German-American psychologist Erik Erikson and his collaborator and wife, Joan Erikson, conceptualized eight stages of psychosocial development that they theorized healthy individuals pass through as they develop from infancy to adulthood. At each stage the person must resolve a challenge, or an existential dilemma. Successful resolution of the dilemma results in the person ingraining a positive virtue, but failure to resolve the fundamental challenge of that stage reinforces negative perceptions of the person or the world around them and the person’s personal development is unable to progress. The first stage, “Trust vs. Mistrust”, takes place in infancy. The positive virtue for the first stage is hope, in the infant learning whom to trust and having hope for a supportive group of people to be there for him/her. The second stage is “Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt” with the positive virtue being will. This takes place in early childhood when the child learns to become more independent by discovering what they are capable of whereas if the child is overly controlled, feelings of inadequacy are reinforced, which can lead to low self-esteem and doubt. The third stage is “Initiative vs. Guilt”. The virtue to be gained is a sense of purpose. This takes place primarily via play. This is the stage where the child will be curious and have many interactions with other kids. They will ask many questions as their curiosity grows. If too much guilt is present, the child may have a slower and harder time interacting with their world and other children in it. The fourth stage is “Industry (competence) vs. Inferiority”. The virtue for this stage is competency and is the result of the child’s early experiences in school. This stage is when the child will try to win the approval of others and understand the value of their accomplishments.
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