Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

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Psychosocial Development

Updated: 23 June 2016

Sigmund Freud’s (1920) concept of the Id can be seen as the self-expressive side of Clare W Graves’ Spiral – with its ultimate and most visceral expression in nodal RED. The development of the self-sacrificial/conformist side of the Spiral also parallels Freud’s thoughts to some considerable degree. Firstly, the PURPLE vMEME’s restriction of BEIGE instinct to gain acceptance sounds like the Freudian Ego’s determination to avoid the consequences of the Id’s behaviours. Then, the Superego’s Conscience element is reflected in BLUE’s drive to ‘do the right thing’; while there are strong echoes of the Superego’s Ego Ideal element – how things should be – in GREEN’s idealistic intentions toward human inter-relations.


Thus, while the Psychodynamic approach is frequently criticised these days as ‘unscientific’ and ‘overly fanciful’, it is clear many aspects are still relevant and have much to offer in developing our understanding of Integrated SocioPsychology.

No other psychological theorist has yet come up with an explanation – or linked series of explanations – of the ‘human condition’ anything like as comprehensive as Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory, the first of the Psychodynamic theories. Yet, from the earliest days of Freud’s theorising, it was obvious there were certain inconsistencies and claims that were very unlikely ever to be verifiable – most notably the infamous Oedipus Complex. Consequently Freud’s insistence on unwavering adherence to his theories – presumably the work of his own RED vMEME! – led to a series of one-time ‘disciples’ breaking away and founding their own Psychodynamic schools. These included such ‘giant’ thinkers as Carl Gustav Jung, Alfred Adler and Karen Horney.

Erikson: a Post-Freudian Psychodynamic approach
Erik Erikson was more of an amender of Freud’s ideas than an outright breakaway, the development of his ideas coming into the public domain way after Freud’s death in 1939 and being far less divergent than, say, Jung or Adler. Introduced to the Freuds by Dorothy Burlingham, he trained with Freud in Vienna and was mentored (and psychoanalysed) by Freud’s daughter, Anna, before moving to the United States to escape the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson

Erikson adhered to the Freudian concepts of Id, Ego and Superego and the existence of strong instinctual forces. However, he did differ significantly from Sigmund Freud in proposing that psychosocial development was more important than psychosexual development. The interactions of the child/teenager/adult with parents, siblings, friends and peers and other significant people were considered by Erikson to be the most important influences in shaping someone’s development – memes influencing schema formation. In this respect, Erikson at least partly reflects George Herbert Mead’s (1913) contention that ‘self’ is a ‘social product’ and prefigures Susan Blackmore’s (1999) concept of the selfplex. Erikson’s views also fit with Graves’ observations into the relationship between the external life conditions and the development of mental coping mechanisms (vMEMES). However, given the significance that Evolutionary Psychology has come to place on sex – especially with Sexual Selection – Erikson may have ‘thrown the [proverbial] baby out with the bathwater’ in so demoting the prominence of sexual motivations. Erikson didn’t exactly dismiss Freud’s Oedipus Complex completely out of hand but he certainly downplayed its importance notably when compared to the critical status Freud attached to it.

Erikson built up his theory over some 30 years. He gathered evidence for his theory while working as a practising therapist. According to M Cole & S R Cole (1989), one of Erikson’s favourite methods for testing his theory was – like Abraham Maslow in developing the Hierarchy of Needs – the biographical case study, studying such famous men as Martin Luther and Mahatma Gandhi (1963). Erikson also studied child-rearing practices of the Sioux and Yurok Indians of North America who were experiencing great social change. His findings supported his ideas.

The differences in Erikson’s approach, compared to Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory can be summarised as…

  • While Freud’s main focus was on the unconscious effects of the Id’s sex and death drives – Eros and Thanatos, respectively – Erikson was concerned with relationships
  • Erikson looks at what can strengthen and weaken the Ego while Freud is concerned with the conflicts the Ego has to resolve between the Id and the Superego
  • In contrast to Freud’s view of people locked in perpetual inner conflict, Erikson presented a more positive and optimistic view of human nature

Erikson saw development of personality as taking place over an entire lifespan whereas Freud saw personality as complete by the early-mid teens – as a result of which Erikson attributed 8 stages of development taking place over a lifetime in contrast to Freud’s 5 stages from birth to post-puberty

Mapping Graves and Erikson
Graves, who professed to know little about the development of children and tended to deflect enquiries about such to the work of correspondents O J Harvey, David E Hunt & H M Schroeder (1961) and Hunt (1966) – see Comparison Map – was notoriously reluctant to attach time frames to the emergence of what we now call vMEMES. Instead of chronological time, Gaves preferred to talk about ‘psychological time’ – see the graphic below. In the original Graves model, letter pairs were used to denote the life conditions (A-M) being matched by the motivating system (N-Z) for psychological health. (The Spiral Dynamics colour system was formalised by Don Beck & Chris Cowan in 1996.)

Original Graves graphic, 1971 - copyright © 2001 William Lee & NVC Consulting Inc

Original Graves graphic, 1971 – copyright © 2001 William Lee & NVC Consulting Inc

The benefit of relating the emergence of vMEMES to Erikson’s lifespan theory is that it provides a possible/likely timeframe for that emergence. It’s important that, in doing so, we respect Graves’ reasons for being reluctant to assign chronological timeframes to emergence – one of which was that vMEMES tend to emerge as the life conditions demand, not just on a rigid timeframe as predetermined by purely maturational (internal/biological) forces.

It’s also also important that, in mapping Graves to Erikson – and Freud, for that matter – that we bear in mind the somewhat problematic nature of mapping development in terms of stages. Erikson’s theory implies that the stages are discreet, with boundaries (or thresh0lds) over which you pass from one stage to the next. However, in ‘real life’ it is rather rare for someone to be absolutely in one stage one day and in a totally different stage the next. While a stage theory, of necessity, requires boundaries to delineate the stages, the drawing of such boundaries inevitably carries a decidedly arbitrary element in it. The fallacy of adhering too rigidly to a sequential stage theory is illustrated by Erikson’s Peer Relationships stage being followed by the Love Relationships stage. Many mid-teens achieve a significant degree of emotionally intimacy in romantic relationships while still forming both friendships and their own sense of identitySusan Moore (2016, p550) contends Peer Relationships and Love Relationships must go side-by-side for psychological health. “Young people can become too exclusive when they pair up, cutting themselves off from friendship and support networks in ways that do not advance optimal development. Identity formation may be compromised….” The messiness of real life means any stage theory needs to have a certain flexibility in how the stages are laid down and there may need at times to be a blurring of the hypothesised boundaries between them.

Graves’ concept of systems that develop within us, rather than stages we pass through, overcomes the rigidity of stage theories problem. However, if taken as periods of time when a particular vMEME or harmonic of vMEMES is likely to dominate, a loose mapping to stages not only gives us a probable rough timeframe for vMEME emergence but it also enables us to apply the potent observations of such commentators as Erikson and Freud.

Erikson’s 8 Stages
Erikson (1959) saw pyschosocial development as taking place in 8 stages, each of which is marked by a crisis brought on by conflict between the natural processes of maturation and the expectations of society – to some degree paralleling Graves’ sense of vMEMES emerging in response to life conditions (though Graves considered internal life conditions as well as external). The resolution of each stage strengthens the selfplex. (Somewhat confusingly Erikson used the term ‘Ego’ both in the very specific Freudian sense and in the more general sense of a concept of self – for which Integrated SocioPsychology substitutes ‘selfplex’.) According to Erikson, problems resolved at an earlier stage can be at least partially undone by later experiences. Similarly failure to resolve a current crisis satisfactorily can impact on development at a later stage. (In this respect, Erikson is very much reflecting Maslow’s (1943; 1956) contention that lower level needs must be being met satisfactorily for attention to be given to higher level needs.)

Erikson’s 8 stages are summarised very basically below – click to enlarge:-

Erikson Stages

Some care needs to be taken in ascribing age-bands to each stage as Erikson himself varied them in different writings. (The Parenting stage is sometimes put as starting at 30 while the Maturity stage has appeared as starting at 60.)

This is an extension of Freud’s Oral Stage in which the infant explores the world through its mouth. For Erikson, the important event in this stage is feeding. According to Erikson, the infant will develop a sense of trust only if the parent or caregiver is responsive and consistent with the basic needs being meet. The need for care and food must be met with comforting regularity. The infant must first form a trusting relationship with the parent or caregiver and should develop the feeling that the world – especially the social world – is a safe place to be, that people are reliable and loving. This is reflected in Mary Ainsworth’s (1974) Caregiver Sensitivity Hypothesis. and is essentially about the PURPLE vMEME having its safety-in-belonging needs met. Through the parents’ responses, the child also learns to trust their own body and the biological urges that go with it. If the parents are unreliable and inadequate, if they reject the infant or harm it, then the infant will develop mistrust. They will be apprehensive and suspicious around people and possibly aggressive towards them. (‘Oral aggressive’ in Freud’s terminology – encouraging the development of unhealthy RED over time.)
However, it is important the infant retains some capacity for mistrust. Parents who are overly protective of the child or who are there the minute the child cries, may draw the child into gullibility or over-dependency on others. (‘Oral receptive’, according to Freud.)
The trust vs mistrust conflict of Stage 1 not only reflects the work of Ainsworth on secure and insecure attachments which is to do with the health of the PURPLE vMEME. It implicitly lends support to John Bowlby’s (1958) concept of the internal working model.- that the first relationship creates a schematic template to approach future relationships – see: Attachment Theories.
The fact that the core driver in this stage is the need to feed represents both BEIGE’s survival mechanisms and the Freudian Id’s instinctual self-orientation. The fact that trust develops through the mother (or other caregiver) being consistent in providing food shows dominance in the child’s motivation moving from BEIGE to PURPLE. (However, evidence has emerged in recent years to indicate that PURPLE may first start to emerge while the child is still in the womb and work in a vMEME harmonic with BEIGE as pre-natal biological mechanisms prepare the child for belonging instinctively to its mother after birth – see The Biological Impetus to Attachment.)
Elements for a positive outcome
The infant’s need for care, familiarity, comfort and nourishment are met. Parental consistency and responsiveness are essential for the sense of trust to develop.
Elements for a negative outcome
Babies who are not securely attached to their mothers are less cooperative and more aggressive in their interactions with their mothers. As they grow older, they become less competent and less empathetic with peers. They also explore their environment with less enthusiasm and less persistence.
Babies will begin to understand that objects and people exist even when they cannot see them. This is where trust (affective) becomes important in facilitating cognitive development.

According to Erikson, self-control and self-confidence begin to develop at this stage. Children can do more on their own. As Freud insisted, toilet training is the most important event at this Anal Stage. However, Erikson moves beyond Freud by widening the issue to infants beginning to impose their will over their own bodies, rather than just toileting. Children also begin to feed and dress themselves. Erikson emphasises the infant beginning to master their external environment. This is how the toddler strives for autonomy and begins to achieve self-esteem, thus strengthening the emerging RED vMEME. Recognition of success – esteem – from others also meets PURPLE’s need for acceptance from ‘significant others’. (Success at this stage also fulfils the mission of the Freudian Ego to protect the self from the consequences of undesirable actions and failures.)
According to Erikson, it is essential for parents not to be overprotective at this stage. A parent’s level of protectiveness will influence the child’s ability to achieve autonomy. If a parent is not reinforcing – eg: laughs at the child’s efforts or is impatient with them – the child will feel shameful and will learn to doubt their own capabilities. “Erikson believes that children who experience too much doubt at this stage will lack confidence in their powers later in life”Anita Woolfolk (1987). Such doubt and shame could lead to the maladaptive tendency to be compulsive in achieving perfection. (A weak and unfulfilled RED could lay the ground for BLUE to be distorted and unhealthy in its future search for ‘the right way to live’.)
However, Erikson also believed a little shame and doubt was not only inevitable but also beneficial. Without it, the child is likely to develop impulsiveness which Erikson also considers a maladaptive tendency – a sort of shameless willfulness that leads someone, in later childhood and even adulthood, to jump into things without proper consideration of your abilities or the consequences. (While this might sound like the temperamental dimension of Psychoticism, Erikson does not specify any gender differences in this respect – which Hans J Eysenck & Sybil B G Eysenck (1976) certainly did!)
Elements for a positive outcome
The child must take more responsibility for their own feeding, toileting and dressing. Parents must be reassuring yet avoid overprotection.
Elements for a negative outcome
If parents do not maintain a reassuring, confident attitude and do not reinforce the child’s efforts to master basic motor and cognitive skills, children may begin to feel shame; they may learn to doubt their abilities to manage the world on their own terms. Children who experience too much doubt at this stage will lack confidence in their own powers throughout life. Erikson (1959) talked about “…the sinister forces which are leashed or unleashed, especially in the guerilla warfare of unequal wills; for the child is often unequal to his own violent drives, and parent and child unequal to each other.”
In this stage children begin to assume important responsibilities for self-care like feeding, toileting and dressing.

Freud calls this the Phallic Stage with an emphasis on the child discovering  pleasure in stimulating their genitals, with boys wanting physically intimate relationships with their mothers (the Oedipus Complex) while girls want to have a child by their father as a compensation strategy for suffering penis envy.
While Erikson’s third stage covers roughly the same age period, he takes a completely different tack to Freud and is more complementary to the Gravesian approach. The most important event at this stage for Erikson is independence. With the RED vMEME increasing in strength, the child continues to be assertive and to take the initiative. Playing and hero worshipping are an important form of initiative for children. Fantasy, curiosity and imagination should be encouraged. When the child shows initiative, it is the attempt to make what they have imagined into reality. Children in this stage are eager for responsibility. Erikson (1959) wrote: “Being firmly convinced that he is a person, the child must now find out what kind of person he is going to be…he wants to be like his parents, who to him appear very powerful and beautiful, although quite unreasonably dangerous.”
It is essential for adults to confirm that the child’s initiative is accepted no matter how small it may be – this shows that RED displaying itself will not undermine PURPLE’s need for acceptance and belonging – thus facilitating healthy psychological development. If the child is not given a chance to be responsible and do things on their own, a sense of worthlessness and even guilt may develop. The child will come to believe that what they want to do is always wrong – which will have a devastating effect on psychological development and will almost certainly distort moral development.
As far as the child has an Oedipal crisis, Erikson saw it as the reluctance the child may experience in relinquishing their closeness to the opposite-sex parent. Erikson believed parents should encourage independence from them – but this should not be done too harshly or the child may develop guilt over their feelings.
Too much initiative and too little guilt, however, can produce the maladaptive tendency of ruthlessness. Too much guilt may lead to someone becoming inhibited and preventing the RED vMEME from developing healthily; as a consequence, they become afraid to try things out. Men who became inhibited at this stage may experience impotency in adult life, according to Erikson, while inhibited women may be sexually frigid.
While PURPLE needs still to be nurtured at this stage, there are more and more signs of RED in the vMEME stack. This stage may even see the first beginnings of BLUE starting to exert a moralistic, disciplining effect.
Elements for a positive outcome
In order for a positive outcome in this stage, the child must learn to accept, without guilt, that there are certain things not allowed. Children must be guilt free when using imagination. They must be reassured that it is okay to play certain adult roles.
Elements for a negative outcome
If children are not allowed to do things on their own, a sense of guilt may develop and they may come to believe that what they want to do is always wrong.
A 4-year-old passing tools to a parent who is fixing a bicycle. Children at this stage will worship heroes. Pretend games are also common.

“In this stage children are learning to see the relationship between perseverance and the pleasure of a job completed” (Woolfolk, 1987). Similar to Freud’s Latent Stage, children must ‘tame the imagination’ and dedicate themselves to education and to learning the social skills their society requires of them. In other words, their BLUE is sufficiently emerged to show an external locus of control, both to respond to expectations from a wide range of external sources and to impose sufficient self-discipline to meet those expectations. The important event at this stage is attendance at school. As a student, the children have a need to be productive and do work on their own. They are both physically and mentally ready for it. Children must learn that there is pleasure not only in conceiving a plan but also in carrying it through. They must learn the feeling of success, whether it is in school or on the playground, academic or social – thus feeding RED’s need to boost self-esteem. If the child is allowed too little success, perhaps because of harsh teachers or rejecting peers, they will develop instead a sense of inferiority or incompetence. (Additional sources of inferiority Erikson mentions are racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination; if a child believes that success is related to who you are rather than to how hard you try, then why try? RED’s need for self-esteem is undermined, inhibiting the sustained emergence of healthy BLUE.)
Interaction with peers at school also plays an imperative role of child development in this stage – the PURPLE vMEME having a role to play in creating new friendship bonds. The child for the first time has a wide variety of events to deal with, including academics, group activities and friends. The child also learns to take more responsibility at home. Difficulty with any of these leads to a sense of inferiority.
Too much industry leads to the maladaptive tendency Erikson called ‘narrow virtuosity’. This is seen in children who aren’t allowed to ‘be children’, the ones that parents or teachers push into one area of competence, without allowing the development of broader interests. These are the kids without a life: child actors, child athletes, child musicians…child prodigies of all sorts. We might admire their industry; but, if we look a little closer, Erikson argues, it can be all that stands in the way of an empty life.
Much more common is the malignancy of inertia. This includes all who suffer from the ‘inferiority complexes’ Adler (1922) talked about. Those who suffer from inertia tend to experience failure once – or see others fail – and thus learn not to try, to avoid the stigma of failure again. Thus, the child either learns that industry pays off or it is better to accept being inferior and the limitations that imposes. (In Behaviourist terms, this is learned helplessness.)
Erikson’s notion that the development of the self (selfplex) during Stage 4 is increasingly influenced by friends and schoolmates gets support from the work of William Damon & Daniel Hart (1988) who found that children between 8-11 are much more likely to describe themselves in comparative, psychological terms to their peers – eg: “I’m kind” – than younger children (4-7) who tend to use more tangible concepts to define themselves – eg: “I’ve got dark hair”.
Elements for a positive outcome

It is essential for the child at this stage to discover pleasure in being productive and the need to succeed. The child’s relationship with peers in school and the neighbourhood become increasingly important.
Elements for a negative outcome
Difficulty with the child’s ability to move between the world at home and the world of peers can lead to feeling of inferiority.
In this stage children want to do productive work on their own. Students are able to water class plants, collect and distribute materials for teacher and keep records of forms for teacher.