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How to Use Erikson’s Model in your Coaching – An Overview & Stage I

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

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If you are familiar with the work of John Bradshaw, The Gottman Institute, and even Tony Robbin’s affirmations in action, chances are you are well acquainted with the work of Erik Erikson.

Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development was introduced in the 1950s by psychologist and psychoanalyst, Erik Erikson. It is arguably the first and most influential lifespan theory of development.

The model has been central to how we understand the ways in which individuals adaptively engage with relationships, vocations, and community across one’s life today.

One reason Erikson’s theory stands out is that it is biopsychosocial in nature. This means it factors in the influence of biological, psychological and social factors throughout an individual’s life.

This multi-factorial approach has influenced several fields of study, including gerontology (the study of the social, cultural, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of aging), personality development, identity formation, life cycle development, and more (Kivnick, 2014).

Furthermore, the model is very much universal and thus applicable – whatever the country, religion, culture, gender, these developmental needs are there for every one of us.

Erikson Model

You can think of it as a developmental journey that we all go on. It looks at how we grow, and the different stages of what we need as we develop.

The first four stages are dependency needs – needs that have been met by our caregivers, and those that cannot be met by our own.

In this article, we will explore the first stage of the model, and how we can apply it to our coaching to serve our clients.

Stage 1: Trust vs Mistrust

Erikson purports that this stage begins from birth to 18 months, thus the Infancy stage (although we’d recommend not to get too hung up on this and to use it as a rough gauge).

In this time of life, the goal is to develop the virtue of Hope.

Meeting this developmental need would mean the development of healthy dependence, fostering a healthy relationship of being able to rely on someone else.

Healthy dependence is a normal state of being. It is also key to note that this is not unresourceful neediness, where one does not allow others to hold their boundaries.

To meet this need, we need to know that we can rely on our caregivers to be there for us.

When one’s needs are not met and doesn’t develop this virtue, they become very cynical, withdrawn and have low trust, holding the “the world is a bad place, nobody can be trusted” mentality.

Take a moment to reflect – what is your association with the world “dependence”?

A lot of the old parenting model was about getting our kids to be adults, to grow up quicker than they should have to – it was all about independence.

And yes, it is extremely vulnerable and thus can seem scary to be dependent.

What You Can Do with Your Clients (or Yourself!)

1. Reflect

The first step is to invite your client to reflect on what was happening at that stage of their life.

They might need to gather information from others. Were there challenges, or instability in the family? This will provide insight to what was happening around them and whether their needs were met.

2. Affirmation Work

Some affirmations for this developmental stage:

  1. Welcome to the world

  2. I am so glad that you are here

  3. I’ve prepared a special little place for you to live.

  4. I like you just the way that you are

  5. I will not leave you no matter what. Never.

  6. Your needs are okay with me.

Invite them to observe the feelings and emotions that come up, and how they feel in their body, as they listen to these affirmations.

You can then invite them to craft a list of their own affirmations – what would they like to hear?

If they gain access to an emotion they feel discomfort and shame around, it is important to acknowledge and validate that, and that it is okay to feel the emotion.

As an example: sadness. As they feel the sadness, let them know that you are not going anywhere; that you are going to stay there and hold the space for them.

Ultimately, the lesson to learn is that it is okay to depend on others, to stop being an island and to learn to develop functional attachment to others.

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