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Evaluating Psychoanalytic Theory: Importance of Childhood for Personality Development

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What are the common characteristics of human personality? What leads to the difference between people? As early as the end of the 19th century, the discussion of human personality has already become a common and stable study. Influenced by Sigmund Freud, Eric Erikson alters Freud’s psychosexual development stage and established Erikson’s psychosocial development stage in the 1950s.

Both Freud and Erikson point out the importance of childhood for personality development. In Freud’s psychosexual development, he proposed five-stage of development (Oral stage, Anal stage, Phallic stage, Latency stage, Genital stage), each of which affects the individual’s mental development and health in varying degrees. If the staged desire could not meet, it will leave behind and cause fixation. Taking the Oral stage as an example, he proposed that during birth to 18 months, the child is mainly satisfied by sucking, chewing, swallowing, and other activities in the oral cavity. At this time, if the oral activity is restricted, there may be behavior like greed, alcoholism, smoking, biting nails, etc., and even pessimistic, dependent, and cleanliness in personality appears after growing up. Similarly, in the stage of Erikson’s psychosocial development, he divides human life into different stages (Infancy, Toddlerhood, Early childhood, Middle childhood, Adolescence, Early adulthood, Middle adulthood, Late adulthood), each of them needs to successfully complete the corresponding development tasks – including friendship, self-evaluation, specific calculations, skills learning & teamwork. Otherwise, it will make the next stage more difficult, even impossible. Erikson suggested that people will face the task of Trust and Mistrust when they are 0 to 1 year old. If the baby fails to get enough care from the mother at this stage, it will cause anxiety when facing a new environment in the future, affecting the chance to succeed in the next stage of learning to be independent.

At the same time, Erikson accepted Freud’s idea that human personality development is a contradiction between a series of views in each stage. Freud believes that conflict exists between the ego, superego, and Id. How to deal with these contradictions becomes the key to future development. When children are in the Anal stage, they need to learn how to control their physical needs and resolve the conflict between instinct and control in excretion. If parents can give appropriate support and encouragement, they can help children balance the contradiction between “Id” and “Superego” and develop generosity, diligence, and creativity. On the contrary, it will lead to stubborn, embarrassing, and violent personalities. Citing Freud’s point of view, Erikson proposed that individuals need to resolve the conflict between threats and opportunities at each stage to gain identity strengths. In Erikson’s psychosocial development stage, children will face conflicts of autonomy or shameful suspicion during Toddlerhood. By giving appropriate restraint and support, they can resolve the contradictions of the crisis, promote autonomous actions, and gain self-control. It can be seen that both of them believe that resolving the conflicts in each stage take an important part in the individual’s growth and development.

Although Erikson recognizes the importance of childhood experience for personality development, he also didn’t ignore the experience of adulthood, which is equally important. Different from the stage of Freud’s psychological development, Erikson’s psychosocial development stage includes the development of individuals after the age of puberty. As the first stage of adult development, Erikson proposed that dating, marriage, family, and friendship experienced by an early adult are important parts of the individual’s life stage. Through the construction of relationships with others, individuals will be able to experience love and intimacy. Conversely, it will feel lonely, and affect individuals’ mental health and personality. However, Freud’s psychosexual development is only a staged process that points out the sexual maturity of children towards adults. It suggested that individuals will develop a solid self at maturity and develop the ability to delay their desires. He only focuses on the importance of childhood experiences on personality development and ignores the psychological development of adults.

What leads to the differences above? Freud believes that early experience has shaped or may even fix an adult’s personality, and this view is applied to his development theory. Freud claims that human beings are mainly driven by unconscious motives and conflicts. And most of the inner strengths, memories, and conflicts that are not perceived or controlled are derived from the individual’s childhood and continuously influence human behavior. Freud believed “that the basis for adult personality resided in the infant and his experiences”, especially sexual experience. And the so-called “sexual life” mentioned here mainly points to the transition period of the boy’s Oedipus complex and the girl’s love relationship with the father. When the child can endorse the father or mother who is their competitor, and learn the characteristics from them, they can boost the development of the superego, and develop the correct behaviors and relationships between men and women in the future. It can be seen that Freud believes that early experience directly laid the foundation for personality development, not change through life-span. However, Erikson does not agree with Freud’s point of view. Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development regards personality development as a continuous process throughout the whole period of life. In the process of personality development, individuals learn to adapt to different difficulties at different stages, resolve different crises, then gradually rise, and finally complete their holistic selves. Erikson expects people to gain the advantages of hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, and care through the previous stages at the end of their life, thus resolving the contradiction between self-glory and pessimism, so that they can enjoy the remaining years. All development tasks in life need to be completed to increase the chances of completing the self. Only sustained and healthy development at every stage can avoid the result of being regret.

Moreover, Erikson emphasized the role of consciousness, surpassing the situation of being enslaved by the Id. And, the environment in which children grow up is crucial in providing them with adjustment, self-awareness, and recognition. In the stage of psychosocial development, he proposed that the individual grows up in human society after birth. The behavior is influenced by others and the society, rather than the natural development without restriction, otherwise he will not be able to fit in. He suggested that teenagers in the age of 12 to 17 will face several questions – who am I? How can I adapt? What should I achieve in my life? If parents can let their children explore and encourage them, they will be able to integrate their roles. However, if the parents continue to give pressure or indulge them, they may face the problem of confusion. It can be seen that Erikson believes external factors make great impacts on individuals. But Freud holds a different point. He believes that the energy of human spiritual activity comes from instinct. Instinct is the driving force for individual behavior, and the unconscious dominates human actions. In his point of view, the sexual instinct is the internal motivation of all mental actives, so he created the theory of the psychosexual development stage. He proposed that when a person is in the Genital stage, the sexual organs of the individual start to mature and the difference between the two genders begins to be significant, sexual desires will shift from parents to heterosexuals of similar age. Driven by sexual needs, they began to have an ideal sex life, the consciousness of marriage and family, and finally developed a mature mind.

From the above, it can be known that, while Freud focuses on the development of psychosexuality, the other influence angles added by Erikson helped expanded psychoanalysis. But is Erikson fundamentally changing the psychoanalysis theory?

My answer will be, yes. From the perspective of lifespan development, development should have the characteristic of lifelong, multidimensional, multidirectional, plastic, multidisciplinary, contextual, co-construction of different factors, and involving growth, maintenance, and regulation of loss. And Erikson amply demonstrates the point that development is a whole process of continuing life, and it will continue to progress after adulthood in his theory. He does not agree with Freud’s claim that all mental illnesses can be traced back to early childhood experiences. He agrees that early childhood experience is important, but personality can still develop through the social environment as an adult. This is why Erikson’s psychosocial development stage is divided into eight stages, including the development of people from infancy to adulthood to death. It can be seen that the development he proposed is lifelong. Also, individuals face and overcome new challenges at each stage which means people have the ability to make changes continuously. For example, through connecting with peers or imitating of idols, adolescents can construct an ideal image in their mind, thereby understanding who they are, what can they become, and helping them to achieve the embarrassment. This shows consciousness can progress through practice & development of better strategies. Development is plastic.

Meanwhile, change in people manifested in many directions. For example, in the psychosocial development stage of Erikson, children in 4 to 6 years old during the preschool period focus on developing their own ability to work alone, such as wearing children between the age of 7 to 11 gain self-worth & self-confidence by comparing the differences between themselves and other children’s strengths, which is cognitive development. This shows Erikson’s theory is multidirectional. Besides, a multidirectional development also indicates that development can suffer gain or loss. Just as a person’s life between 25 to 65 years of age tends to be stable, if the person feels uncomfortable in the process, he usually regrets the decision he made, on the other hand, if he can get a sense of purpose in life, such as raising a child, then be can gain motivation & progress. This also shows the process involving growth, maintenance & regulation of loss.

When it comes to the diversity of development, it is a feature of how physical, cognition, and psychology interact and develop. And the psychosocial development stage presents this very well. It shows that children from 2 to 3 years old quickly develop a lot of skills at this stage. They learn to walk, climb, push, put and talk, which also applies to control the excretion of urine and feces, illustrating the physical development of children. While the development of these abilities is affecting the level of conflict between their willingness and their parent’s wishes, & achieve the cognition of whether the child can or can’t do whatever they want. If the child can resolve the contradiction between parents and their will, and gain a sense of control and autonomy in cognition, they can bring a good sense of self-esteem mentally. This shows that the 3 aspects are mutually influential. Moreover, the scope of these developments involves the knowledge of multiple disciplines, such as cognitive psychology, biology, nutrition, health care, etc. As the personal expectation and parenting methods of parents and teachers can directly affect the child’s feelings and thoughts, it even includes the field of educational psychology, social psychology, etc. Shows co-construction in biological, socio-cultural, and individual.

Although some people may have reservations about Erikson’s fundamental change in psychoanalysis theory because they think it is not contextual. Erikson’s theory does not respond to the problem of different generations, while the period in which a person was born will affect his experience. Just like people who lived between 1929 and 1933 who experienced the Great Depression. This global economic recession caused large-scale unemployment and physical and mental health. Therefore, it can be seen that the common generation has similar experiences due to historical events, and Erikson’s theory doesn’t take this into account.

However, because Erikson’s psychosocial development stage is a phased development theory through age combination, we can still say that it is contextual. Because people in similar ages usually have similar life experiences. Take for example, in terms of biological, all newborn babies like to suck their fingers, suck the nipples, suck the pacifier. Because it is their instinct to suck things, it is the most basic development of all human beings. And all human beings must also have experienced the age of crying to convey the feeling of hunger, excitement, boredom, discomfort, etc. This is also something that babies must face regardless of the difference in generation. And when the individual is no longer in infancy, he no longer needs to face these experiences, which obviously shows that the same age usually has a similar experience, especially in the physical field. So Erikson’s theory is still concerned to be contextual.

Erikson’s theory is consistent with the characteristics of development in the life-span perspective, so I would say that Erikson radically changed the psychoanalysis theory.  

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Evaluating Psychoanalytic Theory: Importance of Childhood for Personality Development. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 26, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/evaluating-psychoanalytic-theory-importance-of-childhood-for-personality-development/
“Evaluating Psychoanalytic Theory: Importance of Childhood for Personality Development.” GradesFixer, 24 May 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/evaluating-psychoanalytic-theory-importance-of-childhood-for-personality-development/
Evaluating Psychoanalytic Theory: Importance of Childhood for Personality Development. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/evaluating-psychoanalytic-theory-importance-of-childhood-for-personality-development/> [Accessed 26 Jun. 2022].
Evaluating Psychoanalytic Theory: Importance of Childhood for Personality Development [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 May 24 [cited 2022 Jun 26]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/evaluating-psychoanalytic-theory-importance-of-childhood-for-personality-development/
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