (of the child and caregiver) transcended and as distinctiveness (of the child from the caregiver) confirmed.  

2nd Crisis: Autonomy vs. Shame, Doubt
The 1st crisis gives way around the time the infant begins exercising muscular and verbal control of themselves (potty training included) and their environment.  Through the child’s exertion of themselves and the caregivers care, they learn whether or not they can exist as autonomously as themselves.

The virtue learned in this stage is will.  If the child is provided with proper guidance and they develop a sense of autonomy a general sense of self-control without loss of self-esteem, that is free will, will result (as opposed to hesitancy).

The binding ritual of this stage Erikson calls judicious, described as the going ons within the individual’s inner life, where their conscious frees or condemns the individual.

3rd Crisis: Initiative vs. Guilt
The 2nd crisis bleeds into the third as the child gains sufficient master over their bodies and use of language.  Further they can think symbolically, thus allowing them to conceive mental images of things not present and to plan.  This mastery naturally leads to curiosity and enables the child to explore what they may do above and beyond what that can do.  The exploration the child develops initiative, that is a realistic sense of their own ambition and purpose.

The virtue learned in this stage is purpose.  If the child is partnered with well in their curiosity and exploration, they develop a sense of purpose, that they can put their mind to something and bring to completion.

The ritual of this stage Erikson calls dramatic, where the child, in their playing with others or not, imagines up and acts out dramatic events.

4th Crisis: Industry vs. Inferiority
The 3rd crisis gives way to 4th come school age as the child moves beyond intent and planning to attempting to produce something of worth utilizing that planning and intent.  They are able to think logically and looks like attempting and successfully accomplishing learning tasks, creating a work of art and successfully accomplishing something in a group.  This desire to produce develops as sense of industry, that the child can intend and then create something of worth and/or work together with others.

The virtue taken away from this stage is competence.  If the child is guided well by authority figures (parents, teachers, etc.) then they should come away from the stage feeling competent in their ability to work together and to create.

Erikson calls the ritual of this stage formal (technical).  Frankly he’s not succinctly clear on this, but the child in their education (school, life, parenting, etc.) engages, trains, and practices operating within their societies methods/rules of performance, the way the society formally operates.

5th Crisis: Identity vs. Identity Confusion
As they establish themselves in the midst of the ability to create successfully (or unsuccessfully) the individual also gains the ability to think abstractly (symbolically about symbolism) which enables deductive, inferential, hypothetical reasoning – that is they can think about grandiose ideas or what so-and-so thinks about them and what that means.  The individual can now concern themselves with not just creating successfully, but consider the meaning of their creation and what it means for them.  The individual can begin to establish their identity by creating themselves the way they want to be perceived.

The virtue arising from this stage is fidelity.  In the individuals (sometimes dangerous) search in identity, they can healthily come away committing their loyalty to something or someone(s).

The binding ritual for the adolescent is ideological.  The individual, as part of a group, begins to form their own rites and formalities to establish ideological confirmation.

6th Crisis: Intimacy vs. Isolation
As the individual establishes their own identity, they seek to share that identity in community – work, sexuality, friendship, etc. in a complementary manner.  The individual begins working toward a sense of how they belong as themselves amongst another(s) in the world, a sense of intimacy.  

The virtue developed in this stage is love.  The “mutuality of mature devotion that promises to resolve the antagonisms inherent in divided function.”  That’s Erikson speak for the ability to stay united with another in spite of the reality that because the other is their own person, clashes will result.

The ritual in this stage is affiliative.  The individual, as part of a group, cultivates  particular styles of living (behviors, manners, speaking, etc.) based on those they develop intimacy with.

7th Crisis: Generativity vs. Stagnation
The individual eventually moves beyond being primarily concerned about how to belong and about how they might establish and guide the generation that comes behind them.  This may be whether they have and how they care for their children and/or something they might be able to produce, create or be involved in, such as business or altruistic work.  At this stage the individual is working toward a sense of generativity.

The virtue the person comes away with in this stage is care.  Care can be understood as a committment to be care-ful, to take care of and to care for or as Erikson puts it restraint, charity and compassion.

The ritual inherent to this stage is generational.  The individual is engaged in practices that helps others in their own development.  They become a numinous model for the next generation and “act as judge of evil and transmitter of ideals.”

8th Crisis: Integrity vs. Despair
There comes the point in an individual’s life where the concern to generate is surpassed by the the concern of how to look back on their life and love it.  This is not a narcissistic love, but an “acceptance of one’s one and only life cycle as something that had to be and that, by necessity permitted no substitutions.”  The individual must look at their own life and develop a sense of integrity, in which, as Erikson says, death loses its sting.

The virtue at this point in life is wisdom.  Which is a “detatched yet active concern with life bounded by dath” and at the same time “present in the simplest references to concrete and daily matters”, seen in witicisms, accumulated knowledge, mature judgment and inclusive understanding.

The ritual of this stage is philo-sophical.  It is the regular practice of “maintaining some order and meaning in the dis-integration of the body and mind.”  Further, it supports a lasting hope in wisdom.


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Politics… how do I care?

Considering I’ve only been able to vote in 4 presidential elections, my time as a citizen in the political world has been short. What I’ve come to realize is my struggle isn’t so much why I should or shouldn’t care, but how should I care. Even still, it’s been a meandering path and I’ve often wondered why even walk it at all. As such this post is more an exercise in catharsis than exposition and, not surprisingly, that’s been reflected in the meandering path this post has taken in it’s numerous drafts and edits, re-edits and scrapping.

But let’s begin with that meandering path…

I grew up in a Democratic household. Like most kids, I uncritically assumed the views of the household. Not that it was ever talked about that much. I’ll gladly admit I was pretty shielded from the adult world’s drama in all things political, financial and relational. So there never as an indoctrination or education, if you want to call it that, when it came to politics, which is why, upon on entering college everything changed.
It was there that I was met with a group that was about indoctrinating/educating on political positions and had more founded explanations than I. Having nothing else to go off of, I began to hold these positions that connected politics and faith for me. I wouldn’t say there was much critical reflection, but the offered explanations were digestible and I came to see myself as far more conservative than the positions I had unknowingly assumed. Likewise, I moved my politics to the right.

In all truth, however, I was never very comfortable in the politics I moved toward and thus began the beginning of my disillusionment with politics. At first my conservatism was social, but quickly found the moralism of those positions distasteful (chalk one up to the education my parents did give me). So, I shifted to a more economic/civil conservatism, i.e. libertarianism. By this point in time I was far more critical of myself and the views I held and eventually came to see my held positions as ineffective starting points (thanks partially to my social sciences education, but mostly to the 2008 recession that was precipitated by such policies), believing that, though the ideas were good, they were were overly simplistic and detached from reality.

That’s not to say I immediately moved back toward the left. I would say at this point I became full-on disillusioned and politically unmoored …then I went to seminary.

I should also note, that my interpretation of politic’s purpose has meandered as well. I went from holding no view in high school to college where the aim was instituting God’s politics in social conservatism. This also meant Christians could/should only vote for those politics and if instituted then we’d have a perfect America, a veritable heaven on earth. As I was never quite comfortable with the Christian subculture’s interpretation and became more and more disillusioned, I went the libertarian route. For one, it removed the specter of all oppressive, moralistic politics thus, two,  laissez-fair policy made politic’s only purpose to hold us back from anarchy by only offering everyone a ground floor, no picking/determining winners and losers from a policy stand point. Then came my full throated disillusioned netherworld …then seminary…

I never felt comfortable at seminary when it came to the political culture. It felt like I walked into the Christian subculture’s bizarro world. Instead of conservative social policy, it was liberal social policy that was God’s politics and the beacon of hope that would usher in God’s kingdom. Being already jaded by this point in time, I already believed that progressivism’s good ideas were much like conservative/libertarians good ideas: poor starting points, even if they were more complex ideas and accounted for the complexity of the problems.

As it stands, I still feel unmoored. There’s no possible way I could support whatever conservatism is these days. Even the conservative party doesn’t know what conservatism is, but any political option being offered is utterly repugnant, rooted in conspiracy, delusion or angry religious idealism.
That’s not to say that the other side of the aisle is offering up anything worthwhile. They too are split on a progressive vision. …Well that’s not true, there’s the loud cadre of Bernie-type progressives and then… nothing. A lot of policy perhaps, but no captivating way forward.

Yet I still care.

In this meandering I’ve realized that I can’t not care about politics.

After all, politics matters. I must care. 1
It doesn’t happen in a vacuum, nor doesn’t it go into a vacuum, politics affects society. Citizen’s lives are affected. Business is affected. Foreigner’s lives are affected. When politics becomes law it informs and shapes structures and systems. It’s woven into the social consciousness, becoming part of a collective narrative and faith (see Bronfenbrenner’s exosystem). It doesn’t matter if it’s small government or big, laissez-faire policy or centralized, isolationist foreign policy or interventionist, people’s well-being and worldviews will be affected one way or another.

Even still, politics is meaningless.
After all, politics is a game and the thing about games, is that there are winners and there are losers. Just because some policy position won at one point and was instituted, doesn’t mean it won’t lose at some point and see the powers at be run the policy into the ground. People’s lives may be affected either way, but how they are affected lies in the whims of those who hold political power at the time.

It may be crushing for one to see some good policy go to waste, but it was just as crushing for someone else to see that same bad policy ruin everything. Let’s even say you could get policy implemented, never changed and perpetually fully supported, life and the world are not static, political needs change which is why you don’t see any politicians touting a fuedalist economic policy.

So I care, but meandering challenge has been learning how to care.

I love it when Samuel ridicules the people’s desire for a king in 1 Samuel 8, he’s speaking my language. Though having a king might have been politically significant and perhaps important, it would become more a burden than fulfill their hopes and dreams. When it comes to putting hopes and dreams in elected officials or the policy platforms, on the left or the right, I’ve been there and I’ve been disillusioned by it. But I’ve also been disillusioned by my own disillusionment as totally disengaging does nothing.

I can’t not care about politics, even if it’s meaningless, because lives are impacted… so how then do I orient myself to it? If calling Medicaid a covenant with the poor (as the UMC’s General Board on Church and Society did) moralizes a policy far too much, but abolishing such a welfare program altogether is turning a blind eye to the structural realities of poverty, then what am I to do?

I suppose it’s ultimately come down to what I see the purpose of government to be: to organize civil society. Combined with what I see to be society’s problem: in short, sin, (which I would call humanity’s inward turn) which lends itself to tribalism (me and mine) which itself begets more problems such as poverty and partial justice from which most societal problems stem.
That’s not to say I think government can cure society’s ills, just that government must be organized according to an awareness and understanding of them. Unfortunately, I am sure that our ills will always work against government’s organizing purpose, because it forces disparate aspects of society to be organized alongside one another, which forces them to account for one another – rural/urban, wealthy/impoverished, progressive/conservative, religious/unreligious/nonreligious/other-religious.

At least this gives me hope that the messiness and imperfection of politics and policies for all involved means it’s working. After all, if all sides of society are going to come together to determine the best way to organize society accounting for it’s problems according to their different ideas – then that should be a mess. It’s a mess in relationships, I can only imagine that it should be a mess in any larger gathering of people.
However, if it’s only a mess for certain aspects of society and not the others, I’d say something is wrong with the government’s organizing as it’s not accounting for society’s disparities, nor the problems inherit to it and is becoming tribalism writ large.

Even in this hope, I don’t hold out hope that society will ever be perfectly organized. So, even though I’m about to espouse an idealistic view of democratic-republic society, I’ll vote (luckily, because I live in a decently strong democratic society) for the policies that I think will best organize societyand account for our disparities, which will be informed by my experiences, education and theological convictions. In that voting, I’m very aware that I could be wrong or that circumstances will change and require me to reassess my policy and political views, which is fine, politics is meaningless after all, but I would hope that anyone would else would see it the same.


1.To be honest, I’m still waffling over whether or not it’s the politics or more specifically the policies that matter more. Although, I do think that how the sausage gets made has an effect on the sausage that one is fed. Politicians that ignore the game of politics, like early in Obama’s first term, do so at their own peril.

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