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12.1: Chapter Introduction

  • Page ID
    16600
  • Erik Erikson is one of the few personality theorists from a Western perspective who addressed the entire lifespan. He shifted from Freud’s emphasis on psychosexual conflicts to one of psychosocial crises, which have unique manifestations through adulthood and old age. Erikson’s theory has always been popular, but as our society has become increasingly older the need has grown to understand the aged individual, making Erikson’s perspective even more valuable and relevant today than it was when he first proposed it. If, indeed, Erikson’s perspective on the personality changes occurring in adulthood and old age do become more relevant with time, it may result in an interesting change in Erikson’s place in psychology. Although most personality textbooks devote a chapter to Erikson, and he is typically covered in lifespan developmental texts as well, he is not mentioned in most history of psychology textbooks, and those that do mention him do so only briefly. As popular as he is with students of psychology, and most psychology faculty as well, becoming a common topic in the history of his field would be a distinct honor.

    It is also important to note that Erikson was first, and foremost, a psychoanalyst, and a child psychoanalyst at that. He did not neglect the importance of childhood as he pursued the psychosocial changes that accompany aging:

    One may scan work after work on history, society, and morality and find little reference to the fact that all people start as children and that all peoples begin in their nurseries. It is human to have a long childhood; it is civilized to have an ever longer childhood. Long childhood makes a technical and mental virtuoso out of man, but it also leaves a lifelong residue of emotional immaturity in him. (pg. 12; Erikson, 1950)