Many believe Freud to be the father of modern psychiatry and psychology and the only
psychiatrist of any worth. He is certainly the most well known figure, perhaps because sex
played such a prominent role in his system. There are other psychologists, however, whose
theories demand respectful consideration. Erik Erickson, born Eric Homburger, whose
theories while not as titillating as Freud's, are just as sound. This paper will compare
the two great men and their systems. In addition, this paper will argue that Freud offers
the more useful foundation for understanding the Jenny Masterson's confused psyche.
Sigmund Freud showed signs of independence and brilliance well before entering the
University of Vienna in 1873. He had a prodigious memory and loved reading to the point of
running himself into debt at various bookstores. Among his favorite authors were Goethe,
Shakespeare, Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche. To avoid disruption of his studies, he often ate
in his room.
After medical school, Freud began a private practice, specializing in nervous disorders.
He was soon faced with patients whose disorders made no neurological sense. For example, a
patient might have lost feeling in his foot with no evidence to any sensory nerve damage.
Freud wondered if the problem could be psychological rather than physiological.
Dr. Freud evolved as he treated patients and analyzed himself. He recorded his assessment
and expounded his theories in 24 volumes published between 1888 and 1939. Although his
first book, The Interpretation of Dreams, sold only 600 copies in its first eight years of
publication, his ideas gradually began to attract faithful followers and students - along
with a great number of critics.
While exploring the possible psychological roots of nervous disorders, Freud spent several
months in Paris, studying with Jean Charcot, a French neurologist from whom he learned
hypnosis. On return to Vienna, Freud began to hypnotize patients and encouraging them
while under hypnosis to speak openly about themselves and the onset of their symptoms.
Often the patients responded freely, and upon reviewing their past, became quite upset and
agitated. By this process, some saw their symptoms lessened or banished entirely.
It was in this way that Freud discovered what he termed the "unconscious." Piecing
together his patients' accounts of their lives, he decided that the loss of feeling in
one's hand might be caused by, say, the fear of touching one's genitals; blindness or
deafness might be caused by the fear of hearing or seeing something that might arouse
grief or distress. Over time, Freud saw hundreds of patients. He soon recognized that
hypnosis was not as helpful as he had first hoped. He thus pioneered a new technique
termed "free association." Patients were told to relax and say whatever came to mind, no
matter how mortifying or irrelevant. Freud believed that free association produced a chain
of thought that was linked to the unconscious, and often painful, memories of childhood.
Freud called this process psychoanalysis.
Underlying Freud's psychoanalytic perception of personality was his belief that the mind
was akin to an iceberg - most of it was hidden from view. The conscious awareness is the
part of the iceberg that is above the surface but below the surface is a much larger
unconscious region that contains feelings, wishes and memories of which persons are
Some thoughts are stored temporarily in a preconscious area, from where they can be
retrieved at will. However, Freud was more interested in the mass of thought and feeling
that are repressed - forcibly blocked from conscious thought because it would be too
painful to acknowledge. Freud believed that these repressed materials unconsciously exert
a powerful influence on behavior and choices.
Freud believed that dreams and slips of tongue and pen were windows to his patient's
unconscious. Intrusive thoughts or seemingly trivial errors while reading, writing and
speaking suggested to Freud that what is said and done reflects the working of the
unconscious. Jokes especially were an outlet for expressing repressed sexual and
aggressive tendencies. For Freud, nothing was accidental.
Freud believed that human personality, expressed emotions, strivings, and beliefs arise
from a conflict between the aggressive, pleasure-seeking, biological impulses and the
social restraints against their expression. This conflict between expression and
repression, in ways that bring the achievement of satisfaction without punishment or
guilt, drives the development of personality.
Freud divided the elements of that conflict into three interacting systems: the id, ego
and superego. Freud did not propose a new, na?ve anatomy, but saw these terms as "useful
aids to understanding" the mind's dynamics.
The id is a reservoir of unconscious psychic energy that continually toils to satisfy
basic drives to survive, reproduce and aggress. The id operates on the pleasure principle
- if unconstrained, it seeks instantaneous gratification. It is exemplified by a new born
child who cries out for satisfaction the moment it feels hungry, tired, uncomfortable -
oblivious to conditions, wishes, or expectations of his environment.
As the child learns to cope with the real world, his ego develops. The ego operates on the
reality principle, which seeks to superintend the id's impulses in realistic ways to
accomplish pleasure in practical ways, avoiding pain in the process. The ego contains
partly conscious perceptions, thoughts, judgements, and memories. It is the personality
executive. The ego arbitrates between impulsive demands of the id, the restraining demands
of the superego and the real-life demands of the external world.
Around age 4 or 5, a child's ego recognizes the demands of the newly emerging superego.
The superego is the voice of conscience that forces the ego to consider not only the real
but also the ideal. Its focus is on how one should behave. The superego develops as the
child internalizes the morals and values of parents and culture, thereby providing both a
sense of right, wrong and a set of ideals. It strives for perfection and judges our
actions, producing positive feelings of pride or negative feelings of guilt. Someone with
an exceptionally strong superego may be continually upright and socially correct yet
ironically harbor guilt-, another with a weak superego may be wantonly self-indulgent and
remorseless. Because the superego's demands often oppose the id's, the ego struggles to
reconcile the two. The chaste student who is sexually attracted to someone and joins a
volunteer organization to work alongside the desired person, satisfies both id and
Analysis of his patients' histories convinced Freud that personality forms during a
person's first few years. Again and again his patients' symptoms seemed rooted in
unresolved conflicts from early childhood. He concluded that children pass through a
series of psychosexual stages during which the id's pleasure-seeking energies focus on
distinct pleasure-sensitive areas of the body he called "erogenous zones."
During the "oral stage," usually the first 18 months, an infant's sensual pleasure focuses
on sucking, biting, and chewing.
During the "anal stage," from about 18 months to 3 years, the sphincter muscles become
sensitive and controllable, and bowel and bladder retention and elimination become a
source of gratification.
During the phallic stage, from roughly ages 3 to 6 years, the pleasure zones shift to the
genitals. Freud believed that during this stage boys seek genital stimulation and develop
unconscious sexual desires for their mothers along with jealousy and hatred for their
father, whom they consider a rival. Boys feel unrecognized guilt for their rivalry and a
fear that their father will punish them, such as by castration. This collection of
feelings he named the "Oedipus Complex' after the Greek legend of Oedipus, who unknowingly
killed his father and married his mother. Originally Freud hypothesized that females
experienced a parallel "Electra complex." However, in time Freud changed his mind, saying,
(1931, p.229): "It is only in the male child that we find the fateful combination of love
for the one parent and simultaneous hatred for the other as a rival."
Children eventually cope with these threatening feelings by repressing them then
identifying with and trying to become like the rival parent. Through this identification
process children's superegos gain strength as they incorporate many of their parents'
values. Freud believed that identification with the same-sex parent provides our gender
identity - the sense of being male or female.
With their sexual feelings repressed and redirected, children enter a latency stage. Freud
maintained that during this latency period, extending from around age 6 to puberty,
sexuality is dormant and children play mostly with peers of the same sex.
At puberty, latency gives way to the final stage -- the genital stage -- as youths begin
to experience sexual feelings towards others.
In Freud's view, maladaptive behavior in the adult results from conflicts unresolved
during earlier psychosexual stages. At any point in the oral, anal, or phallic stages,
strong conflict can lock, or fixate, the person's pleasure-seeking energies in that stage.
Thus people who were either orally overindulged or deprived, perhaps by abrupt, early
weaning, might fixate at the oral stage. Orally fixated adults are said to exhibit either
passive dependence (like that of a nursing infant) or an exaggerated denial of this
dependence, perhaps by acting tough and macho. They might continue to smoke or eat
excessively to satisfy their needs for oral gratification. Those who never quite resolve
their anal conflict, a desire to eliminate at will that combats the demands of toilet
training, may be both messy and disorganized ("anal expulsive") or highly controlled and
compulsively neat ("anal-retentive").
To live in social groups, impulses cannot be freely acted on They must be controlled in
logical, socially acceptable ways. When the ego fears losing control of the inner struggle
between the demands of the id and the superego, the result is anxiety. Anxiety, said
Freud, is the price paid for civilization.
Unlike specific fears, the dark cloud of anxiety is unfocused. Anxiety is therefore,
difficult to cope with, as when we feel unsettled but have no basis for feeling that way.
Freud proposed that the ego protects itself against anxiety with ego defense mechanisms.
Defense mechanisms reduce or redirect anxiety in various ways, but always by distorting
reality. Some examples follow:
!. Repression banishes anxiety arousing thoughts and feelings from consciousness.
According to Freud, repression underlies every defenses mechanisms, each of which can
disguise threatening impulses and keep them from reaching consciousness. Freud believed
that repression explains why lust a parent is not remembered from childhood. However, he
also believed that repression is often incomplete, with the repressed urges seeping out in
dream symbols and slips of the tongue.
2. Regression - retreating to an earlier, more infantile stage of development where some
psychic energy still fixates. Thus, when facing the anxious first days of school, a child
may regress to the oral comfort of thumb sucking.
3. In reaction formation, the ego unconsciously makes unacceptable impulses look like
their opposites. En route to unconsciousness, the unacceptable proposition of "I hate
him," may become "I love him." Timidity becomes daring. Feelings of inadequacy become
bravado. According to the principle behind this defense mechanism, vehement social
crusaders, such as those who urgently campaign against gay rights, may be motivated by the
very sexual desires against which they are crusading.
4. Projection disguises threatening impulses by attributing them to others. Thus, "He
hates me," may be a projection of the actual feeling, "I hate myself." According to
Freudian theory, racial prejudice may be the result of projecting one's own unacceptable
impulses or characteristics onto members of another group.
5. The familiar mechanism of rationalization allows people to unconsciously generate
self-justifying explanations to hide from the real reasons for certain actions. Thus
students who fail to study may rationalize, "All work and no play makes Jill a dull
6. Displacement diverts one's sexual or aggressive impulses toward a more psychologically
acceptable object than the one that aroused them. For example, a student upset about a bad
grade may snap at their roommate.
7. Sublimation is the transformation of unacceptable impulses into socially valued
motivations. Sublimation is therefore socially adaptive and may even be a wellspring for
great cultural and artistic achievements. Freud suggested the da Vinci's paintings of
Madonnas were a sublimation of his longing for intimacy with his mother, from whom he was
separated at a very young age.
Although Freud was known to change his mind, he was deeply committed to his ideas and
principles, even in the face of harsh criticism. Although controversial, his ideas
attracted followers who formed a dedicated inner circle. From time to time, sparks would
fly and a member would leave or be outcast. Even the ideas of the outcasts, however,
reflected Freud's influence.
Erik Erikson was one of these outcasts. He agreed with Freud that development proceeds
through a series of critical stages. But he believed the stages were psychosocial, not
psychosexual. Erikson also argued that life's developmental stages encompass the whole
life span According to Erikson, a crisis is equivalent to a turning point in life, where
there is the opportunity to progress or regress. At these turning points, a person can
either resolve conflicts or fail to adequately resolve the developmental task.
Delving further into these differences, Erikson contended that each stage of life has its
own psychosocial task. Young children wrestle with issues of trust, then autonomy, then
initiative. School-age children develop competence, the sense that they are able and
productive human beings. In adolescence, the task is to synthesize past, present, and
future possibilities into a clearer sense of self. Adolescents wonder: "Who am I as an
individual? What do I want to do with my life? What values should I live by? What do I
believe in?" Erikson calls this quest to more deeply define a sense of self the
adolescent's "search for identity."