Similarities & Differences Between Freud & Erikson

by Agnes Osinski
Freud was the first to see human behavior as a clash of forces, where a person is caught between satisfying selfish desires and fitting into society.

Freud was the first to see human behavior as a clash of forces, where a person is caught between satisfying selfish desires and fitting into society.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is renowned for his psychoanalytic theory that spawned a legion of practitioners. One thinker who both underwent and practiced psychoanalysis is Erik Erikson (1902-1994). While Freud believed that development was driven by biological impulses such as the need for food and sex, Erikson emphasized the role of environmental factors and culture. Both theorists separate development into stages and use similar age divisions.

Freudian Stages

Freud emphasized the first six years of life as being most crucial for personality development. He lists three stages: the oral stage (first year of life), the anal stage (1-3 years) and the phallic stage (3-6 years). The stages revolve around pleasure centers -- the mouth, anal release and genitals. A conflict occurs during the phallic stage when the child desires to kill the same-sex parent to gain access to the opposite-sex parent. This conflict is called Oedipus or Electra complex. Latency Stage occurs from age 6 to puberty. During the latency stage, a child represses his/her sex drive and focuses on social skills. The final stage is the genital stage, when the person experiences sexual awareness and develops his/her identity.

Erikson’s Eight Stages of Personality Development

Erikson’s stages cover a person’s lifespan. These stages are based on the analysis of major psychosocial challenges. The first three stages cover infancy and early childhood. The conflicts covered during these three stages are establishing trust, independence and purpose. Stages 4 and 5 cover school age and adolescence -- periods during which an individual must gain competency and sense of self. The remaining stages cover early adulthood, middle adulthood and old age. During the final stages, a person must learn to love, care for others and develop a sense of integrity.

Similarities

Both Freud and Erikson recognize the importance of the unconscious mind on personality development. Both theorists center development around a form of conflict. When the conflict is not resolved appropriately, emotional distress occurs, which can lead to mental illness. Childhood is crucial to personality formation, and both theories say that childhood trauma can distort the development of personality.

Differences

The nature of conflict differs between Freud and Erikson. Freud's conflict centers around sex. Erikson's theory takes a the psychosocial approach, which means that people are shaped by society and desire to be part of a group. In Erikson's theory, conflict is resolved when a person learns to love and care for others. In Freud's theory, conflict is resolved when a person receives adequate gratification during the early stages of development.

References

About the Author

Agnes Osinski is a special educator and writing instructor. She has experience teaching middle school, ESL and introductory college courses. Osinski holds a Master of Arts in English literature from Bristol University and completed education coursework at the College of Notre Dame.

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