Erikson’s Fifth Stage of Psychosocial Development

As a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, Erik Erikson crafted eight stages of human psychosocial development. The stage that has impacted my life the most is Identity versus Role Confusion, the fifth stage. This stage deals with adolescents twelve to eighteen years old. Erikson’s fifth stage prompts teens, like me, to ask ourselves who we want to be, what we want out of life, and what values and beliefs we live by.

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Erikson’s Fifth Stage of Psychosocial Development
Erik Erikson was a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory of human psychosocial development (New World Encyclopedia, 2013). Erikson’s theory has eight stages. They span from birth to death. According to Gorrindo, Fishel, and Beresin (2012, pg. 282-283), “Erikson’s stages . . . describe challenges for the individual based on cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal/social issues.” Erikson’s model of psychosocial development consists of those eight stages, but each stage is characterized by a psychological “crisis” (New World Encyclopedia, 2013). The Encyclopedia has stated that “when the outcome of the crisis is favorable, the person achieves a certain virtue or strength; when it is unsuccessful, the person develops a maladaptive character and continues to struggle with this conflict later in life.”

The theoretical stage that most impacted my development is Erikson’s fifth stage, Identity versus Role Confusion, which takes place in the adolescent years of twelve to eighteen. As described in Myers’ Psychology textbook (2010, pg. 201), the fifth stage addresses teenagers working at refining a sense of self by testing roles and then integrating them to form a single identity, or they become confused about who they are. Erikson’s fifth stage makes adolescents wonder, “Who am I as an individual? What do I want to do with my life? What values should I live by? What do I believe in?” Erikson called this quest the adolescent’s search for identity. Identity versus Role Confusion is a very important stage because it helps you figure out who you are and what you will do in life. In this stage you form an identity or image of yourself, or you become confused about your role in society. Identity refers to the organization of the individual’s drives, abilities, beliefs, and history into a consistent image of self (Kasinath, 2013, pg. 1).

According to the New World Encyclopedia (2013), Erikson’s search for his own personal identity led him to postulate the importance of personal identity in psychological growth. Erikson also believed that we continue to develop our personality, or identity, through adolescence and even throughout adulthood. Kasinath (2013, pg. 2) has suggested that “the components of identity that Erikson stressed are acceptance of one’s appearance, knowledge about where one is going, and recognition from others. Kasinath also states that “role confusion is most frequently caused by failure to formulate clear ideas about gender roles and by indecision about occupational choice.” So far, I have only been confused by what occupation I want to have. I have formed most parts of my identity, but because I am only fifteen years old, I am still continuing to create my sense of self. In this stage, childhood comes to an end.

Cognitively, teenagers are able for the first time to consider abstract, existential questions (Gorrindo, Fishel, and Beresin, 2012, pg. 289). Gorrindo and his co-writers also stated that teenagers are thinking about the meaning of life, who their parents and family are, and who they wish to be when they leave home. Also stated by Gorrindo is, “preparation for separating from family and achieving independence is an important theme.” In relation to my life, these themes are reoccurring. I think about these statements and quotations every day. Erikson’s fifth stage, Identity versus Role Confusion, involves thinking about who you are as an individual and what you want to do with your life. I think about these aspects all the time. I wonder who I am, why I am here, and what I want to do. But because I am inquiring about this, it helps me dig deep and discover who I am.

From the age of twelve to now (fifteen) I have changed my mind multiple times about my occupation choice. I wanted to be a lawyer, an FBI agent, and then a musician, and now finally a doctor. When I finally decided I wanted to be a doctor, it was because I realized who I was and that I wanted to help people. As suggested by Douvan (1997, pg. 16), “ . . . the seach for meaning and for fit, the hard work of building an identity that both satisfies an inner need for meaning and continuity and can find acceptance in one’s society.” Douvan also states that “it is hard for our current students to imagine that there was a time when identity struggle was not inscribed in adolescence. The search for an identity is ingrained in students’ minds since the first day a person asked you what you are like and what you want to be when you grow up.

The fifth stage also involves questioning what values you should live by and what you believe in. I have formed so many of my values and beliefs in this stage of psychosocial development. My values shape who I am and make me want to be a doctor. My values also help me in friendships, relationships, and life situations. My beliefs help me form opinions and have a say in topics. Identity and values/beliefs go hand-in-hand. My identity leads to my beliefs and values, but my beliefs and values help shape my identity. In the adolescence, the students develop capabilities for abstract thinking and understanding the perspectives of others (Kasinath, 2013, pg. 1). As an adolescent, I have grown to be able to think critically and abstractly.

I have also learned to listen to others and see things from their point of view. Erik Erikson’s fifth stage of psychosocial development, Identity versus Role Confusion, has most impacted my development. In this stage, the adolescents form a sense of self by testing roles and integrating them to form a single identity or they become confused about who they are. Erikson’s fifth stage makes adolescents wonder who we want to be, what we want out of life, and what values and beliefs we live by.

Douvan, E. (1997). Erik Erikson: Critical times, critical theory. Child psychiatry and human development, 28(1), 15-21. doi:10.1023/A:1025188901554 Gorrindo, T., Fishel, A., & Beresin, E. V. (2012). Understanding Technology Use Throughout Development: What Erik Erikson Would Say About Toddler Tweets and Facebook Friends. FOCUS: The Journal of Lifelong Learning in Psychiatry, 10(3), 282. Kasinath. H. M. (2013). Adolescence: Search For An Identity. I-manager’s Journal on Educational Psychology, 7(1), 1-6. Retrieved July 13, 2014 from

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