After reading this article you will learn about Erik Erikson’s Neo-Freudian theory of personality.
Since Freud’s death, Erikson—more than any other person —has performed the function of continuing Freud’s idea of personality and its development.
Erikson considers himself a Freudian psychoanalyst. But he is more popularly known as a neo-Freudian after Carl Jung and Alfred Adler.
Erikson, in formulating his theory of personality, has followed in Adler’s footsteps more than those of Sigmund Freud, though the basic assumptions of Freud’s psychoanalysis remained as influential a factor in forming his theory as the ego psychology of Adler.
The most significant contributions Erikson has made in the theory of personality fall under two major headings:
(1) A psychosocial theory of development from which emerges an expanded conception of the ego; and
(2) the psychohistorical studies that exemplify his psychosocial theory in the lives of world famous individuals.
The second area of investigation made by Erikson is beyond the scope of this book and so remains out of the present purview.
Regarding the structure and dynamics of personality, Erikson upholds Freud’s view and agrees with him about the tripartite system of the mind. But, as to the personality development, he deviates from Freud’s idea of psychosexual stages of libido development. He rather agrees with Alfred Adler’s concept of ego development which gives a man his identity. Like Adler’s, Erikson’s theory applies to numerous points across the life course. Adler and Erikson agree that we all make active contributions to growing our personality by understanding who we are and who we want to become. It is this identity aspect of ego in the social context has been emphasized strongly by Erikson in developing his theory of psycho-social growth of personality.
Unlike Adler, Erikson holds that the effects of our early social experiences depend on ‘when’ they occurred. Also unlike Adler, Erikson sees personality growth as following epigenetic principles. He accepts the bio-scientist’s view that development is genetically determined and it operates in stages that unfold in an invariant way and universal way. They exhibit unchanging sequence for all individuals. Epigenesis determines the “proper rate and sequence” of development. Epigenesis is an extremely important idea.
The biological theory of epigenesis is that in the course of its development the embryo is moulded and modified by environmental forces and that the mature embryo is, therefore, equipped with characteristics which were not present in the fertilized egg. At its most extreme, the theory holds that even a mother’s reading habits during pregnancy will affect her child’s intellectual development. Epigenesis means that what comes later in development totally depends on all that preceded it. This interpretation has been taken by Erikson to describe epigenesis in developmental stages. According to him, our first social encounter lays the groundwork for everything that follows.
He points towards the specific maturity demands made by our cultural and social groups at each stage of life—demands that provoke us to respond adaptively or maladaptively. Each society is supposed to have its own views of the ideal characteristics of the mature individual. All of the society’s socializing agents—particularly the parents—promote these valued personal characteristics. Personality development, according to Erikson, is the ongoing product of the interaction of our individual needs with social expectations.
Erikson’s theory involves a total of eight stages with each stage centering on a particular crisis of development. He uses the term crisis to denote a developmental turning point, a decisive period during which the individual either acquires new capacities for vitality or fails to grow and thrive. A positive resolution of each crisis strengthens the growing ego; a negative resolution weakens it. Moreover, a positive resolution of a crisis at one stage increases the chances of that positive resolution of crisis at later stages.
A positive resolution, to Erikson , means that a balance, a ratio of positive to negative experience, is. favourable. But a positive resolution does not necessarily mean the crisis is settled forever. New conflict may resurrect old crises. He says – “Personality is engaged in the hazards of existence continuously, even as the body’s metabolism copes with the decay”.
There is given the description and block of Erikson’s stages of personality development in the form of a chart given below:
The above chart has been taken from Erikson’s book on Childhood and Personality, 1963.
Erikson is regarded as a “neo-Freudian” because he employs the framework of the psychoanalytic theory of Freud and follows the methods he adopted in developing psycho- sexual stages of personality development. But in describing the characteristics of later stages of life Erikson deviates from Freud’s technique and fashions it in his own direction.
Erikson accepts the notion of Freud for the early stages of life and agrees with him that libidinal or emotional energy exists at birth and is at the core of human functioning. He also agrees with him that development passes through stages, several of which coincide with Freudian ones too.
Nevertheless, he has made certain distinct deviations from Freudian stages, particularly at the maturity years. The adult years of life are obviously a continuation of much of what has gone before. But they also bring inevitable physical, social and psychological changes.
Erikson, in developing psychosocial stages, mentions three adult stages, each of which involves a psychosocial crisis. They belong to the three last stages he referred to of a person’s life.
According to Erikson, the crisis that faces the young adult is to establish sharing and caring relationships with others that involve personal commitment. It is usually the time when a separate family is being established on his own and the family becoming extended, responsibility and liabilities increase. It becomes necessary for him to extend this commitment to a wider range of people to take on guiding and nurturing of the younger generation.
Failure to be “generative” can result in stagnation and conflicts. If integration is not achieved, the individual suffers from despair. The old age is able to trace a decline in social interaction. The life experiences become stale leading to stagnation and life expectancies are on the way to decline leading to despair. Nevertheless, life becomes rich due to the increased wisdom through varieties of experiences, good or bad and leads to end.