Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

Let’s continue looking at Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Stage two, for Erikson, occurs in a child’s life from 18 months to three years. This stage includes an emotional part of skill-building for life and the beginning of independence, including strength, self-control, courage, and will. We all recognize the beginning of “no” and the early development of self-esteem. Because there is much development in this period, along with toilet training, we are vulnerable to shame and doubt during the second stage. 

Think of your relationships, starting with your family. Were you proud of your accomplishments, or were you filled with doubt and shame? How did this affect your friendships? We know how important friendships can be in sustaining and supporting us throughout the life cycle. One good friend can make all the difference. And for many people, friendship might be their main support—consider that in the US, the number of single people is approximately 96 million.

The choices we make for friendship demonstrate how well we have traversed Erikson’s second stage. Friendship is a critical relationship and in a good situation should be empowering. Some people pick supporting, loyal friends. Some find themselves in critical, controlling relationships that are intermittently supportive.

Important questions are: is my friend someone who sees, hears, and accepts me? Do I feel safe with this person? Do I grow as a result of this relationship? Or, on the contrary: Do I look to this person to give me direction, to tell me what I should be doing or thinking? Do I always feel self-conscious or unsure in their presence? Do I gain strength if they approve of me at any given time? Do I worry about something I said or didn’t say? Do I find myself unsure of my meaning in their life, or of whether our relationship is important to them?

If you find your friendships to be in the first category, your development would be, in Erikson’s terms, on the right track. If they are in the second category, it would be helpful to get some assistance so you could advance in skill-building for a better life.

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