Industry vs. Inferiority - Psychosocial Development: Erikson's Stage 4

Industry vs. Inferiority in Psychosocial Development

“Children love and want to be loved, and they prefer the joy of achievement to the triumph of hateful failure. Do not confuse a child with their symptom. - Erik Erikson

“Crisis” is a word that we use frequently and in a wide variety of contexts - most often in relation to the economy and society as a whole, but in this text we will examine the aspect of the general psychological and emotional well-being of a person.

People of all ages are prone to psychological crises of their kind, and we hear most often that young people, and especially teenagers, are going through what we define as an identity crisis.

Is there anyone in the world who has never experienced some kind of mental crisis?

For those who believe they have not been through such a crisis, we sincerely regret to say they are delusional. The famous psychoanalyst Erik Erikson claims that the crisis precedes development, or in other words, without the crisis there is no development.

Before we begin to delve deeply into the main subject of this text, and that is the fourth stage of development in Erikson's theory of psychosocial development - industry vs. inferiority, let us first say a little bit about Erikson himself and his theory as a whole. 



Erik Homburger Erikson (1902-1994) was an American (born in Germany to Danish parents) psychologist and psychoanalyst whose study was devoted to the psychosocial development of a person.

He is famous for his all-encompassing theory of development, which focuses on the term "crisis".

Although he was a psychoanalyst and was influenced by Sigmund Freud and his work, Erikson's theory differs from Freud's in the following ways:

  1. Personal development lasts a lifetime, it doesn't end at five or thirty-five or later
  2. the focus is on psychosocial rather than psychosexual development
  3. development is influenced not only by family relationships, but by interactions in a broader social and cultural environment (e.g. schools or neighbors)

In fact, according to Erikson, at each stage of psychosocial development there is a specific relationship between a person and their socio-cultural environment.

This relationship leads to a psychosocial crisis.

The way in which we solve and manage the crisis determines the further development.


From a psychological point of view, identity is the experience of continuity and the equality of the meaning of our “self” over a longer period of time, regardless of the changes that arise as a result of different circumstances in different phases of life.

This experience is only partially conscious.

When we are satisfied with ourselves and people's reactions, when we are satisfied with our “purpose in life”, we are not actively thinking about our identity.

On the other hand, if we are preoccupied with thinking about who we are, what we strive for, what is important to us, whether we are good or bad, these are clear signs that we are confused, that is, that we are going through an identity crisis.

Identity, which implies continuity and stability, is not immutable and static, but develops with age, life experience and socio-historical circumstances.

Erikson based his theory on two sources:

  1. Research carried out on American war veterans (loss of identity, "they do not know who they are", "changed self-image", "feeling insecure")
  2. Researching identity confusion among young people (especially juvenile delinquents who have had trouble defining who they are and where they are going)

Erikson researched these abnormal situations and discovered a normal developmental crisis.

This normal developmental crisis is temporary, but it can lead to serious problems in the formation of a person's identity.

Finding one's identity is often difficult and insecure (but not always), filled with wandering around and experimenting with different roles.

It is important that a crisis is not inherently unhealthy.

On the contrary, it can form a solid foundation for successful and healthy personal development.

It often leads to a higher degree of psychosocial integration and maturity.

Each new stage of development represents a challenge and a potential crisis because it offers new opportunities to change the perspective of life.

In this case, a crisis is defined as a positive crisis. Negative crises, on the other hand, can lead to social isolation or permanent negative behavioral changes.

To get a positive result in development, we need to successfully solve the identity crisis.

The aim is for the person to develop as a self-confident, self-confident personality with a strong sense of identity.

This is particularly important for the period of early childhood, as this is where the basis for successful development in adulthood is laid.

Erikson presented his theory of psychosocial development in eight stages:

  1. Stage one - trust vs. distrust - it is characteristic of the very first year of our life - childhood (0-18 months) and gives adults a feeling of security and trust. This is in line with Freud's oral phase and research by Harlow and Bowlby on the importance of a child's adequate emotional attachment to their mother in this first year of life, which has a tremendous impact on the child's later social and affective behavior. This is the reason on which identity is formed. The crucial relationship that exerts the important influence is that of the mother or guardian and the timely response to the child's needs in order to develop confidence in the environment.
  2. Phase two - anatomy vs. shame and doubt - this phase takes place in the second and third year of a child's life (Freud's anal phase). Here, both parents promote the child's activity and behavioral autonomy and, on the other hand, impose some restrictions. This is the time when a child is taught self-control, which, in addition to developing movement, language and imagination, is the most important developmental task. On both sides of the spectrum, if the crisis is not successfully resolved, there is a bad outcome: impulsivity as the product of too much autonomy or coercion as the product of too much shame and doubt. A positive outcome of the crisis resolution leads to self-control of the child, whereby a free will arises, which is based on his strength and his self-confidence.
  3. Stage three - initiative vs. guilt - takes place between the ages of 3 and 6 and is relevant to Freud's phallic stage. The crisis deals with the development of morals. It is characterized by rivalry with the same-sex parent. Successful management of this crisis leads to the development of conscience and respect for authority. Mismatches lead on the one hand to recklessness (comes from too much initiative) and on the other hand to behavior inhibition due to too much guilt.
  4. Level four - Diligence vs. Inferiority - Corresponding to Freud's latency period, this level is characteristic of the age 6 to 12 years. It is at this stage that a child begins to go to school and the relationship with teachers and peers becomes the most important relationship in the child's life. Academic success becomes more important and it develops competence when properly nurtured. If the crisis is not properly resolved, we will have children and later adults who cannot assert themselves socially. (We will go into a more detailed analysis of this stage later in the text).
  5. Stage Five - Identity vs. Role Confusion - This crisis marks the period between the ages of 12 and 18 when a person is no longer a child but is not yet an adult. It is characterized by questions "Who am I?" And "Who do I want to be?" Successfully overcoming this crisis means that these young people have a strong sense of identity when they are allowed to experiment a little. Too much experimentation or too many restrictions lead to mismatches. Parents and peers now play the biggest role.
  6. Level six - intimacy vs. isolation - characteristic of young adults (18-40). The developmental task of this phase is to build close and lasting relationships with other people outside of our family. If the crisis is not properly resolved, that is, a person fails to develop healthy relationships with others, feelings of loneliness and loneliness or narcissism can result. People are afraid of mistakenly seeing intimacy as a factor threatening personal autonomy. Healthy crisis management during this phase leads to happy, satisfying relationships.
  7. Stage seven - Generativity vs. Stagnation - This stage deals with the development of people between the ages of 40 and 65. The tasks at this stage of development focus on housekeeping, career and family. We tend to make a contribution to society and want to prepare the next generation. When the conflict is caused by this crisis, we feel happy. On the other hand, there may be a feeling of stagnation. The main task, however, is to take care of what has been lovingly created and to overcome the ambivalence of the immutability of duties, which are necessary for the continuity and progress of a society.
  8. Level eight - Integrity vs. Despair - Characteristic of people over 65 years of age. The central development task is to face old age and to approach the end of life. A person at this stage has to find the meaning of old age, find hobbies, redefine their role in society. People recap and evaluate their life and measure the level of control in life. Successful resolution of this crisis leads to wisdom. In the event that the previous developmental crises are not successfully resolved, a person is unlikely to achieve integrity, wisdom and purpose in life. The result of negative solutions leads to the feeling of uselessness, hopelessness and despair of life in the face of impending death.

The critics have pointed out that Erikson did not explain how an unsuccessful resolution of the crisis in one phase affects the resolution of the next phase.

The theory is largely descriptive in this sense, but it gives us tools to help us figure out how to behave.

We think the key concept here is a balance, which is probably the most difficult to achieve.

Extremes in any case lead to mismatches and, essentially, to potentially unhappy individuals in later life.



“The richest and most fulfilling lives try to achieve an inner balance between three areas: work, love and play.” - Erik Erikson

So we have already said that, according to Erikson, the psychosocial development of a person is a lifelong process.

In this section we focus on the fourth stage of development, namely industry vs. inferiority.

So what happens at this stage? What can be the result of a balanced approach and what happens when a child is exposed to extreme crisis resolution?

What can we as parents and teachers do to help children overcome this crisis successfully and support them on their way to become happy and successful people with strong self-confidence and confidence in their abilities?

A child reaches this stage of development exactly when it comes out of the parental home and goes to school, i.e. around the age of 6-12.

In addition to the relationship with the parents, the main relationship now becomes the relationship with other people. Most importantly with teachers and school peers.

Their social environment expands and they have to learn to function and assert themselves in this new environment.

Appreciating others becomes critical to their healthy psychosocial development.

The most important questions that concern a child at this age are: "What am I good at?", "How can I be good at what I do?"


The parenting skills of the children (they are able to move around completely autonomously, they can communicate everything, they know their needs and begin to assert themselves in the outside world) make them competitive.

They begin to compare themselves to their friends (classmates, neighbors, even siblings) on how well they can do a given task.

Even playing for fun becomes some kind of competition (e.g. is my sandcastle bigger / better / nicer than yours).

In this process of comparing themselves to others, children can take pride in their abilities.

You have achieved something yourself, and as a plus, it is better or more preferable than something other children have done. This creates a feeling of competence and confidence in one's own abilities.

On the other hand, if a child notices that their abilities are not so developed or not favored, this can lead to feelings of indolence and inadequacy in social situations, ie the child does not believe in their abilities.

Imagine. One child spent all of his childhood at home watching basketball since his father was a basketball player in his teens.

He goes to school with the idea of ​​becoming a great basketball player, but it turns out there are a lot of kids on the team who are more talented than him - they're more agile or they score more.

The child then begins to doubt their abilities and wants to stop or avoid practicing.

The same applies to a student with high academic abilities who, however, does not meet the class standard of a good grade, e.g. does not know how to solve a math problem.

Even if it only happens once, the feeling of inferiority (in life, at work, in relationships, etc.) and doubts about one's ability can lead to the feeling of inferiority in other aspects of his life even years later, in adulthood transfers not handled properly.

If the situations are handled in such a way that the children can make mistakes, let them know that it is sometimes okay, and if afterwards they are encouraged to get better and make progress, then this crisis that has arisen leads to the development of trust in the ability to overcome difficulties with a little more work.

On the other hand, if the situation and struggle are either overlooked or the child is not adequately and appropriately nurtured, this leads to feelings of inferiority, incapacity, and indolence later in life.

Even adults remember feeling discouraged and wanting to avoid something that they thought was bad.

People want to be good at the things they do and want to do the things they are good at, why should it be any different for the children?

These examples lead us to the question of who should provide the necessary encouragement and support, and to what extent.

In either situation, these are parents or teachers, or parents and teachers working together to get better results.

1. What can teachers do?

For students who are already struggling with some aspects of academic performance, a teacher should provide support and encouragement.

Feedback is needed. Even if, as a teacher, you criticize a student's work because it is really not at the desired level, you shouldn't just stick with the critic and leave the student to solve the problem themselves.

Try to give them clues on how to improve, give them an easier task, and work towards what makes them fail.

And if the student is unable to achieve the desired level, commend them for their efforts.

Across the board, evaluation will help them feel successful and they will not give up, making their skills even less than they would otherwise.

Help students set realistic expectations; don't give them anything that is too difficult for them that could lead to self-doubt.

To make them feel useful, make them do things that are not purely academic.

For example, water the plants in the classroom, clean the whiteboard, hand out worksheets, and so on.

Just make sure you don't give preference to certain students, they should all be able to do some of these things.

2. What can parents do?

Think about how you felt when you were between six and twelve years old.

You have probably already developed a feeling for things that you were good at and were not good at. Your child will start to feel the same way.

It is your responsibility as a parent to praise your children for their efforts and efforts.

When you find that they are good at something, tell them so, encourage them to do what they are good at.

On the other hand, if they are not good at something, what should you do? Should you definitely let her hold out?

If they just need a little extra work to be successful, definitely - give them room to improve or else holding on to something they are not good at can lead to low self-esteem later in life are.

What should you do in this case? Aside from providing constructive criticism, try to validate something they're good at or offer them something else to try.

Do you remember that little boy who wanted to play basketball like his father and wasn't as talented as others?

Instead of getting him to practice, perhaps support his singing or musicality by allowing and encouraging him to learn an instrument.

In contrast to the lack of encouragement that causes inferiority and self-doubt, there is a problem of overprising.

This can lead to arrogance (“I'm the best because my mom told me!”) Or even to one-sided competence in just one thing (a pianist with no skills other than playing the piano exceptionally well).

In addition, parents should not use the child's age as a justification for not being successful.

When activities are adapted to age, and when they slacken and praise where not needed, they become latent and lazy.

Another thing that parents need to watch out for is giving unconditional love to their children regardless of their successes and failures.

Children who equate success with love feel unloved every time they fail at something, even as adults.



Although Erikson's theory of psychosocial development does not fully provide the solutions to crises and how to fix them when a mistake has been made, it does give us a good look at how development works.

The industry vs. inferiority phase is just as important as any previous phase, especially as it draws the child into self-exploration and relates them to other people.

The key to successfully going through this phase of psychosocial development is balancing evaluation and criticism, and even evaluating the things that the child is good at.

If the crisis is properly managed, as a teacher or as a parent, you will witness an education from a healthy young person who is able to make his own decisions and do so according to his or her abilities.





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