Erik Erikson, the accessible psychologist, child of Freud, conceived of an eight-layered schematic to illustrate the entirety of human development — first marked out in his groundbreaking book, Childhood and Society. In this book, he maps out a continuum from birth to death of the struggles of human development. Even though they are not meant to be like a grocery list, I list them out here:
1. Trust and Mistrust
The first stage begins at the moment the infant meets the outside social world for the first time. Our first experiences with the world forms the basic trust/mistrust dyad. It’s kind of like the father who tosses his daughter up in the air and catches her. Trust: he catches her safely. Drops her? Basic mistrust forms.
2. Autonomy and Guilt
The struggle between autonomy and guilt – that nasty fight between independence and the debilitating fear of the all-seeing eye that threatens to swallow you alive with its judgment, catapulting a person into shame and doubt.
3. Initiative and Guilt
Then, of course, there is the whole question, “what do I do with myself once I’ve achieved autonomy?” that either gets us going to self-actualization or we become mired in the things we should have done or said – in a word: guilt.
4.Industry and Initiative
Every child has to learn what to create with their bodies after they’ve decided they can actually get off their haunches and express themselves – and added with that, the internal feeling of being loved and the inner worth that goes along with creating work worthy of pride.
You can have an identity, it seems, without struggling through those forgotten visceral experiences of infancy; adolescence merely pokes its ugly head in to confuse us all over again – and we thought the womb was tough.
6. Intimacy and Isolation
But once we get a firm grounding on who we are as individuals we can really enter into genuine intimacy with another, although rocking precariously with the threat of isolation; this is where boundaries are set and committed relationships begin.
7. Generativity versus Stagnation
And once we accomplish these mile markers we feel we have to give something back; we feel mortality nipping at our heels and generativity rushes in as a contraposition to idle stagnation.
8. Coming to terms. Or not.
The final hurrah is accessing whether the whole thing was worth it from the womb to the final tomb. We struggle at this point in the journey between feeling satisfied that we have gained much from life and whether or not we have nurtured the seeds for our children’s children. If we feel we've failed, death is a painful process, and we sink into the depressing cavity of despair, hopelessly casting off any hopes for immortality.