Erikson’s Autonomy versus Shame

Erikson’s next stage of development is autonomy versus shame.  Maybe you don’t want to use the whole trust issue thing.  It is a conflict that gets played often in stories.  Well, your answer could be in this stage.

Coming after the infant trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus shame is all about the toddlers.  Remember the terrible twos that don’t go away until they are about four?  This is the epitome of this stage of development.  Kids at this point are figuring out they are separate from their parents/caregivers.  They can make decisions independent of authority figures.  However, toddlers have no previous experiences to draw from when making decisions.  Therefore, they tend to struggle with the self-confidence to make those decisions.  What you end up with is a rather frustrating mix of independence, read “I want to do it all by my own” and neediness, “Mommy I can’t do it”.

The next question is how does this fit into writing characters in fiction?  Think about how a character may need to learn to stand on their own two feet.  There is a struggle and a learning curve that comes with it.  The burden of shame that the character may feel for not being able to be independent can throw all sorts of curves and twists into a plot.  What if the character tries and fails?  Or gives up and tries to live with the shame?  And, just like toddlers, each person will have their own path through this quagmire.  There is an infinite number of ways this can be spun to create and move a story along and helping a character grow.

Let me know your thoughts on this, or if you have any questions!

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