Freud’s and Erikson’s Psychoanalytic Theories

Chapter 2

Sigmund Freud

General Orientation to the Theory

Dynamic Approach

Psychic energy, drive energy, libido, or tension.

“Just as mechanical, electrical, or thermal energy performs physical work, so does psychic energy perform psychological work” (Miller, 2002, p. 110).

Two basic instincts result in psychological energy.

Eros (sex, self-preservation, love, life forces, striving toward unity)

Libido is the available energy of Eros.

Destructive Instinct (aggression, undoing connections, the death instinct, hate)

General Orientation to the Theory

Two basic instincts result in psychological energy.

As the child progresses through the stages, varying regions of the body become the center for excitation.

This biological energy stimulates the mind and results in psychic energy.

“The aim of the sex drive, or of any instinct, is to remove this bodily need, discharge tension, and experience pleasure” (Miller, 2002, p. 111).

General Orientation to the Theory

Structural Approach

Freud posited that psychological structures exist through which energy flows.

Id– inaccessible part of the personality where innate desires are located. Primary-process thought.

Ego– is necessary for physical and psychological survival as it provides decision-making and the delay of energy discharge. Secondary-process thought.

Superego– is comprised of the conscience and ego ideal. Develops when the children identify with their parents following resolution of the Oedipus complex. Encourages the maintenance of order.


Defense Mechanisms


Keeping anxiety at bay preventing a thought from reaching one’s awareness.

Reaction Formation

Masking unacceptable emotions by focusing on the opposite.


Projecting one’s beliefs or thoughts onto someone else.


Reverting to an earlier level of development.


Remaining tied to an earlier period of development, which prevents the individual from moving fully into the next stage.


General Orientation to the Theory


General Orientation to the Theory

Topographic Approach


The contents are primarily unknown due to their repression. “This material is incapable of breaking into the consciousness without certain changes or interventions, such as an increase in the drive, a weakening of ego defenses, or the guidance of a therapist” (Miller, 2002, p. 118).


Reaches consciousness when mental images or language are formed.


What one is aware of at the moment. Thoughts rapidly slip back and forth between the conscious and preconscious. Only a few thoughts can be conscious at any one time.

Freud’s sketch of structure and topography of the mind

General Orientation to the Theory

Stage Approach

Emphasis on the first years of life.

Development involves psychosexual stages.

Movement from stage to stage is biologically determined. As a result, a child can move to the next stage without successful resolution of the first.

The stages are only loosely connected.

General Orientation to the Theory

Normal-Abnormal Continuum

Study of the abnormal facilitates understanding of the normal.

“Abnormal and normal personalities obey the same principles and merely occupy different positions along a continuum ranging from the very disturbed to the very healthy” (Miller, 2002, p. 122).

General Orientation to the Theory


Children were not studied directly. Instead, the stages were constructed based on Freud’s experience with troubled Victorians.

Freud did not view this as an issue, as he believed adult personalities are “residues of our childhood” (Miller, 2002, p. 123).

Free association, dream analysis, and transference were used to analyze the unconscious.

Every psychological event has meaning. Thoughts and feelings do not occur randomly.

Description of the Stages

Oral Stage (Roughly birth to 1 year)

Libidinal energy is cathected in the oral erogenous zone.

Pleasure is gained from sucking, chewing, eating, and biting, as uncomfortable sexual excitations are relieved.

Pain from frustration and anxiety occur if these sexual tensions continue to intensify due to a lack of release.

The oral activities themselves are satisfying. Hunger does not need to be satisfied for pleasure to be experienced.

Conflict occurs as the parents impose the cultural demands of society (e.g., removing objects not to be chewed, reducing or eliminating nighttime feedings).

Description of the Stages

Oral Stage

Too little gratification

Frequent anxiety

Continual seeking of oral gratification in later years


Too much gratification

Less obvious

Children may regress to highly cathected objects of the oral stage when confronted with anxiety in later stages.


Description of the Stages

Oral Stage

“The oral stage shows humans’ ambivalence toward other people and objects” (Miller, 2002, p. 126).

Five oral “modes of functioning”

Taking in

Holding on


Spitting out


Range from literally oral to the metaphorically oral

Mother becomes the primary love object– attachment.

Description of the Stages

Anal Stage (Roughly 1 to 3 years)

The erogenous zone is now the anal area.

Defecation decreases tension brought about by the physiological need to defecate.

Parents (society) demand self-control through toilet training.

The degree of conflict experienced by the child is influenced by

Age at which toilet training begins.

How strict or relaxed training is.

The mother’s attitude toward defecation, control, and cleanliness.

Description of the Stages

Anal Stage

Strict toilet training

Children may react by defecating and inappropriate times or places.

Children may become messy, dirty, and irresponsible adults.

Children may become compulsively neat, orderly, or obstinate adults.

The goal is to allow enough, but not too much gratification and self-control.

Description of the Stages

Phallic Stage (Roughly 3 to 5 years)

The genital area is now the erogenous zone.

“The problem of this stage is that the sexual urge is directed toward the parent of the other sex” (Miller, 2002, p. 129).

For boys– The Oedipus Complex

Boys are emphasized more greatly by Freud, as he believed the conflict is more intense for boys.

Boys grow to identify with their fathers after the realization that they are not strong enough to get rid of their fathers in an attempt to fulfill their sexual desire for their mothers. In response to their castration anxiety (fear that their fathers will castrate them), they repress their desire for their mothers and hostility toward their fathers.

Internalization of the father is important and results in the development of the superego.


Description of the Stages

Phallic Stage

Girls experience penis envy when she realizes that her father has an object that she does not have.

Girls blame their mothers for castration.

Identification with the mother results, but to a lesser extent due to the presence of less anxiety (hence less repression).

Freud concluded that girls have a weaker conscience than boys as a result.

The Oedipus complex and resulting issues have been contested and rejected by feminist scholars.

Description of the Stages

Period of Latency (Roughly 5 years to the Beginning of Puberty)

No new erogenous zone develops.

Sexual drives are repressed.

A period of relative calm as sexual energy is routed into social concerns and defenses against sexuality.

Cognitive skills are acquired and cultural values are assimilated.

Description of the Stages

Genital Stage (Adolescence)

The physiological changes of puberty result in the return of sexual impulses.

Adult sexuality emerges as sexual impulses merge with earlier ones.

Love is more altruistic, with less concern for self-pleasure.

The selection of partners is influenced by attitudes and social patterns that were developed in the earlier stages.

Mechanisms of Development

Disturbances to the system result in development.

Freud’s system is less open than Piaget’s

More resistance to change is present

Energy can be changed in form, but not in amount.

Psychological Disruption results from


External Frustrations

Internal conflicts

Personal inadequacies


These disruptions only initiate change, the ego guides the course of change.

Attachment and identification are products of development, but also serve as mechanisms of development.

Position on Developmental Issues

Human Nature

Organismic rather than mechanistic; however this may be argued.

Individuals are passive in that drives force them into action; however they attempt to cope with these drives, which makes them active.

Qualitative Versus Quantitative

Qualitative development occurs through changes in the stages and new acquisitions.

Quantitative development occurs through the gradual strengthening of the ego, superego, and various defense mechanisms.

Position on Developmental Issues

Nature Versus Nurture


“Variations in either the social environment or the physical constitution can cause personality differences among people” (Miller, 2002, 137).

What Develops

Structures develop that channel, repress, and transform sexual energy.




Affect as well as cognition

Evaluation of the Theory


Discovery of central developmental phenomena

Focus on nonlogical thought


Uncertain testability of central claims concerning development

The experimenter must be trained in psychoanalysis

Experimenter error is likely in Freud’s methods

The accuracy of adults’ recollections of childhood and recent dreams is questionable

Overemphasis on childhood sexuality

Neo-Freudian Erik Erikson

General Orientation to the Theory

Erikson accepted the basic assumptions of Freudian theory; however due to his work across varying cultures, he believed the theory required expansion to include a life-span psychosocial dimension.

Psychosocial development is culturally relevant.

Children’s behavior is directed and enhanced in each culture’s own idiosyncratic manner.

Cultural relativity exists within a culture as it changes over time.

General Orientation to the Theory

The epigenetic principle guides psychosocial development.

Epi means “upon”, genesis means “emergence”.

“Like the fetus, the personality becomes increasingly differentiated and hierarchically organized as it unfolds in, and is shaped by, a particular environment” (Miller, 2002, p. 148).

General Orientation to the Theory

Psychosocial development is marked by

Progression through a set of psychosocial “crises” or issues as the child matures.

An expansion of significant relations.

Children’s understanding of social order increases.

An ability to use varying modalities to deal with society.

Progression through the crises is invariant; however, one will continue to deal with unresolved crises later in life.

General Orientation to the Theory

Emphasis on Identity

Erikson’s emphasis was more positive with a focus on the search for identity.

Identity relates to the understanding of oneself and of one’s society.

“Thus, identity is transformed from one stage to the next, and early forms of identity influence later forms” (Miller, 2002, p. 149).

General Orientation to the Theory

Expansion of psychoanalytic methodology

Direct observation of children

Cross-cultural comparisons




Contemporary Eriksonian Research

James Marcia

Two dimensions of identity

Commitment– to a particular employment option and ideologies.

Exploration– currently going on with those low in commitment or that went on in those with high commitment.

Committed Individuals

Achievement– explored alternatives prior to commitment.

Foreclosure– commitment not achieved as a result of exploration.

Uncommitted Individuals

Moratorium– Actively exploring (Identity crisis)

Diffusion– Unconcerned with commitment, exploring alternatives or not.

Mechanisms of Development

Physical maturation moves the individual through the stages; however culture can affect the progression’s speed and nourishment.

Erikson avoided a focus on tension reduction and instead viewed development as the resolution of conflict from opposing forces.

Play and rituals.

Position on Developmental Issues

Pain is avoided, but identity is sought– thus, human nature is viewed optimistically.

Development is qualitative and quantitative.

Contextualist view.

Nature influences the sequence of the stages and crises, but the environment determines how the crises are resolved.

Erikson emphasized culture– both society’s past and present.

Development is a lifelong process in which identity develops to give coherence to one’s personality.


Evaluation of the Theory


Expansion of psychoanalytic theory

Broad perspective


Lack of systematicity

Lack of specific mechanisms of development