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The 5 stages of personality development

The 5 stages of personality development

March 1, 2021

I am introverted or extroverted, stable or unstable, sensitive or insensitive, intuitive or rational. All these these categories reflect aspects of personality which are widely used in psychology.

The personality we have will mark how we see the world and react to it. But the personal characteristics that are ours have not always been there in the same way, but rather We have been going through different stages of personality development until we become what we are, from childhood to our current situation and even to our future death.

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Definition of personality

The personality is defined as a pattern of behavior, thought and emotion relatively stable over time and through the different situations we live. This pattern explains how we perceive reality , the judgments that we make of it or the way in which we interact with the environment, being partly inherited and partly acquired and subsequently shaped by the life experience.


Because it is born in a large part of the set of experiences that we live throughout our life, it is considered that the personality as such is not fully configured until adulthood, having a long process of development until it becomes stable (although it can suffer subsequent variations, are not frequent nor tend to be marked).

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Evolution through the different life stages

To establish a chronology of the stages of personality development, it is interesting to start with the classification of the main stages of life.

Starting from them as a reference, let's see how the psychological structure develops of the human beings.


1. The first moments

The moment a baby is born we can not consider that it has a marked personality, since the new individual has not had concrete experiences that make him be, think or act in a certain way. However, it is true that as the days go by we see how the boy or girl has a tendency to behave in a certain way : for example, we can see if he cries a lot or a little, how he feeds or if he responds to touch with fear or curiosity.

These first characteristics they are part of what is called temperament , which is part of the innate constitution of the person and can later be shaped by learning. The temperament has a biological basis and comes mainly from the genetic inheritance of our ancestors. Being a component linked mainly to affectivity, it is a primal component that will act as a basis for the construction of personality.


2. Childhood

As the subject grows, he gradually develops different cognitive and physical abilities that will allow him to grasp reality, begin to try to understand how the world works and how one's own being can influence and participate in it.

This stage is characterized by Acquisition of values, beliefs and norms from abroad , in a way initially imitative and with few critical dyes. The personality begins to form according to the characteristics of the temperament are confronted to reality, acquiring patterns of behavior and ways of seeing the world and forming character.

In this stage self-esteem tends to be initially elevated due to the high level of attention that is usually lavished on the child in the family environment. However, at the time of entry to the school world tends to decrease, because it leaves behind the family environment to enter an unknown in which converge numerous points of view.

3. Puberty and adolescence

Adolescence, the point where we go from being children to being adults, is a key stage in the formation of personality . It is a complex life stage in which the body is in the process of change, while increasing expectations regarding the behavior of the individual and this begins to experience different aspects and realities.

It is a vital moment characterized by the need to differentiate, often being a break or separation with adults in charge and a continuous questioning of everything that until then has been inculcated .

It increases the number of environments in which the person participates, as well as the number of people with whom he interacts, encouraging along with the hormonal changes and the increase in the capacity of abstraction characteristic of cognitive maturation will make him experience different roles that will They will teach what they like and what is expected of them. There is a enhancing the search for social bonding and the first relationships appear. The adolescent seeks an identity of his own as well as a feeling of belonging to the social environment, trying to insert himself as part of the community and the world.

In this stage, self-esteem tends to vary as a result of the insecurities and discoveries of adolescence. Through experimentation, the adolescent will try different ways of seeing life, staying and introjecting some aspects and varying others. An identity of its own is sought, a search that over time crystallizes into a differentiated personality.

4. Adulthood

It is considered that it is from adolescence when we can speak of personality itself, having already forged a relatively stable pattern of behavior, emotion and thought.

This personality it's still going to vary throughout life , but in broad strokes the structure will be similar unless there is some event very relevant to the subject that pushes him to make changes in his way of viewing the world.

In relation to other life stages, self-esteem tends to rise and in general the adult's self-concept tends to try to bring his real self closer to the ideal, so shyness decreases , in case it has been raised previously. As a consequence, what others think of oneself is no longer as important, and activities that in earlier stages would be embarrassing may be carried out.

5. Ancianity

Although in general the personality remains stable, the arrival to old age implies the progressive experience of situations such as the loss of skills, work activity and loved ones, which can greatly affect our way of relating to the world. One records tendency to decrease extraversion and self-esteem .

Two old theories about personality development

The elements written above reflect a general trend throughout the life stages. However, there are many authors who have established theories about how personality develops. Two of the best known, although also outdated, are Freud's psychosexual development theory and Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, establishing each one different stages of personality development .

It must be borne in mind that these proposals for the development of the personality are based on a paradigm of meta-psychology that has been criticized for its speculative nature and impossible to put to the test, so today they are not considered scientifically valid, although historically they have had a great influence.

Freud's psychosexual development

For the founding father of psychoanalysis, the personality of the human being is shaped throughout life through various stages of personality development. The personality is structured in an id or drive part, a superego that censures these desires based on morality and a self that mediates between these aspects.

With the libido as fundamental psychic energy , the theory of Freud considers that we are born only with our instinctual part, the ego and the superego being born with time as we introject the social norms. The constant instinctual conflicts cause the organism to use defense mechanisms in order to reduce the tension they produce, mechanisms that are often used and that explain personality traits and facets.

For Freud, we went through a series of stages in which we place our sources of pleasure and frustration in different body areas, expressing the libido from them. These stages are progressively overcome, although there may be regressions or stagnation that produce fixations in certain behaviors and ways of seeing the world and personal relationships.

1. Oral stage

During the first year of life the human being is immersed in what is known as the oral stage, in which we use our mouths to explore the world and get gratification from him. We nourish, bite and try different objects through it. Thus, the mouth exercises the role that will later have hands, and that for Freud conditions the psychosexual development in this stage of life.

2. Anal stage

After the oral stage and until around three years of age, the nucleus of psychosexual interest becomes the anus, when beginning to control the sphincters and suppose it an element of pleasure to be able to manage what he keeps inside himself and what he expels . The child can have a bowel movement, which reduces internal tension or retains stool voluntarily.

3. Phallic stage

Between three and six years of age the individual usually enters the phase or phallic stage. It is at this stage that there begins to be an interest towards the sexual, focusing on genitality and appearing the Oedipus complex, jealousy and repentance.

4. Latency stage

From the age of seven until adolescence we can find that the expression of sexual energy he does not find a physical correlate through which to express himself , due in large part to the influence of social and moral. Modesty appears and sexual impulses are reduced.

5. Genital stage

Owing to puberty and adolescence, this stage is accompanied by physical, psychic and emotional changes typical of such a vital moment. The libido begins to express itself through genitality, The desire for attachment and attachment appears intensely and having sufficient capacity to carry out the expression of sexuality both symbolically and physically.

  • Related article: "The 5 stages of psychosexual development of Sigmund Freud"

Psychosocial development of Erikson

Another prominent author and one of the pioneers in proposing that the personality develops from birth to death was Erik Erikson, who considered the development of the psychic and personality configuration they are derived from the social nature of the human being or, in other words, social interaction.

For this author, each life stage involves a series of conflicts and problems that the individual has to face up to get overcome, growing and strengthening their self as they are overcome and forging the way of seeing, thinking and acting in the world of each subject.

The different stages of personality development for Erikson are the following.

1. Basic trust vs. Distrust

The first of the crises that the human being must face throughout life appears at the moment of birth, being the basis from which the rest of the psychic structure is going to be configured. According to this theory, d ura until approximately eighteen months of age . During this stage the individual must decide if he is able to trust or not in the stimuli and people coming from abroad or in the effects that the action itself has on the world.

That is, if you can feel comfortable in the presence, for example, of your parents and relatives. Overcoming this stage correctly implies that you are able to find a balance between trust and distrust in which confidence prevails, which will allow you to establish secure relationships with other people while trusting in yourself.

Thus, in this stage of development of Erikson, as in the following, the goal is to reach a point of balance or adjustment in which autonomy fits well with the social life that is carried, without harming or being harmed.

2. Autonomy vs. Shame / Doubt

After overcoming the previous stage and up to three years of age the individual will gradually go developing their body and mind, learning to control and manage their body and behavior from both maturation and practice as of the information that comes to him from his parents, who teach him what he can and can not do.

Over time, these circumstances will be internalized, and the child will be doing behavioral tests to check the effects and consequences , developing their autonomy little by little. They seek to be guided by their own ideas. However, they also need limits, and there is a question of what they can or can not do. The objective of this crisis is to achieve self-control and self-management of their own behavior so that we act adaptively.

3. Initiative vs Guilt

In the period of time between three and five years of age, the child begins to develop greater activity autonomously . Their level of activity drives them to generate new behaviors and ways of relating to the world, with the initiative appearing.

However, the feedback of this initiative can generate feelings of guilt in the child, if the consequences of experimenting are adverse. It is necessary a balance that allows us to see our responsibility in our acts while we can be free.

4. Laboriousness vs. Inferiority

From seven years of age until adolescence, children continue to mature cognitively and learn how reality works. You need to act, do things, experiment . If you can not carry them out, feelings of inferiority and frustration may appear. The result of this stage of personality development is to obtain the sense of competence. It is about being able to act in a balanced way, without surrendering to the minimum obstacle but without making unattainable expectations.

5. Exploration of Identity vs. Identity Dissemination

Own adolescence, it is one of the most known crises by most people . In this stage the main problem of the individual is to find his identity, to discover who he is and what he wants. For this they tend to explore new options and separate themselves from what they have known until then. But the large number of variables involved or a coarctation of the exploration can generate that the identity does not develop freely, producing multiple personality problems.

6. Intimacy vs. Isolation

From the age of twenty to forty the main conflict that the human being must face in the development of his personality is the search for personal relationships and an appropriate and committed way of relating. It seeks the ability that in the interrelations can give feelings of security and confidence .

7. Generativity vs Stagnation

From the age of forty to approximately sixty years of age, the person tends to dedicate himself to the protection of his family and to the search and maintenance of a future for the next generations.

In this stage the main conflict is based on the idea of ​​feeling useful and productive , feeling that their efforts make sense. However, it is necessary to take into account that a balance between activity and quiet must be sought, or there is a risk of either not reaching everything or not being able to produce or feel useful.

8. Self Integrity vs. Despair

The last of the life crises occurs in old age . When the moment comes when productivity is reduced or ceases to exist, the subject comes to assess whether his existence has had a meaning. Accepting the life that we have lived and seeing it as valid is the fundamental thing of this stage, which culminates in the moment of death.

  • Related article: "Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development"

Bibliographic references:

  • Gélis, J. (1989), "The Child: from anonymity to individuality", in Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby, A History of Private Life III: Passions of the Renaissance, 309.
  • Kail, Robert; Barnfield, Anne (2014). Children and Their Development. Pearson.
  • Kawamoto, T. (2016). "Personality Change from Life Experiences: Moderation Effect of Attachment Security." Japanese Psychological Research, vol. 58, no. 2, pp. 218-231.

Psychosexual Stages of Development (March 2021).


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