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Essay: Compare and contrast Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and Erikson’s neo-analytic theory

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This essay will look and focus on the two theories namely theory by Freud which is the psychoanalytic theory and theory by Erikson which is the neo-analytic theory. This essay will compare and contrast the theories and focus on the similarities and the differences between the two theories.

Furthermore this essay will focus on comparisons of the following aspects between the Freud and Erikson theories: the basic tenets and assumptions of the theory, view of the self and identity, theory development and the resolution of conflicts. This essay will also focus on strengths and weaknesses of each theory, and also provide a brief argument for which theory of the two is more relevant for the work of registered counselors in South Africa today.

Basic tenets and assumptions of the theory

Psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud

Neurologist Sigmund Freud first proposed the theory of psychoanalysis; it forms a part of a collective sphere known as psychodynamic theories. Most if not all psychodynamic theories focus on unconscious motives and desires, as well as the importance of childhood experiences in shaping personality. (Friedman & Schustack, 2012). Psychoanalysis is all about understanding human behavior. Freud suggested that people have three levels of awareness, which are: the unconscious, conscious and preconscious.

The unconscious holds thoughts, feelings and desires that people are not aware of but have an influence on their everyday lives. The conscious contains all the information a person is paying attention to throughout the day at any given time. The preconscious contains all the information outside a person’s attention but is readily available to them when they need it. (Friedman & Schustack, 2012).

The theory breaks down into three parts, namely the Id which is the a Latin word that means ‘it’. The id is a completely unconscious, pleasure-seeking, amoral part of the personality that exists at birth, containing all of the basic biological drives: hunger, thirst, self-preservation, and sex, (babies have sex drives). Freud thought babies have sex drive, which shocked and outraged his colleagues and fellow Victorians.

(Freud, 1917) By ‘sex drives’ he really meant ‘pleasure drive’, the need to seek out pleasurable sensations. People do seem to be pleasure-seeking creatures, and even infants seek pleasure from sucking and chewing on anything they can get into their mouths. Thinking about what infants are like when they are just born provides a good picture of the id. Infants are demanding, irrational, illogical, and impulsive. They want their needs satisfied immediately, and they don’t care about anyone else’s needs or desires (A word of caution: the fact that infant behavior seems to fit Freud’s concept of the id is not proof that the id exists. It simply means that Freud came up with the concept of the id to fit what he already knew about infants). (Freud, 1917) Freud called this need for satisfaction the pleasure principle, which can be defined as the desire for immediate gratification of needs with no regard for the consequences. The pleasure principle can be summed up simply as ‘if it feels good, do it’. (Freud, 1917)

The ego, people normally wants to satisfy an infant’s needs as quickly as possible. Infants are fed when hungry, changed when they are wet, and attended to whenever they cry. But as infants begin to grow, adults start denying them their every wish. There will be things they cannot touch or hold, and they must learn to wait for certain things, such as food. Freud would say that reality has reared its ugly head, and the id simply cannot deal with the reality of having to wait or not getting what it wants. (Freud, 1940) Worse still would be the possibility of punishment as a result of the id’s unrestrained actions. According to Freud, to deal with reality, a second part of personality develops called the ego. The ego, from the Latin word for ‘I’, is mostly conscious and is far more rational, logical, and cunning than the id. The ego works on the reality principle, which is the need to satisfy the demands of the id only in ways that will not lead to negative consequences. This means that sometimes the ego decides to deny the id its desires because the consequences would be painful or too unpleasant. For example, while an infant might reach out and take an object despite a parent’s protests, a toddler with the developing ego will avoid taking the object when the parent says ‘NO’ to avoid punishment but may go back to the object when the parent is not looking. (Freud, 1940)

The superego, if everyone acted on the pleasure principle, the world would be pretty scary. Freud called the third and final part of the personality, the moral center of personality, the superego. The superego (also Latin, meaning ‘over the self’) develops as a preschool- aged child learns the rules, customs, and expectations of society. The superego contains the conscience the part of the personality that makes people feel guilt, moral anxiety, when they do the wrong thing. It is not until the conscience develops that children have a sense of right and wrong. (Freud, 1917)

Neo-analytic theory of Erik Erikson

Neo-analytic theory is the approach to personality psychology that is concerned with the individual’s sense of self and the core of personality. Neo-analytic theories were developed out of classic psychoanalytic thought; they are less biological, more social and more optimistic than Freud’s approach (Visagie & Sangster, 2013). Generally under this approach does not have free will to make choices and their destiny set.

The theory involves a sense of trust in others, developing a sense of identity in society and helping the next generation prepare for the future. Erikson developed a lifespan model of development taking five stages up to the age of eighteen and three further stages beyond well into adulthood. Erikson unlike Freud suggests that personality is not developed or fixed in the first six years of life but continues throughout the lifespan. Erikson maintained that personality develops in a predetermined order and builds upon each previous stage like Freud (Visagie & Sangster, 2013). However, instead of focusing on sexual development like Freud, Erikson was interested in how children socialize and how this affects their sense of self, he divides the lifespan into eight stages. The stages are characterized by a crisis that the individual must overcome in a synthesis of two poles.

The stages involves trust versus mistrust which is all about hope, autonomy versus shame and doubt which is about will, initiative versus guilt which is about purpose, industry versus inferiority which is about competence, identity versus role confusion which is about loyalty, intimacy versus isolation which is about love, Generativity versus stagnation which is about caring and the last one is integrity versus despair which is about wisdom.

View of the self and identity

In Freud’s theory, he suggests that the self is developed through the levels of personality which is the id, the ego and the superego as well as in the phallic stage when the boy through fear of castration due to feelings directed to the mother learns to repress these feelings and identify with their fathers (Freud, 1940). Taking upon themselves the father’s moral in hope that they will one day be able to marry a girl that has similar features like their mothers. A boy goes through Oedipus complex which describes a boy’s sexual feelings for his mother and rivalries with his father (Freud, 1940). The girl goes through Electra complex that’s where the girl learns to identify with her mother seeing that they both do not have penises and repress feelings towards her father and also in hope that one day she will marry a man that has similar features like her father (Freud, 1940). Penis envy, Freud believes that little girls become quite upset when they recognize that they do not have a penis like boys and men. This is not an unreasonable assumption in times or places where boys are granted much higher status than girls. A little girl, wondering why she is less worthy, might look to only observable physical difference, like her lack of penis, girls develop feelings of inferiority and jealousy, a phenomenon termed penis envy. Pregnancy and childbirth allow the girl to overcome penis envy (Freud, 1940). Erikson argues that identity is a lifelong process with special focus given to it in puberty. His theory states that teenager or adolescent at this stage asks questions like who they are and where in the society are they classified under. As the individual grows physically and sexually they strive to have an understanding of who they are and the societies in which they live in help shape their identity (Visagie & Sangster, 2013).

Theory of development

Freud’s stages of psychosexual development and Erikson’s psychosocial theory

Differences of Freud and Erikson

There are several differences that exist between the names of the stages and developmental issues that are encountered during each part of the reason for this is that each psychologist has his own unique view of what drives a person’s development (Lucas, 1997). Freud’s psychosexual theory emphasizes the importance of basic needs and biological forces, while Erikson’s environmental factors. Erikson also expands his theory into adulthood, while Freud’s theory ends at an earlier period (Lucas, 1997).

Comparing and contrast these two theories

Age: Birth to one year – Freud’s stage of psychosexual development

Freud called this stage oral stage, at this point in development, a child’s primary source of pleasure is through the mouth.

Erikson’s stage of psychosocial development

Erikson called this the trust versus mistrust stage. Children learn to either trust or mistrust their caregivers. They care that adults provide determines whether children develop this sense of trust in the world around them (Lucas, 1997).

Age: one to Three – Freud’s stage of psychosexual development

Freud called this stage anal stage of development children gain a sense of mastery and competence by controlling bladder and bowel movements. Children who succeed at this stage develop a sense of capability and productivity. Those who have problems at this stage may develop an anal fixation. As adults they might make excessively orderly or messy (Lucas, 1997).

Erikson’s stage of psychosocial development

Erikson called this the autonomy versus shame and doubt stage. Children develop self-sufficiency by controlling activities such as toilet training and talking. Those who succeed at this stage develop a sense of independence while those who struggle will be left doubting themselves (Lucas, 1997).

Age: three to six – Freud’s stage of psychosexual development

Freud referred to this as the phallic stage. The libido’s energy is focused on the genitals. Children begin to identify with their same sex parents. Boy’s experience the Oedipus complex while girls experience the Electra complex (Lucas, 1997).
Erikson’s stage of psychosocial development

Erikson’s called this the initiative versus guilt stage. Children begin to take more control over their environment. Those who are successful at this stage develop a sense of purpose while those who struggle are left with feelings of guilt (Lucas, 1997).

Age: seven to eleven years – Freud’s stage of psychosexual development

Freud referred to this as the latent period. The libido’s energy is suppressed and children are focused on other activities such as, friends.

Freud believed this stage was important for developing social skills and self- confidence

Erikson’s stage of psychosocial development

Erikson called this the industry versus inferioty stage, children develop a sense of competence by mastering new skills, children who succeed at this stage develop pride in their accomplishments while those who struggle may be left feeling incompetent (Lucas, 1997).

Age: Adolescence – Freud’s stage of psychosexual development

Freud referred to this as genital stage. Children begin to explore romantic relationships. The goal of this stage is to develop a sense of balance between all the areas of life. Those who have successfully completed the earlier stages are now warm, caring and well adjusted (Lucas, 1997).

Erikson’s stage of psychosocial development

Erikson called this point in psychosocial development the identity versus role confusion stage children develop a personal identity and sense of self. Teenagers explore different roles, attitudes and identities as they develop a sense of self. Those who receive support and encouragement will emerge with a strong sense of who they are and what they want to accomplish, those who struggle to forge a strong identity will remain confused about who they are and what they want to do with their life (Lucas, 1997).

Age: Adulthood – Freud’s stage of psychosexual development

Freud’s theory largely focuses on the period between birth and adolescence, according to Freud, the genital stage lasts throughout adulthood. He believed the goal is to develop a balance between all areas of life (Lucas, 1997).

Erikson’s stage of psychosocial development

Erikson’s theory includes three more stages that span adulthood. These three stages are: intimacy versus isolation, generativity versus stagnation, integrity versus despair (Lucas, 1997).

Resolution of conflicts between Freud’s theory and Erikson’s theory

Conflict is a central concept in virtually every major theory human development. Moments of conflict are viewed as dynamic conflicts between children. Theories of personality and social development such as Freud’s and Erickson’s are constructed around conflict as a major force in ontogenesis (Bee, 1992). For Freud, conflict was incompatibility between the individual’s drives and society’s demands and rules, conflict that engenders anxiety and defenses against it. His functional units of personality- the id, ego and superego were viewed as being in a frequent state of disequilibrium the ego negotiating conflicts between the wish and ought. Erikson (1959) elaboration of psychoanalytic theory specified conflict at three levels as the core construct of developmental change. At one level is conflict between the emerging personality of the child and the demands of parents. At another level are conflicts within the individual that he labeled crises of psychosocial development; such as to trust versus mistrust, to be intimate versus to be isolated and finally, he posited conflicts between modes of adapting such as to hold on versus to let go (Erikson,1959).

According to Erikson, the Ego develops as it successfully revolves crises that are distinctly social in nature. These involve establishing a sense of trust in others, developing a sense of identity in society, and helping the next generation prepare for the future. Erikson extends on Freudian thoughts by focusing on the adaptive and creative characteristic of the ego, and expanding the notion of the stages of personality development to include the entire lifespan. Erikson proposed a lifespan model of development, taking in five stages up to the age of eighteen year and three further stages beyond, well into adulthood (Erikson, 1959). Erikson suggests that there is still plenty of room for continued growth and development throughout one’s life. Erikson’s (1959) theory of psychosocial development has eight distinct stages. Like Freud, Erikson assumes that a crises occurs at each stage of development. For Erikson (1963), these crises are of a psychosocial nature because they involve psychological needs of the individual conflicting with the needs of society. According to the theory, successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality and the acquisition of basic virtues. Basic virtues are characteristic strengths which the ego can use to resolve subsequent crises. Failure to successfully complete a stage can result in a reduced ability to complete further stages and therefore a more unhealthy personality and sense of self. The eight Erikson stages, however, can be resolved successfully at a later time.

The strengths and weaknesses

Strengths in Freud’s theory are, it emphasizes the effects of patterns established early in life on personality development, tries to understand unconscious forces (Shaffer & Johnson, 2004).

Freud’s theory has strength of psychodynamic approach that they focused on the effects that childhood experiences have developing personality, this is a strength because Freud was the first psychologist to realize the importance of childhood, childhood experiences focused on nurture whereas the Id, Ego, Superego focused on nature, psychodynamic approach takes both on nature and nurture into account this is a strength because it emphasizes the importance of both (Shaffer & Johnson, 2004).

Weaknesses in Freud’s theory are that, the theory is good at explaining but not predicting behavior which makes it unfalsifiable and most of Freud’s evidence was taken from a certain clientele and also drawn from studies of himself (McLeod, 2013).
Strengths in Erikson’s theory are that; it acknowledges the impact of others, society and culture on personality, assumes that development is lifelong, and emphasizes the importance of the positive and goal-orientated nature of humanity Some research also suggests that people who form strong personal identities during adolescence are better capable of forming intimate relationships during early adulthoods (Erikson, 1950).

Weaknesses in Erikson’s theory are that, they are unconcerned with biology and fixed personality structures. They are difficult to test empirically and sometimes they rely on an abstract idea, Erikson’s theory does not explain what kinds of experiences are necessary to successfully complete each stage and further does not give any information on how one would progress from one stage to the other. The mechanisms stated for the resolution of conflict and progression from one stage to another are not well described and developed, leaving out details of how to resolve conflicts (Erikson, 1950).

Application of theory in the South African context

Erikson’s neo-analytic theory can be applied to the development of children in the South African context, so may be that of Freud. However Erikson’s theory is more universal than that of Freud and also stresses on the sociological influences on the child. The theory is divided into eight stages that seemingly most people go through in life, with perhaps the occasional exception of lack of education in other countries however the children in those countries are still exposed to skills that will be of use to them later on in life (Erikson, 1950).In each South African culture there are existing problems that are specifically given to each stage as well as to the manner in which problems are solved. An African child goes through those stages as well. Investigation of development stage of an African child was done to establish the relationship between Erikson’s stages of development. An exploratory study was done in Limpopo Province, South Africa, it showed that children from Limpopo also go through various stages of development and these stages are accompanied by various problems which was resolved in each stage (Erikson, 1950).

The South African context is relevant to registered counselors in a way that counselors can compare black and white adolescence (age fifteen to nineteen) in democratic South African society, and look at each child to see the problem and identify any different aspects between the two children, Counselors can help South African Adolescents using Erikson’s findings, they can apply the findings onto the children. Erikson’s did a study and confirmed that black adolescents were significantly more sure of their identity more than the white adolescents irrespective of gender. The findings are discussed with respect to the social situation of black and white adolescents in the newly formed democratic South Africa and the importance of cultural identity and positive role models for identity development (Erikson, 1950).


This essay compared and contrasted the theory of Freud and the theory of Erikson in depth. This essay showed a clear understanding on the components of each theory, the similarities and differences between Freud and Erikson’s theory.

The comparison between the theories was done focusing on these aspects; basic tenets and assumptions of the theory, view of the self and identity, theory of development and the resolution of conflict between the two theories. The strengths and weaknesses of each theory were clearly discussed and this essay provided a brief argument on the theory which is applicable in the South African Context.

Reference list

  • Bee, H. L. (1992). The developing child. London: HarperCollins.
  • Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.
  • Erikson, E. H. (1959). Psychological issues (Vol 1) International Universities Press.
  • Erikson, E. H. (19590. Identity and the life cycle. New York: International Universities Press.
  • Ciccarelli, S. K. & White, N. J. (2010). Psychology an Exploration. New York: Pearson.
  • Freud, S. (1940). Splitting of the ego in the process of defence. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 22, 65 [1938], S. E., 23, 275-278
  • Freud, S. (19170. A general introduction to psychoanalytic. New York: Washington Square Press.
  • Freud, S. (1933). New introductory lectures on Psycho-analytic London: Hogarth Press.
  • Friedman, H. S. & Schustack, M. W. (2014). Personality Classic Theories and Modern: Harlow: Pearson.
  • Lucas, M. (1997). Journal of counseling psychology: Harvard educational Review.
  • McLeod, S. A. (2013). Simply Psychology. Retrieved. http://www.simplypsychology.org/Sigmund-Freud.html.
  • Shaffer, J. & Johnson, V. (2004). Psychoanalytic Theory. Retrieved. http://www.uiowa.edu.
  • Stone, L.J. & Church, J. (1979). Childhood and adolescence: A psychology of growing person (4TH ed). New York: Random House.
  • Visagie, A. & Sangster, M. (2013). Child Development. Midrand: Midrand Graduate Institute.

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