Erik Erikson claimed that a person’s personality develops in several stages. During each of these stages, individuals must resolve specific conflicts and confront two forces. From birth, interaction with the world and social relationships play a significant role in shaping one’s identity.
Newborns and Manipulation
For a child up to 1 year old, the caregiver serves as a model through which the child interprets the world and as a person with whom the child is somehow connected. An infant at this age can only communicate through crying and does not possess manipulative abilities. If the caregiver does not respond to the newborn’s calls or does so irregularly, the child may not develop a fundamental trust in the world. Such a person may become suspicious in the future, finding it difficult to build a sense of security and rid themselves of worries about the future. In contrast, if the caregiver is present, attentive, and responds regularly, the child will develop basic trust and will not be an anxious person in the future.
By the age of 2, a child already recognizes that the caregiver is a separate individual. A toddler’s ability to move within safe boundaries, with age-appropriate opportunities for independence from adults, can foster primary autonomy. As a result, as an adult, they will know that they can have stable, self-reliant feelings of worth, can rely on themselves, and overcome difficulties regardless of the presence of a close person. Otherwise, they might be overwhelmed by shame and uncertainty about their competencies and self-sufficiency.
Consequences of Exploring the World
Between the ages of 4 and 5, a child explores the environment and learns to take initiative in social life. It is crucial not to expose the child to feelings of shame. The child explores, learns about new environments, people, peers, and their own body without sexual undertones. If the initiatives taken by the child bring them joy, they will become a person who actively takes on challenges in life. On the other hand, out of fear of punishment, they may withdraw into themselves. In the future, such a person may feel guilty about carrying out their actions.
Between the ages of 6 and 11, a child is actively learning and continuously being assessed. If, at this stage, the child becomes aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and caregivers help them develop an appropriate approach to assessment, they will have no trouble achieving their goals, believing in their ability to accomplish things and be successful in the future. If the evaluation process is incomprehensible and lacking acceptance in school, the young person may struggle with a sense of misfit to the world around them.
Between the ages of 12 and 18, a sense of identity is shaped. This is a challenging process. Until the age of 12, caregivers may serve as role models and a support for the future. After this time, achieving this becomes extremely difficult. Other authorities also emerge. If a young person has the opportunity for safe exploration and confrontation of new insights with their upbringing and values and can share them with open-minded adults, despite changes in worldview, they will have an integrated and consistent personality. In the case of excessive control or flexibility of parents, they may fail to develop this identity and frequently change their self-concept.