Week by week I’ve been looking at Erik Erikson’s model of psychosocial development, which is one way of looking at key developmental tasks over our lifespan. Like any model it’s not perfect, but it does offer some patterns to look out for, and some ways to make sense of our experience.
Stage 4 of the model looks at the phase of progressing through school (age 6-11), when we gain many new social influences, and begin to be evaluated for our achievement, rather than solely being encouraged to play and be.
Erikson suggested it’s important in this phase to receive encouragement and support, with the goal of learning that we can achieve things, leaving us feeling confident and competent. He suggested that where there is inadequate support we may believe ourselves incompetent, inadequate or inferior, or where we are excessively praised and rewarded we may develop arrogance.
It’s key in this phase to understand it’s not necessarily about being good at things. It’s about being able to apply yourself, and to draw in support and help where we need it. Essentially, it’s about believing we can make things happen. It’s about knowing that when we work hard (Erikson calls it industry) we can achieve things, and that the effort itself is important, regardless of the result.
School is tricky for many young people, and it is important to help all children understand their natural talents and strengths both inside and beyond education. It’s far more impactful to help people become more of what they are than it is to try and squeeze them into a mould that doesn’t and won’t fit. We are all different and in that diversity lies our collective strength.
If you struggle with feelings of inferiority or inadequacy then psychotherapy may be useful to explore how you can integrate past experiences and move into a space where you can more fully value your unique being and intrinsic worth.