Which stage of life are you at? Naturally, we are bound to be confused when someone asks us this question. We often generalize the stages of life to adulthood and childhood. But that’s not all! There is so much more to these phases of life. Childhood and adulthood are just two stages.
Apparently, there are eight phases we experience in life. Each of us goes through these eight phases, and as we grow, we learn certain things from every stage. For instance, a sense of maturity comes within us as we grow older. This maturity is due to experiences we go through in different junctures of life.
Before we delve deeper into these eight stages, let us understand who gave them and what was the idea behind these phases.
What are Life’s Stages & what’s the theory behind them?
We all go through different phases in our life. In every stage, most people share common interests, goals, behaviors, etc. There are many theories associated with these phases. For instance, in one theory, the first stage is said to be prenatal development, i.e., the life cycle begins before birth.
No matter how many theories are associated with these phases, one prominent theory applies to these eight stages of life, i.e., Erik Erikson’s theory of Psychosocial Development. In this theory, Erikson gave us the eight stages of development, ranging from infancy to later adulthood.
Erik Erikson was a 20th-century German American Psychologist famous for his works in psychoanalysis and developmental psychology. He popularized the concept of identity crisis and gave the theory of psychosocial development. The eight stages of life are given below:
- Preschool Years
- Early School Years
- Young Adulthood
- Middle Adulthood
- Later Adulthood
These eight stages of life describe the effect of social interaction on how individuals mature. This is an integral theory as these junctures elaborate on different challenges individuals face during development.
Erikson emphasizes that every stage has two conflicting concepts. Even when an individual is not able to overcome the challenges of the current stage, they will progress to the next one. The inability to overcome an issue might affect their development, but they will move to a different stage no matter what.
Now that we know the eight stages of life, let us discuss them in detail.
The Purpose of Eight Stages of Development
As mentioned above, Erik Erikson gave us the eight stages of development. These stages are the building blocks that are crucial to the maturation across your lifespan. All these phases are interconnected, and there is much to learn from them.
Here is a detailed account of every stage, the purpose it serves, and what you can learn from it.
1. Infancy – Trust v/s Mistrust
It is the first stage of Erikson’s psychosocial development. The virtue of this phase is ‘Hope’. In this stage, the evolution centers around trust and mistrust. Infancy begins at birth and lasts till the baby is 18 months old. When babies are born, they start to learn about the world around them. They are entirely dependent upon their parents for everything.
For instance, when a baby cries and you try to meet their needs by caressing, feeding, or holding them, they develop a sense of trust. On the contrary, when a baby is neglected, they develop mistrust which can affect their development to a great extent. They may create hopelessness when faced with a crisis as they grow!
2. Toddlerhood – Autonomy v/s Shame & Doubt
The second is the toddlerhood stage, which begins at 18 months and lasts until two or three years. The stage primarily inculcates a sense of ‘Will’. In this stage, a toddler learns to do things for themselves. By appreciating their efforts, you help them establish a foundation of self-belief and autonomy.
In any case, if you discourage them from what they are doing, they may feel ashamed and might begin to doubt their abilities. Therefore, parents need to instigate a sense of independence in their toddlers so that they become confident in their approach.
3. Preschool Years – Initiative v/s Guilt
The stage essentially focuses on ‘Purpose’. Preschool years begin at three years and last up to five years. In this stage, children begin to understand their aims and goals in life. By having a sense of purpose in life, they feel encouraged and try to take the initiative to do things independently. If the parents criticize them, the child tends to develop guilt. Compared to the other stages, in this phase, the interaction between kids of the same age primarily leads to their development in life.
4. Early School Years – Industry v/s Inferiority
Early school years are all about ‘Competency’. This stage begins at six and lasts up to eleven years of age. During the early school years, the child becomes aware of their individuality. As a result, they desire accomplishments at school and seek praise and support from their peers, parents, and teachers.
Encouragement from their peers, caregivers, and teachers makes them feel competent and productive. Conversely, if there is no positive reinforcement, the child might feel inferior and inept.
5. Adolescence – Identity v/s Identity Confusion
Adolescence equals the virtue of ‘Fidelity’. This stage begins around the age of 12 and lasts up till the age of 18. Erikson’s ‘Identity Crisis’ theory comes from this stage of development.
During this stage, you are trying to fathom who you are and establish aims and priorities in your life. You are trying to create your place in the world. If young kids are overwhelmed at this stage by responsibilities and expectations, it might become complex to establish their identities. This leads to uncertainty about what their needs and goals are.
6. Young Adulthood – Intimacy v/s Isolation
The focus of this development is intimacy and isolation. This stage begins at 18 and lasts until age 40. The main aim of this stage is to establish and build better relationships. Primarily, social development takes place in this stage.
‘Love’ is the virtue of this phase, wherein people build meaningful alliances among friends and family. At this stage, if you are struggling to establish relationships, then you might feel isolated and lonely. You can also experience a quarter-life crisis!
7. Middle Adulthood – Generativity v/s Stagnation
According to Erikson’s theory, middle adulthood begins at forty and ends at sixty-five years. This stage is the tug-of-war between stagnation and generativity. Generativity is an adult’s choice to pass on whatever they have learnt to the younger generation.
The virtue is of ‘Care’ in this stage. People look out for those around them and inculcate a sense of care and responsibility. On the contrary, if an adult is resentful about their life, they may feel bitter and indignant. This leads to restlessness and isolation from your family, friends, and society.
8. Later Adulthood – Integrity v/s Despair
This is the final stage of life and is primarily governed by ‘Wisdom’. It is the phase of deep reflection and self-introspection. Later adulthood begins at sixty-five and lasts throughout the rest of your life. If you are content and blissful, you age with grace. You often feel satisfied with your accomplishments and the relationships you have in life. You feel grateful.
But if there is no sense of contentment or gratification as you look back on life, you may fall into despair. When this happens, you tend to focus more on your regrets and failures in life.
Erikson’s theory is one of the primary theories that everyone uses to define the eight stages of life. However, there are other theories as well. For instance, Jean Piaget’s theory includes only four stages of life, unlike Erikson’s.
Jean’s theory looks upon the nature of intelligence and believes that children acquire knowledge based on their mental development. The four stages are: sensorimotor (0-2 years), preoperational (2-7 years), concrete operational (7-11 years), and formal operational (12 years & older).
Another theory is that of Klaus Reigel. He proposes that personal development occurs because of external and internal changes one experiences in life. According to Reigel, there are four interrelated external and internal dimensions of development.
- Internal psychological level (emotional intelligence & mental capacity)
- Internal physical dimension (physical & sexual maturity)
- External cultural-sociological dimension (opportunities & society’s expectations)
- External environment dimension (political, economic & physical situation in which an individual lives)
There are many other theories like the ones mentioned above. But Erikson’s theory is essentially used when it comes to defining the different phases of life. Knowing these life stages is essential to have a better understanding of how childhood events shape our adulthood.
Comprehending the phases of life
Life is a journey of self-discovery. During this journey, you will encounter numerous opportunities to achieve your goals and foster better relationships. Therefore, regardless of your life stage, it is essential to grow consistently and experience different situations.
By profoundly understanding life’s junctures, you can develop self-awareness and lead your life with purpose and intention. While there may be roadblocks on this journey of self-discovery, you are bound to grow with every circumstance/ experience.
Personal growth is rewarding as one learns to control thoughts and negative emotions better. Having a ‘growth mindset is what helps you in all the phases. Thus, it is vital to understand these discrete stages and expand your understanding and knowledge of life!