Erickson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development Analysis

06 Apr 2018

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Psychology 1: Development and learning

Identity verse confusion

An adolescent is a person who is currently in the process of developing from a child into an adult. This process involves many social and physical changes that challenge the adolescent. It is in this stage that a person forms their identity. This time period has been defined by Erik Erikson as Identity verse Confusion. This period can be particularly challenging and in a post-Apartheid South Africa, adolescence are finding this stage more challenging than in the past. (Bray, Gooskens, Khan, Moses & Seekings, 2010)

Erick Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development is one of the few developmental theories that does not restrict development to a specific age group or time period, but rather he suggests that development is a continuous process that spans the entirety of human life. (Comer, Gould & Furnham, 2013) His theory is broken into 8 distinctive stages. In order for one to progress from one stage to the next a person must complete the challenge or crisis associated with that stage. Erickson’s places particular emphasis on the adolescent stage (ages 12 -20) identity verse confusion. (Comer, Gould & Furnham, 2013) Erikson believed this stage was particularly important in the sense that it was at this stage that one builds social relationships, finds a sense of belonging and decided the general direction of their life. He also believed once this stage was completed one could move on to the next stage Intimacy vs Isolation. (Ages 20 – 30). This stage is considered young adulthood and associated with finding a life partner, settling down and falling into your job role. (Comer, Gould & Furnham, 2013)

In the earlier stages of Erikson’s theory, a child’s identity is primarily based on identification with role models. (Thom & Coetzee, 2004) However during adolescence there is need create a sense of autonomy and as a result the adolescent moves away from the parents and role models and looks toward peer groups for guidance and support in their search for identity (Allen & Land, 1999). The adolescents also begin to question previous ideologies that they had acquired throughout childhood and begin to retain and identify with opinions that assimilate into their new world views. (Thom & Coetzee, 2004)

However Erikson’s theory does not consider how different cultures, classes and genders differ in this developmental process. In a post-Apartheid South Africa there is a significant difference between say how an African and a Caucasian adolescent develop due to cultural differences and expectations (Thom & Coetzee, 2004). There is also a difference between males and females, as well as those who live in lower socio economic circumstances in comparison with those who occupy the wealthier socio economic station in life with in South Africa. (Bray, Gooskens, Khan, Moses & Seekings, 2010).

Erick Erikson’s theory is focused on a western perspective of development and therefore as result as I as a white, middle class, educated female, fall within the bounds of his theory. Erikson believes that the conflict that adolescents must overcome is the conflict between identity and role confusion (Comer, Gould & Furnham, 2013). They have to begin making decisions that will affect their life in the future, for example whether to attend university or go straight into the work force as well as opinions such as political views and religious views must also develop. (Comer, Gould & Furnham, 2013). This I can strongly relate to and as an adolescent I grappled and still grapple with these challenges.

In my matric year these questions of my future where most prevalent, choosing a degree and a university was the first major conflict that I faced and it is one that took almost the entire year to overcome. The pressure to choose a socially acceptable degree, that still is within my skill set and what I love to do was a challenge, naturally my parents were drawn to the idea of me perusing a degree in commerce that would be practical. However I had formed my own opinion and as Allen and Land (2010) mention I began to question previous ideologies set out by my parents, that they had acquired throughout childhood and begin to retain and identify with opinions that fitted more in line with what I believed. As a result I chose a degree and a university that would fit my views and as a result I’m perusing a Batchelor of Arts degree, successfully overcoming that challenged.

Furthermore in 2014 my political views were also challenged as it was an election year. Having just turned eighteen I was permitted to vote for the first time and as a result I had to question and form a knowledge base of who and what I needed to support before I cast my vote. These challenges where overcome eventually overcome by active seeking of information. Erickson expresses a great importance is placed on per groups during this period of adolescence and as a result I found myself turning to my close friend groups for advice on both challenges.

However this process cannot apply to all adolescents within South Africa. South African adolescents have all been subjected to socio-political changes in recent years and as a result they are forming identities in a society that is itself undergoing a transformation (Thom & Coetzee, 2004). As a result adolescents may experience a dual identity crisis, their individual as well as a cultural crisis (Kilpatrick, 1974 as cited in Thom & Coetzee, 2004).

An example of this is seen within the black adolescent group. During Apartheid many black adolescents identified with groups with strong social and cultural identities (Kilpatrick, 1974 as cited in Thom & Coetzee, 2004). The black adolescents all experienced the same oppressive conditions under the apartheid regime and as a result formed a common group identity. It could be said that this structured group identity model continues to serve as a clear frame of reference in this post-Apartheid era (Thom & Coetzee, 2004). However since 1994 South Africa has been governed by a democratic system, eliminating the factor of oppression. Therefore African cultures are now recognised and dignified and as a result young black South Africans can accept their culture with pride. Making it possible for these adolescents to choose the direction of their lives without the overhanging factor of oppression allowing for a more personal choice of identity rather than a group identity (Thom & Coetzee, 2004).

However it could be said that this newly found social freedom could be contributing to role confusion within black adolescents. Since the end of apartheid new role models and economic structures have been formed and as a result South Africa is becoming increasingly more globalised. this has affected the black adolescence in the fact that they two are becoming globalised and as a result they are merging their cultural roots with western ideals. This however may isolate them from their cultural backgrounds and elders and therefore leaded to confusion on where they belong (Early, 2008)

Other factors that can affect adolescent identity development that are not considered by Erikson’s theory is gender and social demographics. Again due to the previous Apartheid regime many young South Africans have been subjected to the effects of a history of legitimised power relationships between racial groups and the culturally inscribed gender roles that accompany it (Bray, Gooskens, Khan, Moses & Seekings, 2010). As a result there are different expectations that are placed on males and females, even within the same cultural groups. An examples are boys, especially in poorer socio-economic arears, who are expected to conform to the ridged definition of masculinity. This is a result of the absence of jobs, and recreational activities for the young men and therefore these men must prove themselves in alternative fashion, often resorting to violence (Bray, Gooskens, Khan, Moses & Seekings, 2010).

As stated previously Erickson believed that during this time of adolescence peer relationships become increasingly important in the adolescence search for autonomy. (Comer, Gould & Furnham, 2013). However even these peer relationships are affected by race, gender and social standing and as the adolescent begins to explore the possibility of romantic relationships and sexual relationships these factors again play a role (Bray, Gooskens, Khan, Moses & Seekings, 2010).

For example adolescences within African neighbourhoods report to have more sexual relations then those in poor coloured neighbourhoods. Those in poor neighbourhoods stated that they had more sexual relations then those in wealthier coloured neighbourhoods and those in wealthier coloured neighbourhood’s sates that they had more sexual relations those in white neighbourhoods (Bray, Gooskens, Khan, Moses & Seekings, 2010). This shows how demographics and race affect your relationships and ultimately your identity.

The examples above show how within South Africa there is a diverse range of what adolescent development entails. However they have not expressed what the basic skills and values that are necessary for the resolution if an identity crisis

James Marcia expanded on Erick Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development theory. He suggested that there where a combination of explorations which involve active questioning aimed at making decisions about goals and values and a commitment to those goals and values (Comer, Gould & Furnham, 2013).

He determined that there were four identity statuses: foreclosure, identify diffusion, marorium and identity achievement (Waterman, 1982). Identity foreclosure relates to when a commitment is made without exploring any alternatives to that commitment. Often adolescents who fall in to this category base their beliefs solely on their parent’s values (Comer, Gould & Furnham, 2013). Often this is seen in adolescents who identify greatly with their parents prior too or during adolescents (Waterman, 1982). These adolescents have not successfully overcome the identity crisis. Identity diffusion is when some adolescents become overwhelmed by the task of identity development and neither make commitments nor explore. They have little interest in identity status and often do not undergo an identity crisis (Comer, Gould & Furnham, 2013). These adolescents will have for the most part permissive, neglecting parents and therefore will have difficulty in successfully resolving an identity crisis (Waterman, 1982). Identity moratorium is a status of indivulaus who are currenty in a crisis who is still exploring identity commitments. These individuals have not yet overcome the crisis and may either fall in the identity diffusions status not making any commitment at all or may fall in to the identity achievement status (Comer, Gould & Furnham, 2013). Identity achievement is the status of an individual who has successfully overcome the crisis they have undergone exploration and have made a commitment (Comer, Gould & Furnham, 2013). The increased availability of role modles will greatly aid in the formation of stable commitments. A successful adult role model may serve as a example on how to overcome challenges and difficult situations. Furthermore Parents who they themselves have successfully achieved identity achievement will help nurture this value in their child (Waterman, 1982).

Therefore in conclusion it can be said that within a South African context psychosocial development, especially identity verse confusion is experienced differently depending on race, culture, gender and demographics. it can also be said that not all adolescents experience the psychosocial crisis within this stage and therefore many do not fall in to the identity achievement status.



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