A very strong proponent in people's lives is to find answers, to be able to predict and understand their life - Even more so than having a pleasant life. A life you cannot understand is a very frightening thing indeed... Furthermore, we need our assumptions and models to get us through everyday life, not to be completely overloaded by every decision.
Let's have a look at Erikson's stages first:
Erikson's stages of psychosocial development (link)
Erik H. Erikson lists a series of life stages, each in which a growing person has to find an answer to an issue in life: Can I trust? Can I act? Can I love? What is trust to me? What is my relationship to my industriousness? In what way will I convey my love?
Here are some examples of Erikson's stages:
Trust vs Mistrust (0-1 years old) Will my parents take care of me when I need it? Are people basically good and trustworthy or unpredictable?
Initiative vs Guilt (4-6 years old) Suddenly I'm old enough to do things with a purpose. Does my actions give me pride or guilt?
Identity vs Role confusion (13-19 years old) Who Am I? This is the big one, the crux of development, where the previous stages are evaluated and an personal identity is formed.
Intimacy vs Isolation (20-34 years old) How will I handle intimacy, friends, loved ones? What does friendship and love mean to me?
Ego integrity vs Despair (65 years old and onwards) Can I make sense of the life I've lived? Looking back at it all, does it make me wise and fulfilled, or bitter and regretful?As we grow a little older and and a little wiser, the outcome of these stages provides answers to what life is and how we handle it. We learn life as we live it, as we grow up, so to speak.
A paragon for Eriksons model is present already in Freudian psychodynamics; The oral, anal, phallic and genital phases, where the child encounters and must try to master gratification and separation, control, etc.
Attachment theory is based on the idea that we adapt to how our parents treat us. During our first years, we learn models for how the world and the people around us works, and how we should handle this. Is the world a safe place? Is it a loving place? Can I trust? (Eriksons first psychosocial stage)
A child which believes it is loved and safe will grow up with a sense of security, and dares to explore the world, to open up to it - Another child might keep itself closed up not to get hurt, a third child might have strong ambivalent feelings to the world, reaching out, desperate for love but at the same time rejecting other people, fearing to be rejected itself. These models follow us through our life, shaping our view of the world.
Existentialism stresses how we must find our own answers about ourselves and the world in this modern time - The priests, kings and traditions doesn't give us the holy, unquestionable answers anymore. Existentialism stresses the questions which are common to all humanity, though: Life and death, love, identity... They are a part of our existence, and so everyone must face them at some point.
I have previously mentioned how humanistic psychotherapy, inspired by existentialism, uses the client's own words rather than theoretical psychological terms. Every client must decide hirself what hir questions are, what life issues are important, unresolved, and how to understand them. These subjects are called themes. I guess you could define them as "stuff the client feels like talking about again and again" ;-)
In cognitive behaviour therapy, an emphasis is placed on (not necessarily conscious) assumptions of the world, answers to how the world works, and from these we form behaviours to handle the world. I believe that when people see me for who I am, they will reject me, and thus I act out whenever we start talking about me, anything to change the subject... for instance.
So the answers to our life issues, or life questions, become models for how to live our lives, which we enact every day.
Oh hey, my mother just called. We talked about how hard it is to change the answers you find out in childhood, the models your parents give you. It can be done though, by re-learning from persons that become close to you, or through therapy.