Childhood and Society


Erik Smith Erikson (born Erik Salomonsen; 15 June 1902 – 12 May 1994) was a German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychological development of human beings. He may be most famous for coining the phrase identity crisis. His son, Kai T. Erikson, is a noted American sociologist.

Despite lacking a bachelor's degree, Erikson served as a professor at prominent institutions, including Harvard and Yale. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Erikson as the 12th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.[8]

Early life

Erikson's mother, Karla Abrahamsen, came from a prominent Jewish family in Copenhagen, Denmark. She was married to Jewish stockbroker Valdemar Isidor Salomonsen, but had been estranged from him for several months at the time Erik was conceived. Little is known about Erik's biological father except that he was a non-Jewish Dane. On discovering her pregnancy, Karla fled to Frankfurt am Main in Germany where Erik was born on June 15, 1902 and was given the surname Salomonsen.[9]

Following Erik's birth, Karla trained to be a nurse and moved to Karlsruhe. In 1905 she married Erik's Jewish pediatrician, Theodor Homberger. In 1908, Erik Salomonsen's name was changed to Erik Homberger, and in 1911 Erik was officially adopted by his stepfather.[10]

The development of identity seems to have been one of Erikson's greatest concerns in his own life as well as in his theory. As an older adult, he wrote about his adolescent "identity confusion" in his European days. "My identity confusion", he wrote "[was at times on] the borderline between neurosis and adolescent psychosis." Erikson's daughter writes that her father's "real psychoanalytic identity" was not established until he "replaced his stepfather's surname [Homberger] with a name of his own invention [Erikson]."[11]

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 Nordic; at grammar school, they teased him for being Jewish.[12]

At Das Humanistische Gymnasium his main interests were art, history and languages, but he lacked interest in school and graduated without academic distinction.[13] After graduation, instead of attending medical school, as his stepfather had desired, he attended art school in Munich, but soon dropped out.

Uncertain about his vocation and his fit in society, Erikson began a lengthy period of roaming about Germany and Italy as a wandering artist with his childhood friend Peter Blos and others. During this period he continued to contend with questions about his father and competing ideas of ethnic, religious, and national identity.[14]

Psychoanalytic experience and training

When Erikson was twenty-five, his friend Peter Blos invited him to Vienna to tutor art at the small Burlingham-Rosenfeld School for children whose affluent parents were undergoing psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud's daughter, Anna Freud.[15]

Anna noticed Erikson's sensitivity to children at the school and encouraged him to study psychoanalysis at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute, where prominent analysts August Aichhorn, Heinz Hartmann, and Paul Federn were among those who supervised his theoretical studies. He specialized in child analysis and underwent a training analysis with Anna Freud. Helene Deutsch and Edward Bibring supervised his initial treatment of an adult.[15]

Simultaneously he studied the Montessori method of education, which focused on child development and sexual stages.[16]

In 1933 he received his diploma from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. This and his Montessori diploma were to be Erikson's only earned academic credentials for his life's work.

United States

In 1930 Erikson married Joan Mowat Serson, a Canadian dancer and artist whom Erikson had met at a dress ball.[1][17][18] During their marriage Erikson converted to Christianity.[19][20]

In 1933, with Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany, the burning of Freud's books in Berlin and the potential Nazi threat to Austria, the family left an impoverished Vienna with their two young sons and emigrated to Copenhagen. Unable to regain Danish citizenship because of residence requirements, the family left for the United States, where citizenship would not be an issue.[21]

In the United States, Erikson became the first child psychoanalyst in Boston and 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 left Harvard and joined the staff at Yale University, where he worked at the Institute of Social Relations and taught at the medical school. While at Yale he became a naturalized citizen of the United States and changed his family's surname from his adoptive father's name of Homberger to Erikson,[22] while adopting the middle initial H. for Homberger.[23]

Erikson continued to deepen his interest in areas beyond psychoanalysis and to explore connections between psychology and anthropology. He made important contacts with anthropologists such as Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Ruth Benedict, and these contacts, in turn, led to an excursion in 1938, which was to prove significant in the development of his thinking; he was invited to observe the education of native Sioux children on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.[22]

In 1939 he left Yale, and the Eriksons moved to California, where Erik had been invited to join a team engaged in a longitudinal study of child development for the University of California at Berkeley's Institute of Child Welfare. In addition, in San Francisco he opened a private practice in child psychoanalysis.

While in California he was able to make his second study of American Indian children when he joined anthropologist Alfred Kroeber on a field trip to Northern California to study the Yurok.[13]

In 1950, after publishing the book, Childhood and Society, for which he is best known, Erikson left the University of California when California's Levering Act required professors there to sign loyalty oaths.[24] From 1951 to 1960 he worked and taught at the Austen Riggs Center, a prominent psychiatric treatment facility in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he worked with emotionally troubled young people. During this time he also served as a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh where he worked with Benjamin Spock and Fred Rogers at Arsenal Nursery School of the Western Psychiatric Institute.[25]

He returned to Harvard in the 1960s 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 United States' highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Erikson's lecture was titled Dimensions of a New Identity.[26][27]

Theories of development and the ego

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[28] and a US National Book Award in category Philosophy and Religion[29] for Gandhi's Truth (1969), which focused more on his theory as applied to later phases in the life cycle.

In Erikson's discussion of development, rarely did he mention a stage of development by age but in fact did refer to a prolonged adolescence which has led to further investigation into a period of development between adolescence and young adulthood called emerging adulthood.[30]

Erikson's theory of personality

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:

  1. Hope, Basic trust vs. basic mistrust—This stage covers the period of infancy, 0-18 months, which is the most fundamental stage of life. Whether 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 a feeling of fear and a sense that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable.
  2. Will, Autonomy vs. Shame—Covers early childhood around 1–3 years old. Introduces the concept of autonomy vs. shame and doubt. The child begins to discover the beginnings of his or her independence, and parents must facilitate the child's sense of doing basic tasks "all by himself/herself." Discouragement can lead to the child doubting his or her efficacy. During this stage the child is usually trying to master toilet training.
  3. Purpose, Initiative vs. Guilt—Preschool / 3–6 years. Does the child have the ability to 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.
  4. Competence, Industry vs. Inferiority—School-age / 6–11 years. 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.
  5. Fidelity, Identity vs. Role Confusion—Adolescent / 12–18 years. 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. If, however, the parents continually push him/her to conform to their views, the teen will face identity confusion.
  6. Love, 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.
  7. Care, Generativity vs. stagnation—The second stage of adulthood 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 that they have made in the past and feel a sense of uselessness.
  8. Wisdom, 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. Ego-integrity means the acceptance of life in its fullness: the victories and the defeats, what was accomplished and what was not accomplished. Wisdom is the result of successfully accomplishing this final developmental task. Wisdom is defined as "informed and detached concern for life itself in the face of death itself."[31]
  9. For Ninth Stage see Erikson's stages of psychosocial development#Ninth stage

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".[32] Role confusion, however, is, according to Barbara Engler, "the inability to conceive of oneself as a productive member of one's own society."[33] This inability to conceive of oneself as a productive member is a great danger; it can occur during adolescence, when looking for an occupation.

Personal life

Erikson married Canadian-born American psychologist Joan Erikson in 1930 and they remained together until his death.[19]

Their daughter, Sue Erikson Bloland, "an integrative psychotherapist and psychoanalyst",[34] described her father as plagued by "lifelong feelings of personal inadequacy".[35] He thought that by combining resources with his wife, he could "achieve the recognition" that might produce a feeling of adequacy.[36]

The Eriksons had five children, the eldest of whom is the sociologist Kai T. Erikson. Erikson died on 12 May 1994 in Harwich, Massachusetts. He and his wife are buried in the First Congregational Church Cemetery in Harwich.[37]


Major works

  • Childhood and Society (1950)
  • Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (1958)
  • Insight and Responsibility (1964)
  • Identity: Youth and Crisis (1968)
  • Gandhi's Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence (1969)
  • Life History and the Historical Moment (1975)
  • Adulthood (edited book, 1978)
  • Vital Involvement in Old Age (with J. M. Erikson and H. Kivnick, 1986)
  • The Life Cycle Completed (with J. M. Erikson, 1987)


  • Identity and the Life Cycle. Selected Papers (1959)
  • "A Way of Looking At Things - Selected Papers from 1930 to 1980, Erik H.Erikson" ed. by S. Schlein, W. W. Norton & Co, New York, (1995)
See also
  • Erikson Institute


  1. ^ a b c "Erik Erikson, 91, Psychoanalyst Who Reshaped Views of Human Growth, Dies". The New York Times. 13 March 1994. Retrieved 19 October 2017. 
  2. ^ a b Burston 2007, p. 93.
  3. ^ Stevens 2008, p. 109.
  4. ^ McLeod, Saul (2017) [2008]. "Erik Erikson". Simply Psychology. Retrieved 20 October 2017. 
  5. ^ Heathcoate 2010, p. 257.
  6. ^ Eckenfels 2008, p. vii.
  7. ^ Ireland, Corydon (17 October 2013). "Howard Gardner: 'A Blessing of Influences'". Harvard Gazette. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University. Retrieved 20 October 2017. 
  8. ^ Haggbloom et al. 2002.
  9. ^ Friedman 2000, p. 29.
  10. ^ "Erik H. Erikson". Sweet Briar, Virginia: Sweet Briar College. Archived from the original on 15 May 2013. Retrieved 30 August 2013. 
  11. ^ Erikson Bloland 2005, pp. 62, 64.
  12. ^ Hoare 2002, p. 8.
  13. ^ a b Stevens 1983, ch. 1.
  14. ^ Hoare 2002, pp. 8–9.
  15. ^ a b Hoare 2002, p. 9.
  16. ^ "Erik H. Erikson". Erikson Institute. Retrieved 3 April 2016. 
  17. ^ Stevens 2008, p. 8.
  18. ^ Schlein, Stephen, ed. (2009) [2005]. "Stephen Schlein Erik Erikson Papers". Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  19. ^ a b Thomas, Robert McG., Jr. (8 August 1997). "Joan Erikson Is Dead at 95; Shaped Thought on Life Cycles". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 August 2013. 
  20. ^ Engler 2008, p. 151; Fadiman & Frager 2002, p. 208.
  21. ^ Hoare 2002, p. 10.
  22. ^ a b Hoare 2002, p. 11.
  23. ^ Paranjpe 2005, p. 734.
  24. ^ Boeree, C. George (2006) [1997]. "Erik Erikson, 1902–1994". Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: Shippensburg University. Retrieved 30 August 2013. 
  25. ^ Friedman 2000, pp. 253, 261–262.
  26. ^ Erikson 1974.
  27. ^ Stade, George (19 May 1976). "Byways of Our National Character". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 October 2017. 
  28. ^ "1970 Pulitzer Prizes". The Pulitzer Prizes. New York: Columbia University. Retrieved 20 October 2017. 
  29. ^ "National Book Awards – 1970". New York: National Book Foundation. Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  30. ^ Arnett 2000.
  31. ^ Erikson & Erikson 1997, p. 61.
  32. ^ Erikson, Erik H. (1963). Childhood and Society (2nd ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.  Cited in Engler 2014, p. 142.
  33. ^ Engler 2014, p. 143.
  34. ^ Erikson Bloland, Sue (2015). "Show Me a Hero and I Will Write You a Tragedy". New Philosopher. No. 10. Interview with Boag, Zan. ISSN 2201-7151. Retrieved 20 October 2017. 
  35. ^ Leiter, Robert (29 November 1999). "The Corrosive Nature of Fame". Jewish World Review. Retrieved 20 October 2017. 
  36. ^ Erikson Bloland 2005, pp. 67.
  37. ^ "Erik Homburger Erikson". Find A Grave. Retrieved 6 December 2015. 

Works cited

Arnett, Jeffrey Jensen (2000). "Emerging Adulthood: A Theory of Development from the Late Teens Through the Twenties". American Psychologist. 55 (5): 469–480. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.55.5.469. ISSN 1935-990X. 
Burston, Daniel (2007). Erik Erikson and the American Psyche: Ego, Ethics, and Evolution. Lanham, Maryland: Jason Aronson. ISBN 978-0-7657-0495-5. 
Eckenfels, Edward J. (2008). Doctors Serving People: Restoring Humanism to Medicine through Student Community Service. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-4315-4. 
Engler, Barbara (2008). Personality Theories: An Introduction (8th ed.). Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 978-0-547-14834-2. 
 ———  (2014). Personality Theories: An Introduction (9th ed.). Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 978-1-285-08880-8. 
Erikson, Erik H. (1974). Dimensions of a New Identity. Jefferson Lectures in the Humanities. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-00923-1. 
Erikson, Erik H.; Erikson, Joan M. (1997). The Life Cycle Completed (extended ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company (published 1998). ISBN 978-0-393-34743-2. 
Erikson Bloland, Sue (2005). In the Shadow of Fame: A Memoir by the Daughter of Erik H. Erikson. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-670-03374-4. 
Fadiman, James; Frager, Robert (2002). Personality and Personal Growth (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-040961-4. 
Friedman, Lawrence Jacob (2000). Identity's Architect: A Biography of Erik H. Erikson. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-00437-5. 
Haggbloom, Steven J.; Warnick, Renee; Warnick, Jason E.; Jones, Vinessa K.; Yarbrough, Gary L.; Russell, Tenea M.; Borecky, Chris M.; McGahhey, Reagan; Powell, John L., III; Beavers, Jamie; Monte, Emmanuelle (2002). "The 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the 20th Century". Review of General Psychology. 6 (2): 139–152. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.6.2.139. ISSN 1939-1552. Retrieved 20 October 2017. 
Heathcoate, Ann (2010). "Eric Berne's Development of Ego State Theory: Where Did It All Begin and Who Influenced Him?" (PDF). Transactional Analysis Journal. 40 (3–4): 254–260. doi:10.1177/036215371004000310. ISSN 2329-5244. Retrieved 20 October 2017. 
Hoare, Carol Hren (2002). Erikson on Development in Adulthood: New Insights from the Unpublished Papers. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-513175-8. 
Paranjpe, Anand C. (2005). "Erikson, Erik Homburger". In Shook, John R. The Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers. 2. Bristol, England: Thoemmes Continuum. pp. 734–737. doi:10.1093/acref/9780199754663.001.0001. ISBN 978-1-84371-037-0. 
Stevens, Richard (1983). Erik Erikson: An Introduction. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-25812-2. 
 ———  (2008). Erik H. Erikson: Explorer of Identity and the Life Cycle. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-9986-3. 
Further reading
Andersen, D. C. (1993). "Beyond Rumor and Reductionism: A Textual Dialogue with Erik H. Erikson". The Psychohistory Review. 22 (1): 35–68. ISSN 0363-891X. PMID 11623368. 
Bondurant, Joan V.; Fisher, Margaret W.; Sutherland, J. D. (1971). "Gandhi: A Psychoanalytic View". Review of Gandhi's Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence by Erikson, Erik H. The American Historical Review. 76 (4): 1104–1115. doi:10.2307/1849243. ISSN 0002-8762. JSTOR 1849243. 
Brenman-Gibson, Margaret (1997). "The Legacy of Erik Hamburger Erikson". Psychoanalytic Review. 84 (3): 329–335. ISSN 0033-2836. PMID 9279928. 
Capps, Donald; Capps, Walter H.; Bradford, M. Gerald, eds. (1977). Encounter with Erikson: Historical Interpretation and Religious Biography. Missoula, Montanta: Scholars Press. 
Carney, J. E. (1993). "'Is It Really So Terrible Her?': Karl Menninger's Pursuit of Erik Erikson". The Psychohistory Review. 22 (1): 119–153. ISSN 0363-891X. PMID 11623367. 
Coles, Robert (1970). Erik H. Erikson: The Growth of His Work. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. OCLC 898775065. 
Coles, Robert; Fitzpatrick, J. J. (1976). "The Writings of Erik H. Erikson". The Psychohistory Review. 5 (3): 42–46. ISSN 0363-891X. PMID 11615801. 
Crunden, Robert M. (1973). "Freud, Erikson, and the Historian: A Bibliographical Survey". Canadian Review of American Studies. 4 (1): 48–64. doi:10.3138/CRAS-004-01-04. ISSN 0007-7720. 
Douvan, Elizabeth (1997). "Erik Erikson: Critical Times, Critical Theory". Child Psychiatry and Human Development. 28 (1): 15–21. doi:10.1023/A:1025188901554. ISSN 1573-3327. 
Eagle, Morris (1997). "Contributions of Erik Erikson". Psychoanalytic Review. 84 (3): 337–347. ISSN 0033-2836. PMID 9279929. 
Elms, Alan C. (2008). "Erikson, Erik Homburger". In Koertge, Noretta. New Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale Group. pp. 406–412. ISBN 978-0-684-31322-1. 
Evans, Richard I. (1967). Dialogue with Erik Erikson. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. 
Fitzpatrick, J. J. (1976). "Erik H. Erikson and Psychohistory". Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic. 40 (4): 295–314. ISSN 0025-9284. PMID 791417. 
Goethals, George W. (1976). "The Evolution of Sexual and Genital Intimacy: A Comparison of the Views of Erik H. Erikson and Harry Stack Sullivan". The Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis. 4 (4): 529–544. doi:10.1521/jaap.1.1976.4.4.529. ISSN 1546-0371. 
Hoffman, L. E. (1993). "Erikson on Hitler: The Origins of 'Hitler's Imagery and German Youth'". The Psychohistory Review. 22 (1): 69–86. ISSN 0363-891X. PMID 11623369. 
Masson, J. L. (1974). "India and the Unconscious: Erik Erikson on Gandhi". The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis. 55 (4): 519–529. ISSN 1745-8315. PMID 4616017. 
Roazen, Paul (1976). Erik H. Erikson: The Power and Limits of a Vision. New York: Free Press. 
 ———  (1993). "Erik H. Erikson as a Teacher". The Psychohistory Review. 22 (1): 101–117. ISSN 0363-891X. PMID 11623366. 
Schnell, R. L. (1980). "Contributions to Psychohistory: IV. Individual Experience in Historiography and Psychoanalysis: Significance of Erik Erikson and Robert Coles". Psychological Reports. 46 (2): 591–612. doi:10.2466/pr0.1980.46.2.591. ISSN 0033-2941. 
Strozier, Charles B. (1976). "Disciplined Subjectivity and the Psychohistorian: A Critical Look at the Work of Erik H. Erikson". The Psychohistory Review. 5 (3): 28–31. ISSN 0363-891X. PMID 11615797. 
Wallerstein, Robert S.; Goldberger, Leo, eds. (1998). Ideas and Identities: The Life and Work of Erik Erikson. Madison, Connecticut: International Universities Press. ISBN 978-0-8236-2445-4. 
Weiner, M. B. (1979). "Caring for the Elderly. Psychological Aging: Aspects of Normal Personality and Development in Old Age. Part II. Erik Erikson: Resolutions of Psychosocial Tasks". The Journal of Nursing Care. 12 (5): 27–28. PMID 374748. 
Welchman, Kit (2000). Erik Erikson: His Life, Work, and Significance. Buckingham, England: Open University Press. ISBN 978-0-335-20157-0. 
Wurgaft, Lewis D. (1976). "Erik Erikson: From Luther to Gandhi". Psychoanalytic Review. 63 (2): 209–233. ISSN 0033-2836. PMID 788015. 
Zock, Hetty (2004). A Psychology of Ultimate Concern: Erik H. Erikson's Contribution to the Psychology of Religion (2nd ed.). Amsterdam: Rodopi. ISBN 978-90-5183-180-1. 
External links
  • Works by or about Erik Erikson at Internet Archive

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