One of Erikson’s prime achievements was to reformulate Freud’s theory of
psychosexual development into a lifelong theory of psychosocial development. He is
distinguishing from Freud, by extending the period to a lifelong period, not just till the
age of 6.
Erikson was born Erik Homburger, to a protestant father and a Jewish mother, but
wasn’t accepted by either community (protestant or Jewish), which is why this stage of
his life is coined as “the outsider”.
In the early 20’s he left home and began to travel all over Europe as an artists (a gypsy
lifestyle). He did this till the age of 25, when he lands in Vienna. – “the wandering
In Vienna, he takes a teaching position at a small school, associated with the
psychoanalytic society, teaching the children of the patients undergoing psychoanalysis.
This lead him to want to become a psychoanalyst. But in order to become one, one
must undergo psychoanalysis in the first place, before one can become a therapist –
In 1933, due to the political changes in Europe, he leaves Vienna and comes to the US.
He achieves positions with Harvard, Yale and Berkley. He becomes a naturalized
American citizen in 1939 and at that point, he adopts a new name – Erik Erikson – “the
By choosing to name himself “son of Erik”, he was mildly pointing to the fact that he was
his own creator.
There are 2 key ideas that seem to underline a lot of Eriksonian thinking.
The first is the Epigenetic Principle – the idea that personality is designed to
unfold across a predetermined sequence of stages.
Each stage confronts us with a particular developmental task/issue which must be
confronted/addressed (although not necessarily succeed at it). For each one of these
tasks, there is an optimal time and it is crucial to undertake each challenge at the
optimal time. Therefore, development cannot be hurried or stalled.
Upon confronting each psychosocial challenge and resolving it to a reasonable degree,
one acquires a psychosocial strength, what Erikson called, a virtue ( a psychosocial
strength that comes from having adequately addressed a psychosocial
An important aspect of each of these virtues is that it must strike a balance between
these challenges. So in Eriksonian view, one can fail in their psychosocial development
by solving the challenges too much in one way, or another (i.e. trust vs. mistrust),
leading to either an excess (what he called a maladaptation) or a deficiency (what he
called a malignancy) with respect to the particular characteristic you are trying to
acquire. The goal was to strike between these 2 maladaptive outcomes, to acquire the