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What Are the Stages of Development

Matthew Cuddeback LCSW 

           The Stages of Development is a fascinating psychological theory created by Erik Erickson that states we go through a specific set of stages at different ages in our lives. We have to navigate the challenges of these stages to come out with a healthy understanding of ourselves. There are many theories that utilize this theory, and it has had a large impact on the field of psychology. However, perhaps more interesting is how these stages of development can be used to understand ourselves better.

           It is important to understand that because Erickson did most of his work in the mid 20th century some of his work has been challenged. Much of the criticisms of early psychological theory are based on issues of bias, power imbalances, euro- and white-centric research, largely male researchers, and a generally weak (if not, non-existent) peer review process. However, much like many of the founders and pathfinders of the psychological field there are still key pieces of their work that are still profoundly helpful today. Erickson is perhaps one of the better examples of someone who still did good work despite many of these issues.

           Now that I have gotten through the nerdier aspects of this blog, lets discuss what is perhaps more interesting and certainly more prescient. The theory of the Stages of Development is really about how we navigate different stages, 8 to be exact, that if done well help us grow into healthier humans, and if we don’t navigate them well, they open us up to a lot of strife and difficulty. Simply put, if we understand how, we might have gotten to a certain place in our lives we can dismantle that unhealthy way of thinking and build it up in a healthier way. Another example is if you are a parent, understanding these stages of development can you help note and take action when it seems your child isn’t navigating a stage well.

           Let’s explore one of the stages in further detail. Stage 4 is called Industry vs. Inferiority and takes place from ages approximately 6-11. What we grapple with in this stage is how to navigate struggles about our own self-concept or image, it can result in coming out ahead in a healthier place, or a feeling of frustration, disappointment and often times, resignation. Being that this is school age, we often see this play out in the classroom. A child who is struggling in a specific class but is able to ask for support, get it, and as a result, push themselves to work through it will come out with a healthier self-image. On the other hand, a child that struggles, doesn’t want to ask for help, or is made to feel bad for not understanding or needing to ask for help will likely not be as successful in that class and often times stop trying. This results in a negative self-image. Now, fast forward to adulthood, the effects of these stages of development can often be seen quite well. The first child I mentioned above who received support is likely successful in their career, is likely more comfortable with feedback and collaboration and ultimately more confident and happier. The second child on the other hand, due to a lack of support in their struggles and a resulting lack in comfort asking for help will likely not want to try as hard, maybe they don’t finish some things they start, maybe they don’t get as far as easily in their career.

           Now something to remember is that these observations and theories can feel overwhelming and the consequences dire, however, there are antidotes to most of the difficulties we experience and their consequences in our development. For example, if you’re the parent of a child who is struggling Industry vs. Inferiority, support them. If you see they need help but seem reluctant to ask, encourage them and get involved. If they aren’t getting support and feel shamed at school, reach out and advocate. It’s never too late to send the message to your child that asking for help and learning and growing are crucial to our development, even if that child is an adult.

           Further, if you are an adult and noticing some struggles with yourself image, particularly in regard to your intelligence, career, industriousness, etc. it can be worthwhile to understand these stages because you can work backwards. Recognizing you have not been moving forward in your career and people seem reluctant to give you feedback, and you don’t collaborate as much, etc. can be a powerful beginning point for change. If you are able to identify how that one teacher made you feel bad for not understanding, and when you asked for help, you were made to feel bad and not want to ask for help next time, you can start to build that up in a healthier way. Working to recognize those people failed you, and that you can now work to better it, and then act on it is a very real obtainable goal.

           As you may have noticed I mentioned there are 8 stages of development and I only discussed one, there is a lot more information here worth reading further. And taking some of it with a grain of problematic historical biases types of salt, it can still be a powerful way to understand your own psychology or that of your child. This can help you navigate these stages in a healthy way or can be a good starting point for you working on yourself to build it up in a healthier way.

To learn more about development, or if you would like support in your journey, contact Symmetry Counseling to get paired with a Chicago therapist.

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