Comparing and Contrasting Freuds and Eriksons Theories

This paper explores the first three stages of Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Psychosocial Development and Erik Erickson’s Psychosocial Development side by side. At each comparative stage, a brief description of Erickson’s version then a brief description of Freud’s version is given. After describing both perspectives on each stage of development, comparisons are drawn and connections shown to any common traits between the two theories. A description explains the various contradictions between the two theories. The conclusion will consist of a summary showing how the overall theories of Erickson and Freud compare and contrast each other.

Both Erik Erickson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development and Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Psychosocial Development deal with the issues of growing up based on stages. In both theories, these stages are set apart by distinct areas of development that each individual has to overcome in a positively balanced way. It is necessary to achieve this balance in order for the healthy development of the mind, beliefs, and assumptions about our place and function in this world (Huffman, 2010).

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Both theories attempt to place concrete yet flowing explanations to the behavior or character of an individual. Although Erikson formed his theory based in part from the study of the Freudian theory, he developed his own unique but correlational views to Freud’s theory (Chapman, 2006-2010). Both theories can stand-alone as valid and indispensable methods of measuring behavioral development. Because of the close correlation to the stages of Erickson and Freud, this paper will show the ways in which Erikson and Freud’s theories compare and contrast each other through their first three stages of child development.

This paper will start by describing, comparing, and contrasting the first stage of development as theorized by Erikson’s Stage 1: Trust versus mistrust and Freud’s: Oral Stage (Huffman, 2010). Erikson has based his first stage of Psychosocial Development during the first year of life. This is where Erikson believes that as the infant grows, it will develop either a sense of trust or mistrust of people depending upon whether or not its needs for “food, comfort, teething, and sleeping are met,” (Chapman, 2006-2010).

Erikson states that out of this stage, a person will gain a positive or a ‘syntonic’ outcome in varying degrees of ‘trust’ (Huffman, 2010). At this stage, the person will gain not only “trust” as an outcome but will also gain other “basic virtues” of “hope and drive” as well (Chapman, 2006-2010). The other side of the positive or “syntonic” scale is the negative or “dystonic” outcome. The “dystonic” outcome of “mistrust” will develop in a child if the caregiver does not successfully provide these basic needs (Chapman, 2006-2010). At the extreme end of the scale, where the child has developed too much “trust” or too much “mistrust,” a “maladaption” can occur (Chapman, 2006-2010). Too much “trust” can create a “sensory distortion” in the child and on the other end of the continuum, “withdrawal” can occur if the “mistrust” is extreme (Chapman, 2006-2010).

Before describing Freud’s counterpart to Ericson’s first stage, it is necessary to describe some of the underlying principles of Freud’s theory to help explain his views on the psychosexual stages. Based on Freud’s theory “the ‘Id’ or the ‘unconscious’ part of the mind is where thoughts that have underlining unresolved issues are stored (Boeree, 2009). These thoughts are the result of negative experiences of the different stages of psychosexual development (Boeree, 2009). The memory holds each of these negative experiences indefinitely and “Defense Mechanisms” keep the thoughts hidden until the “Conscious” mind or the “Ego” can properly deal with them (Boeree, 2009). Achieving a release of emotion is the outcome when the understanding of the “Repressed” event occurs in the memory. After this happens, the underlying cause of the unwanted behavior is forgotten. The ‘Superego’ or the ‘Preconscious’ is where all of the external pressures that the world and other interpersonal relationships give, are stored (Boeree, 2009). Pain, pleasure, discipline and other things that caused the “Id” delayed gratification are also stored here (Boeree, 2009).

The “Oral Stage” Freud’s first psychosexual developmental stage is from birth to about one to one and half years old (Huffman, 2010). Because at this stage of development an infant does not have a fully functioning “Ego” to draw conclusions on, it represses feelings in the “Id” if its sexual needs are not satisfied by the caregiver (Boeree, 2009). If during the first five months of Freud’s “Oral Stage,” the caregiver did not meet the needs of the child to suckle at the mother’s breast, an “Oral-Passive” character would be the result (Boeree, 2009). This is where the person would be “Oral-Passive” in personality and would tend to be very dependent on others (Boeree, 2009). This would also lead to oral fixations later in life that might include smoking, drinking, or over eating (Boeree, 2009).

During the teething stage between five to eight months, if the child’s need to bite on things is not met, Freud believes that they could develop an “Oral-Aggressive” personality (Boeree, 2009). The need to bite on pencils, gum, or other people could develop (Boeree, 2009). In addition, Freud believes that people can become verbally aggressive, argumentative, and sarcastic later in life (Boeree, 2009).

In the Freudian theory, as in Erikson’s, the development of the individual is dependent upon a relationship to the primary care giver, namely, the mother (Boeree, 2009). Unlike Erikson’s Theory that focused on the trust that should develop in the child based on this relationship, Freud correlated the relationship down it a basic biological sexual need that he believes is innate in all people from the moment of conception (Boeree, 2009). Therefore, even though there are two people involved in the developmental process, namely mother and child, the causation is whether the mother will fulfill the sensual desires of the child’s erogenous zone of the mouth (Boeree, 2009).

In Erickson’s reasoning, sex was not the driving need of the child, it was a sense of trust that the mother conveyed by meeting its other physiological needs (Chapman, 2006-2010). In comparison, both views of this stage show that the sense of touch is the primary mode of conveyance to the child, that its mother will fulfill its needs (Chapman, 2006-2010). This is true whether it is a psychological need for trust, a desire for food or other physiological needs, or the gratification of sexual tension that is being met (Boeree, 2009) (Chapman, 2006-2010). In both theories, the neglect of the caregiver is the primary catalyst for future problems that might develop in the emotions of the child (Boeree, 2009) (Chapman, 2006-2010).

Erikson describes the next stage as, Stage 2: Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt, Freud calls it the Anal Stage (Huffman, 2010). Erikson sets this stage between the ages of one and three and relates it to how well a caregiver allows a child to exercise his will, and in giving the freedom to the child to make choices concerning his own life (Chapman, 2006-2010). In this stage, Erikson illustrated how the child is testing the boundaries, to see what affect it can create in its own life (Chapman, 2006-2010). This is where the parents have to walk a tightrope in allowing the child to have enough space to make decisions, explore on their own, and in holding the child back for their own safety. If there is too much control on the part of the parent in the form of protection, where the child never gets to try anything, shame and doubt will develop in the child causing timidity and a fear of initiating actions (Chapman, 2006-2010).

Erikson states that reaching a positive balance out of this stage of development, the child achieves “autonomy” along with the “basic virtue and second named strength” of having “willpower and self-control” (Chapman, 2006-2010). Reaching the extreme end of the negative side of the scale, compulsion will be the “maladaptation.” Within stage two, the extreme end of the positive side would be Impulsivity (Chapman, 2006-2010).

Boeree (2009) says that, Freud’s “Anal stage” is the equivalent of Ericson’s second stage. In his theory, the anus is the erogenous zone between the ages of eighteen months to three years (Boeree, 2009). He says that at this stage of development the action holding it in or releasing it is a pleasurable experience for the child because it gratifies the erogenous zone (Boeree, 2009). A lot of the child’s focus is in the exploring of body functions and the reaction of the parents. The formal potty training time exemplifies the effects of the psychological development of the child. If the parents beg and bribe the child during potty training, setting the standard of pooping in the potty as the most important thing in the parent’s life, then the child could misconstrue himself to be in control of the parents (Boeree, 2009). An “Anal Expulsive” or “Anal Aggressive” personality could develop in the child. Boeree (2009) states that “if on the other hand the child is met by strict demands that they poop in the potty or be met with punishment or humiliation, the child could grow up to have an “Anal-retentive” personality and become constipated due to an effort of keep it in.”

In both Erickson and Freud’s theories, poop is the main topic. More specifically, it is how the parents react to poop whether it is with approval, or punishment and feeling of disapproval and dirtiness (Boeree, 2009) (Chapman, 2006-2010). In both theories, this is a pivotal stage in development and can set the stage for further problems if not met with the positive outcome of motivation and willingness to try new things while taking pride in their discoveries (Boeree, 2009). These discoveries need to be managed in the proper way by the caregiver so the child is never be made to feel bad or dirty because of their discoveries (Huffman, 2010).

Here, as in the first stage, the main contrast to Ericson’s theory is in the sexuality of the act of pooping. In Erikson’s stage 2, autonomy or shame and doubt are the results (Chapman, 2006-2010). In Freud’s stage one the results could be that a person will grow up to become “Anal Expulsive,” in the form or sloppiness, disorganizes, cruel, and destructiveness (Boeree, 2009). Alternatively, they might become an “Anal Retentive” person that tends to be a very clean perfectionist, dictatorial in attitude, stubborn, and stinging in dealing with people (Boeree, 2009).

Erikson’s Stage 3 is about Initiative versus Guilt and Freud’s is the Phallic Stage (Huffman, 2010). In this stage, Erikson shows how the support and encouragement of caregivers can become the power that drives the child to heights of self-confidence. It can also send the child into the depths of guilt because of the lack of support from the caregiver. The most important aspect of this support is when the child feels that it is ok to make plans of their own and feels encouraged while doing them (Chapman, 2006-2010)

If the child’s initiative is question, or if every time the child tells the parent an idea they are ridiculed the children will feel guilt (Chapman, 2006-2010). The child will start to feel guilty even at the thought of invoking its own will (Chapman, 2006-2010). If this is done repeatedly, the child can develop a fear of being wrong and unapproved. This and fear of being called stupid can become a part of the child’s personality (Chapman, 2006-2010). If a child is successful at this stage, “Initiative” along with “Purpose and Direction” in their lives will be the result. At the extreme end of the stage, “Ruthlessness” can be the result of too much Initiative. On the other end of the scale, a lack of encouragement can cause “Inhibition” to result, (Chapman, 2006-2010).

Freud sees this stage as a time when the genitals become the erogenous zone, and a preoccupation with stimulation through masturbations is common (Boeree, 2009). This stage starts around the age of three and ends around the age of seven (Huffman, 2010). This stage is all about the penis, whether you have one or not (Boeree, 2009). In Freud’s thinking, it is better to have one then not to have one, and he sees this as the main issue relating to sexual identity. In the boys, they see that dad has one and mom does not, and this can sometimes engage a fear in the boys that somehow they can lose theirs through castration (Boeree, 2009). Freud thinks that girls deal with “Penis envy,” again because it is better to have something then not to have it in Freud’s estimation (Boeree, 2009).

Fraud believes that the child’s relationship with the same sex and opposite sex parent is also at the heart of this stage (Boeree, 2009). Freud’s “Oedipus Complex” says that as a boy grows he will see his father as competition for mom’s love and affection and a girl will see her mother in the same way (Boeree, 2009). Eventually as they progress through this stage, they will come to identify with the same sex parent and begin to take on a relationship with them as one of a mentor, showing them how to act out the gender role (Boeree, 2009). In Freud’s theory based on the different ways that the relationships are formed with the parent, a child can withdraw from heterosexual interaction because of a same sex parent’s rejection and fear of the other parent (Boeree, 2009). Alternatively, a child can have a high opinion of himself because of the over affection of the parent. This can create a problem later in life when they find that other people do not love them much as their parent does (Boeree, 2009).

Both Erikson and Freud see this stage as a time when a child’s identity comes to the forefront and where they are looking for guidance and encouragement (Boeree, 2009) (Chapman, 2006-2010).

One of the ongoing contradictions in Erikson and Freud’s Theories are that Freud emphasizes the role of sexuality and the erogenous zone of the penis. He also shows that sexual identity is fostered by the relationship with both parents. Erikson focuses more on the role of encouragement and in the accomplishments of the child in the social setting of the family (Boeree, 2009).

In conclusion, although Erickson’s theories find their genesis based on the study of Freud’s work, they have the validity to stand on their own. Both men attempted to define the stages that we all go through as we develop and grow. Freud’s general approach is through the basic sexual needs attributed to each stage of development (Boeree, 2009). Erickson focuses more of the challenges faced by the individual navigating between two outcomes based on the relationship of the caregiver (Chapman, 2006-2010). Although they both come from different perspectives, they also both give us invaluable insight into our own psyche and shows us the importance of our first relationships.

Table 1

Comparison between Erickson and Freud child developmental theories (Chapman, 2006-2010)

Erikson’s psychosocial crisis stages

Erikson’s basic virtue and second named strength

Erikson’s maladaptation / malignancy

Freudian Psychosexual stages


Stage outcomes

Trust vs. Mistrust

Hope and Drive

Sensory Distortion / Withdrawal


Oral-Passive vs. Oral-Aggressive personality

Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt

Willpower and Self-Control

Impulsivity / Compulsion


Anal Retentive vs. Anal-Explosive

Initiative Vs Guilt

Purpose and Direction

Ruthlessness / Inhibition


Sexual withdraw vs. Overly high self-esteem

This table shows the different aspects between Erick Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development and Freud’s theory of psychosexual development. It shows the name that both people call each stage and the potential outcomes of each stage, for the negative or for the positive.

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