Born in Frankfurt, Erik Erikson's lifelong interest in the psychology of identity may be traced to his birth. He was born on June 15, 1902. The circumstances of his birth were concealed from him in his childhood. His Danish-born mother, Karla Abrahamsen, came from a prominent Jewish family in Copenhagen. At the time of her son's birth in Germany, Karla Abrahamsen had not seen her husband, Jewish stockbroker Waldemar Isidor Salomonsen, for several months. Nonetheless, the boy was registered as Erik Salomonsen. There is no more information about his biological father, except that he was a Dane and his given name probably was Erik. It is also suggested that he was married at the time that Erikson was conceived. Following her son's birth, Karla trained to be a nurse, moved to Karlsruhe and in 1905, married a Jewish pediatrician, Theodor Homburger. In 1908, Erik Salomonsen became Erik Homberger and in 1911 he was officially adopted by his stepfather.
The development of identity 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, and his parents kept the details of his birth a secret. He was a tall, blond, blue-eyed boy who was raised in the Jewish religion. At temple school, the kids teased him for being a Nordic; at grammar school, they teased him for being Jewish.
Psychoanalytic experience and training
Erikson was a student and teacher of arts. While teaching at a private school in Vienna, he became acquainted with Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud. Erikson underwent psychoanalysis, and the experience made him decide to become an analyst himself. He went to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute and also studied the Montessori method of education, which focused on child development and sexual stages.. These things had huge impact on the works he published in the future.
Erikson's wife, Joan Serson Erikson, was born in Canada. They married in 1930 and Erikson converted to Christianity during their marriage.
After he left the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute in 1933, the Nazis came to power in Germany. Now Erikson and his wife emigrated, first to Denmark and then to the United States, where he became the first child psychoanalyst in Boston. Erikson held positions at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Judge Baker Guidance Center, and at Harvard Medical School and Psychological Clinic, establishing a singular reputation as a clinician.
In 1936, Erikson joined the staff at Harvard University, where he worked at the Institute of Human Relations and taught at the Medical School. After spending a year observing children on a Sioux reservation in South Dakota, he moved to the University of California at Berkeley; there he affiliated with the Institute of Child Welfare and opened a private practice as well. While in California, Erikson also studied children of the Yurok Native American tribe.
In 1950, after publishing the book, Childhood and Society, for which he is best known, Erikson left the University of California when professors there were asked to sign loyalty oaths. He spent ten years working and teaching at the Austen Riggs Center, a prominent psychiatric treatment facility in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he worked with emotionally troubled young people.
Erikson is also credited with being one of the originators of Ego psychology, which stressed the role of the ego as being more than a servant of the id. According to Erikson, the environment in which a child lived was crucial to providing growth, adjustment, a source of self-awareness and identity. Erikson won a Pulitzer Prize and a U.S. National Book Award in category Philosophy and Religion for Gandhi's Truth (1969), which focused more on his theory as applied to later phases in the life cycle.
Favorable outcomes of each stage are sometimes known as "virtues", a term used in the context of Erikson's work as it is applied to medicine, meaning "potencies." 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 both required and useful, can the optimal virtue for that stage surface. Thus, 'trust' and 'mis-trust' must both be understood and accepted, in order for realistic 'hope' to emerge as a viable solution at the first stage. Similarly, 'integrity' and 'despair' must both be understood and embraced, in order for actionable 'wisdom' to emerge as a viable solution at the last stage.
The Erikson life-stage virtue, in order of the eight stages in which they may be acquired, are:
Basic trust vs. basic mistrust - This stage covers the period of infancy. 0-1 year of age, which is the most fundamental stage of life. - Whether or not the baby develops basic trust or basic mistrust is not merely a matter of nurture. It is multi-faceted and has strong social components. It depends on the quality of the maternal relationship. The mother carries out and reflects their inner perceptions of trustworthiness, a sense of personal meaning, etc. on the child. If successful in this, the baby develops a sense of trust, which “forms the basis in the child for a sense of identity“. Failure to develop this trust will result in fear in the baby and a belief that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable.
Autonomy vs. Shame - Covers early childhood around 1–3 years old- Introduces the concept of autonomy vs. shame and doubt. During this stage the child is trying to master toilet training.
Purpose - Initiative vs. Guilt - Preschool / 3–6 years - Does the child have the ability to or do things on their own, such as dress him or herself? If "guilty" about making his or her own choices, the child will not function well. Erikson has a positive outlook on this stage, saying that most guilt is quickly compensated by a sense of accomplishment.
Competence - Industry vs. Inferiority - School-age / 6-11. Child comparing self-worth to others (such as in a classroom environment). 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.
Fidelity - Identity vs. Role Confusion - Adolescent / 12 years till 18. Questioning of self. Who am I, how do I fit in? Where am I going in life? Erikson believes, that if the parents allow the child to explore, they will conclude their own identity. However, if the parents continually push him/her to conform to their views, the teen will face identity confusion.
Intimacy vs. isolation - This is the first stage of adult development. This development usually happens during young adulthood, which is between the ages of 18 to 35. Dating, marriage, family and friendships are important during the stage in their life. By successfully forming loving relationships with other people, individuals are able to experience love and intimacy. Those who fail to form lasting relationships may feel isolated and alone.
Generativity vs. stagnation is the second stage of adulthood and happens between the ages of 35-64. During this time people are normally settled in their life and know what is important to them. A person is either making progress in their career or treading lightly in their career and unsure if this is what they want to do for the rest of their working lives. Also during this time, a person is enjoying raising their children and participating in activities, that gives them a sense of purpose. If a person is not comfortable with the way their life is progressing, they're usually regretful about the decisions and feel a sense of uselessness.
Ego integrity vs. despair. This stage affects the age group of 65 and on. During this time an individual has reached the last chapter in their life and retirement is approaching or has already taken place. Many people, who have achieved what was important to them, look back on their lives and feel great accomplishment and a sense of integrity. Conversely, those who had a difficult time during middle adulthood may look back and feel a sense of despair.
On ego identity versus role confusion, ego identity enables each person to have a sense of individuality, or as Erikson would say, "Ego identity, then, in its subjective aspect, is the awareness of the fact that there is a self-sameness and continuity to the ego's synthesizing methods and a continuity of one's meaning for others" (1963). Role confusion, however, is, according to Barbara Engler in her book Personality Theories (2006), "the inability to conceive of oneself as a productive member of one's own society" (158). This inability to conceive of oneself as a productive member is a great danger; it can occur during adolescence, when looking for an occupation.
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