This Journal entry on Parenting takes us into the excellent contribution to the world body of psychological research offered by Erik Erikson. Erikson fully comprehended the issues of life growth in the stages of the child and adult, and he elucidated these stages in the most common sense manner that we may ever see. His elegant straightforward insights and explanations could be some sort of required study, in some form, by all children and the adults that they grow into.
I used to say, “They never hand you a book on Parenting.”
Whether one has children or not, everyone is the parent of the stages of the child that lives on within. It is never too late to understand the parenting of this inner child. Furthermore, we are mirroring our child/parent development in all of our relationships.
This particular Journal entry does not cover the important time of development of the child in utero. This valuable subject matter has been touched on some in prior entries. For the sake of completeness, I will list the prenatal stages here, and then move on into Erikson’s explanations.
There are 7 vital areas of early pre and peri-natal development. These critical times shape a foundational blueprint in our cellular memory, and in our heart and brain memory reflex.
I list them for your consideration, especially if you are intending to parent a child, and also if you are aware of some of the difficulties that your own parents faced and struggled with when they were pregnant with you. If your parents are still with us here, you have an opportunity to develop a healing dialogue.
The 7 pre and peri-natal stages of important psycho-emotional blueprint consideration are: conception, implantation, discovery, pregnancy, birth, bonding, and the time of the infant. There are key considerations in each of these time periods of prenatal and perinatal life. The last 3 of these milestones blend right into Erikson’s first stage of child development.
About Erik Erikson
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, to Danish parents, Erik Erikson’s lifelong interest in the psychology of identity may be traced to his own childhood, and to his birth in 1902, which was a result of his mother’s extramarital affair with a Danish gallant. The circumstances of his conception were concealed from him during his childhood. (“Family secrets” are a type of trauma imprinting which ultimately affect our authentic Identity development.)
The development of identity naturally seems to have been one of Erikson’s greatest concerns in his own life, as well as in his theory. During his childhood and early adulthood he was known as Erik Homberger. After her affair, his mother, a member of a prominent Copenhagen Jewish family divorced the first husband who was a Jewish stockbroker, and remarried a Jewish pediatrician named Theodor Homberger.
Erikson was a tall, blond, blue-eyed boy who was raised in the Jewish religion. At temple school, the kids teased him for being Nordic, and at grammar school they teased him for being Jewish.
As a young adult his interest was art, and while teaching art in Vienna he met and befriended the daughter of Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud. He became interested in psychology, underwent psychoanalysis, studied psychology in a prominent school in Vienna, and became a psychoanalyst. In this period he also studied the Montessori method of schooling. Somewhere in here he changed his name to Erikson.
When the Nazis came into power in the 1930’s he left for America, settled in Boston, and became the first child psychologist in Boston, developing an excellent clinical career at Harvard Medical School and at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He went on to teach at Yale. Later he taught at U.C. Berkeley where he wrote his best known book Childhood and Society, in 1950.
In the 1960s, Erikson returned to Harvard as a professor of human development and remained there until his retirement in 1970. In 1973 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Erikson for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Erikson’s lecture was titled “Dimensions of a New Identity.”
He passed on in 1994 on Cape Cod, having lived a full life and left humanity with some important information about life and life growth.
About Erikson’s Developmental Stages
Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development explains eight stages through which a healthy developing human should pass, from infancy to late adulthood. In each stage the person confronts, and hopefully masters, new challenges. Each stage builds on the successful completion of earlier stages. The challenges of stages not successfully completed may be expected to reappear as problems in the future timeline of one’s life.
The reappearance of unsuccessfully completed challenges anytime in one’s life presents yet another opportunity for one’s own inner parenting practice, and ongoing growth in body, mind, emotions, and spirit. Curiosity about one’s process, and patience with one’s progress are good practices in this regard.
This Journal entry will address the first 4 childhood stages. The 4 adult stages will be addressed in Parenting, Part III.
Each of Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development is marked by a conflict, for which a successful resolution will result in a favorable outcome. For example, the first developmental stage is marked by trust vs. mistrust, and by some important event that this conflict might resolve itself around during this preverbal time.
A subconscious imprint is then formed in our learning matrix regarding “what it feels like to be me.”
Favorable outcomes of each stage are known as “virtues.” Erikson’s research suggests that each individual must learn how to hold both extremes of each specific life-stage challenge in tension with one another, not rejecting one end of the tension or the other.
Only when both extremes in a life-stage challenge are understood and accepted as being required and useful, are we able to integrate the optimal virtue for that stage into our lives.
For example, in the first stage, both trust and mistrust must be understood and accepted, in order for the virtue of realistic hope to emerge as a viable solution in this first stage. And so it goes with the conflict extremes and the virtues of each stage.
The beauty of Erickson’s stages of evolution is their realism and pragmatism, as well as the opportunity afforded for each of us to understand how to continually re-parent the inner child of each stage as we face the conflict challenge extremes during the stages of our life. We are afforded endless opportunities to heal the inner child, and the inner adult; expressing and releasing old trauma imprinting and clutter.
All we have to do is to recognize the tensional extremes when they arise, and know how to navigate into and through our Emotional Toolbox. Forgiveness and non judgment go a long way here in assisting our understanding, release, and reintegration.
While engaged in an ordinary dialogue or relationship with someone, we become triggered into responses at various levels of our being. To be able to recognize the presence of the tensional extremes of these 4 levels requires a practice of unconditional presence, equanimity, and mindfulness.
We start somewhere and sometime to become more aware of our inner terrain.
Here is a brief overview of the first four Erikson life-stage virtues, in the order of the stages in which they are acquired, and the associated tensional conflicts:
- Hope — Trust vs. Mistrust – Infant stage. Does the child believe its caregivers to be reliable? This virtue is learned during the preverbal time of the first year of life. We are learning the first feelings of what it feels like to be me.
- Will — Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt – Toddler stage. The child needs to learn to explore the world. This can turn out not so well if the parent is too smothering or is completely neglectful. This period is a time of transition from the preverbal to the verbal time of early life.
- Purpose — Initiative vs. Guilt – Kindergarten – Can the child plan or do things on his own, such as dress him or herself. If “guilty” about making his or her own choices, the child will not function well. Erikson had a positive outlook on this stage, saying that most guilt is quickly compensated by a sense of accomplishment.
- Competence — Industry vs. Inferiority – Around age 6 to puberty. The child is comparing their self-worth to others (such as in a classroom environment). The child can recognize major disparities in personal abilities relative to other children. Erikson places some emphasis on the teacher, who should ensure that children do not feel inferior.
Now we can look at each stage in slightly more depth, and we can identify certain adult characteristics, attributes, and behaviors which we display later on in life as a result of unmet needs in each stage. Hopefully, these “maladjustment” behaviors will be recognized by each of us so that we can go inside and have a look at what went sideways (the old trauma imprint) during the appropriate stage.
These maladjustment behaviors have been called the “Learned Distress” behaviors that we do as we go along in life. Our learned distress can be unlearned, forgiven, and evolved so that all of our energy is not tied up in our mental and emotional being as a result of unresolved past trauma imprints, and incompletely developed life stages. We can learn to up-regulate and re-route our healed energies into desirable life manifestations and spiritual growth.
Interestingly, it was Erikson himself who coined the term “Identity Crisis,” which is basically the theme of this last paragraph.
Here are the first four stages in more detail:
Stage 1…Hope: Trust vs. Mistrust (Infants, 0 to 1 year)
- Psychosocial Crisis: Trust vs. Mistrust
- Virtue: Hope
The first stage of Erik Erikson’s theory considers the infant’s basic needs being met by the parents. The infant depends on the parents, especially the mother, for food, sustenance, and comfort. The child’s relative understanding of world and society come from the parents, and other caregivers, and their interaction with the child.
If the parents expose the child to warmth, regularity, and dependable affection, the infant’s view of the world will be one of trust. Should the parents fail to provide a secure environment and to meet the child’s basic need a sense of mistrust will develop. According to Erikson, the major developmental task in infancy is to learn whether or not other people, especially primary caregivers, consistently satisfy basic needs.
If caregivers are consistent sources of food, comfort, and affection, an infant learns trust, and also learns that others are dependable and reliable. If they are neglectful, or perhaps even abusive, the infant instead learns mistrust, and that the world may be an undependable, unpredictable, and possibly dangerous place. Trust in future relationships may be hampered.
Later on, in older stages of life, the child/adult can display the following patterns of Learned Distress behavior if needs of this stage have been unmet, and mistrust has been imprinted:
- Being dependent or co-dependent
- Hungering for affection
- Pessimistic hopelessness
- Resentful rages when denied
- Problems with love, food, insecurity, and dependency
Stage 2… Will: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (Toddlers, 1 to 3 years)
- Psychosocial Crisis: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
- Main Question: “Can I do things myself or must I always rely on others?”
- Virtue: Will
As the child gains control over functions of elimination and motor abilities, they begin to explore their surroundings. The parents still provide a strong base of security from which the child can venture out to assert their will. The parents’ patience and encouragement helps foster autonomy in the child.
Highly restrictive parents, however, are more likely to instill in the child a sense of doubt and reluctance to attempt new challenges. As they gain increased muscular coordination and mobility, toddlers become capable of satisfying some of their own needs. They begin to feed themselves, wash and dress themselves, and use the bathroom.
If caregivers encourage self-sufficient behavior, toddlers develop a sense of autonomy as a sense of being able to handle many problems on their own. But if caregivers demand too much too soon, refuse to let children perform tasks of which they are capable, or ridicule early attempts at self-sufficiency, children may instead develop shame and doubt about their ability to handle problems.
Later on, in older stages of life, the child/adult can display the following patterns of Learned Distress behavior if needs of this period have been unmet, and shame and doubt have been predominant in the child’s learning process:
- Covert hostility
- Miserliness, pettiness
- Making a show of knowledge (being pedantic)
Stage 3…Purpose: Initiative vs. Guilt (Preschool, 3 to 6 years)
- Psychosocial Crisis: Initiative vs. Guilt
- Main Question: “Am I good or am I bad?”
- Virtue: Purpose
- Related Elements in Society: ideal prototypes/roles
Initiative adds to the toddler virtue of autonomy the quality of undertaking, planning and accomplishing a task for the sake of being active and on the move. The child is learning to master the world around them, learning basic skills, as well as the principles of cause and effect.
At this stage, the child wants to begin and complete their own actions for a purpose. Guilt is a confusing new emotion. They may feel guilty about things that logically should not cause guilt. They may feel guilt when an initiative does not produce desired results.
The development of courage and independence is what sets preschoolers, ages three to six years of age, apart from other age groups. Young children in this category face the challenge of initiative versus guilt. During this stage the child faces the complexities of planning and developing a sense of judgment.
During this stage, the child learns to take initiative and prepare for leadership and goal achievement roles. Activities sought out by a child in this stage may include risk-taking behaviors, such as crossing a street alone or riding a bike without a helmet; examples of decisions and initiatives which involve an awareness of self-limits.
During instances which require initiative, the child may also engage negative behaviors, such as are listed in the 2 prior stages of Learned Distress behaviors. The Learned Distress behaviors tend to pile up, or amplify, in complexity as we go through our lives. If we can become aware of this amplified entanglement, we can find a way to assist its healing. There are many avenues of healing and life growth for our inner child and adult.
These negative behaviors are a result of the child developing a sense of frustration for not being able to achieve a goal as planned and may result in behaviors that seem aggressive, ruthless, and overly assertive to parents. Aggressive behaviors, such as throwing objects, hitting, or yelling, are examples of such behaviors during this stage.
Preschoolers are increasingly able to accomplish tasks on their own, and can start new things. With this growing independence, synchronicity brings many choices about activities to be pursued. Sometimes children take on projects they can readily accomplish, but at other times they undertake projects that are beyond their capabilities or that interfere with other people’s plans and activities.
If parents and preschool teachers encourage and support children’s efforts, while also helping them make realistic and appropriate choices, children develop initiative and independence in planning and undertaking activities. But if, instead, adults discourage the pursuit of independent activities or dismiss them as unimportant and bothersome, children develop guilt about their needs and desires.
Later on, in older stages of life, the child/adult can display the following patterns of Learned Distress behavior if the needs of this period go unaddressed, and they have embraced too much guilt:
- Repression of thoughts and emotions
- Isolation from others
- Regression to earlier ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving when under stress
- Fantasizing instead of living in reality
- Sublimating needs instead of meeting them
- Denial instead of accepting reality
Stage 4…Competence: Industry vs. Inferiority (Childhood, 7 to 12 years)
- Psychosocial Crisis: Industry vs. Inferiority
- Main Question: “How can I be good?”
- Virtue: Competence
- Related Elements in Society: division of labor
The foundation and fundamentals of all of our societal technology are developed in this time period of the child. We are now growing into a desire for a productive drive and situation, instead of our prior play as a younger child. To lose the hope of such industrious association may pull the child back to a more isolated, less conscious form of an old familiar familial rivalry set up.
Children at this age are becoming more aware of themselves as individuals. They work hard at being responsible, being good and doing it right. They are now more open to sharing and cooperating. There are also some perceptual cognitive developmental traits specific for this age group.
Children grasp the concepts of space and time in more logical, practical ways. They gain a better understanding of cause and effect, and of calendar time. At this stage, children are eager to learn and accomplish more complex skills such as reading, writing, and telling time. They also get to form moral values, recognize cultural and individual differences and are able to manage most of their personal needs and grooming with minimal assistance.
Also, during this stage, children might express their independence by being disobedient, using back talk and being rebellious.
Erikson viewed the elementary school years as critical for the development of self confidence. Ideally, elementary school provides many opportunities for children to achieve the recognition of teachers, parents and peers by producing things, such as drawing pictures, solving addition problems, writing sentences, and so on.
If children are encouraged to make and do things, and are then praised for their accomplishments, they begin to demonstrate industry by being diligent, persevering at tasks until the tasks are completed, and putting work tasks before pleasure.
On the other hand, if children are ridiculed or punished for their efforts, or if they find they are incapable of meeting their teachers’ and parents’ expectations, they develop feelings of inferiority about their capabilities. The concept of one’s potential begins to wane, or never even gets started.
If needs of this period go unmet, and if the child allows the belief of inferiority to captivate their consciousness during this developmental stage, then the following patterns of Learned Distress emerge in later life:
- Anxieties about changing relationships with caregivers
- Anxieties about changing relationships with peers
- Debilitating self-expectations concerning how one should act
- Debilitating self-expectations about how one should be seen by others
The reason I enjoy Erikson’s contribution to our basis of knowledge about how to parent is because it is offers a workable common sense approach to parenting. If a person is emotionally honest within one’s own self, and has lived long enough to bite into life, then Erikson’s valuable contribution to our knowledge about healing and life growth should hold some appeal, and should serve as good of a guide as any.
If you go through the 4 Learned Distress listings above, and make a checklist of these attributes that you are familiar with inside of your being, then you have just initiated your own psychoanalytic healing journey.
Furthermore, the Erikson stages, as outlined above, correspond well with the time of the development of Chakras 1 through 5, and completely encompass the time period when the subconsciousness is formed, which is from birth through age 7 years.
The 4th chakra, or heart chakra, is formed between ages 4-7 years. The time of full development of the heart chakra and the subconsciousness is up to the same time period, 7 years. This concordance is important in the scope of healing and life growth considerations.
In the Haelan LifeStream model, the heart is regarded as the seat of the mind, both the conscious and the subconscious minds. Our operating belief systems about who we are, our sense of self worth, etc., are set in our first 7 years. If we go through life and encounter recurring experiences of discomfort, we do have an opportunity to engage and practice new choices.
There are many excellent paths to walk and explore in our healing journey. Most of them work together, and one path often leads to another.
The balanced aspects (virtues) of the chakras are in close alliance with Erikson’s stages. It is not my intention to cover all of the chakra developmental processes in this Journal entry, but I do wish to register the point that such a study of western and eastern psycho-emotional and spiritual growth is an effective cognitive tool to study and utilize in one’s consciousness as we go about our LifeStream journey.
A very helpful writing is Anodea Judith’s book Eastern Body, Western Mind. This great text is comprehensive, and is masterfully written in an easy to understand manner. It edifies and compares the eastern and western psycho-emotional stages in a manner that I find indispensable. I believe you will enjoy it.
Between understanding these straightforward Erikson stages, and the similar stages of chakra development, you will begin to grasp how trauma imprints our subconsciousness at an energetic cellular memory level from very early on. You may even come to feel more at ease with some of the confusions of your life. Clarity will begin to emerge as you wade into these considerations.
You can just start with a consideration of the Learned Distress bullet point descriptives listed above in each of the 4 Life stages and begin your own inner journey of being your own emotionally honest psychoanalyst. You understand and forgive the problems that your parents brought into your stages of child growth. You understand and forgive the problems that you co-created with your family of origin, and that you perpetrated onward as an adult. You begin to understand and forgive your own peers, and your own children, for all of the challenges afforded to us by this extraordinary opportunity of being human.
Your need and desire for the ongoing growth of the child and the adult that is you will gain some traction in your inner world as you allow some insight and forgiveness to take hold inside of you. Obviously, this will enable health and balance in all of your parenting activities, from your own children, to you, and on to your other relationships.
We learn to practice bringing forth our best child/parent energetic for our manifold relationships.
Signing off from Crestone and Beyond.