Tag Archives: repression

Comparing and Contrasting S. Freud with E. Erikson


The course of personality and social-emotional development was permanently altered by writings of both Sigmund Freud and Eric Erikson.  “Although their theories have implications for other developmental areas, their primary focus was on explaining social and emotional developmental states and the personality dimensions that may be formed by experiences encountered in each stage.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 36)  This essay will attempt to highlight some of the strengths, and some of the criticisms of both Freud and Erikson.

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Rarely is the writing of a single individual so influential on a field that he becomes a household name… such is the case with Sigmund Freud.  We need only refer to a Freudian slip (a verbal mistake that expresses the unconscious mind’s feelings) to get clarity on how deep and wide his influence is.  (Bergen, 2008, p. 43)  “Freud was one of the first theorists who thought that the causes of human behavior could be discovered by scientific methods, and he used the methods that were available in his time to investigate the underlying developmental causes of adult mental health issues.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 37)  Adult is a key component of that statement, since Freud is best known for his phases of psychosexual development that begin with the “oral” phase (ages 0-1) and culminate with the “genital” phase (age 12+).  There is some irony that Freud worked almost exclusively with adults, yet the bulk of his theory was concerned with childhood.

Another basic construct that is inseparable from Freud is the concept of defense mechanisms.  Rationalization, repression, displacement, regression, projection, identification, reaction formation, and sublimation are all concepts that were born of and nurtured by Freud and his disciples.  He is credited with differentiating between the conscious, the unconscious, and the preconscious (the area between the two).  Freud not only put “the unconscious” on the map but he operationalized it in a new way—as a dynamic unconscious, laying down the foundation of a science of the unconscious.  (Lothane, 2006)  He is generally recognized as birthing of the concepts of id, ego, and superego.  All of these theories were the metaphorical shoulders on which the giants of psychological thought stand today… Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Anna Freud, Karen Horney, and Melanie Klein are all indebted to the work of S. Freud.  And that influence only takes the metaphorical couch into consideration… Freud’s real legacy lies beyond the couch in the application of psychoanalysis to community problems and social issues.  (Twemlow & Parens, 2006)

As can be expected with any theory or theorist, Freud is not without his critics.  Among the criticism is that his theory does not meet the test of falsifiability, primarily because they are not supported or discounted with empirical evidence.  (Bergen, 2008, p. 42)  Critics levy charges of “circular reasoning,” “predicting backwards,” “denigrating female development” with an overemphasis on male development in the Oedipal phase, and finally as a “dated construct” due to the fact that it was firmly situated in the Victorian society it attempted to describe.  The confusion around Freud and his theoretical constructs is that we appear to be misapplying Freudian concepts at present.  “Psychoanalysts have to decide whether to stay with the original meanings or to choose different and proper terminology to suit their new concepts instead of misapplying the original ones.”  (Fayek, 2002, p. 476)

Eric Erikson, while less known in contemporary layman circles, is no less influential.  “Erikson’s theory draws on many of Freud’s concepts; however, his emphasis is on explaining how healthy personalities develop rather than focusing on unhealthy developmental processes.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 43)

Like Freud, Eriksons work is increasing seen as dated due to ongoing changes in society at large.  For example, “it is certainly the case that adolescents do ‘try on’ many identities, but because of changing social conditions, they may not do that for a longer period of time without it having unhealthy consequences.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 50)  Erikson’s discussion of the final two periods of life may also need revision dude to the fact that individuals live longer now than they did previously.  (Bergen, 2008, p. 51)

My biggest issue with Erikson is of a more personal nature.  It is generally well known that Erik Erikson had a 4th child who suffered from Down’s syndrome.  This son, who died at the age of 21, was effectively abandoned by him and his wife.  A psychoanalyst who was famous for effectively treating problem children failed to give even the minimum parental care to his own mentally challenged son.  One might question the integrity of an individual who would do such a thing, but the reality is that this experience shaped some of the critical aspects of Erikson’s theory of human development.  (Paranjpe, 2000)

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References

Bergen, D. (2008). Human development: Traditional and contemporary theories. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Fayek, A. (2002). Psychic reality and mental representation: Contemporary misapplications of Freud’s concepts. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 19(3), 475-500. doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.19.3.475

Lothane, Z. (2006). Freud’s legacy–is it still with us?. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23(2), 285-301. doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.23.2.285

Paranjpe, A. C. (2000, Nov). Review of Identity’s architect: A biography of Erik H. Erikson. Canadian Psychology, 41(4), 288-289. doi: 10.1037/h0088184

Twemlow, S. W., & Parens, H. (2006). Might Freud’s legacy lie beyond the couch?. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23(2), 430-451. doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.23.2.430

Defense mechanisms


Defense mechanisms are a key component of behaviors that are perceived to be maladaptive.  Rationalization, repression, displacement, regression, projection, identification, reaction formation, and sublimation are among the most prevalent defense mechanisms.  This article will attempt to briefly highlight and underscore a few of those defense mechanisms as they have been empirically observed first hand.  Names have been changed to protect the anonymity of persons involved in the vignettes.

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Rationalization generally implies that an individual gives a false but potentially plausible reason to justify behavior.  For example, in my sales career it was not uncommon for an individual to call and inquire about a product or service… and subsequently say something like “thanks for the information; I need to speak to my spouse.”  There are a number of different canned rebuttals that are designed to overcome that objection, but the point of this story is that statistically it is very unlikely that the individual really needs to speak to the spouse to make a purchasing decision.  The more likely scenario is that the individual has some underlying objection that remains uncovered… like budget, or a competitive offer.

Repression isn’t an uncommon reaction for individuals who have gone through serious trauma.  One specific example I recall was a friend of mine who came back from Iraq.  We were having a pretty in-depth conversation about some of what he had seen while he was deployed, and at one point in the conversation he said “I’d gladly tell you if I remembered, but I remember almost nothing about that day.”  I asked him what he meant by that… and all he said was “out of sight, out of mind.”  Now I know, he was repressing the event… it was obviously painful for him to talk about it.

Displacement is something that happens in lots of different situations, but a recent example involved an individual whom I support.  In part because the individual is developmentally disabled, they get persistently picked on and ridiculed at school.  Although I am fully aware that it’s just “kids stuff” this particular individual really takes it personal… it’s a pretty frequent complaint and some of the statements are downright cruel.  On one occasion, I had asked this individual to help me with a simple task around the house and the individual burst out in a fit of anger and rage… I know now that they behavior had almost nothing to do with my request, or with me at all… the anger or rage was displaced from a peer whom had demeaned the individual I work on the bus ride home.

Identification is very common, especially among men who associate themselves with one or more sports teams.  I am one of those guys… fortunately, or unfortunately… depending on how you see it.  I take a good deal of pride in being a Texas Longhorns fan, despite the fact that I never attended UT.  I’m not entirely sure why the Longhorns… I guess I like the heritage and tradition that goes with cheering for a team with that kind of history.  Bevo makes me smile… I mean, how could he not… the Texas Longhorns tote a steak to every game.  Most of all, I really like that the Texas program focuses on recruiting players with integrity.  Aside from an occasional Ricky Williams, very rarely do you hear about serious character questions from the men and woman who play for the University of Texas.  The bond is entirely imaginary… but the bond is real to me.  HOOK EM’ HORNS~!

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Reference

Bergen, D. (2008). Human development: Traditional and contemporary theories. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.