Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Erik Erikson (1902-1994) came up with two different theories on development. Freud’s psychosexual development theory holds that parental care plays a critical role in determining how children handle their sexual drives, which ultimately contributes to proper development. Freud came up with five stages of development that include “oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital” (Scott 66). Later on, other psychologists criticized Sigmund Freud’s theory on development, and in contemporary times, it is considered as one of the outdated theories. On the other hand, Erik Erikson developed Sigmund’s theory and came up with the psychosocial theory of development that has eight stages. Erikson’s eight stages of “psychosocial development include trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame/doubt, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, identity vs. role confusion, intimacy vs. isolation, generativity vs. stagnation, and integrity vs. despair” (Slater 64). This paper compares and contrasts Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual development theory to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory.
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Stages of psychosexual development theory vs. psychosocial development theory
Birth – year 1
At this stage, both Freud and Erikson’s theories major on the critical role that early experiences play in the development of an individual. However, while Freud stresses the importance of proper feeding at this stage, Erikson’s focus is on the way caretakers handle a child’s needs.
According to Freud, this stage is called the oral stage and a child derives pleasure through the mouth (Crain 101). This observation explains why children suck their thumbs or direct everything they touch towards the mouth. According to Crain, Freud explains that if this stage is not fully developed, an individual suffers oral fixation, which explains why some people suck their thumbs later in life (101).
On the other hand, Erikson calls this stage trust vs. mistrust. At this point, children learn to trust or mistrust adults (Crain 114). However, the person close to the child at this stage is a caregiver, and thus the interaction between the two forms the basis for trust or mistrust. Therefore, a child will learn to trust adults if the caregivers involved at this stage create the impression that people can be trusted. Erikson notes that the only communication channel for a child at this stage is through crying (Crain 114). The act of crying signifies an unmet need in a child. Therefore, caregivers should act in accordance to meet the need, which in turn forms the basis of trust between the child and adults.
1 – 3 years
Between the first and third years, Freud and Erikson’s theories major on the process by which children learn about independence and mastery.
According to the psychosexual theory, this phase is the anal stage of development. Freud notes that children at this stage are introduced to mastery, independence, and competence by learning to control bladder and bowel movements (Bee and Boyd 84). If a child undergoes this stage successfully, Freud asserts that one will grow to become a productive and capable individual later in life (Bee and Boyd 84). However, any form of failure at this stage causes anal fixation, which ultimately leads to one becoming a messy adult.
On his side, Erikson labels this phase as the autonomy versus shame and doubt stage (Bee and Boyd 85). During this stage, children learn independence and control over what they do a couple with how they react to their surroundings. For instance, children that learn to use the potty at this stage become confident in their capabilities. Conversely, children that fail to grasp this basic activity may feel unconfident about their abilities and autonomy. Caregivers can assist children at this stage by letting them make choices about what to wear, eat, or the kind of toys to play with. This freedom of choice creates a sense of autonomy, which ultimately instills confidence in children concerning their capabilities.
3 – 6 years
During this stage, Freud underscores the role of sexual desire in children while Erikson majors on the interaction between children and parents and peers.
Freud calls this phase the phallic stage where children start recognizing their sexual orientation (Scott 69). Boys are drawn towards their mothers in what Freud calls the Oedipus complex while girls experience the Electra complex where they are drawn towards their fathers (Scott 69). Girls start feeling threatened by their mothers based on the attention they both get from the father figures in the family.
On the other side, this stage is the initiative vs. guilt according to Erikson (Bee and Boyd 92). At this stage, children that have undergone the first and the second phases successfully take initiatives that point to a certain direction in life (Bee and Boyd 92). They are confident of their abilities and thus they can easily take initiatives and face challenges independently. Erikson notes that this stage is characterized by conflict between parents/caregivers and children (Crain 106). This scenario emerges because children want to make certain choices, which might not be popular with their parents. Nevertheless, undergoing this stage successfully creates a sense of purpose in children and they grow up to try new things without fear of failure. Those that fail at this stage suffer from guilt, which breeds the feeling of inadequacy in one’s abilities.
7 – 11 years
While Erikson holds that children at this phase continue to develop more skills on independence and competence, which were initiated in the previous phase, Freud sees this level as a transition period between childhood and adolescence.
This latent period, according to Freud, is characterized by suppressed libido, which allows children to focus on other activities like hobbies, making new friends, and becoming better in school among other duties (Schaffer and Kipp 90). This stage plays a critical role in the development of social skills coupled with improving one’s self-confidence. Failure at this point leads to individuals becoming social misfits characterized by a lack of self-confidence.
However, Erikson asserts that during this industry vs. inferiority stage, children continue to improve on their independence and competence in different areas (Bee and Boyd 97). The expanding social world at this stage allows children to make decisions that are in tandem with their choices. School plays a critical role during this stage as children are exposed to an environment where they can explore their competence in different tasks whether in the classroom or playground. Children at this stage start appreciating personal accomplishments, which goes a long way in determining the kind of adults that they become. On the contrary, children that fail that this stage struggle with incompetence later in adulthood.
Both Freud and Erikson agree that during this stage teenagers become aware of their sense of identity. During this genital stage, according to Freud, teenagers start to pursue romantic relationships (Schaffer and Kipp 90). On the other side, Erikson calls this phase the identity vs. role confusion stage, where teenagers become aware of their identity (Newman and Newman 87). With the necessary support, teens develop a strong sense of self and clear direction of what they want to achieve in life. Failure to navigate this stage successfully may lead to lifelong confusion about oneself and purpose in life.
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Freud’s theory does not explore this stage as it holds that development happens from childhood to adolescence, which spills over to adulthood. However, Erikson splits this stage into three phases. First is the intimacy vs. isolation stage (19 – 40 years) where individuals pursue love and companionship (Slater 65). In the second phase – the generativity vs. stagnation stage (40 -65 years), individuals seek to build the legacy by undertaking activities that will live on after death like educating children and other positive societal deeds (Slater 65). Finally, after 65 years of age, individuals enter the integrity vs. the despair stage where they look back at their lives with a sense of accomplishment or regrets.
Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual development theory and Erikson’s psychosocial development theory focus on the different stages that individuals go through from childhood to adulthood. While Freud focused on five stages, Erikson expanded that to eight stages of development. As highlighted in this paper, Freud majored on the psychological and sexual aspects of development while Erikson incorporated the social aspect into the process. Nevertheless, the two theories hold that the events that occur during the formative years of growth contribute significantly to how one turns out as an adult.
Bee, Hellen, and Denise Boyd. The Developing Child. Pearson, 2009.
Crain, William. Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications. Pearson, 2011.
Newman, Barbara, and Philip Newman. Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach. Cengage Learning, 2017.
Schaffer, David, and Katherine Kipp. Developmental Psychology: Childhood & Adolescence. Wadsworth, 2010.
Scott, Jill. Electra After Freud: Myth and Culture. Cornell University Press, 2005.
Slater, Charles. “Generativity Versus Stagnation: An Elaboration of Erikson’s Adult Stage of Human Development.” Journal of Adult Development, vol. 10, no. 1, 2003, pp. 53-65.