Exploring Erik Erikson's Intimacy Vs Isolation

By Danni Peck |Updated August 31, 2022

Individuals typically experience adversities in life, called developmental conflicts. If these conflicts are not resolved, a person may continue to struggle. If one resolves such matters, though, they can achieve psychological skills embedded for the rest of their lives.

In the 1950s, Erik Erikson, a well-known theorist of psychosocial development, formulated eight stages of human development, from infancy through adulthood. Under Erikson’s theory, people typically experience different psychosocial crises according to each stage, and these crises can have positive or negative effects on an individual’s personality.

Erikson’s Eight Stages Of Psychosocial Development

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Erikson’s eight stages are as follows:

  1. Trust Vs. Mistrust (Infancy): This stage involves the relationship between an infant and their caregiver. Infant learns to trust a caregiver who meets their needs. However, neglect or insufficient care can blight the development of intimate bonds and lead to mistrust.
  2. Autonomy Vs. Shame and Self-Doubt (Toddlerhood): Toddlers can develop autonomy when a caregiver allows a toddler to explore their world safely. A toddler who is denied age-appropriate independence may develop a sense of shame or self-doubt.
  3. Initiative Vs. Guilt (Preschool): A young child will feel initiative when their caregivers allow them to create their own goals and make their own decisions. Meanwhile, a child may feel guilty if their caregiver excessively denies their initiatives.
  4. Industry Vs. Inferiority (Elementary School): During the elementary school years, kids start to interact with each other more; intimacy develops in this stage when kids compare themselves with their peers. A child may feel industry when they feel confident in those comparisons or when their accomplishments are noticed. Meanwhile, a child could feel inferior when they receive too much criticism and too little praise.
  5. Identity Vs. Role Confusion (Adolescence): Adolescents want to figure who they are and where they are going. Teenagers in this stage may try on different identities as frequently as new outfits, which is healthy. Teen succeeds in having an identity when they can establish their goals and priorities. Role confusion, however, occurs when a teen cannot establish an identity, possibly due to peer or familial pressure.
  6. Intimacy Vs. Isolation (Young Adulthood): The term “young adulthood” is subjective; while some people may define this period from one’s late teens through their twenties, others may have a much later cut-off, saying that it ends at age 40. In the intimacy stage, a person seeks intimate, loving relationships. This is often the stage in which individuals pursue partnerships and marriages. Individuals who struggle to form or do not form significant relationships experience isolation; therapy can be especially important as a form of support to a person experiencing isolation./
  7. Generativity Vs. Stagnation (Middle Adulthood): In this stage, many people find meaning in their careers, families, or communities. Individuals experiencing generativity maybe parents or mentors to younger people and are likely contributors to their communities. A person experiencing stagnation may not find meaning in their work or relationships. Stagnation can bring about feelings of depression or confusion—a person may ask themselves, “Is this all?” or wonder if their best days are behind them. Therapy can also be helpful to individuals experiencing stagnation.
  8. Integrity Vs. Despair (Later Life): This period in life is sometimes called “the golden years,” but it may not be golden for everyone. Someone who has developed integrity is satisfied with their past and present experiences and feels that they can enter their senior years with a sense of peace. However, a person who feels despair may have regrets from their earlier years or choices and feel that they are too late to make meaningful changes in their life.

The Uniqueness of the Sixth Stage of Psychosocial Development

During Erikson’s sixth stage of psychosocial development, people may start to share themselves more intimately with others. Some may find themselves longing for someone to spend their time with, someone with whom they can share their sorrows and successes. However, some avoid intimacy or engaging in relationships and retreat into isolation.

Erikson theorized that close and committed relationships are vital to people when they enter adulthood. Often, these relationships are romantic, but friendships are just as important. Maintaining successful relationships indicates that a person has resolved the developmental conflict of intimacy versus isolation; however, those who have not experienced successful relationships may feel isolated and struggle to develop close friendships or romantic relationships.

Risk Factors for Loneliness or Social Isolation

Loneliness is a subjective experience of isolation and is not about simply “being alone.” Many people can experience loneliness even in the middle of a crowd. Some may feel as though they cannot be understood by others or feel pressure to present themselves in a way that does not feel authentic to who they are. Persistent loneliness can have an impact on both mental and physical health. Cardiovascular function, stress hormones, and immune function are affected by chronic loneliness, leading to anxiety and depression.

Other contributing factors to loneliness include marital status and socioeconomic status. People who have experienced an unhappy end to a relationship, such as separation from a spouse, divorce, or becoming widowed, are also at greater risk of loneliness. Additionally, low socioeconomic status can contribute to insecurity over satisfying basic needs or engaging with a social circle.

Impact of Social Isolation and Loneliness

Social isolation can set the stage for loneliness, which can lead to depression. Loneliness can be considered both a cause and a consequence of mental health. If a person is experiencing depression, low self-esteem, or feelings of anxiety may lead them to remove themselves from otherwise positive relationships. Some people experiencing loneliness may also struggle with sleep regulation, diminished physical activity, impacts to their immune and circulatory systems, changes in cognitive function, and self-destructive behaviors.

In other words, when the need for social relationships is not met, people can feel as if they are falling apart, both physically and mentally. Chronic loneliness can have long-term negative effects if it remains unaddressed. Fortunately, advances in talk therapy and other forms of psychological medicine mean that if you are trying to cope with loneliness or social isolation, you no longer have to face it alone.

Modern Epidemic Of Social Isolation Can Lead To Depression

The number of people who describe themselves as lacking meaningful social support is increasing, to the point that some researchers describe social isolation as a “modern behavioral epidemic.” As more individuals experience social isolation and loneliness, depression has also become more prevalent.

Depression may be present if someone has experienced severe or lasting loneliness. Emotional symptoms of depression can include feelings of inadequacy or self-loathing, loss of interest in previously enjoyed pastimes, and further withdrawal from social life. They may have a pessimistic approach to situations or feel irritable or sad. Depression also can present through physical symptoms—such as headaches, back pain, muscle aches, and fatigue—and behavioral symptoms, like changes in appetite and sleeping habits.

Seeking Help

Intimacy Issues Can Result In Severe Problems In Your Life. Learn More.

If you consider yourself within Erikson’s sixth stage of psychosocial development but fear that you have not yet developed intimacy, then know that you are not alone. Feelings of isolation are as common as they are treatable, and talk therapy can effectively aid many people experiencing loneliness. Whether your loneliness has developed recently or has been around for a while, feeling this way does not mean you are fated to live a life of isolation or depression; it just means that you might need to try something new or seek some additional help continue on your way. Assistance from a mental health professional through an online therapy service like BetterHelp could be a good fit.

Advantages Of Online Therapy 

Online therapy is convenient and confidential; because you can arrange your sessions with a therapist around your schedule and lifestyle, you can meet whenever and wherever you’d like, and you can keep the entire process as private as you wish. Even if you are experiencing depression and don’t want to leave your home or meet face-to-face, you can work with a therapist at BetterHelp by video chat, phone call, or text messaging.

Here are reviews from BetterHelp users who have worked with online therapists to deal with loneliness.

"I was hesitant to start therapy for a variety of reasons. However, my main anxieties stemmed from the fear that a therapist might not deal with my internal crazy. Eventually, I took the courage to start therapy with Minnie, and she has exceeded my expectations. Her outstanding knowledge and expertise blew me away, ultimately shifting my mindset from complete isolation into a realm of hope, positivity, and mental well-being. My conditions with trauma, OCD, and anxiety had taken over my life, and I never thought cognitive behavioral therapy would make a difference in such a short amount of time. Yet, with Minnie’s unquestionable sympathy and support, I noticed a huge spiritual and psychological growth within me."

"Carolyn is super understanding and is a great listener. She made every session feel comfortable as though you were talking to a friend. She always provided me with little tasks that helped me work through my concerns. She is very supportive and drew from her own experiences to help me make sense of mine, which made me feel as though I was not alone."

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