Freud and Erikson Compared

Comparing Freud's and Erikson's Theories of Development

Freud and Erikson comparison

Sigmund Freud's psychosexual theory and Erik Erikson's psychosocial theory are two well-known theories of development. While he was influenced by Freud's ideas, Erikson's theory differed in a number of important ways.

Like Freud, Erikson believed that personality develops in a series of predetermined stages. Unlike Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages, Erikson’s theory describes the impact of social experience across the whole lifespan.

Let's compare and contrast these two theories by looking at some of the key similarities and differences at each stage.

Age: Birth to One Year

Infant with mother
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Freud's Stages of Psychosexual Development

  • Freud's called this the oral stage.
  • At this point in development, a child's primary source of pleasure is through the mouth via sucking, eating and tasting.
  • Problems with this stage can result in what Freud referred to as an oral fixation.

Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development

  • Erikson called this the trust versus mistrust stage.
  • Children learn to either trust or mistrust their caregivers.
  • The care that adults provide determines whether children develop this sense of trust in the world around them.
  • Children who do not receive adequate and dependable care may develop a sense of mistrust of others and the world.

Age: One to Three Years

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Psychosexual Development:

  • Freud called this the 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 me excessively orderly or messy.

Psychosocial Development:

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

Ages: Three to Six Years

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Freud's Theory:

  • 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 parent.
  • Boys experience the Oedipus complex while girls experience the Electra complex.

Erikson's Theory:

  • 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.

Ages: Seven to Eleven Years

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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 school, friends and hobbies.
  • Freud believed this stage was important for developing social skills and self-confidence.

Psychosocial Development:

  •  Erikson called this the industry versus inferiority stage.
  • Children develop a sense of competence by mastering new skills.
  • Kids who succeed at this stage develop pride in their accomplishments while those who struggle may be left feeling incompetent.

Age: Adolescence

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Freud's Theory:

  • Freud referred to this point in psychosexual development as the 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.

Erikson's Theory:

  • Erikson's called this point in psychosocial development the identity versus role confusion stage.
  • Children develop a personal identify and sense of self.
  • Teens 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.

Age: Adulthood

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Freud's Theory 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.

Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development:

  • Eriksons' theory includes three more stages that span adulthood. These three stages are:
  • Intimacy vs Isolation:  Young adults seek out romantic love and companionship.

  • Generativity vs Stagnation: Middle-aged adults nurture others and contribute to society.

  • Integrity vs Despair: Older adults reflect on their lives, looking back with a sense of fulfillment or bitterness.

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