In our series on Erikson’s 8 Stages of Development, today we consider Industry (aka Accomplishment) and Identity.
A sense of accomplishment is an interesting step, and very important to master. If we don’t own that sense of accomplishment, then we develop feelings of inferiority. We are never good enough, no matter what we try. Our self-image takes a hit just as it begins to develop, and our self-esteem is low. Between the ages of about six to 12, we need to feel that we are good at or for something.
Scouting understood this early on, when they instituted badges for learning and mastering skills. The badge became the proof of accomplishment. Teachers do the same thing by helping students master taking care of fish or plants, do science projects that help move children along the path to amassing things they are good at.
If we don’t master this step of accomplishment, when it comes time to go to college or get a job, we don’t feel we have anything to offer. “I’m not good at anything.” We have no confidence in our ability to learn anything new or get a job – any job. This will continue into adulthood, until we decide to change it.
The teen years are marked by the need to have an Identity. Unfortunately, in the world today, we are known more for what we do, rather than who we are. Thus, the need for identity shows itself in getting the world to “look at me!” We need attention. If we can’t get the world to look at us in a positive way, for the contributions we make, then we will go after negative attention. It’s the attention we want.
It is also at this stage that we try on different personalities to see how we “fit in” with the world around us. We are a bit like chameleons, changing “colors” and acting out parts in the play that becomes our life. Eventually, we finish wondering and settle into who we are. If we don’t fully establish our identities at this stage, identity crises are likely to happen later, causing a ripple effect with later stages of maturity. Are we finished growing? No. But we have settled on the fundamentals of our personality.
Also, at this stage, it is important that we come to understand the difference between getting attention and getting respect. Going from attention to respect is the benchmark of maturing through the Identity stage. If this step isn’t transitioned, then we find people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s still being shallow, getting attention for things that have no value. They are mentally unhealthy, because they’ve missed this vital step.