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Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson

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Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson are two of the most influential psychoanalysts of human development. Both theorists contributed to the field of psychoanalysis and psychology by separating development into stages of a person’s life and utilizing similar age divisions for each developmental stage. Freud’s work includes 5 psychosexual stages. Erikson’s work was influenced by Freud and consists of 8 psychosocial stages. Freud’s and Erikson’s theories both recognize the importance of the unconscious on development. Each theory is comprised of similarities as well as the difference in each developmental stage.

Sigmund Freud believed that development is influenced by basic needs and biological forces. In contrast, Erikson believed that human development is shaped by social and environmental factors. This contrast in theories causes major differences in how human development is viewed by each theorist. While Freud’s stages of development are focused in childhood, Erikson’s theory has stages beginning at childhood and continues throughout life. In both theories, the individual must overcome challenges weather sexually or socially. Failure to do so may lead to fixation or a sense of failure.

Freud’s first developmental stage begins in the first year of life and is known as the Oral stage. In this stage, the infant needs oral stimulation, whether it be by suckling, eating, or tasting. Erikson’s first stage is known as Trust vs. Mistrust. In this stage, the infant learns to trust by his parents or his caregivers. Failing to receive a nurturing environment can result in mistrust later in life. The second stage is from 1-3 years of age, Freud’s Anal stage and Erikson’s Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. Both theorists agree that a child develops a sense of independence through toilet training. The Phallic stage and Initiative vs. Guilt is the third stage from 3-6 years of age. Freud believes the child identifies with the same-sex parent which helps to develop self-esteem. Erikson believes that in this stage, the child starts to take power and control over their environment. The fourth stage is Latency and Industry vs. Inferiority. Freud believes this is the stage where the child begins form interactions with his/her environment. In contrast, Erikson believes in this stage the child starts to demonstrate the ability to succeed. The last stage in the Freudian theory is Genital. In this stage, the individual starts to develop romantic relationships. However, this does not occur until Erikson’s sixth stage, Intimacy vs. Isolation. The fifth stage in Erikson’s theory is Identity vs. Role Confusion in which the individual shifts their focus of development to social bonding. Erikson’s last two stages, Generativity vs. Stagnation and Integrity vs. Despair are stages in adulthood where the adult develops a place in his/her society and then begins to reflect on their life.

Freud and Erikson both helped set the foundation for future psychologists and psychoanalysts with their developmental stages. I believe that although these theories have been widely criticized and argued against, that it holds true to how an individual develops both sexually and socially. I personally feel that Erikson’s psychosocial theory applies more today because I believe an individual is shaped mainly by his/her environmental experiences. The challenges that one faces can either “make or break you”. One must have the ability to move through each stage in life and learn from what one is able to succeed in and what one’s weaknesses are in order to have a better sense of self and sense of belonging in today’s society.

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