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Erikson’s Life Cycle: the Epigenesis of Identity

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            As an individual grows older, he or she would encounter and go through stages and events that would somehow change their personality either temporarily or permanently.  This was the basis of Erik Erikson’s personality theory.  According to him, it is a constant and life-long process which develops and changes over time.  In this paper, the summary of Erikson’s personality will be presented and compared against Freud’s theory of personality.

Erikson’s Life Cycle Theory

            Erikson (2007) believed that each individual must struggle with the demands of both his or her emotions as well as the environment.  For him the development of an individual’s identity begins during the adolescent years since it is during this time that the individual has already developed physically, has a sense of mental maturity and social responsibility.

            In terms of considering an individual to have a well-developed personality, Erikson (2007) agreed with Marie Jahoda that the individual must be able to master his environment and view himself or herself is correct based on what society considers as such.  He incorporated the epigenetic principle in his development of his own theory of personality and identity.  The epigenetic principle states that any organism that grows and develops, it has an established plan.  It is from this established plan that each part of the organism develops and grows over the course of time until the organism and its parts become a complete and functioning whole.

            Initially, the epigenetic principle is used to describe the development of the fetus in the mother’s womb.  During the nine months of conception, the fetus develops its different organs, limbs and other parts which will be essential for the fetus’ survival outside the womb after birth.

Erikson (2007) believed that the same process continues on after the birth of the baby and throughout its life.  Instead of developing and growing parts and organs, the baby, as it grows, interacts with the outside environment, his or her immediate family and the society in general.  Through this, the individual would gradually face and meet opportunities and limitations mandated by society.  As the individual matures, he or she develops his or her sensory capacity as well as social capacities.

            Through the interaction of the individual with society, inner conflicts would be experienced.  These inner conflicts affect how the individual’s personality develops.  Also, guidance experienced by the individual as he or she grows up would result in the individual to learn to trust and obey laws which lead to significant interactions between the individual and the members of society.  Therefore, the development of the personality of an individual is based on the individual’s readiness to interact and be aware of his or her surroundings and those that comprise it (Erikson 2007).

Comparison to Freud’s Personality Theory

            Erikson (2007) was trained by Sigmund Freud which could be a reason as to why he focused his study of on the personality and identity of human beings based on the Freud’s ego perspective on society, which determined what was considered as images in the mind of the individual and those that are present in external environment (Hall, Lindzey & Campbell 1997).

            However, unlike Freud, Erikson (2007) believed that since a child does not have either a developed social or cognitive system, a child does not possess a personality.  He presented his findings and compared them to Freud’s theory of personality by developing a diagram which included Freud’s psychosexual stages of development and Erikson’s own findings.

The diagram shows that the stages of development presented by Freud and defines a progression through the differentiation of parts indicating that each item of the crucial personality is systematically related and depend on the development in the sequence of each item in the diagram.  It showed also that each stage exists in the individual even before it is utilized by the individual.

            Unlike Freud who had mentioned that the failure of each of the psychosexual stages of development to be satisfied would result in the individual developing a personality that is different from one who has satisfied each of the psychosexual stages of development, Erikson viewed society and the ability of the individual to cope with the demands of society that determines the kind of personality that the individual will develop (Erikson 2007; Hall, Lindzey & Campbell 1997).


            In this paper, the theory of Erikson on personality and identity has been presented and compared against Freud’s psychosexual stages of development.  Based on the premises presented in this paper, it appears that Erikson’s theory of personality and identity is more realistic and more observable in today’s society than Freud’s.

Throughout a person’s lifetime, he or she would experience various events and opportunities which would eventually change how the individual perceives the world, himself or herself and how it has affected in their personality.  This is evident among those who have survived traumatizing events such as criminal acts or natural calamities.  From being extroverts and carefree, they eventually become cautious and would become withdrawn, which is a completely different personality trait than what they may have had before the incident.


Erikson, E. (2007). The life cycle: epigenesist of identity. In H. S. Friedman & M. W.

Schustack (Eds.), The personality reader (pp. 51-54).  Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Hall, C. S., Lindzey, G. & Campbell, J. B. (1997). Theories of personality, 4th ed. New

Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

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