Psychoanalytic Theories Of Freud And Erikson

Categories: Erik Erikson


Life-span developmental psychology focuses on individual development from conception to death. The main presumption of developmental psychology is that development does not complete at adulthood, but rather continues throughout life (Baltes et al., 1999). Development can be characterized into various stages which are defined according to the differences in behavior (Hayslip et al., 2006). The behaviors or skills learned are necessary to provide the basis to acquire new skills leading to the next stage. The behavior in the new stage stays unchanged up to the time that the behavior ascertaining the new stage is observed.

Freud's psychosexual theory and Erikson’s psychosocial theory are the theories that proposed various stages of development. This essay aims to compare and contrast Freud's and Erikson’s psychoanalytic theories and discuss whether Erikson fundamentally changed psychoanalytic theory.

Freud’s Psychosexual Theory

Freud proposed that childhood development consists of five stages, namely, oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital (Frued, 1909 & McLeod, 2019, July 18). These stages are known as psychosexual stages due to the representation of instinctual libido (sexual drive) in each stage.

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These stages are characterized by the erogenous zone that drives the libidinal instincts. A person may not be able to proceed to the next stage (Freud, 1924/1952). One of the reasons can be that a person’s needs are not met adequately at a particular stage; leading him or her to develop frustration. The other reason can be that the person is well satisfied and he or she is unwilling to leave the stage in which there is overindulgence.

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This accumulation of frustration or overindulgence may result in a person having an unhealthy personality.

Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory

Erikson takes a comprehensive approach to psychoanalytic theory to identify eight stages that analyze one’s lifespan (Sudbery & EBSCO Industries, 2010). Each stage represents a psychosocial crisis that emerges from conflicting biological and sociocultural forces (Crain, 2011). Completing each stage successfully results in a healthy personality and acquisition of basic virtues. For example, an infant who completes the stage known as trust versus mistrust will carry the virtue of hope into the remaining life stages. Unsuccessful completion of a stage can result in an individual having a lack of ability to complete further stages and therefore a more unhealthy personality. However, these stages can be resolved at a later time.

Similarities between Freud's and Erikson’s Psychoanalytic Theories

Erikson’s theory was based on Freud’s theory, which is the reason for the theories to have similarities. Both theorists emphasized the influences of the unconscious on development (Sudbery & EBSCO Industries, 2010). They both proposed developmental stages and assigned similar age divisions for these developmental stages. More similarities can be found in the developmental stages of these theories. The second stage of psychoanalysis theories known as the anal stage and autonomy versus shame and doubt stage focuses on how children develop a sense of independence (Freud, 1924/1952, Thies & Travers, 2009). The anal stage in Freud’s theory focuses on how children control bowel movements. With toilet training, the child learns to control his or her self-serving physical drives and develops a sense of capability. Similarly, in the autonomy versus shame and doubt stage (a stage identified by Erikson), the child develops self-sufficiency by controlling body functions through activities such as eating, toilet training, and talking. Also, the fifth or last stage of Freud’s theory known as the genital stage, and the fourth stage of Erikson's theory called the identity formation versus identity diffusion are both similar to each other (Freud, 1924/1952, Thies & Travers, 2009, Sudbery & EBSCO Industries, 2010). In both theories, teens at this stage begin to form a sense of identity. In the genital stage, adolescents are directed toward peers of the opposite sex, in other words, they begin to develop a romantic relationship. Likewise, adolescents in the identity formation versus identity diffusion stage develop personal identity and sense of self by exploring different roles, attitudes, and identities.

Differences between Freud's and Erikson’s Psychoanalytic Theories

However, several differences exist between the two theories. Whereas Freud focused on exploring childhood development, Erikson described the whole lifespan with the framework of eight stages (Sudbery & EBSCO Industries, 2010). Freud drew attention to the internal psychosexual conflict in shaping personality development. In contrast, Erikson acknowledged that a child’s sense of self is significantly shaped by the social environment. His psychosocial theory recognized that development comes about through interaction with an ever-expanding circle of people (Thies & Travers, 2009). Freud believed that individuals are unable to resolve unfortunate experiences of early childhood. Erikson on the other hand believed that individuals can overcome earlier crises later in life by working on them. Erikson was more optimistic than Freud; highlighting an important difference in Freud and Erikson’s beliefs regarding the role of early experiences (Thies & Travers, 2009). More differences can be observed in the developmental stages of both theories. The first stage of Freud’s theory called the oral stage focuses on the importance of feeding while Erikson’s first stage which is trust versus mistrust concerns how responsive a mother or caretaker is to a child’s needs. In the oral stage, a child’s primary source of pleasure is through the mouth via sucking, biting, and tasting (Freud, 1924/1952). Intrust versus mistrust stage, children learn to trust or mistrust depending on the care that they receive from their adults or caregivers (Erikson, 1950). Where Freud's third stage (phallic stage) emphasized the role of libido, Erikson’s third stage called initiative versus guilt focuses on the child’s interaction with parents or peers.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Psychoanalytic Theories Of Freud And Erikson. (2024, Feb 08). Retrieved from

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