How Trauma Interrupts Each Stage of Lifespan Development

Kathleen Marriott B. Psyc (Hons) MSoH

  • A traumatic event can occur at any stage of development and hinder growth and success; it can even stop development altogether.
  • Interventions designed to help trauma interrupting development aim to create experiences of the unfinished or underdeveloped stage.
  • With the proper support and resources, you can move forward, rebuild a fulfilling and meaningful life, and find your true essence.

Trauma can profoundly affect growth and development. Left to our own devices for healing, we will attempt to self-heal, resulting in a loss of opportunity to reach our true potential and, generally, a loss of love for life. When we understand where the trauma impact impeded our development and where to target our healing intervention, we can explore how interventions that specifically treat these stages can help fast-track healing and make it easier to love your life and yourself.

Erikson’s 8 Stages of Development

Erikson’s stages of development is a robust model that describes eight distinct periods that build on each other from infancy to old age. Each stage has a psychosocial crisis that must be resolved positively for successful development.

These stages are as follows:

  • Stage 1: Trust versus mistrust (birth to 18 months): During infancy, our development is centered on how we get our basic needs met—for example, food, warmth, and affection. In this stage, infants have to learn to trust their caregivers. Usually, their parents help them to feel secure and comfortable exploring their world.
  • Stage 2: Autonomy versus shame and doubt (18 months to 3 years): As children gain more physical abilities, they develop a sense of autonomy or independence, feeling like they have control over their world.
  • Stage 3: Initiative versus guilt (3 to 6 years): Children are eager to explore their environment and learn new things at this stage. They are curious and imaginative, and so they begin to initiate activities, which can then lead to feelings of guilt if they are made to feel like their independence is wrong.
  • Stage 4: Industry versus inferiority (6 to 11 years): This stage represents the beginning of formal education, and children start to gain more awareness of their place in the world. Children feel a sense of accomplishment when they succeed and can be productive. However, if they cannot meet their expectations, they can begin to feel inferior and less than their peers.
  • Stage 5: Identity versus role confusion (11 to 18 years): Adolescence marks the beginning of a search for personal identity as they try to figure out who they are and what their life will be like as adults.
  • Stage 6: Intimacy versus isolation (18 to 40 years): We are ready and confident to develop lasting intimate relationships after successfully resolving our identity crisis.
  • Stage 7: Generativity versus stagnation (40 to 65 years): During this stage, we focus on being productive in our community, family, and work, which can help us feel fulfilled.
  • Stage 8: Ego integrity versus despair (65 years and older): As we grow older, we come to terms with our lives and the life we’ve lived. During this stage, we reflect on our lives, feeling either a sense of satisfaction or despair.

Trauma and Interruptions of Development

Trauma can interfere with the development process in numerous ways. A traumatic event can occur at any stage of development and hinder growth and success. Trauma can also stop development altogether, freezing the individual in an earlier stage of development and making it challenging to move forward.

For example, traumatic events during stage 1 can cause a child to mistrust the world and its people. This can lead to difficulty forming meaningful relationships or feeling secure. Likewise, trauma during stage 6 can prevent an individual from developing a trusting relationship later in life, resulting in isolation.

Interventions for Trauma

Interventions designed to help trauma interrupting Erikson’s stages of development aim to create experiences that function similarly to the unfinished or underdeveloped stage. Interventions are chosen based on the stage that the person is stuck in.

One successful intervention is play therapy, a way of providing children with a safe environment to explore their feelings and engage their imagination, allowing the child stuck in an earlier stage to have a chance to experience healthy development.

Other interventions for adults include trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, schema therapy, schema coaching, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and somatic experiencing.

As we learn more about trauma and its effects on development, interventions are becoming more effective at treating trauma, providing timely resources and support throughout the healing process. For example, if you have experienced trauma that interrupted your development, speaking to a therapist trained in trauma-focused intervention can help unstick you from your past and fast-track your personal development. And, with personalized support, you can learn to love your life and yourself a little more each day.

It’s important to remember that healing is possible. You can make great strides in personal growth even after a traumatic experience. With the proper support and resources, you can move forward, rebuild a fulfilling and meaningful life, and find your true essence.


Erikson, E. (1950). Childhood and society. Norton.

van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking.

Cicchetti, D., & Rogosch, F. A. (1997). The role of self-organization in the promotion of resilience in maltreated children. Development and Psychopathology, 9(4), 797–815.

Kapp, S. K., & Bannink, F. P. (2019). Schema coaching for entrepreneurs: Unifying insights from psychotherapy and business coaching. Journal of Business and Psychology, 34(3), 291–308.

Young, J. E., Klosko, J. S., & Weishaar, M. E. (2003). Schema therapy: A practitioner’s guide. Guilford Press.

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