Comparing Freud’s Psychosexual Theory and Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory

Nancy B. Alston

Psychoanalytic theory originated from work of Sigmund Freud. Freud’s theory further inspired and expanded by others. Of these neo-Freudians, Erik Erikson’s ideas have become perhaps the best known.
Freud developed a theory that described development in terms of a series of five psychosexual stages. These stages are oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital phases. According to Freud, conflicts that occur during each of these stages can have a lifelong influence on personality and behaviour. If these psychosexual stages completed successfully, it resulted in a healthy personality. If certain issues not resolved at appropriate stage, fixation can occur. Fixation is a persistent focus on an earlier psychosexual stage.

Erik Erikson, on the other hand, developed eight-stage theory of psychosocial development which described growth and change throughout the lifespan, focusing on social interaction and conflicts that arise during different stages of development.

Erik Erikson’s stages are as followed:

Stage 1: “Trust versus Mistrust”. During this stage, a child is developing a sense of trust with caregiver and failure in this stage leads to mistrust.

Stage 2: “Autonomy versus Shame”. This is the period where a toddler is developing a sense of self-control and failure at achieving this leads to shame and doubts.

Stage 3: “Initiative versus Guilt”. A child in his or her preschool is trying to develop a sense of one’s own drive and initiative. Failure to do so leading to guilty feelings.

Stage 4: “Industry versus Inferiority”. This is a period when a school going child is developing a sense of personal ability and competence.

Stage 5: “Identity versus Role confusion”. Young adolescent and young adulthood starts to develop a single unified concept of self, a sense of personal identity. Failure to achieve this stage leads to role confusion.

Stage 6: “Intimacy versus Isolation”. During this period, a young adult will be questioning the meaning of one’s relationship with others. Failure to do causes the individual to suffer feelings of isolation.

Stage 7: “Generativity versus Stagnation”. Mid-adult in this stage will has concern over whether one has contributed to the success of children and future generation. Failure to achieve this stage leads to personal stagnation.

Stage 8: “Integrity versus Despair”. During this late adulthood period, one will start to reflect on their lives and as well as looking back with a sense a fulfilment or bitterness. Failure to complete this stage causes despair.

There are some similarities between Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory and Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory. Both had their own theories on personality development. The theories are separated into stages of a person’s life. Personality developed over time as a result of interaction between child’s inborn drive and response with the key person in the child’s world. The child’s personality depends on a success in going through all stages.

In contrast to Freud, Erik Erikson placed less importance on individual’s sexual drive as a factor in normal development. Erikson also placed more emphasis on cultural or environmental influences in his theory. Unlike Freud, Erikson proposed that a person’s sense of identity was not completely developed during adolescents but instead continue to develop and evolve throughout a person’s life. Erikson also downplayed the importance of maturation in cognitive development and instead focuses on the importance of cultural demands.

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