What Else You Don't Know About Erik Erikson's Intimacy Vs Isolation

By: Danni Peck

Updated March 31, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Nicole Gaines, LPC

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A person normally undergoes adversities in life, called developmental conflicts. If these conflicts are not resolved, a person will continue to struggle. If one resolves such matters, he or she can achieve psychological skills that are embedded for the rest of his/her life.

There are different psychoanalytic theories of psychosocial development, and Erik Erikson formulated eight stages from infancy to adulthood. People experience different psychosocial crisis according to each stage and can either have a positive or negative effect on the personality of the individual.

Individuals between ages 19 to 40 undergo a stage called Intimacy vs. Isolation Stage. Men and women under this age range start to explore their relationships with someone other than their family member. This is the period where people start to share themselves intimately more with others. Some may find themselves longing for someone to spend and share their sorrows and successes. However, some avoid intimacy or engaging in relationships and retreat in isolation.

At any point in life, the mental health problem is a concern to at least 1 in every 4 persons. Social isolation and loneliness are harmful to health. Lacking social connections can be as damaging to one's health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to research.

The Uniqueness of the 6th Stage of Psychosocial Development

People pass through chains of stages centered on social and emotional development. This is the proposition of Erikson's theory of psychosocial development wherein a person encounters developmental conflicts that must be resolved. He believed that close and committed relationships are vital to people when they enter adulthood. Often, these relationships are anchored on romantic in nature, but friendships were as important as the former.

Leading successful relationships means that they have resolved conflicts; however, those who have experienced failed relationships result in loneliness and isolation. They struggle to form or develop close friendships or romantic relationships.

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According to this theory, the psychosocial stages focus on how people change and grow across his or her lifetime. This was a big factor that differentiates Erik Erikson's theory from the other developmental theories.

Focused Conflicts

The major conflict under the intimacy versus isolation theory of Erik Erikson centers on forming loving and intimate relationships with other people. Intimacy pertains to good emotional and physical health wherein a person's perspective now moves from an "I" to a "We" perspective. You want to be intimate and commit to a partner. Erikson defined intimate relationships as those characterized by love, honesty, and closeness.

Intimacy Issues Can Result In Severe Problems In Your Life. Learn More.
Talk About Problems Opening Up In Online Therapy Now.

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Isolation, on the other hand, occurs when that person fails to find a partner. They now feel alone and might create a feeling of inferiority. This may lead to self-destructive tendencies since insecurities may surface or re-surface. However, some hesitate to form close ties. They fear that they might lose their identity and that they might be compared. They feel threatened by closeness, and this is the manifestation of isolation or loneliness.

Risk Factors for Loneliness or Social Isolation

Loneliness is a subjective experience of isolation and is not about simply "being alone." A lot of people are facing loneliness even in the middle of a crowded area. However, persistent loneliness has 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.

Unhappiness is a result of a gap between the relationship you have and those you desire. Different areas of life contribute to loneliness. Age is a factor especially when you are at your 20's to 40's. This is the intimacy vs. isolation stage where you value that sense of belongingness. You want to be connected or be part of someone else's life may it be an intimate love relationship or work relationship. If one is not able to achieve these, one might question if he is likable or not.

Another contributing factor is gender. Women are more likely to have a clinical diagnosis of depression than men due to loneliness or isolating themselves, especially after giving birth.

Other circumstances include separated, divorced or widowed. Fear of the past also causes social Isolation. This pertains to the person avoiding putting himself in bad situations they faced when he was still a child. One might have been neglected at home or did not get enough attention.

Lastly, deprivation which pertains to the socio-economic status of a person. The damaging lack of material benefits such as basic needs leads to social isolation. People in this situation, have fears of establishing closeness which result in loneliness.

Impact of Social Isolation and Loneliness

Social isolation can be a vital factor in loneliness which leads to depression. Loneliness is both a cause and a consequence of mental health. Once you feel depressed, low self-esteem and feelings of anxiety lead people to remove themselves from their circle of relationships or friendships.

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Researchers identified an array of physiologic, functional, and psychosocial effects such as daytime function and disrupted sleep. Others experienced diminished physical activity, altered immunity, increased systolic blood pressure, impaired mental and cognitive function. Increased mortality and functional decline due to loneliness caused greater concern. People who describe themselves as lonely also contribute to their social isolation. They tend to neglect to secure emotional support or engaging with others. Loneliness may also diminish self-discipline, which more likely leads to self-destructive behaviors.

When the need for social relationships is not met, people fall apart physically and mentally. Both the body and brain are affected. Unmet social needs take a serious toll on one's health like creating high blood pressure, impaired memory, and learning, and eroding arteries. Awareness of a deficiency of relationships brings distress or emotional discomfort known as loneliness. The feeling of emptiness due to longing for intimacy makes on person feel deprived, isolated and distanced from others. All these attacks the well-being of a person.

Loneliness is viewed as a normal reaction or feeling. However, chronic loneliness is a different occurrence. Children may feel like an outcast and drop out of school, while some develop delinquency or other forms of anti-social behavior. In adults, varied medical conditions occur that compromise one's health. Circulatory system works harder and may lead to damage to blood flow. Lonely individuals have higher levels of stress even when they are relaxing as compared to non-lonely people exposed to the same stressor. People who are lonely perceive some social cues negatively and goes thru the mindset of self-preservation. Loneliness becomes contagious because the people around him pull away as he withdraws from his social circle.

Early social interaction or environment affect the kind of level of social connection people learn to expect and feel comfortable with. If expectations about those relationships are not met, the body reacts and alerts if something is wrong thru stress hormones or the feelings of anxiety. Emotions associated with loneliness may be difficult to regulate if loneliness persists.

Social Isolation as Modern Plague Leading to Depression

Increasing number of people who have no meaningful social support are increasing in number. Social isolation has been considered as a growing epidemic. More people become isolated and vulnerable to mental illness such as depression. The prevalence of depression has doubled over the past decade.

A person who is depressed will always want to avoid people. They want to stay isolated. Some people might think that introversion causes social isolation. Recent studies started to show that introversion itself might be a form disorder that causes social isolation.

Depression may be present if someone seems socially withdrawn, has declining physical health and somehow lethargic. Emotional symptoms of depression can be observed when there is a feeling of inadequacy and self-loathing. Loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies and withdrawal from socializing are strong indicators as well. He or she projects constant pessimism and becomes irritable and sad.

Physical symptoms may also suggest depression such as loss of appetite, headaches, back pains, muscle aches and constant fatigue. Sometimes these symptoms are taken-for-granted dismissing them as symptoms of another condition and not depression.

If you lack sleep and develop insomnia or hypersomnia leading to fatigue and being lethargic, this is considered as short-term depression. But if malnutrition takes place due to not eating enough or obesity takes place due to eating too much, these develop into a long-term type of depression. Studies showed that more than fifty percent of suicide cases have depression as one of the main factors.

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What are the stages of intimacy?

Depending on who you ask, this can be different. Many sources will give you five stages, and they are as follows. This one applies to romantic relationships.


This is the passionate part of a relationship. You're falling head over heels in love with someone, or maybe there's just a fire between the two of you that no one can put out. You may want to talk to them for hours on the phone, and when they're gone, you don't know what to do with yourself. For some people, when the infatuation stage goes away, there is nothing left, and couples may realize that there is just lust in the relationship. But for many, this is the first stage.


This marks the end of infatuation. For some, this is when the honeymoon period ends and the people in the relationship start to see the flaws or learn to live independently without being with the other person all the time. This stage does not necessarily mean that the love is lost; it just means that the people in the relationship can be a little more critical of each other.


This intimacy stage can happen when everything becomes routine. Jobs, and life itself, begin to take over, and your conversations aren't as deep anymore. Instead, it's about who is washing the dishes tonight, or what's on TV. Someone who is buried should still try to make sure their relationship has passion to it.


This is when you realize just how much you love your partner. In some ways, this is the return of the infatuation stage, but in a much more nuanced way. You may see someone for their flaws, but you realize that you love them and couldn't imagine yourself without them. Sometimes, this comes naturally, and other times, it may be due to another incident, such as a loss in the family. Either way, resurfacing is a great step.


Now, we have the stage of love. This stage is when you're you realize that you love your partner and will do anything for them.

These stages can rotate; they're not a progression from 1-5 and then stopping. By being mindful of these stages, you can improve your relationship immensely.

What are the 8 stages of human growth and development?

Erik Erikson's eight stages are as follows:

1. Trust Vs. Mistrust

This stage starts with infancy, and it involves the relationship between an infant and their caregiver. An infant trusts a caregiver when they manage to meet their needs. When a baby cries and a caregiver helps them, the baby builds trust. On the other hand, neglect or sporadic care can lead to mistrust and feeling like they're not safe. This early stage helps babies develop intimate feelings with their caregivers should there be trust.

2. Autonomy Vs. Shame and Self-Doubt

This is a toddlerhood phase. Toddlers may have autonomy when a caregiver allows a toddler to explore and provides them with safety. On the other hand, a toddler could develop a sense of shame should the toddler not be allowed to be a little independent. Intimacy requires some freedom to explore on one's own.

3. Initiative Vs. Guilt

This stage takes place in the preschool years. 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 they want to pursue something and their caregivers deny their desire. Intimate bonds can occur when a young child is encouraged to create their own goals.

4. Industry Vs. Inferiority

In early elementary school years, kids start to interact with each other more, and in this stage, intimacy is formed when kids start to compare each other to themselves. A child may feel industry when they feel confident compared to everyone else, and when their accomplishments go noticed. Meanwhile, a child could feel inferiority when they're always criticized for what they do, and they are never praised.

5. Identity Vs. Role Confusion

This stage happens in the teen years. Adolescents want to know who they are, where they are going, and other burning questions in life. This is a time where it's common to see teenagers trying out different identities almost like pairs of clothes, and that's okay.

A teen succeeds in having an identity when they are able to establish their goals and priorities. Role confusion, meanwhile, happens when the teen doesn't feel like they're playing their own role. Maybe they just bend to their peers or family.

6. Intimacy Vs. Isolation Stage

This takes place in young adulthood. The term "young adulthood" is subjective, and some people may define it from late teens/early 20s to mid 20s. Others may have a much longer cutoff point, saying that it ends at 40.

In the intimacy stage, someone wants intimate, loving relationships. This is the stage where people get married, and having intimate, loving relationships is just one way people accomplish this.

Isolation involves people who didn't form any relationships with either peers or significant others. With isolation, the importance of relationships reveals itself, because if you don't have any, you feel lonely. Isolation is stage after stage of struggling, as you want to find love or friends, but you may come across as needy or demanding. People may say, as they experience isolation, "Why relationships are hard to come by, I don't know." This is a stage where therapy is important.

7. Generativity Vs. Stagnation

In this stage, which starts in middle adulthood, everyone is focused on building up their careers or having kids. Someone experiencing generativity may be parents and mentors to younger people and are contributors to their community.

Meanwhile, someone who is stagnating may not have a meaningful job or goal in their life. They may not have any good relationships or people to mentor. Because they are middle-aged or approaching it, they may wonder if this is it. Did the person peak a long time ago? If so, they may find that it's hard for them to come up with anything new.

8. Integrity Vs. Despair

This is during the golden years, or not so golden depending on who you are. Someone who has integrity may feel like their life is great, and now they can enjoy their senior years in peace. They may not be afraid to die or grow old.

Meanwhile, someone who has despair may have regrets. They may feel like their life was a waste, and it's too late now.

How long should you wait to sleep with someone?

When it comes to developing a strong intimate romantic relationship with someone, sex is always an important factor. You may wonder when the right time to sleep with someone is, and this can depend on your personality and faith. Maybe you like sex and don't mind doing it early, or perhaps you're saving yourself for marriage. On average, many people do eight dates, but it all depends.

Sleeping with someone is up to the two of you. Both of you should be willing to do it and consenting to the act. Also, make sure that you have safe sex, and respect each other's boundaries. There is no magic time, but there are certain rules to ensure that your first time with someone is great.

Also, remember that many people are not going to have perfect sex the first time. Think of the first time as just feeling comfortable with one another.

How do you remember Erikson's stages?

If you need to memorize these stages for an exam, it can be intimidating to do so. However, one way you can do it is by this video. Despite being from 2008, it's still a great technique and one you can try out.

However, everyone has their own way of remembering. For some, flash cards let them remember things. For others, just studying the hard facts is good enough. It's important that you know which method of studying works best for you and focus on that.

At what age is personality fully developed?

There is no magic age. Some will say that your personality fully develops as young as seven, while others will say that at 30, your personality has developed to what it will be.

There's truth to both of these statements. At seven, you start to develop your own personality and are different from other kids. It's the beginning of later childhood, and you learn to be more independent and have your own unique interests.

At 30, your brain is fully developed, and many people have already had enough life experiences to determine what they are. It's difficult for someone to make a complete personality change at this age.

While you do develop traits that are set in stone, even stone can move and change with time. Your personality can subtly change all throughout your life, and it's never "fully" finished. If you're not satisfied with your personality traits, talking to a therapist and making small changes can work, no matter how old you are.

Is it ever too late to change your personality?

In your younger years, your personality does evolve and change, but at some point, it does seem like it's set in stone. For many, this age is 30, and that does make sense. The brain stops developing around the mid-20s, and after a few years of full development, it makes sense that someone's personality is more plastered to them.

However, if you don't like some aspects of your personality, it's not too late to change it. Working with a therapist, or learning some self-discipline, you can change some aspects of yourself. You're not going to be an entirely new person, but with time, you can make some subtle changes here and there.

Does personality change with age?

This is a question that is quite easy to answer. Yes, personality definitely changes as you get older. Someone in their teens probably acted in a different way than they do in their 30s. Personality can slowly evolve with time, usually for the better. Sometimes, it's more noticeable than other times. Some people can still mostly be the same person but have a little more discipline to them. A change in personality doesn't have to be a complete 180; it can turn a few degrees and still be noticeable.

What are the 4 types of intimacy?

Here are the four main stages of intimacy.


This stage of intimacy involves casual conversations and bonding. Usually, this ends up with people working in unison. Two friends who are in a group project may realize that they have a certain rhythm to how they finish the project, for example.


Emotional intimacy is when you're not afraid to share your feelings with someone, and this includes feelings that may make you feel uncomfortable to express. You're not afraid to show weakness or sadness to someone, for example, or show that you're angrier than you let on.


This is when you're not afraid to talk to someone about your opinions. There are some people who you do like, but you could never express your opinions to them without the conversation growing toxic. For example, a family member with politics different from your own. However, two people with intellectual intimacy may not agree with everything, but they can express their opinions to each other without arguing too much.


This one is self-explanatory. You like to engage in sexual activities with someone, be it a lover or a friend.

For many people, the perfect relationship contains all of the above. For example, your soulmate is someone you can emotionally open up to, work together in sync, talk about your opinions with, and of course, have sexual intimacy with.

Intimacy is complex, but hopefully you learned a little from this.

Are There Any Criticisms of Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development?

With many theories in psychology, they will always have their critics and go through scrutiny, especially with a theory that has been around for a while. Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development is one such example. While it is still an insight into how people develop, there are a few criticisms of Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development. Let's look at them.

  • Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development tends to focus on one demographic, and that is males who are European or American. Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development doesn't focus much on women or people from other areas of the world. Depending on your sex and where you're from, you may develop differently, something that Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development doesn't account for.
  • Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development seems to imply that people search for a sense of identity in adolescence, but there are many people who are still finding their identity well after it. Erik Erikson believed in the fluidity of his stages, saying his stages can happen all throughout life, but there are certain stages that are more prominent in certain ages.
  • Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development doesn't seem to account for those whose identities change over time. There are people who have different identities in older adulthood than they do in their earlier years. Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development doesn't account for that much.
  • Another criticism of Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development is that it focuses too much on childhood and infancy. To many, adulthood is much more complex and needs a deep dive, but Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development doesn't talk about that much.

Does this mean that Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development is wrong? Not exactly. Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development works as a good framework. With any theory, there are going to be some flaws, and you can't see them as infallible. Our understanding of the world grows over time, and Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development is no exception.

What Are Some Examples of Role Confusion?

In psychosocial development, stage five has role confusion. This is when a teenager fails to reach their own identity, and they may just go with what everyone else is doing. Role confusion does happen a lot, and here are some examples.

  • Being exactly the person your family wants you to be. People who experience role confusion may just go with what their family tells them. This isn't to say that the solution is to do the exact opposite of what your family does, but someone without role confusion typically does something a little different.
  • Not knowing what career you want. Adolescence raises the issue of career, and by the end of high school and during college, you have some idea of what you want to be. Careers can change, but those with role confusion may just work at any job they can have.
  • Role confusion can be about your tastes. Your tastes in books, TV, video games, and other forms of media can be unique if you have a sense of identity, but with role confusion, you may enjoy only what your friends and family like. Again, there is going to be some overlap; in fact, someone with a sense of identity may agree with most of their friends. But there's always going to be a difference.

What Makes an Intimate Relationship?

Erik Erikson mentioned intimate relationships quite a bit, but many people may not know what that is. How do you develop intimate, loving relationships? Is it different than just a sexual relationship? Here are some signs a relationship is intimate.

  • Loving relationships involve being yourself. You don't need to feel like you're someone else or tone yourself down when you're around someone.
  • Intimate relationships show a lot of affection. You're always close and physical with each other.
  • Someone who is intimate knows how to communicate with their spouse. There is no lack of communication, and any miscommunications are resolved as soon as possible.

So as you can see, intimate relationships are a sign of strong mental health in a marriage or other close relationship.

When is Young Adulthood?

The sixth stage of psychosocial development involves young adulthood, but this is a term that varies. Some will have a short cutoff date as to what young adulthood is, saying it's ages 18-22 or 18-25.

The justification for these ages can depend. Some will cut young adulthood off at the mid-20s because that is when the brain stops developing. Others will use economic or social reasons for young adulthood.

Some may be a little more lenient and say it's until you're 40, which is in the Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. Erik Erikson can make many who are nearing middle-age still feel young, at least for a while.

As they say, you're only as young as you feel.

Seeking Help

Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of love. However, fearing commitment, relationships and intimacy can lead to loneliness, isolation and sometimes depression. Depression can develop slowly and sometimes it is not being realized or acknowledged by the person or even the family right away. If you feel sad from time to time is normal, however, if this persists or starts to affect everyday life, this is something you may want to look into. If you believe you are experiencing problems with stage of intimacy versus isolation, loneliness, or are starting to isolate oneself, make sure that you talk to your doctor or seek professional help. Reach out to us. Click on the link.

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