Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson essay

Differing Theories, Differing Effects on Social Development Psychology is a complicated field. After all, discussing the human psyche and the development of personality and character cannot be simple at all. With each human, a different set of variables can be found, thereby making the study a lot more difficult that controlled experiments in a laboratory. It is perhaps for this reason that the foremost leaders in the field of psychology remain enigmatically at odds, with their varying theories and concepts regarding the causes and processes behind the human mind.

Each thinker has his own set of ideas, concepts, theories and beliefs that may or may not be at odds with the current paradigm. This has resulted in several contradictions and an extremely wordy literature; however, these clashing theories have, to the some degree, all contributed to the development of the study of psychology. Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson are two very good examples. The first focused on the significance of the unconscious and the sexual dimension of development, while the latter is best known for his stages of psychosocial development.

Though Erikson has repeatedly insisted that his studies are inspired by Freudian thought, there are notable differences between their theories and concepts with regards to social development. It is thus significant to view these two proponents of modern psychology as separate in their concepts and theories. Certainly, particular areas of their studies and findings shall converge; however, this study shall particularly look into their differences to highlight the differing effects of their theories on actual social development.

This paper posits that there are similarities and differences in the theories of Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson with regards to social development that make their effects and impact on the actual process of development different. To prove so, this study shall conduct a comparison and contrast of the teachings of Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson. This paper shall begin with a brief comparison of the backgrounds and characters of Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson. Second, a comparison of the Psychosexual Theory and the Stages of Psychosocial Development will proceed.

Lastly, the paper shall study the contributions of both Freud and Erikson on the process of social development, in light of their theoretical contributions. Background Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 to a Jewish family in what is now part of the Czech Republic. The family suffered poverty due to the economic crisis, yet did its best to send young Sigmund to a proper educational institution because of the unique intelligence he displayed as a child. The Freuds eventually left their hometown to live in Germany; later moving to Austria where Sigmund’s career began.

Though initially interested to study Law, Sigmund Freud eventually enrolled in the Medicine department of the University of Vienna. Due to difficulties with his first course of choice, Biology, Freud decided to switch to psychology, thus bringing him closer to his profession later in life. It was in the University of Vienna that the seeds of his theory on psychosexual development and the unconscious were planted in his young mind (Jones 1953). Erik Erikson, on the other hand, is considerably younger than Freud.

Erikson was born in 1902 and was of a much more convoluted background. He was the product of his mother’s indiscretions; a child borne of an affair with an unnamed Dane. His true origins were kept secret, despite the obvious problems caused by his highly non-Jewish features, and he was raised in a Jewish home by his stepfather, Theodor Homburger. His first love as a teacher was art, and it was in a private school in Vienna that he came across Anna Freud, who inspired him to undergo psychoanalysis and later, become a psychologist himself.

He graduated from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute, with childhood development as his main focus of study (Friedman 1999). Theories of Development Both Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson presented very detailed and interesting theories with regards to the stages of development. Though quite similar in some respects, the differences in their theories are also notable. This is despite Erikson’s admission that his Theory of Psychosocial Development is partly inspired by the Freud’s earlier analysis. As such, this part of the study shall look into the similarities and differences between their theories.

For Freud, central to his theory is the concept of the unconscious as the repository of repressed emotions and issues that could eventually retard a person’s emotional and physical development. His Psychosexual Theory further delves into these repressed emotions as central to the development of the person. For Erikson, on the other hand, his primary contribution are the Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development. First, what is the unconscious according to Freud? For Freud, positivism – wherein everything about a person could be accessed directly by the person himself – was unacceptable as an explanation for human actions.

In fact, Freud noted that several actions had reasons unknown even to the doer. He thus subscribed to the belief that there was a separate but connected consciousness that was submerged beneath the conscious (or awake) mind. Here in this alternate consciousness, the mind hinds ideas, emotions and issues that are otherwise inaccessible to the conscious mind. These emotions were rejected or repressed by the conscious mind, and thus remained in the mental back burner (Fine 1962, p. 35). The problem, according to Freud, was that these repressed emotions had a way of surfacing and acting out in the conscious arena.

As such, it becomes necessary to locate these emotions in order to resolve them lest they result in dire actions and consequences. Freud provided a means to consult the unconscious, using dreams. Dreams for Freud constituted the primary means to achieve access to the unconscious area of the mind. Through dream interpretation, Freud could be able to ascertain what emotions, issues or ideas the mind has assigned to the unconscious. As such, these issues can then be identified, addressed and, if possible, resolved (Fine 1962, p. 37).

There are five primary stages in a person’s development that define his personality and character later in life. This is known as Freud’s Theory of Psychosexual Development, wherein it is the libido – beginning in childhood – that defines a man or a woman later in life. For Freud, children have their own sexual fantasies and libido development is particularly significant in identifying the characteristics of a human being upon growing up. If this natural libido in children is denied, repressed or ridiculed in childhood by either their parents or society in general, it would result in specific issues and problems in adulthood.

One example is the anal stage (from 18 to 36 months) wherein the issue of toilet training can either drive a child into obsessive-compulsive neatness, or uncontrollable sloppiness in adulthood (Fine 1962, pp. 62-65). In the case of Erikson, there are eight stages of development that follow from birth to death. Unlike Freud’s sexuality-centered concept, Erikson is more focused on conflicts that occur in the span of a lifetime as the core of every personality and characteristic. In each stage, a child/person finds himself in a quandary that pits two basic issues.

In the first stage, for example, trust and mistrust are the conflicting ideas. If a child learns that his caretakers (parents, or guardian) are reliable and trustworthy, he develops the virtue of hope. Each stage provides a particularly important virtue if developed properly (Erikson and Erikson 1997). Unlike Freud, Erikson’s stages continue developing the person up to the time of death. For example, Erikson provides a particularly telling stage that occurs in adolescence, which centers on identity.

A teenager comes across the stage of Fidelity, wherein the question centers around his ability to identify his identity. The clashing concepts in this stage are Ego Identity against Role Confusion. It is not in a sexual manner that Erikson defines this issue; rather the concept is in terms of a teenagers definition of himself as a member of the social community. His contributions and future role are central in this issue. Erikson asserts that it is crucial to allow human beings to explore and develop.

External pressure could mislead them and lead to a loss of the virtue that should have been achieved in that particular stage of life (Erikson and Erikson 1997). Impact of Theories on Social Development It is undeniable that both Freud and Erikson contributed vastly to the field of social development based on their psychological theories. Though quite similar in the respect that Erikson is a devoted Freudian, the two theories of Psychosexual Development and Psychosocial Development are significantly different and quite difficult to assimilate.

As such, it is definite that such concepts would have entirely different outputs and effects in terms of their legacy to the psychological studies community. This part of the study shall look into the significant effects and impact of the respective theories of Freud and Erikson in the field of psychology. It may be said that Freud’s most significant impact was the emancipation of man’s sexuality as an issue worthy of discussion in the medical community. Sex, as Freud noted, is part and parcel of man’s development.

The social imposition that sent sexual urges into the back burner of the mind left man repressed and emotionally stunted. Freud’s concept of psychosexual development, therefore, was in essence a response to how society views sexuality as a dirty, unaccessible business. Freud’s concept of the development of the libido is central to man’s personality. Though the theory of psychosexual development may no longer be accepted by some in the academic circles, Freud’s contribution to the acceptance of sexuality as a valid part of human life has a lasting impact in the way man views himself and his actions (Shengold 1993).

Also, Freud’s concepts have become part and parcel of popular culture. The term “Freudian slip” is often used to identify a verbal mistake wherein one speaks in a manner unexpectedly revealing the unconscious. Also, despite the issues in academic discussions with regards to Freud’s theory, the concept of the unconscious, the issues of repressed sexuality and the interpretation of dreams are viewed as significant to the layman. These have become significant parts of popular culture.

Whether or not Freud’s theory is valid is no longer the point, as he has successfully ingrained his concepts into the social fabric of consciousness (Shengold 1993). Erik Erikson, on the other hand, is not quite as popular as Freud. However, his theory has been hailed the more valid one. In essence, Erikson’s theory has been utilized as a foundation for further studies, such as in the identification of father-child relationships, the formation of identity and the significance of intimacy.

These issues have been closely tied to the stages discussed by Erikson, primarily with regards to the issues of virtues and conflicts. It has also been seen as a significant influence in the study of childhood education and development. The conflicts introduced by Erikson, particularly those in the childhood years, have been very significant for early childhood caregivers and workers in their ability to deal and associate with children (Christiansen and Palkovitz 1998). Conclusion To summarize, Erikson and Freud both have theories on social development.

Freud’s theory centers mainly on the unconscious and the sexual nature of children that invariably determine their personalities and characteristics in adulthood. For Erikson, on the other hand, the Theory of Psychosocial Development has eight stages that span birth to death, highlighting the significance of life stages and the conflicts within as the determining factor for a person’s character flaws and virtues. Both contributed vastly to the field of psychology with varying impact.

In essence, both theories, flawed as they are, remain crucial to the body of literature in psychological studies. Whether or not they are significantly accurate studies of human development is no longer the question. Both theories serve as the foundation for further studies on the development of man as a social animal.

Works Cited

Christiansen, Shawn and Rob Palkovitz. “Exploring Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory of Development: Generativity and Its Relationship to Paternal Identity, Intimacy, and Involvement in Childcare”.

The Journal of Men’s Studies. (1998): 133 Erikson, Erik and Joan Erikson. The Life Cycle Completed. NY: WW Norton, 1997 Fine, Reuben. Freud: A Critical Reevaluation of His Theories. NY: David McKay, 1962 Friedman, Lawrence. Identity’s Architect: A Biography of Erik Erickson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999 Jones, Ernest. The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud Volume 1: The Formative Years and the Great Discoveries 1856-1900. NY: New York Basic Books, 1953 Shengold, Leonard. “Our Freud”. Psychoanalytic Quarterly. 62. 1 (1993): 1-22