Exploring Erikson's Sixth Stage Of Psychosocial Development: Intimacy Vs. Isolation

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In the 1950s, Erik Erikson, a prominent psychologist, formulated eight stages of psychosocial development from infancy through late adulthood, known as Erikson’s stages. Based on Erikson’s theory, people pass through these eight stages and can experience different psychosocial crises at each stage. How these crises are handled can have positive or negative effects on an individual. 

In this article, we will delve into Erikson’s sixth stage of psychosocial development, intimacy versus isolation, which focuses on establishing healthy relationships and emotional intimacy with romantic partners and friends. We will explore the risk factors and possible effects of isolation, as well as how to seek help if you're experiencing difficulties in forming fulfilling relationships.

Have concerns about intimacy and isolation?

Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development

Erik Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development are as follows:

  1. Trust vs. Mistrust (infancy): This stage involves the relationship between an infant and their caregiver. Infants learn to trust a caregiver who meets their needs. However, neglect or insufficient care can harm the development of intimate bonds and lead to mistrust.

  2. Autonomy vs. Shame and doubt (early childhood): In this stage, toddlers can develop autonomy when a caregiver allows them 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 may be more likely to feel capable of taking the 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 efforts.

  4. Industry vs. Inferiority (school age): During the elementary school years, children start to interact with each other more and may compare themselves with their peers. A child may feel competent and productive when they feel confident in those comparisons or when their accomplishments are noticed. On the other hand, a child could feel inferior when they receive too much criticism and too little praise.

  5. Identity vs. Role confusion (adolescence): In the fifth stage, adolescents want to figure out who they are. Teenagers in this stage may try on different identities as frequently as new outfits, which can be healthy. When a teenager can establish their goals and priorities and receive encouragement for personal exploration, they can develop a clear identity for themselves. Role confusion, however, occurs when a teen cannot establish an identity, possibly due to peer or familial pressure.

  6. Intimacy vs. Isolation (young adulthood): This stage of young adulthood can span from around age 18 to age 40. In this stage, a person seeks intimate, loving relationships with others.

    When a person is successful in this stage, they are able to form strong, committed relationships. However, individuals who struggle to form or do not form significant relationships may experience isolation. This is the stage we will explore further in this article.

  7. Generativity vs. Stagnation (middle adulthood): In this stage of the life cycle, people try to find meaning in their careers, families, or communities. Individuals who are successful in this stage may feel they are contributing to others, such as by raising their children, mentoring younger people, or contributing to their communities. A person experiencing stagnation may not find meaning in their work or relationships, which may. bring about feelings of frustration or confusion.

  8. Integrity vs. Despair (later life): In the final stage, someone who has developed what Erikson called integrity, or ego integrity, may be satisfied with their past and present experiences and feel 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 it is too late to make meaningful changes in their life.


The sixth stage of psychosocial development

In Erikson’s sixth psychosocial stage, intimacy vs. isolation, some people may avoid intimate relationships or close connections and retreat into isolation. Within this stage, the word intimacy represents the emotional closeness and trust that are crucial to fostering meaningful bonds with friends, romantic partners, and even family. Successfully navigating this stage is an essential part of completing one's life cycle. 

Erikson theorized that close and committed relationships are vital to people when they enter adulthood. Often, these relationships are romantic, but friendships can be just as important for achieving deep intimacy. Emotional intimacy is a key component of these relationships, allowing individuals to feel connected and understood by their partners or friends. 

According to Erikson, successfully completing the intimacy versus isolation stage leads to strong, fulfilling relationships with romantic partners or friends. Those who have not experienced successful relationships may feel isolated and struggle to form close friendships or romantic connections. Individuals must navigate earlier stages to overcome isolation and build a strong sense of self-esteem through meaningful connections, mutual interests, and personality similarities. 

In addition, the development of strong relationships during this stage can help support a person's ability to progress through the remaining psychosocial stages. Intimate connections help promote the emotional stability needed for further personal growth and development.

Risk factors for loneliness or social isolation

Loneliness can be connected to isolation, but it is not about simply being alone. Some people can experience loneliness even while surrounded by others, and some can be alone and away from others but not feel lonely. Some may feel as though others misunderstand them or feel pressure to present themselves in a way that does not feel authentic to who they are.

Research has found that risk factors for loneliness can involve social relationships, physical health, mental health, sociodemographic factors, and participation in society. In early adulthood, in particular, loneliness has been found to be associated with "self-reported health, functional status, mental health, and the quantity of social relationships."

Have concerns about intimacy and isolation?

How online therapy can help

If you consider yourself within Erikson’s sixth stage of psychosocial development but feel that you are having difficulty developing intimacy, then know that you are not alone. Feelings of loneliness and isolation are common, and help is available.

Research has found that online therapy can be effective for a range of concerns, including loneliness. For instance, one study examined the effectiveness of internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) in the treatment of loneliness. The study concluded that “ICBT can be an efficacious option for alleviating loneliness.”

Individuals experiencing loneliness and some of its mental health effects may find it difficult or intimidating to travel to an in-person therapy appointment. In these cases, online therapy may be beneficial, as it allows individuals to engage in therapy from wherever they are most comfortable, so long as they have an internet connection. With online therapy through BetterHelp, you can speak with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your own home.

Counselor reviews

Below, read on for 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."


According to psychologist Erik Erikson, there are eight stages of psychosocial development. In this theory, the sixth stage occurs in young adulthood and involves intimacy versus isolation. There are certain risk factors for isolation that you may want to consider, as isolation can have significant negative effects. If this is something you are experiencing, you don’t have to do it alone. Online therapy can help you explore your feelings and find ways to move forward with the guidance of a professional.
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