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UOP PSY/250 Week 2 Worksheet | Dr. Ellingford

Psychoanalytic Social Theory & the theory of Psychosocial Development

Part I. Summary of Theories

1. Summarize the Psychoanalytic Social Theory (Ch. 6 – Karen Horney). Write 90+ words in complete sentences.)

2. Summarize the theory of Psychosocial Development (Ch. 7 – Erik Erikson). Write 90+ words in complete sentences.

Part II. Comparison of Theories

Compare the similarities and differences between the two theories. Provide at least 2+ similarities and 2+ differences. Write 175+ words in complete sentences.

[Example: They are the same because both agree/ support/ believe ________.]

[Example: They are different because one says X while the other believes Y.]

Part III. The Value of Erikson & Horney’s Theories in a Book

Write an explanation of why you personally think we need books in real life on the topic of personality that discuss Horney’s and Erikson’s theories. (Write 175+ words in complete sentences.)

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Horney: Psychoanalytic Social Theory

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◆ Overview of Psychoanalytic Social Theory

◆ Biography of Karen Horney

◆ Introduction to Psychoanalytic Social Theory

Horney and Freud Compared
The Impact of Culture
The Importance of Childhood Experiences

◆ Basic Hostility and Basic Anxiety

◆ Compulsive Drives

Neurotic Needs
Neurotic Trends

◆ Intrapsychic Conflicts

The Idealized Self-Image

◆ Feminine Psychology

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◆ Psychotherapy

◆ Related Research

The Neurotic Search for Glory in the Lab
Can Neuroticism Ever Be a Good Thing?

◆ Critique of Horney

◆ Concept of Humanity

◆ Key Terms and Concepts

◆ References


Please Mark These “True” or “False” as They Apply to You.
1. T F It’s very important to me to please other people.
2. T F When I feel distressed, I seek out an emotionally strong person to tell my troubles to.
3. T F I prefer routine more than change.
4. T F I enjoy being in a powerful leadership position.
5. T F I believe in and follow the advice: “Do unto others before they can do unto me.”
�. T F I enjoy being the life of the party.
7. T F It’s very important to me to be recognized for my accomplishments.
�. T F I enjoy seeing the achievements of my friends.
9. T F I usually end relationships when they begin to get too close.

10. T F It’s very difficult for me to overlook my own mistakes and personal flaws.

These questions represent 10 important needs proposed by Karen Horney. We discuss these items in the
section on neurotic needs. Please know that marking an item in the direction of neurotic needs does not indicate
that you are emotionally unstable or driven by neurotic needs.

Overview of Psychoanalytic Social Theory
The psychoanalytic social theory of Karen Horney (pronounced Horn-eye) was built on the assumption that
social and cultural conditions, especially childhood experiences, are largely responsible for shaping personality.
People who do not have their needs for love and affection satisfied during childhood develop basic hostility
toward their parents and, as a consequence, suffer from basic anxiety. Horney theorized that people combat
basic anxiety by adopting one of three fundamental styles of relating to others: (1) moving toward people, (2)
moving against people, or (3) moving away from people. Normal individuals may use any of these modes of
relating to other people, but neurotics are compelled to rigidly rely on only one. Their compulsive behavior
generates a basic intrapsychic conflict that may take the form of either an idealized self-image or self-hatred.
The idealized self-image is expressed as (1) neurotic search for glory, (2) neurotic claims, or (3) neurotic pride.
Self-hatred is expressed as either self-contempt or alienation from self.

Although Horney’s writings are concerned mostly with the neurotic personality, many of her ideas can also be
applied to normal individuals. This chapter looks at Horney’s basic theory of neurosis, compares her ideas to
those of Freud, examines her views on feminine psychology, and briefly discusses her ideas on psychotherapy.

As with other personality theorists, Horney’s views on personality are a reflection of her life experiences.
Bernard Paris (1994) wrote that “Horney’s insights were derived from her efforts to relieve her own pain, as well
as that of her patients. If her suffering had been less intense, her insights would have been less profound” (p.
xxv). We now look at the life of this often-troubled woman.

Biography of Karen Horney

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The biography of Karen Horney has several parallels with the life of Melanie Klein (see Chapter 5). Each was born
during the 1880s, the youngest child of a 50-year-old father and his second wife. Each had older siblings who
were favored by the parents, and each felt unwanted and unloved. Also, each had wanted to become a physician,
but only Horney fulfilled that ambition. Finally, both Horney and Klein engaged in an extended self-analysis—
Horney’s, beginning with her diaries from age 13 to 26, continuing with her analysis by Karl Abraham, and
culminating with her book Self-Analysis (Quinn, 1987).

Karen Danielsen Horney was born in Eilbek, a small town near Hamburg, Germany, on September 15, 1885.
She was the only daughter of Berndt (Wackels) Danielsen, a sea captain, and Clothilda van Ronzelen Danielsen,
a woman nearly 18 years younger than her husband. The only other child of this marriage was a son, about 4
years older than Karen. However, the old sea captain had been married earlier and had four other children, most
of whom were adults by the time Horney was born. The Danielsen family was an unhappy one, in part because
Karen’s older half-siblings turned their father against his second wife. Karen felt great hostility toward her stern,
devoutly religious father and regarded him as a religious hypocrite. However, she idolized her mother, who both
supported and protected her against the stern old sea captain. Nevertheless, Karen was not a happy child. She
resented the favored treatment given to her older brother, and in addition, she worried about the bitterness and
discord between her parents.

When she was 13, Horney decided to become a physician, but at that time no university in Germany admitted
women. By the time she was 16, this situation had changed. So Horney—over the objections of her father, who
wanted her to stay home and take care of the household—entered the gymnasium, a school that would lead to a
university and then to medical school. On her own for the first time, Karen was to remain independent for the rest
of her life. According to Paris (1994), however, Horney’s independence was mostly superficial. On a deeper level,
she retained a compulsive need to merge with a great man. This morbid dependency, which typically included
idealization and fear of inciting angry rejection, haunted Horney during her relationships with a series of men.

In 1906, she entered the University of Freiburg, becoming one of the first women in Germany to study
medicine. There she met Oskar Horney, a political science student. Their relationship began as a friendship, but it
eventually became a romantic one. After their marriage in 1909, the couple settled in Berlin, where Oskar, now
with a PhD, worked for a coal company and Karen, not yet with an MD, specialized in psychiatry.

By this time, Freudian psychoanalysis was becoming well established, and Karen Horney became familiar
with Freud’s writings. Early in 1910, she began an analysis with Karl Abraham, one of Freud’s close associates
and a man who later analyzed Melanie Klein. After Horney’s analysis was terminated, she attended Abraham’s
evening seminars, where she became acquainted with other psychoanalysts. By 1917, she had written her first
paper on psychoanalysis, “The Technique of Psychoanalytic Therapy” (Horney, 1917/1968), which reflected the
orthodox Freudian view and gave little indication of Horney’s subsequent independent thinking.

The early years of her marriage were filled with many notable personal experiences for Horney. Her father and
mother, who were now separated, died within less than a year of each other; she gave birth to three daughters in
5 years; she received her MD degree in 1915 after 5 years of psychoanalysis; and, in her quest for the right man,
she had several love affairs (Paris, 1994; Quinn, 1987).

After World War I, the Horneys lived a prosperous, suburban lifestyle with several servants and a chauffeur.
Oskar did well financially while Karen enjoyed a thriving psychiatric practice. This idyllic scene, however, soon
ended. The inflation and economic disorder of 1923 cost Oskar his job, and the family was forced to move back
to an apartment in Berlin. In 1926, Karen and Oskar separated but did not officially divorce until 1938 (Paris,

The early years following her separation from Oskar were the most productive of Horney’s life. In addition to
seeing patients and caring for her three daughters, she became more involved with writing, teaching, traveling,
and lecturing. Her papers now showed important differences with Freudian theory. She believed that culture, not
anatomy, was responsible for psychic differences between men and women. When Freud reacted negatively to
Horney’s position, she became even more outspoken in her opposition.

In 1932, Horney left Germany for the position of an associate director in the newly established Chicago
Psychoanalytic Institute. Several factors contributed to her decision to immigrate—the anti-Jewish political
climate in Germany (although Horney was not Jewish), increasing opposition to her unorthodox views, and an
opportunity to extend her influence beyond Berlin. During the 2 years she spent in Chicago, she met Margaret
Mead and John Dollard. In addition, she renewed acquaintances with Erich Fromm and his wife, Frieda Fromm-
Reichmann, whom she had known in Berlin. During the next 10 years, Horney and Fromm were close friends,
greatly influencing each other and eventually becoming lovers (Hornstein, 2000).

After 2 years in Chicago, Horney moved to New York, where she taught at the New School for Social
Research. While in New York, she became a member of the Zodiac group that included Fromm, Fromm-
Reichmann, and others. Although Horney was a member of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, she seldom
agreed with the established members. Moreover, her book New Ways in Psychoanalysis (1939) made her the

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leader of an opposition group. In this book, Horney called for abandoning the instinct theory and placing more
emphasis on ego and social influences. In 1941, she resigned from the institute over issues of dogma and
orthodoxy and helped form a rival organization—the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis (AAP).
This new group, however, also quickly suffered from internal strife. In 1943, Fromm (whose intimate relationship
with Horney had recently ended) and several others resigned from the AAP, leaving that organization without its
strongest members. Despite this rift, the association continued, but under a new name—the Karen Horney
Psychoanalytic Institute. In 1952, Horney established the Karen Horney Clinic.

In 1950, Horney published her most important work, Neurosis and Human Growth. This book sets forth
theories that were no longer merely a reaction to Freud but rather were an expression of her own creative and
independent thinking. After a short illness, Horney died of cancer on December 4, 1952. She was 65 years old.


Introduction to Psychoanalytic Social Theory
The early writings of Karen Horney, like those of Adler, Jung, and Klein, have a distinctive Freudian flavor. Like
Adler and Jung, she eventually became disenchanted with orthodox psychoanalysis and constructed a revisionist
theory that reflected her own personal experiences—clinical and otherwise.

Although Horney wrote nearly exclusively about neuroses and neurotic personalities, her works suggest much
that is appropriate to normal, healthy development. Culture, especially early childhood experiences, plays a
leading role in shaping human personality, either neurotic or healthy. Horney, then, agreed with Freud that early
childhood traumas are important, but she differed from him in her insistence that social rather than biological
forces are paramount in personality development.

Horney and Freud Compared
Horney criticized Freud’s theories on several accounts. First, she cautioned that strict adherence to orthodox
psychoanalysis would lead to stagnation in both theoretical thought and therapeutic practice (Horney, 1937).
Second, Horney (1937, 1939) objected to Freud’s ideas on feminine psychology, a subject we return to later. Third,
she stressed the view that psychoanalysis should move beyond instinct theory and emphasize the importance of
cultural influences in shaping personality. “Man is ruled not by the pleasure principle alone but by two guiding
principles: safety and satisfaction” (Horney, 1939, p. 73). Similarly, she claimed that neuroses are not the result of
instincts but rather of the person’s “attempt to find paths through a wilderness full of unknown dangers” (p. 10).
This wilderness is created by society and not by instincts or anatomy.

Despite becoming increasingly critical of Freud, Horney continued to recognize his perceptive insights. Her
main quarrel with Freud was not so much the accuracy of his observations but the validity of his interpretations.
In general terms, she held that Freud’s explanations result in a pessimistic concept of humanity based on innate
instincts and the stagnation of personality. In contrast, her view of humanity is an optimistic one and is centered
on cultural forces that are amenable to change (Horney, 1950).

The Impact of Culture
Although Horney did not overlook the importance of genetic factors, she repeatedly emphasized cultural
influences as the primary bases for both neurotic and normal personality development. Modern culture, she
contended, is based on competition among individuals. “Everyone is a real or potential competitor of everyone
else” (Horney, 1937, p. 284). Competitiveness and the basic hostility it spawns result in feelings of isolation.
These feelings of being alone in a potentially hostile world lead to intensified needs for affection, which, in turn,
cause people to overvalue love. As a result, many people see love and affection as the solution for all their
problems. Genuine love, of course, can be a healthy, growth-producing experience; but the desperate need for
love (such as that shown by Horney herself) provides a fertile ground for the development of neuroses. Rather
than benefiting from the need for love, neurotics strive in pathological ways to find it. Their self-defeating
attempts result in low self-esteem, increased hostility, basic anxiety, more competitiveness, and a continuous
excessive need for love and affection.

According to Horney, Western society contributes to this vicious circle in several respects. First, people of
this society are imbued with the cultural teachings of kinship and humility. These teachings, however, run
contrary to another prevailing attitude, namely, aggressiveness and the drive to win or be superior. Second,

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society’s demands for success and achievement are nearly endless, so that even when people achieve their
material ambitions, additional goals are continually being placed before them. Third, Western society tells people
that they are free, that they can accomplish anything through hard work and perseverance. In reality, however, the
freedom of most people is greatly restricted by genetics, social position, and the competitiveness of others.

These contradictions—all stemming from cultural influences rather than biological ones—provide intrapsychic
conflicts that threaten the psychological health of normal people and provide nearly insurmountable obstacles for

The Importance of Childhood Experiences
Horney believed that neurotic conflict can stem from almost any developmental stage, but childhood is the age
from which the vast majority of problems arise. A variety of traumatic events, such as sexual abuse, beatings,
open rejection, or pervasive neglect, may leave their impressions on a child’s future development; but Horney
(1937) insisted that these debilitating experiences can almost invariably be traced to lack of genuine warmth and
affection. Horney’s own lack of love from her father and her close relationship with her mother must have had a
powerful effect on her personal development as well as on her theoretical ideas.

Horney (1939) hypothesized that a difficult childhood is primarily responsible for neurotic needs. These needs
become powerful because they are the child’s only means of gaining feelings of safety. Nevertheless, no single
early experience is responsible for later personality. Horney cautioned that “the sum total of childhood
experiences brings about a certain character structure, or rather, starts its development” (p. 152). In other words,
the totality of early relationships molds personality development. “Later attitudes to others, then, are not
repetitions of infantile ones but emanate from the character structure, the basis of which is laid in childhood” (p.

Although later experiences can have an important effect, especially in normal individuals, childhood
experiences are primarily responsible for personality development. People who rigidly repeat patterns of behavior
do so because they interpret new experiences in a manner consistent with those established patterns.

Basic Hostility and Basic Anxiety
Horney (1950) believed that each person begins life with the potential for healthy development, but like other
living organisms, people need favorable conditions for growth. These conditions must include a warm and loving
environment yet one that is not overly permissive. Children need to experience both genuine love and healthy
discipline. Such conditions provide them with feelings of safety and satisfaction and permit them to grow in
accordance with their real self.

Unfortunately, a multitude of adverse influences may interfere with these favorable conditions. Primary
among these is the parents’ inability or unwillingness to love their child. Because of their own neurotic needs,
parents often dominate, neglect, overprotect, reject, or overindulge. If parents do not satisfy the child’s needs for
safety and satisfaction, the child develops feelings of basic hostility toward the parents. However, children
seldom overtly express this hostility as rage; instead, they repress their hostility toward their parents and have no
awareness of it. Repressed hostility then leads to profound feelings of insecurity and a vague sense of
apprehension. This condition is called basic anxiety, which Horney (1950) defined as “a feeling of being isolated
and helpless in a world conceived as potentially hostile” (p. 18). Earlier, she gave a more graphic description,
calling basic anxiety “a feeling of being small, insignificant, helpless, deserted, endangered, in a world that is out
to abuse, cheat, attack, humiliate, betray, envy” (Horney, 1937, p. 92).

Horney (1937, p. 75) believed that basic hostility and basic anxiety are “inextricably interwoven.” Hostile
impulses are the principal source of basic anxiety, but basic anxiety can also contribute to feelings of hostility. As
an example of how basic hostility can lead to anxiety, Horney (1937) wrote about a young man with repressed
hostility who went on a hiking trip in the mountains with a young woman with whom he was deeply in love. His
repressed hostility, however, also led him to become jealous of the woman. While walking on a dangerous
mountain pass, the young man suddenly suffered a severe “anxiety attack” in the form of rapid heart rate and
heavy breathing. The anxiety resulted from a seemingly inappropriate but conscious impulse to push the young
woman over the edge of the mountain pass.

In this case, basic hostility led to severe anxiety, but anxiety and fear can also lead to strong feelings of
hostility. Children who feel threatened by their parents develop a reactive hostility in defense of that threat. This
reactive hostility, in turn, may create additional anxiety, thus completing the interactive circle between hostility
and anxiety. Horney (1937) contended that “it does not matter whether anxiety or hostility has been the primary

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factor” (p. 74). The important point is that their reciprocal influence may intensify a neurosis without a person’s
experiencing any additional outside conflict.

Basic anxiety itself is not a neurosis, but “it is the nutritive soil out of which a definite neurosis may develop at
any time” (Horney, 1937, p. 89). Basic anxiety is constant and unrelenting, needing no particular stimulus such as
taking a test in school or giving a speech. It permeates all relationships with others and leads to unhealthy ways
of trying to cope with people.

Although she later amended her list of defenses against basic anxiety, Horney (1937) originally identified four
general ways that people protect themselves against this feeling of being alone in a potentially hostile world. The
first is affection, a strategy that does not always lead to authentic love. In their search for affection, some people
may try to purchase love with self-effacing compliance, material goods, or sexual favors.

The second protective device is submissiveness. Neurotics may submit themselves either to people or to
institutions such as an organization or a religion. Neurotics who submit to another person often do so in order to
gain affection.


Neurotics may also try to protect themselves by striving for power, prestige, or possession. Power is a
defense against the real or imagined hostility of others and takes the form of a tendency to dominate others;
prestige is a protection against humiliation and is expressed as a tendency to humiliate others; possession acts
as a buffer against destitution and poverty and manifests itself as a tendency to deprive others.

The fourth protective mechanism is withdrawal. Neurotics frequently protect themselves against basic
anxiety either by developing an independence from others or by becoming emotionally detached from them. By
psychologically withdrawing, neurotics feel that they cannot be hurt by other people.

These protective devices did not necessarily indicate a neurosis, and Horney believed that all people use
them to some extent. They become unhealthy when people feel compelled to rely on them and are thus unable to
employ a variety of inter personal strategies. Compulsion, then, is the salient characteristic of all neurotic drives.

Compulsive Drives
Neurotic individuals have the same problems that affect normal people, except neurotics experience them to a
greater degree. Everyone uses the various protective devices to guard against the rejection, hostility, and
competitiveness of others. But whereas normal individuals are able to use a variety of defensive maneuvers in a
somewhat useful way, neurotics compulsively repeat the same strategy in an essentially unproductive manner.

Horney (1942) insisted that neurotics do not enjoy misery and suffering. They cannot change their behavior by
free will but must continually and compulsively protect themselves against basic anxiety. This defensive strategy
traps them in a vicious circle in which their compulsive needs to reduce basic anxiety lead to behaviors that
perpetuate low self-esteem, generalized hostility, inappropriate striving for power, inflated feelings of superiority,
and persistent apprehension, all of which result in more basic anxiety.

Neurotic Needs
At the beginning of this chapter, we asked you to select either “True” or “False” for each of 10 items that might
suggest a neurotic need. For each item except number 8, a “True” response parallels one of Horney’s neurotic
needs. For number 8, a “False” answer is consistent with the neurotic need for self-centeredness. Remember
that endorsing most or even all of these statements in the “neurotic” direction is no indication of emotional
instability, but these items may give you a better understanding of what Horney meant by neurotic needs.

Horney tentatively identified 10 categories of neurotic needs that characterize neurotics in their attempts to
combat basic anxiety. These needs were more specific than the four protective devices discussed earlier, but
they describe the same basic defensive strategies. The 10 categories of neurotic needs overlapped one another,
and a single person might employ more than one. Each of the following neurotic needs relates in some way or
another to other people.


1. The neurotic need for affection and approval. In their quest for affection and approval, neurotics attempt
indiscriminately to please others. They try to live up to the expectations of others, tend to dread self-

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assertion, and are quite uncomfortable with the hostility of others as well as the hostile feelings within

2. The neurotic need for a powerful partner. Lacking self-confidence, neurotics try to attach themselves to a
powerful partner. This need includes an overvaluation of love and a dread of being alone or deserted.
Horney’s own life story reveals a strong need to relate to a great man, and she had a series of such
relationships during her adult life.

3. The neurotic need to restrict one’s life within narrow borders. Neurotics frequently strive to remain
inconspicuous, to take second place, and to be content with very little. They downgrade their own abilities
and dread making demands on others.

4. The neurotic need for power. Power and affection are perhaps the two greatest neurotic needs. The need for
power is usually combined with the needs for prestige and possession and manifests itself as the need to
control others and to avoid feelings of weakness or stupidity.

5. The neurotic need to exploit others. Neurotics frequently evaluate others on the basis of how they can be
used or exploited, but at the same time, they fear being exploited by others.

�. The neurotic need for social recognition or prestige. Some people combat basic anxiety by trying to be first, to
be important, or to attract attention to themselves.

7. The neurotic need for personal admiration. Neurotics have a need to be admired for what they are rather than
for what they possess. Their inflated self-esteem must be continually fed by the admiration and approval of

�. The neurotic need for ambition and personal achievement. Neurotics often have a strong drive to be the best
—the best salesperson, the best bowler, the best lover. They must defeat other people in order to confirm
their superiority.

9. The neurotic need for self-sufficiency and independence. Many neurotics have a strong need to move away
from people, thereby proving that they can get along without others. The playboy who cannot be tied down by
any woman exemplifies this neurotic need.

10. The neurotic need for perfection and unassailability. By striving relentlessly for perfection, neurotics receive
“proof” of their self-esteem and personal superiority. They dread making mistakes and having personal
flaws, and they desperately attempt to hide their weaknesses from others.

Neurotic Trends
As her theory evolved, Horney began to see that the list of 10 neurotic needs could be grouped into three general
categories, each relating to a person’s basic attitude toward self and others. In 1945, she identified the three
basic attitudes, or neurotic trends, as (1) moving toward people, (2) moving against people, and (3) moving away
from people.


Although these neurotic trends constitute Horney’s theory of neurosis, they also apply to normal individuals.
There are, of course, important differences between normal and neurotic attitudes. Whereas normal people are
mostly or completely conscious of their strategies toward other people, neurotics are unaware of their basic
attitude; although normals are free to choose their actions, neurotics are forced to act; whereas normals
experience mild conflict, neurotics experience severe and insoluble conflict; and whereas normals can choose
from a variety of strategies, neurotics are limited to a single trend. Figure 6.1 shows Horney’s conception of the
mutual influence of basic hostility and basic anxiety as well as both normal and neurotic defenses against

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FIGURE 6.1 The Interaction of Basic Hostility and Basic Anxiety with the Defenses against Anxiety.

People can use each of the neurotic trends to solve basic conflict, but unfortunately, these solutions are
essentially nonproductive or neurotic. Horney (1950) used the term basic conflict because very young children
are driven in all three directions—toward, against, and away from people.

In healthy children, these three drives are not necessarily incompatible. But the feelings of isolation and
helplessness that Horney described as basic anxiety drive some children to act compulsively, thereby limiting
their repertoire to a single neurotic trend. Experiencing basically contradictory attitudes toward others, these
children attempt to solve this basic conflict by making one of the three neurotic trends consistently dominant.
Some children move toward people by behaving in a compliant manner as a protection against feelings of
helplessness; other children move against people with acts of aggression in order to circumvent the hostility of
others; and still other children move away from people by adopting a detached manner, thus alleviating feelings
of isolation (Horney, 1945).

Moving Toward People
Horney’s concept of moving toward people does not mean moving toward them in the spirit of genuine love.
Rather, it refers to a neurotic need to protect oneself against feelings of helplessness.

In their attempts to protect themselves against feelings of helplessness, compliant people employ either or
both of the first two neurotic needs; that is, they desperately strive for affection and approval of others, or they
seek a powerful partner who will take responsibility for their lives. Horney (1937) referred to these needs as
“morbid dependency,” a concept that anticipated the term “codependency.”

The neurotic trend of moving toward people involves a complex of strategies. It is “a whole way of thinking,
feeling, acting—a whole way of life” (Horney, 1945, p. 55). Horney also called it a philosophy of life. Neurotics
who adopt this philosophy are likely to see themselves as loving, generous, unselfish, humble, and sensitive to

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other people’s feelings. They are willing to subordinate themselves to others, to see others as more intelligent or
attractive, and to rate themselves according to what others think of them.

Moving Against People
Just as compliant people assume that everyone is nice, aggressive people take for granted that everyone is
hostile. As a result, they adopt the strategy of moving against people. Neurotically aggressive people are just as
compulsive as compliant people are, and their behavior is just as much prompted by basic anxiety. Rather than
moving toward people in a posture of submissiveness and dependence, these people move against others by
appearing tough or ruthless. They are motivated by a strong need to exploit others and to use them for their own
benefit. They seldom admit their mistakes and are compulsively driven to appear perfect, powerful, and superior.

Five of the ten neurotic needs are incorporated in the neurotic trend of moving against people. They include
the need to be powerful, to exploit others, to receive recognition and prestige, to be admired, and to achieve.
Aggressive people play to win rather than for the enjoyment of the contest. They may appear to be hard working
and resourceful on the job, but they take little pleasure in the work itself. Their basic motivation is for power,
prestige, and personal ambition.

In the United States, the striving for these goals is usually viewed with admiration. Compulsively aggressive
people, in fact, frequently come out on top in many endeavors valued by American society. They may acquire
desirable sex partners, high-paying jobs, and the personal admiration of many people. Horney (1945) said that it
is not to the credit of American society that such characteristics are rewarded while love, affection, and the
capacity for true friendship—the very qualities that aggressive people lack—are valued less highly.


Moving toward others and moving against others are, in many ways, polar opposites. The compliant person is
compelled to receive affection from everyone, whereas the aggressive person sees everyone as a potential
enemy. For both types, however, “the center of gravity lies outside the person” (Horney, 1945, p. 65). Both need
other people. Compliant people need others to satisfy their feelings of helplessness; aggressive people use
others as a protection against real or imagined hostility. With the third neurotic trend, in contrast, other people are
of lesser importance.

Moving Away from People
In order to solve the basic conflict of isolation, some people behave in a detached manner and adopt a neurotic
trend of moving away from people. This strategy is an expression of needs for privacy, independence, and self-
sufficiency. Again, each of these needs can lead to positive behaviors, with some people satisfying these needs
in a healthy fashion. However, these needs become neurotic when people try to satisfy them by compulsively
putting emotional distance between themselves and other people.

Many neurotics find associating with others an intolerable strain. As a consequence, they are compulsively
driven to move away from people, to attain autonomy and separateness. They frequently build a world of their
own and refuse to allow anyone to get close to them. They value freedom and self-sufficiency and often appear
to be aloof and unapproachable. If married, they maintain their detachment even from their spouse. They shun
social commitments, but their greatest fear is to need other people.

All neurotics possess a need to feel superior, but detached persons have an intensified need to be strong and
powerful. Their basic feelings of isolation can be tolerated only by the self-deceptive belief that they are perfect
and therefore beyond criticism. They dread competition, fearing a blow to their illusory feelings of superiority.
Instead, they prefer that their hidden greatness be recognized without any effort on their part (Horney, 1945).

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Moving away from people is a neurotic trend that many people use in an attempt to solve the basic conflict of
Stock4B/Image Source

In summary, each of the three neurotic trends has an analogous set of characteristics that describe normal
individuals. In addition, each of 10 neurotic needs can be easily placed within the three neurotic trends. Table 6.1
summarizes the three neurotic trends, the basic conflicts that give rise to them, the outstanding characteristics
of each, the 10 neurotic needs that compose them, and the three analogous traits that characterize normal


Summary of Horney’s Neurotic Trends

Neurotic Trends

People Against People Away from People

The Compliant

The Aggressive Personality The Detached Personality

Basic conflict or source of
neurotic trend

Feelings of

Protection against hostility
of others

Feelings of isolation

Neurotic needs
1. Affection and


2. Powerful

4. Power

5. Exploitation

�. Recognition and

9. Self-sufficiency and

10. Perfection and

3. Narrow limits
to life

7. Personal admiration

�. Personal achievement

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Normal analog Friendly, loving Ability to survive in a
competitive society

Autonomous and serene

Intrapsychic Conflicts
The neurotic trends flow from basic anxiety, which in turn, stems from a child’s relationships with other people.
To this point, our emphasis has been on culture and interpersonal conflict. However, Horney did not neglect the
impact of intrapsychic factors in the development of personality. As her theory evolved, she began to place
greater emphasis on the inner conflicts that both normal and neurotic individuals experience. Intrapsychic
processes originate from interpersonal experiences; but as they become part of a person’s belief system, they
develop a life of their own—an existence separate from the interpersonal conflicts that gave them life.

This section looks at two important intrapsychic conflicts: the idealized self-image and self-hatred. Briefly, the
idealized self-image is an attempt to solve conflicts by painting a godlike picture of oneself. Self-hatred is an
interrelated yet equally irrational and powerful tendency to despise one’s real self. As people build an idealized
image of their self, their real self lags farther and farther behind. This gap creates a growing alienation between
the real self and the idealized self and leads neurotics to hate and despise their actual self because it falls so
short in matching the glorified self-image (Horney, 1950).

The Idealized Self-Image
Horney believed that human beings, if given an environment of discipline and warmth, will develop feelings of
security and self-confidence and a tendency to move toward self-realization. Unfortunately, early negative
influences often impede people’s natural tendency toward self-realization, a situation that leaves them with
feelings of isolation and inferiority. Added to this failure is a growing sense of alienation from themselves.

Feeling alienated from themselves, people need desperately to acquire a stable sense of identity. This
dilemma can be solved only by creating an idealized self-image, an extravagantly positive view of themselves
that exists only in their personal belief system. These people endow themselves with infinite powers and
unlimited capabilities; they see themselves as “a hero, a genius, a supreme lover, a saint, a god” (Horney, 1950, p.
22). The idealized self-image is not a global construction. Neurotics glorify and worship themselves in different
ways. Compliant people see themselves as good and saintly; aggressive people build an idealized image of
themselves as strong, heroic, and omnipotent; and detached neurotics paint their self-portraits as wise, self-
sufficient, and independent.

As the idealized self-image becomes solidified, neurotics begin to believe in the reality of that image. They
lose touch with their real self and use the idealized self as the standard for self-evaluation. Rather than growing
toward self-realization, they move toward actualizing their idealized self.

Horney (1950) recognized three aspects of the idealized image: (1) the neurotic search for glory, (2) neurotic
claims, and (3) neurotic pride.

The Neurotic Search for Glory
As neurotics come to believe in the reality of their idealized self, they begin to incorporate it into all aspects of
their lives—their goals, their self-concept, and their relations with others. Horney (1950) referred to this
comprehensive drive toward actualizing the ideal self as the neurotic search for glory.

In addition to self-idealization, the neurotic search for glory includes three other elements: the need for
perfection, neurotic ambition, and the drive toward a vindictive triumph.


The need for perfection refers to the drive to mold the whole personality into the idealized self. Neurotics are
not content to merely make a few alterations; nothing short of complete perfection is acceptable. They try to
achieve perfection by erecting a complex set of “shoulds” and “should nots.” Horney (1950) referred to this drive
as the tyranny of the should. Striving toward an imaginary picture of perfection, neurotics unconsciously tell
themselves: “Forget about the disgraceful creature you actually are; this is how you should be” (p. 64).

A second key element in the neurotic search for glory is neurotic ambition, that is, the compulsive drive
toward superiority. Although neurotics have an exaggerated need to excel in everything, they ordinarily channel

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their energies into those activities that are most likely to bring success. This drive, therefore, may take several
different forms during a person’s lifetime (Horney, 1950). For example, while still in school, a girl may direct her
neurotic ambition toward being the best student in school. Later, she may be driven to excel in business or to
raise the very best show dogs. Neurotic ambition may also take a less materialistic form, such as being the most
saintly or most charitable person in the community.

The third aspect of the neurotic search for glory is the drive toward a vindictive triumph, the most destructive
element of all. The need for a vindictive triumph may be disguised as a drive for achievement or success, but “its
chief aim is to put others to shame or defeat them through one’s very success; or to attain the power . . . to inflict
suffering on them—mostly of a humiliating kind” (Horney, 1950, p. 27). Interestingly, in Horney’s personal
relationship with men, she seemed to take pleasure in causing them to feel ashamed and humiliated (Hornstein,

The drive for a vindictive triumph grows out of the childhood desire to take revenge for real or imagined
humiliations. No matter how successful neurotics are in vindictively triumphing over others, they never lose their
drive for a vindictive triumph—instead, they increase it with each victory. Every success raises their fear of defeat
and increases their feelings of grandeur, thus solidifying their need for further vindictive triumphs.

Neurotic Claims
A second aspect of the idealized image is neurotic claims. In their search for glory, neurotics build a fantasy
world—a world that is out of sync with the real world. Believing that something is wrong with the outside world,
they proclaim that they are special and therefore entitled to be treated in accordance with their idealized view of
themselves. Because these demands are very much in accordance with their idealized self-image, they fail to
see that their claims of special privilege are unreasonable.

Neurotic claims grow out of normal needs and wishes, but they are quite different. When normal wishes are
not fulfilled, people become understandably frustrated; but when neurotic claims are not met, neurotics become
indignant, bewildered, and unable to comprehend why others have not granted their claims. The difference
between normal desires and neurotic claims is illustrated by a situation in which many people are waiting in line
for tickets for a popular movie. Most people near the end of the line might wish to be up front, and some of them
may even try some ploy to get a better position. Nevertheless, these people know that they don’t really deserve to
cut ahead of others. Neurotic people, on the other hand, truly believe that they are entitled to be near the front of
the line, and they feel no guilt or remorse in moving ahead of others.

Many people carry the burden of the “tyranny of the should.”
Martin Barraud/Getty Images

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Neurotic Pride
The third aspect of an idealized image is neurotic pride, a false pride based not on a realistic view of the true self
but on a spurious image of the idealized self. Neurotic pride is qualitatively different from healthy pride or realistic
self-esteem. Genuine self-esteem is based on realistic attributes and accomplishments and is generally
expressed with quiet dignity. Neurotic pride, on the other hand, is based on an idealized image of self and is
usually loudly proclaimed in order to protect and support a glorified view of one’s self (Horney, 1950).

Neurotics imagine themselves to be glorious, wonderful, and perfect, so when others fail to treat them with
special consideration, their neurotic pride is hurt. To prevent the hurt, they avoid people who refuse to yield to
their neurotic claims, and instead, they try to become associated with socially prominent and prestigious
institutions and acquisitions.

People with a neurotic search for glory can never be happy with themselves because when they realize that their
real self does not match the insatiable demands of their idealized self, they will begin to hate and despise

The glorified self becomes not only a phantom to be pursued; it also becomes a measuring rod with which to
measure his actual being. And this actual being is such an embarrassing sight when viewed from the perspective
of a godlike perfection that he cannot but despise it. (Horney, 1950, p. 110)

Horney (1950) recognized six major ways in which people express self-hatred. First, self-hatred may result in
relentless demands on the self, which are exemplified by the tyranny of the should. For example, some people
make demands on themselves that don’t stop even when they achieve a measure of success. These people
continue to push themselves toward perfection because they believe they should be perfect.

The second mode of expressing self-hatred is merciless self-accusation. Neurotics constantly berate
themselves. “If people only knew me, they would realize that I’m pretending to be knowledgeable, competent,
and sincere. I’m really a fraud, but no one knows it but me.” Self-accusation may take a variety of forms—from
obviously grandiose expressions, such as taking responsibility for natural disasters, to scrupulously questioning
the virtue of their own motivations.

Third, self-hatred may take the form of self-contempt, which might be expressed as belittling, disparaging,
doubting, discrediting, and ridiculing oneself. Self-contempt prevents people from striving for improvement or
achievement. A young man may say to himself, “You conceited idiot! What makes you think you can get a date
with the best-looking woman in town?” A woman may attribute her successful career to “luck.” Although these
people may be aware of their behavior, they have no perception of the self-hatred that motivates it.

A fourth expression of self-hatred is self-frustration. Horney (1950) distinguished between healthy self-
discipline and neurotic self-frustration. The former involves postponing or forgoing pleasurable activities in order
to achieve reasonable goals. Self-frustration stems from self-hatred and is designed to actualize an inflated self-
image. Neurotics are frequently shackled by taboos against enjoyment. “I don’t deserve a new car.” “I must not
wear nice clothes because many people around the world are in rags.” “I must not strive for a better job because
I’m not good enough for it.”

Fifth, self-hatred may be manifested as self-torment, or self-torture. Although self-torment can exist in each
of the other forms of self-hatred, it becomes a separate category when people’s main intention is to inflict harm
or suffering on themselves. Some people attain masochistic satisfaction by anguishing over a decision,
exaggerating the pain of a headache, cutting themselves with a knife, starting a fight that they are sure to lose, or
inviting physical abuse.

The sixth and final form of self-hatred is self-destructive actions and impulses, which may be either physical
or psychological, conscious or unconscious, acute or chronic, carried out in action or enacted only in the
imagination. Overeating, abusing alcohol and other drugs, working too hard, driving recklessly, and suicide are
common expressions of physical self-destruction. Neurotics may also attack themselves psychologically, for
example, quitting a job just when it begins to be fulfilling, breaking off a healthy relationship in favor of a neurotic
one, or engaging in promiscuous sexual activities.

Horney (1950) summarized the neurotic search for glory and its attendant self-hatred with these descriptive

Surveying self-hate and its ravaging force, we cannot help but see in it a great tragedy, perhaps the greatest
tragedy of the human mind. Man in reaching out for the Infinite and Absolute also starts destroying himself.
When he makes a pact with the devil, who promises him glory, he has to go to hell—to the hell within himself. (p.

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Feminine Psychology
As a woman trained in the promasculine psychology of Freud, Horney gradually realized that the traditional
psychoanalytic view of women was skewed. She then set forth her own theory, one that rejected several of
Freud’s basic ideas.


For Horney, psychic differences between men and women are not the result of anatomy but rather of cultural
and social expectations. Men who subdue and rule women and women who degrade or envy men do so because
of the neurotic competitiveness that is rampant in many societies. Horney (1937) insisted that basic anxiety is at
the core of men’s need to subjugate women and women’s wish to humiliate men.

Although Horney (1939) recognized the existence of the Oedipus complex, she insisted that it was due to
certain environmental conditions and not due to biology. If it were the result of anatomy, as Freud contended, then
it would be universal (as Freud indeed believed). However, Horney (1967) saw no evidence for a universal
Oedipus complex. Instead, she held that it is found only in some people and is an expression of the neurotic need
for love. The neurotic need for affection and the neurotic need for aggression usually begin in childhood and are
two of the three basic neurotic trends. A child may passionately cling to one parent and express jealousy toward
the other, but these behaviors are means of alleviating basic anxiety and not manifestations of an anatomically
based Oedipus complex. Even when there is a sexual aspect to these behaviors, the child’s main goal is security,
not sexual intercourse.

Horney (1939) found the concept of penis envy even less tenable. She contended that there is no more
anatomical reason why girls should be envious of the penis than boys should desire a breast or a womb. In fact,
boys sometimes do express a desire to have a baby, but this desire is not the result of a universal male “womb

Horney agreed with Adler that many women possess a masculine protest; that is, they have a pathological
belief that men are superior to women. This perception easily leads to the neurotic desire to be a man. The
desire, however, is not an expression of penis envy but rather “a wish for all those qualities or privileges which in
our culture are regarded as masculine” (Horney, 1939, p. 108). (This view is nearly identical to that expressed by

In 1994, Bernard J. Paris published a talk that Horney had delivered in 1935 to a professional and business
women’s club in which she summarized her ideas on feminine psychology. By that time Horney was less
interested in differences between men and women than in a general psychology of both genders. Because
culture and society are responsible for psychological differences between women and men, Horney felt that “it
was not so important to try to find the answer to the question about differences as to understand and analyze the
real significance of this keen interest in feminine ‘nature’” (Horney, 1994, p. 233). Horney concluded her speech
by saying that

once and for all we should stop bothering about what is feminine and what is not. Such concerns only undermine
our energies. Standards of masculinity and femininity are artificial standards. All that we definitely know at
present about sex differences is that we do not know what they are. Scientific differences between the two sexes
certainly exist, but we shall never be able to discover what they are until we have first developed our potentialities
as human beings. Paradoxical as it may sound, we shall find out about these differences only if we forget about
them. (p. 238)

One prominent contemporary feminist psychological scientist who has taken up the cause of “forgetting”
about gender differences that Karen Horney so forcefully articulated is Janet Shibley Hyde. In 2005, she
published a landmark piece in the American Psychologist. In it, instead of testing the commonly held gender
differences model, she analyzed meta-analyses of gender differences to test the opposite prediction: that males
and females are more alike than they are different.

One nagging problem in the study of gender differences and similarities is embedded in the very nature of
empirical science, and Hyde’s method provided a way of getting around it. That is, comparing groups relies on
statistical tests of significant difference. When differences do not reach statistical significance, then such a
study is typically not published. This is referred to as the “file drawer problem.” Consider the fact that there are
likely countless studies of gender differences in all kinds of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional domains that
did not result in statistically significant differences between males and females, and these were put in some
researchers’ file drawers because the results did not reach the standard for publication. This means we have
more evidence for differences between the genders not necessarily because they are meaningfully and lastingly
there, but because only the studies that resulted in difference got published.

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Meta-analysis is a statistical method of systematically combining data from many studies (published and
unpublished). This increases power over individual studies, and can improve our capacity to estimate the size of
effects. Hyde’s (2005) analysis did just this, examining 46 meta-analyses, each of which included between 20
and 200 individual gender difference studies, and her examination of effect sizes supported the gender
similarities hypothesis. That is, there were far more arenas where gender differences were either meaninglessly
small in effect size, or nonexistent, than the areas where the genders did differ significantly. In some of the
arenas in which we hold the strongest stereotypes about males and females being different, such as math and
verbal ability as well as aggression, self-esteem, and assertiveness, Hyde found that gender differences were

It seems that our culture’s obsession with gender difference has remained strong since Horney’s day, despite
her insistence that we ought to stop “bothering about what is feminine and what is not.” Women are apparently
from Venus and men are supposedly from Mars. Google “gender differences” and you get over 9 million results!
Why do we persist in believing so strongly in gender differences in personality, despite powerful evidence that
they are barely there at all? One answer is that thinking males and females come from different planets appeals
to our intuitions. The danger here, of course, is that our expectations likely guide our cognitions and our
behaviors, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. We likely make gender differences come true when we believe that
women are “bad at math” or men are “not emotional.” When we treat each gender based on these expectations,
then we should not be surprised that they behave accordingly. If a girl is not expected to perform well in math, her
parents might not encourage her to study, and she may begin to lack confidence and eventually not, in fact, get
the education that would make her good at math. If a boy is expected to “suck it up” and not cry when he feels
hurt, he may suppress tears in an effort to be more masculine, and these efforts may, over time, create an actual
inability to cry in adulthood.

Hyde (2005) issued a warning in her article about the costs of overinflated claims of gender differences:
“Arguably they cause harm in numerous realms, including women’s opportunities in the workplace, couple
conflict and communication, and analyses of self-esteem problems among adolescents. Most important, these
claims are not consistent with the scientific data” (p. 590). Here we see Horney’s prescience when she broke
with Freud to insist that cultural and social expectations account for any observed personality distinctions
between the genders. Contemporary psychological science has clearly supported her claims.

Horney believed that neuroses grow out of basic conflict that usually begins in childhood. As people attempt to
solve this conflict, they are likely to adopt one of these three neurotic trends: moving toward, against, or away
from others. Each of these tactics can produce temporary relief, but eventually they drive the person farther away
from actualizing the real self and deeper into a neurotic spiral (Horney, 1950).

The general goal of Horneyian therapy is to help patients gradually grow in the direction of self-realization.
More specifically, the aim is to have patients give up their idealized self-image, relinquish their neurotic search for
glory, and change self-hatred to an acceptance of the real self. Unfortunately, patients are usually convinced that
their neurotic solutions are correct, so they are reluctant to surrender their neurotic trends. Even though patients
have a strong investment in maintaining the status quo, they do not wish to remain ill. They find little pleasure in
their sufferings and would like to be free of them. Unfortunately, they tend to resist change and cling to those
behaviors that perpetuate their illness. The three neurotic trends can be cast in favorable terms such as “love,”
“mastery,” or “freedom.” Because patients usually see their behaviors in these positive terms, their actions
appear to them to be healthy, right, and desirable (Horney, 1942, 1950).

The therapist’s task is to convince patients that their present solutions are perpetuating rather than alleviating
the core neurosis, a task that takes much time and hard work. Patients may look for quick cures or solutions, but
only the long, laborious process of self-understanding can effect positive change. Self-understanding must go
beyond information; it must be accompanied by an emotional experience. Patients must understand their pride
system, their idealized image, their neurotic search for glory, their self-hatred, their shoulds, their alienation from
self, and their conflicts. Moreover, they must see how all these factors are interrelated and operate to preserve
their basic neurosis.

Although a therapist can help encourage patients toward self-understanding, ultimately successful therapy is
built on self-analysis (Horney, 1942, 1950). Patients must understand the difference between their idealized self-
image and their real self. Fortunately, people possess an inherent curative force that allows them to move
inevitably in the direction of self-realization once self-understanding and self-analysis are achieved.

As to techniques, Horneyian therapists use many of the same ones employed by Freudian therapists,
especially dream interpretation and free association. Horney saw dreams as attempts to solve conflicts, but the

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solutions can be either neurotic or healthy. When therapists provide a correct interpretation, patients are helped
toward a better understanding of their real self. “From dreams . . . the patient can catch a glimpse, even in the
initial phase of analysis, of a world operating within him which is peculiarly his own and which is more true of his
feelings than the world of his illusions” (Horney, 1950, p. 349).

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Erikson: Post-Freudian Theory

Jon Erikson/The Image Works

◆ Overview of Post-Freudian Theory

◆ Biography of Erik Erikson

◆ The Ego in Post-Freudian Theory

Society’s Influence
Epigenetic Principle

◆ Stages of Psychosocial Development

Early Childhood
Play Age
School Age
Young Adulthood

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Old Age
Summary of the Life Cycle

◆ Erikson’s Methods of Investigation

Anthropological Studies

◆ Related Research

Adolescent Identity and the Internet
The Development of Gender Identity

◆ Impact of Nature and Nurture on Gender Identity Formation

◆ Social Pressure to Conform to Typical Gender Identity

◆ Age of Gender Identity Disclosure and Social Networks

◆ Critique of Erikson

◆ Concept of Humanity

◆ Key Terms and Concepts

◆ References


s a child, Erik Salomonsen had many questions but few answers about his biological father. He knew who
his mother was—a beautiful Jewish Dane whose family tried hard to appear Danish rather than Jewish.
But who was his father?

Born into a single-parent family, the young boy held three separate beliefs regarding his origins. At first, he
believed that his mother’s husband, a physician named Theodor Homburger, was his biological father. However,
as Erik matured, he began to realize that this was incorrect because his blond hair and blue eyes did not match
the dark features of either parent. He pressed his mother for an explanation, but she lied to him and said that a
man named Valdemar Salomonsen—her first husband—was his biological father and that he abandoned her after
she became pregnant with Erik. However, Erik didn’t quite believe this second story either because he learned
that Salomonsen had left his mother 4 years before Erik was born. Finally, Erik chose to believe that he was the
outcome of a sexual liaison between his mother and an artistically gifted aristocratic Dane. For nearly the
remainder of his life, Erik believed this third story. Nevertheless, he continued to search for his own identity while
seeking the name of his biological father.

During his school days, Erik’s Scandinavian features contributed to his identity confusion. When he attended
temple, his blue eyes and blond hair made him appear to be an outsider. At public school, his Aryan classmates
referred to him as a Jew, so Erik felt out of place in both arenas. Throughout his life, he had difficulty accepting
himself as either a Jew or a Gentile.

When his mother died, Erik, then 58 years old, feared he would never know the identity of his biological father.
But he persevered in his search. Finally, more than 30 years later and as his mind and body began to deteriorate,
Erik lost interest in learning his father’s name. However, he continued to show some identity confusion. For
example, he spoke mostly in German—the language of his youth—and rarely spoke in English, his primary
language for more than 60 years. In addition, he retained a long-held affinity for Denmark and the Danish people
and took perverted pride in displaying the flag of Denmark, a country in which he never lived.

Overview of Post-Freudian Theory
The person we introduced in the opening vignette, of course, was Erik Erikson, the person who coined the term
identity crisis. Erikson had no college degree of any kind, but this lack of formal training did not prevent him from
gaining world fame in an impressive variety of fields including psychoanalysis, anthropology, psychohistory, and

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Unlike earlier psychodynamic theorists who severed nearly all ties to Freudian psychoanalysis, Erikson
intended his theory of personality to extend rather than repudiate Freud’s assumptions and to offer a new “way of
looking at things” (Erikson, 1963, p. 403). His post-Freudian theory extended Freud’s infantile developmental
stages into adolescence, adulthood, and old age. Erikson suggested that at each stage a specific psychosocial
struggle contributes to the formation of personality. From adolescence on, that struggle takes the form of an
identity crisis—a turning point in one’s life that may either strengthen or weaken personality.

Erikson regarded his post-Freudian theory as an extension of psychoanalysis, something Freud might have
done in time. Although he used Freudian theory as the foundation for his life-cycle approach to personality,
Erikson differed from Freud in several respects. In addition to elaborating on psychosexual stages beyond
childhood, Erikson placed more emphasis on both social and historical influences.

Erikson’s post-Freudian theory, like those of other personality theorists, is a reflection of his background, a
background that included art, extensive travels, experiences with a variety of cultures, and a lifelong search for
his own identity, which we mentioned briefly in our opening story.

Biography of Erik Erikson
Who was Erik Erikson? Was he a Dane, a German, or an American? Jew or Gentile? Artist or psychoanalyst?
Erikson himself had difficulty answering these questions, and he spent nearly a lifetime trying to determine who
he was.

Born on June 15, 1902, in southern Germany, Erikson was brought up by his mother and stepfather, but he
remained uncertain of the true identity of his biological father. To discover his niche in life, Erikson ventured away
from home during late adolescence, adopting the life of a wandering artist and poet. After nearly 7 years of
drifting and searching, he returned home confused, exhausted, depressed, and unable to sketch or paint. At this
time, a fortuitous event changed his life: He received a letter from his friend Peter Blos inviting him to teach
children in a new school in Vienna. One of the founders of the school was Anna Freud, who became not only
Erikson’s employer, but his psychoanalyst as well.

While undergoing analytic treatment, he stressed to Anna Freud that his most difficult problem was searching
for the identity of his biological father. However, Ms. Freud was less than empathic and told Erikson that he
should stop fantasizing about his absent father. Although Erikson usually obeyed his psychoanalyst, he could not
take Freud’s advice to stop trying to learn his father’s name.

While in Vienna, Erikson met and, with Anna Freud’s permission, married Joan Serson, a Canadian-born
dancer, artist, and teacher who had also undergone psychoanalysis. With her psychoanalytic background and her
facility with the English language, she became a valuable editor and occasional coauthor of Erikson’s books.

The Eriksons had four children: sons Kai, Jon, and Neil and daughter Sue. Kai and Sue pursued important
professional careers, but Jon, who shared his father’s experience as a wandering artist, worked as a laborer and
never felt emotionally close to his parents.

Erikson’s search for identity took him through some difficult experiences during his adult developmental stage
(Friedman, 1999). According to Erikson, this stage requires a person to take care of children, products, and ideas
that he or she has generated. On this issue, Erikson was deficient in meeting his own standards. He failed to take
good care of his son Neil, who was born with Down syndrome. At the hospital while Joan was still under
sedation, Erik agreed to place Neil in an institution. Then he went home and told his three older children that their
brother had died at birth. He lied to them much as his mother had lied to him about the identity of his biological
father. Later, he told his oldest son, Kai, the truth, but he continued to deceive the two younger children, Jon and
Sue. Although his mother’s lie had distressed him greatly, he failed to understand that his lie about Neil might
later distress his other children. In deceiving his children the way he did, Erikson violated two of his own
principles: “Don’t lie to people you should care for,” and “Don’t pit one family member against another.” To
compound the situation, when Neil died at about age 20, the Eriksons, who were in Europe at the time, called Sue
and Jon and instructed them to handle all the funeral arrangements for a brother they had never met and who
they only recently knew existed (Friedman, 1999).

Erikson also sought his identity through the myriad changes of jobs and places of residence. Lacking any
academic credentials, he had no specific professional identity and was variously known as an artist, a
psychologist, a psychoanalyst, a clinician, a professor, a cultural anthropologist, an existentialist, a
psychobiographer, and a public intellectual.

In 1933, with fascism on the rise in Europe, Erikson and his family left Vienna for Denmark, hoping to gain
Danish citizenship. When Danish officials refused his request, he left Copenhagen and immigrated to the United

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In America, he changed his name from Homburger to Erikson. This change was a crucial turning point in his
life because it represented a retreat from his earlier Jewish identification. Originally, Erikson resented any
implication that he was abandoning his Jewish identity by changing his name. He countered these charges by
pointing out that he used his full name—Erik Homburger Erikson—in his books and essays. However, as time
passed, he dropped his middle name and replaced it with the initial H. Thus, this person who at the end of life
was known as Erik H. Erikson had previously been called Erik Salomonsen, Erik Homburger, and Erik Homburger

In America, Erikson continued his pattern of moving from place to place. He first settled in the Boston area
where he set up a modified psychoanalytic practice. With neither medical credentials nor any kind of college
degree, he accepted research positions at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the
Harvard Psychological Clinic.

Wanting to write but needing more time than his busy schedule in Boston and Cambridge allowed, Erikson
took a position at Yale in 1936, but after 21/2 years, he moved to the University of California at Berkeley, but not
before living among and studying people of the Sioux nation on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. He
later lived with people of the Yurok nation in northern California, and these experiences in cultural anthropology
added to the richness and completeness of his concept of humanity.

During his California period, Erikson gradually evolved a theory of personality, separate from but not
incompatible with Freud’s. In 1950, Erikson published Childhood and Society, a book that at first glance appears
to be a hodgepodge of unrelated chapters. Erikson himself originally had some difficulty finding a common theme
underlying such topics as childhood in two Native American tribes, the growth of the ego, the eight stages of
human development, and Hitler’s childhood. Eventually, however, he recognized that the influence of
psychological, cultural, and historical factors on identity was the underlying element that held the various
chapters together. Childhood and Society, which became a classic and gave Erikson an international reputation
as an imaginative thinker, remains the finest introduction to his post-Freudian personality theory.

In 1949, the University of California officials demanded that faculty members sign an oath pledging loyalty to
the United States. Such a demand was not uncommon during those days when Senator Joseph McCarthy
convinced many Americans that Communists and Communist sympathizers were poised to overthrow the U.S.
government. Erikson was not a Communist, but as a matter of principle he refused to sign the oath. Although the
Committee on Privilege and Tenure recommended that he retain his position, Erikson left California and returned
to Massachusetts, where he worked as a therapist at Austen Riggs, a treatment center for psychoanalytic
training and research located in Stockbridge. In 1960, he returned to Harvard and, for the next 10 years, held the
position of professor of human development. After retirement, Erikson continued an active career—writing,
lecturing, and seeing a few patients. During the early years of his retirement, he lived in Marin County, California;
Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Cape Cod. Through all these changes, Erikson continued to seek his father’s
name. He died on May 12, 1994, at the age of 91.

Who was Erik Erikson? Although he himself may not have been able to answer this question, other people can
learn about the person known as Erik Erikson through his brilliantly constructed books, lectures, and essays.

Erikson’s best-known works include Childhood and Society (1950, 1963, 1985); Young Man Luther (1958);
Identity: Youth and Crisis (1968); Gandhi’s Truth (1969), a book that won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National
Book Award; Dimensions of a New Identity (1974); Life History and the Historical Moment (1975); Identity and the
Life Cycle (1980); and The Life Cycle Completed (1982). Stephen Schlein compiled many of his papers in A Way
of Looking at Things (Erikson, 1987).

The Ego in Post-Freudian Theory
In Chapter 2, we pointed out that Freud used the analogy of a rider on horseback to describe the relationship
between the ego and the id. The rider (ego) is ultimately at the mercy of the stronger horse (id). The ego has no
strength of its own but must borrow its energy from the id. Moreover, the ego is constantly attempting to balance
blind demands of the superego against the relentless forces of the id and the realistic opportunities of the
external world. Freud believed that, for psychologically healthy people, the ego is sufficiently developed to rein in
the id, even though its control is still tenuous and id impulses might erupt and overwhelm the ego at any time.

In contrast, Erikson held that our ego is a positive force that creates a self- identity, a sense of “I.” As the
center of our personality, our ego helps us adapt to the various conflicts and crises of life and keeps us from
losing our individuality to the leveling forces of society. During childhood, the ego is weak, pliable, and fragile; but
by adolescence it should begin to take form and gain strength. Throughout our life, it unifies personality and
guards against indivisibility. Erikson saw the ego as a partially unconscious organizing agency that synthesizes

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our present experiences with past self-identities and also with anticipated images of self. He defined the ego as
a person’s ability to unify experiences and actions in an adaptive manner (Erikson, 1963).

Erikson (1968) identified three interrelated aspects of ego: the body ego, the ego ideal, and ego identity. The
body ego refers to experiences with our body; a way of seeing our physical self as different from other people.
We may be satisfied or dissatisfied with the way our body looks and functions, but we recognize that it is the only
body we will ever have. The ego ideal represents the image we have of ourselves in comparison with an
established ideal; it is responsible for our being satisfied or dissatisfied not only with our physical self but also
with our entire personal identity. Ego identity is the image we have of ourselves in the variety of social roles we
play. Although adolescence is ordinarily the time when these three components are changing most rapidly,
alterations in body ego, ego ideal, and ego identity can and do take place at any stage of life.

Society’s Influence
Although inborn capacities are important in personality development, the ego emerges from and is largely shaped
by society. Erikson’s emphasis on social and historical factors was in contrast with Freud’s mostly biological
viewpoint. To Erikson, the ego exists as potential at birth, but it must emerge from within a cultural environment.
Different societies, with their variations in child-rearing practices, tend to shape personalities that fit the needs
and values of their culture. For example, Erikson (1963) found that prolonged and permissive nursing of infants of
the Sioux nation (sometimes for as long as 4 or 5 years) resulted in what Freud would call “oral” personalities:
that is, people who gain great pleasure through functions of the mouth. The Sioux place great value on
generosity, and Erikson believed that the reassurance resulting from unlimited breast feeding lays the foundation
for the virtue of generosity. However, Sioux parents quickly suppress biting, a practice that may contribute to the
child’s fortitude and ferocity. On the other hand, people of the Yurok nation set strict regulations concerning
elimination of urine and feces, practices that tend to develop “anality,” or compulsive neatness, stubbornness,
and miserliness. In European American societies, orality and anality are often considered undesirable traits or
neurotic symptoms. Erikson (1963), however, argued that orality among the Sioux hunters and anality among the
Yurok fishermen are adaptive characteristics that help both the individual and the culture. The fact that European
American culture views orality and anality as deviant traits merely displays its own ethnocentric view of other
societies. Erikson (1968, 1974) argued that historically all tribes or nations, including the United States, have
developed what he called a pseudospecies: that is, an illusion perpetrated and perpetuated by a particular
society that it is somehow chosen to be the human species. In past centuries, this belief has aided the survival
of the tribe, but with modern means of world annihilation, such a prejudiced perception (as demonstrated by Nazi
Germany) threatens the survival of every nation.

One of Erikson’s principal contributions to personality theory was his extension of the Freudian early stages of
development to include school age, youth, adulthood, and old age. Before looking more closely at Erikson’s theory
of ego development, we discuss his view of how personality develops from one stage to the next.

Epigenetic Principle
Erikson believed that the ego develops throughout the various stages of life according to an epigenetic principle,
a term borrowed from embryology. Epigenetic development implies a step-by-step growth of fetal organs. The
embryo does not begin as a completely formed little person, waiting to merely expand its structure and form.
Rather, it develops, or should develop, according to a predetermined rate and in a fixed sequence. If the eyes,
liver, or other organs do not develop during that critical period for their development, then they will never attain
proper maturity.


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Children crawl before they walk, walk before they run, and run before they jump.
Andersen Ross/Getty Images

In similar fashion, the ego follows the path of epigenetic development, with each stage developing at its
proper time. One stage emerges from and is built upon a previous stage, but it does not replace that earlier stage.
This epigenetic development is analogous to the physical development of children, who crawl before they walk,
walk before they run, and run before they jump. When children are still crawling, they are developing the potential
to walk, run, and jump; and after they are mature enough to jump, they still retain their ability to run, walk, and
crawl. Erikson (1968) described the epigenetic principle by saying that “anything that grows has a ground plan,
and that out of this ground plan the parts arise, each part having its time of special ascendancy, until all parts
have arisen to form a functioning whole” (p. 92). More succinctly, “Epigenesis means that one characteristic
develops on top of another in space and time” (Evans, 1967, pp. 21–22).

The epigenetic principle is illustrated in Figure 7.1, which depicts the first three Eriksonian stages. The
sequence of stages (1, 2, 3) and the development of their component parts (A, B, C) are shown in the heavily
lined boxes along the diagonal. Figure 7.1 shows that each part exists before its critical time (at least as
biological potential), emerges at its proper time, and finally, continues to develop during subsequent stages. For
example, component part B first emerges during Stage 1 (infancy; Box 1B), reaches full ascendence (bold line)
during Stage 2 (early childhood, Box 2B), and continues to develop on into Stage 3 (play age, Box 3B). Similarly, all
components of Stage 3 exist during Stages 1 and 2, reach full development during Stage 3, and continue
throughout all later stages (Erikson, 1982).


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FIGURE 7.1 Three Eriksonian Stages, Depicting the Epigenetic Principle.
Source: Erikson, Erik H. The Life Cycle Completed. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1982.

Stages of Psychosocial Development
Comprehension of Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development requires an understanding of several
basic points. First, growth takes place according to the epigenetic principle. That is, one component part arises
out of another and has its own time of ascendancy, but it does not entirely replace earlier components.

Second, in every stage of life there is an interaction of opposites—that is, a conflict between a syntonic
(harmonious) element and a dystonic (disruptive) element. For example, during infancy basic trust (a syntonic
tendency) is opposed to basic mistrust (a dystonic tendency). Both trust and mistrust, however, are necessary
for proper adaptation. An infant who learns only to trust becomes gullible and is ill prepared for the realities
encountered in later development, whereas an infant who learns only to mistrust becomes overly suspicious and
cynical. Similarly, during each of the other seven stages, people must have both harmonious (syntonic) and
disruptive (dystonic) experiences.

Third, at each stage, the conflict between the dystonic and syntonic elements produces an ego quality or ego
strength, which Erikson referred to as a basic strength. For instance, from the antithesis between trust and
mistrust emerges hope, an ego quality that allows an infant to move into the next stage. Likewise, each of the
other stages is marked by a basic ego strength that emerges from the clash between the harmonious and the
disruptive elements of that stage.

Fourth, too little basic strength at any one stage results in a core pathology for that stage. For example, a
child who does not acquire sufficient hope during infancy will develop the antithesis or opposite of hope, namely,
withdrawal. Again, each stage has a potential core pathology.

Fifth, although Erikson referred to his eight stages as psychosocial stages, he never lost sight of the
biological aspect of human development.


Sixth, events in earlier stages do not cause later personality development. Ego identity is shaped by a
multiplicity of conflicts and events—past, present, and anticipated.

Seventh, during each stage, but especially from adolescence forward, personality development is
characterized by an identity crisis, which Erikson (1968) called “a turning point, a crucial period of increased
vulnerability and heightened potential” (p. 96). Thus, during each crisis, a person is especially susceptible to
major modifications in identity, either positive or negative. Contrary to popular usage, an identity crisis is not a
catastrophic event but rather an opportunity for either adaptive or maladaptive adjustment.

Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development are shown in Figure 7.2. The boldfaced capitalized words
are the ego qualities or basic strengths that emerge from the conflicts or psychosocial crises that typify each

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period. The “vs.” separating syntonic and dystonic elements signifies not only an antithetical relationship but also
a complementary one. Only the boxes along the diagonal are filled in; that is, Figure 7.2 highlights only the basic
strengths and psychosocial crises that are most characteristic of each stage of development. However, the
epigenetic principle suggests that all the other boxes would be filled (as in Figure 7.1), though with other items
less characteristic of their stage of psychosocial development. Each item in the ensemble is vital to personality
development, and each is related to all the others.

FIGURE 7.2 Erikson’s Eight Stages of Development with Their Appropriate Basic Strengths and Psychosocial Crises.
Source: Erikson, Erik H. The Life Cycle Completed. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1982.

The first psychosocial stage is infancy, a period encompassing approximately the first year of life and paralleling
Freud’s oral phase of development. However, Erikson’s model adopts a broader focus than Freud’s oral stage,
which was concerned almost exclusively with the mouth. To Erikson (1963, 1989), infancy is a time of
incorporation, with infants “taking in” not only through their mouth but through their various sense organs as well.
Through their eyes, for example, infants take in visual stimuli. As they take in food and sensory information,
infants learn to either trust or mistrust the outside world, a situation that gives them realistic hope. Infancy, then,
is marked by the oral-sensory psychosexual mode, the psychosocial crisis of basic trust versus basic mistrust,
and the basic strength of hope.

Oral-Sensory Mode
Erikson’s expanded view of infancy is expressed in the term oral-sensory, a phrase that includes infants’
principal psychosexual mode of adapting. The oral-sensory stage is characterized by two modes of incorporation
—receiving and accepting what is given. Infants can receive even in the absence of other people; that is, they can
take in air through the lungs and can receive sensory data without having to manipulate others. The second mode
of incorporation, however, implies a social context. Infants not only must get, but also must get someone else to

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give. This early training in interpersonal relations helps them learn to eventually become givers. In getting other
people to give, they learn to trust or mistrust other people, thus setting up the basic psychosocial crisis of
infancy, namely, basic trust versus basic mistrust.

Basic Trust versus Basic Mistrust
Infants’ most significant interpersonal relations are with their primary caregiver, usually their mother. If they
realize that their mother will provide food regularly, then they begin to learn basic trust; if they consistently hear
the pleasant, rhythmic voice of their mother, then they develop more basic trust; if they can rely on an exciting
visual environment, then they solidify basic trust even more. In other words, if their pattern of accepting things
corresponds with culture’s way of giving things, then infants learn basic trust. In contrast, they learn basic
mistrust if they find no correspondence between their oral-sensory needs and their environment.

Basic trust is usually syntonic, and basic mistrust is dystonic. Nevertheless, infants must develop both
attitudes. Too much trust makes them gullible and vulnerable to the vagaries of the world, whereas too little trust
leads to frustration, anger, hostility, cynicism, or depression.

Both trust and mistrust are inevitable experiences of infants. All babies who have survived have been fed and
otherwise cared for and therefore have some reason to trust. In addition, all have been frustrated by pain, hunger,
or discomfort, and thus have a reason to mistrust. Erikson believed that some ratio of trust and mistrust is critical
to people’s ability to adapt. He told Richard Evans (1967) that “when we enter a situation, we must be able to
differentiate how much we can trust and how much we must mistrust, and I use mistrust in the sense of a
readiness for danger and an anticipation of discomfort” (p. 15).

The inevitable clash between basic trust and basic mistrust results in people’s first psychosocial crisis. If
people successfully solve this crisis, they acquire their first basic strength—hope.

Hope: The Basic Strength of Infancy
Hope emerges from the conflict between basic trust and basic mistrust. Without the antithetical relationship
between trust and mistrust, people cannot develop hope. Infants must experience hunger, pain, and discomfort
as well as the alleviation of these unpleasant conditions. By having both painful and pleasurable experiences,
infants learn to expect that future distresses will meet with satisfactory outcomes.

If infants do not develop sufficient hope during infancy, they will demonstrate the antithesis or the opposite of
hope—withdrawal, the core pathology of infancy. With little to hope for, they will retreat from the outside world
and begin the journey toward serious psychological disturbance.

Early Childhood
The second psychosocial stage is early childhood, a period paralleling Freud’s anal stage and encompassing
approximately the 2nd and 3rd years of life. Again, some differences exist between the views of Freud and
Erikson. In Chapter 2, we explained that Freud regarded the anus as the primary erogenous zone during this
period and that during the early sadistic-anal phase, children receive pleasure in destroying or losing objects,
while later they take satisfaction in defecating.

Once again, Erikson took a broader view. To him, young children receive pleasure not only from mastering the
sphincter muscle but also from mastering other body functions such as urinating, walking, throwing, holding, and
so on. In addition, children develop a sense of control over their interpersonal environment, as well as a measure
of self-control. However, early childhood is also a time of experiencing doubt and shame as children learn that
many of their attempts at autonomy are unsuccessful.

Anal–Urethral–Muscular Mode
During the 2nd year of life, children’s primary psychosexual adjustment is the anal–urethral–muscular mode. At
this time, children learn to control their body, especially in relation to cleanliness and mobility. Early childhood is
more than a time of toilet training; it is also a time of learning to walk, run, hug parents, and hold on to toys and
other objects. With each of these activities, young children are likely to display some stubborn tendencies. They
may retain their feces or eliminate them at will, snuggle up to their mother or suddenly push her away, delight in
hoarding objects or ruthlessly discard them.

Early childhood is a time of contradiction, a time of stubborn rebellion and meek compliance, a time of
impulsive self-expression and compulsive deviance, a time of loving cooperation and hateful resistance. This

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obstinate insistence on conflicting impulses triggers the major psychosocial crisis of childhood—autonomy
versus shame and doubt (Erikson, 1968).


Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt
If early childhood is a time for self-expression and autonomy, then it is also a time for shame and doubt. As
children stubbornly express their anal–urethral–muscular mode, they are likely to find a culture that attempts to
inhibit some of their self-expression. Parents may shame their children for soiling their pants or for making a
mess with their food. They may also instill doubt by questioning their children’s ability to meet their standards.
The conflict between autonomy and shame and doubt becomes the major psychosocial crisis of early childhood.

Ideally, children should develop a proper ratio between autonomy and shame and doubt, and the ratio should
be in favor of autonomy, the syntonic quality of early childhood. Children who develop too little autonomy will have
difficulties in subsequent stages, lacking the basic strengths of later stages.

According to Erikson’s epigenetic diagrams (see Figures 7.1 and 7.2), autonomy grows out of basic trust; and
if basic trust has been established in infancy, then children learn to have faith in themselves, and their world
remains intact while they experience a mild psychosocial crisis. Conversely, if children do not develop basic trust
during infancy, then their attempts to gain control of their anal, urethral, and muscular organs during early
childhood will be met with a strong sense of shame and doubt, setting up a serious psychosocial crisis. Shame
is a feeling of self-consciousness, of being looked at and exposed. Doubt, on the other hand, is the feeling of not
being certain, the feeling that something remains hidden and cannot be seen. Both shame and doubt are dystonic
qualities, and both grow out of the basic mistrust that was established in infancy.

Will: The Basic Strength of Early Childhood
The basic strength of will or willfulness evolves from the resolution of the crisis of autonomy versus shame and
doubt. This step is the beginning of free will and willpower—but only a beginning. Mature willpower and a
significant measure of free will are reserved for later stages of development, but they originate in the rudimentary
will that emerges during early childhood. Anyone who has spent much time around 2-year-olds knows how willful
they can be. Toilet training often epitomizes the conflict of wills between adult and child, but willful expression is
not limited to this area. The basic conflict during early childhood is between the child’s striving for autonomy and
the parent’s attempts to control the child through the use of shame and doubt.

Children develop will only when their environment allows them some self- expression in their control of
sphincters and other muscles. When their experiences result in too much shame and doubt, children do not
adequately develop this second important basic strength. Inadequate will is expressed as compulsion, the core
pathology of early childhood. Too little will and too much compulsivity carry forward into the play age as lack of
purpose and into the school age as lack of confidence.

Play Age
Erikson’s third stage of development is the play age, a period covering the same time as Freud’s phallic phase—
roughly ages 3–5. Again, differences emerge between the views of Freud and Erikson. Whereas Freud placed the
Oedipus complex at the core of the phallic stage, Erikson believed that the Oedipus complex is but one of several
important developments during the play age. Erikson (1968) contended that, in addition to identifying with their
parents, preschool-age children are developing locomotion, language skills, curiosity, imagination, and the ability
to set goals.

Genital-Locomotor Mode
The primary psychosexual mode during the play age is genital-locomotor. Erikson (1982) saw the Oedipal
situation as a prototype “of the lifelong power of human playfulness” (p. 77). In other words, the Oedipus
complex is a drama played out in the child’s imagination and includes the budding understanding of such basic
concepts as reproduction, growth, future, and death. The Oedipus and castration complexes, therefore, are not
always to be taken literally. A child may play at being a mother, a father, a wife, or a husband; but such play is an
expression not only of the genital mode but also of the child’s rapidly developing locomotor abilities. A little girl
may envy boys, not because boys possess a penis, but rather because society grants more prerogatives to
children with a penis. A little boy may have anxiety about losing something, but this anxiety refers not only to the

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penis but also to other body parts. The Oedipus complex, then, is both more than and less than what Freud
believed, and infantile sexuality is “a mere promise of things to come” (Erikson, 1963, p. 86). Unless sexual
interest is provoked by cultural sex play or by adult sexual abuse, the Oedipus complex produces no harmful
effects on later personality development.

The interest that play-age children have in genital activity is accompanied by their increasing facility at
locomotion. They can now move with ease, running, jumping, and climbing with no conscious effort; and their
play shows both initiative and imagination. Their rudimentary will, developed during the preceding stage, is now
evolving into activity with a purpose. Children’s cognitive abilities enable them to manufacture elaborate fantasies
that include Oedipal fantasies but also include imagining what it is like to be grown up, to be omnipotent, or to be
a ferocious animal. These fantasies, however, also produce guilt and thus contribute to the psychosocial crisis
of the play age, namely, initiative versus guilt.

Initiative versus Guilt
As children begin to move around more easily and vigorously and as their genital interest awakens, they adopt an
intrusive head-on mode of approaching the world. Although they begin to adopt initiative in their selection and
pursuit of goals, many goals, such as marrying their mother or father or leaving home, must be either repressed
or delayed. The consequence of these taboo and inhibited goals is guilt. The conflict between initiative and guilt
becomes the dominant psychosocial crisis of the play age.

Again, the ratio between these two should favor the syntonic quality—initiative. Unbridled initiative, however,
may lead to chaos and a lack of moral principles. On the other hand, if guilt is the dominant element, children may
become compulsively moralistic or overly inhibited. Inhibition, which is the antipathy of purpose, constitutes the
core pathology of the play age.

Purpose: The Basic Strength of the Play Age
The conflict of initiative versus guilt produces the basic strength of purpose. Children now play with a purpose,
competing at games in order to win or to be on top. Their genital interests have a direction, with mother or father
being the object of their sexual desires. They set goals and pursue them with purpose. Play age is also the stage
in which children are developing a conscience and beginning to attach labels such as right and wrong to their
behavior. This youthful conscience becomes the “cornerstone of morality” (Erikson, 1968, p. 119).

School Age
Erikson’s concept of school age covers development from about age 6 to approximately age 12 or 13 and
matches the latency years of Freud’s theory. At this age, the social world of children is expanding beyond family
to include peers, teachers, and other adult models. For school-age children, their wish to know becomes strong
and is tied to their basic striving for competence. In normal development, children strive industriously to read and
write, to hunt and fish, or to learn the skills required by their culture. School age does not necessarily mean
formalized schools. In contemporary literate cultures, schools and professional teachers play a major part in
children’s education, whereas in preliterate societies, adults use less formalized but equally effective methods to
instruct children in the ways of society.

Erikson agreed with Freud that school age is a period of psychosexual latency. Sexual latency is important
because it allows children to divert their energies to learning the technology of their culture and the strategies of
their social interactions. As children work and play to acquire these essentials, they begin to form a picture of
themselves as competent or incompetent. These self-images are the origin of ego identity—that feeling of “I” or
“me-ness” that evolves more fully during adolescence.

Industry versus Inferiority
Although school age is a period of little sexual development, it is a time of tremendous social growth. The
psychosocial crisis of this stage is industry versus inferiority. Industry, a syntonic quality, means industriousness,
a willingness to remain busy with something and to finish a job. School-age children learn to work and play at
activities directed toward acquiring job skills and toward learning the rules of cooperation.

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As children learn to do things well, they develop a sense of industry, but if their work is insufficient to
accomplish their goals, they acquire a sense of inferiority—the dystonic quality of the school age. Earlier
inadequacies can also contribute to children’s feelings of inferiority. For example, if children acquire too much
guilt and too little purpose during the play age, they will likely feel inferior and incompetent during the school age.
However, failure is not inevitable. Erikson was optimistic in suggesting that people can successfully handle the
crisis of any given stage even though they were not completely successful in previous stages.

The ratio between industry and inferiority should, of course, favor industry; but inferiority, like the other
dystonic qualities, should not be avoided. As Alfred Adler (Chapter 3) pointed out, inferiority can serve as an
impetus to do one’s best. Conversely, an oversupply of inferiority can block productive activity and stunt one’s
feelings of competence.


Competence: The Basic Strength of the School Age
From the conflict of industry versus inferiority, school-age children develop the basic strength of competence:
that is, the confidence to use one’s physical and cognitive abilities to solve the problems that accompany school
age. Competence lays the foundation for “co-operative participation in productive adult life” (Erikson, 1968, p.

If the struggle between industry and inferiority favors either inferiority or an overabundance of industry,
children are likely to give up and regress to an earlier stage of development. They may become preoccupied with
infantile genital and Oedipal fantasies and spend most of their time in nonproductive play. This regression is
called inertia, the antithesis of competence and the core pathology of the school age.

Adolescence, the period from puberty to young adulthood, is one of the most crucial developmental stages
because, by the end of this period, a person must gain a firm sense of ego identity. Although ego identity neither
begins nor ends during adolescence, the crisis between identity and identity confusion reaches its ascendance
during this stage. From this crisis of identity versus identity confusion emerges fidelity, the basic strength of

Erikson (1982) saw adolescence as a period of social latency, just as he saw school age as a time of sexual
latency. Although adolescents are developing sexually and cognitively, in most Western societies they are
allowed to postpone lasting commitment to an occupation, a sex partner, or an adaptive philosophy of life. They
are permitted to experiment in a variety of ways and to try out new roles and beliefs while seeking to establish a
sense of ego identity. Adolescence, then, is an adaptive phase of personality development, a period of trial and

Puberty, defined as genital maturation, plays a relatively minor role in Erikson’s concept of adolescence. For most
young people, genital maturation presents no major sexual crisis. Nevertheless, puberty is important
psychologically because it triggers expectations of adult roles yet ahead—roles that are essentially social and
can be filled only through a struggle to attain ego identity.

Identity versus Identity Confusion
The search for ego identity reaches a climax during adolescence as young people strive to find out who they are
and who they are not. With the advent of puberty, adolescents look for new roles to help them discover their
identities. Erikson believed that exploring questions of occupational and ideological identity were the critical
issues during adolescence (1956, 1963). That is, what do we want to do with our lives and what do we believe
about religion and politics? James Marcia later added sexual identity to Erikson’s domains of adolescent
identities to address the questions: To whom are we attracted and who is attracted to us? (Marcia et al., 1993;
Schenkel & Marcia, 1972). Together these three identity domains—occupational, ideological, and sexual—form
the cornerstone of identity development and exploration during adolescence. In this search, young people draw
from a variety of earlier self-images that have been accepted or rejected. Thus, the seeds of identity begin to
sprout during infancy and continue to grow through childhood, the play age, and the school age. Then during

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adolescence, identity strengthens into a crisis as young people learn to cope with the psychosocial conflict of
identity versus identity confusion.

A crisis should not suggest a threat or catastrophe but rather “a turning point, a crucial period of increased
vulnerability and heightened potential” (Erikson, 1968, p. 96). An identity crisis may last for many years and can
result in either greater or lesser ego strength.

Identity involves finding out which groups you belong to and which you don’t.
fotostorm/Getty Images

According to Erikson (1982), identity emerges from two sources: (1) adolescents’ affirmation or repudiation of
childhood identifications and (2) their historical and social contexts, which encourage conformity to certain
standards. Young people frequently reject the standards of their elders, preferring instead the values of a peer
group or gang. In any event, the society in which they live plays a substantial role in shaping their identity.

Identity is defined both positively and negatively, as adolescents are deciding what they want to become and
what they believe while also discovering what they do not wish to be and what they do not believe. Often they
must either repudiate the values of parents or reject those of the peer group, a dilemma that may intensify their
identity confusion.

Identity confusion is a syndrome of problems that includes a divided self-image, an inability to establish
intimacy, a sense of time urgency, a lack of concentration on required tasks, and a rejection of family or
community standards. As with the other dystonic tendencies, some amount of identity confusion is both normal
and necessary. Young people must experience some doubt and confusion about who they are before they can
evolve a stable identity. They may leave home (as Erikson did) to wander alone in search of self; experiment with
drugs and sex; identify with a street gang; join a religious order; or rail against the existing society, with no
alternative answers. Or they may simply and quietly consider where they fit into the world and what values they
hold dear.

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Once again, Erikson’s theory is consistent with his own life. At age 18 and feeling alienated from the
standards of his bourgeois family, Erikson set about searching for a different style of life. Gifted at sketching and
with more identity confusion than identity, he spent the next 7 years wandering through southern Europe in search
of an identity as an artist. Erikson (1975) referred to this stage of his life as a time of discontent, rebellion, and
identity confusion.

Although identity confusion is a necessary part of our search for identity, too much confusion can lead to
pathological adjustment in the form of regression to earlier stages of development. We may postpone the
responsibilities of adulthood and drift aimlessly from one job to another, from one sex partner to another, or from
one ideology to another. Conversely, if we develop the proper ratio of identity to identity confusion, we will have
(1) faith in some sort of ideological principle, (2) the ability to freely decide how we should behave, (3) trust in our
peers and adults who give us advice regarding goals and aspirations, and (4) confidence in our choice of an
eventual occupation.

Fidelity: The Basic Strength of Adolescence
The basic strength emerging from adolescent identity crises is fidelity, or faith in one’s ideology. After
establishing their internal standards of conduct, adolescents are no longer in need of parental guidance but have
confidence in their own religious, political, and social ideologies.

The trust learned in infancy is basic for fidelity in adolescence. Young people must learn to trust others
before they can have faith in their own view of the future. They must have developed hope during infancy, and
they must follow hope with the other basic strengths—will, purpose, and competence. Each is a prerequisite for
fidelity, just as fidelity is essential for acquiring subsequent ego strengths.

The pathological counterpart of fidelity is role repudiation, the core pathology of adolescence that blocks
one’s ability to synthesize various self-images and values into a workable identity. Role repudiation can take the
form of either diffidence or defiance (Erikson, 1982). Diffidence is an extreme lack of self-trust or self-confidence
and is expressed as shyness or hesitancy to express oneself. In contrast, defiance is the act of rebelling against
authority. Defiant adolescents stubbornly hold to socially unacceptable beliefs and practices simply because
these beliefs and practices are unacceptable. Some amount of role repudiation, Erikson believed, is necessary,
not only because it allows adolescents to evolve their personal identity but also because it injects some new
ideas and new vitality into the social structure.

Young Adulthood
After achieving a sense of identity during adolescence, people must acquire the ability to fuse that identity with
the identity of another person while maintaining their sense of individuality. Young adulthood—a time from about
age 19 to 30—is circumscribed not so much by time as by the acquisition of intimacy at the beginning of the
stage and the development of generativity at the end. For some people, this stage is a relatively short time,
lasting perhaps only a few years. For others, young adulthood may continue for several decades. Young adults
should develop mature genitality, experience the conflict between intimacy and isolation, and acquire the basic
strength of love.

Much of the sexual activity during adolescence is an expression of one’s search for identity and is basically self-
serving. True genitality can develop only during young adulthood when it is distinguished by mutual trust and a
stable sharing of sexual satisfactions with a loved person. It is the chief psychosexual accomplishment of young
adulthood and exists only in an intimate relationship (Erikson, 1963).


Intimacy versus Isolation
Young adulthood is marked by the psychosocial crisis of intimacy versus isolation. Intimacy is the ability to fuse
one’s identity with that of another person without fear of losing it. Because intimacy can be achieved only after
people have formed a stable ego, the infatuations often found in young adolescents are not true intimacy. People
who are unsure of their identity may either shy away from psychosocial intimacy or desperately seek intimacy
through meaningless sexual encounters.

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In contrast, mature intimacy means an ability and willingness to share a mutual trust. It involves sacrifice,
compromise, and commitment within a relationship of two equals. It should be a requirement for marriage, but
many marriages lack intimacy because some young people marry as part of their search for the identity that they
failed to establish during adolescence.

The psychosocial counterpart to intimacy is isolation, defined as “the incapacity to take chances with one’s
identity by sharing true intimacy” (Erikson, 1968, p. 137). Some people become financially or socially successful,
yet retain a sense of isolation because they are unable to accept the adult responsibilities of productive work,
procreation, and mature love.

Again, some degree of isolation is essential before one can acquire mature love. Too much togetherness can
diminish a person’s sense of ego identity, which leads that person to a psychosocial regression and an inability to
face the next developmental stage. The greater danger, of course, is too much isolation, too little intimacy, and a
deficiency in the basic strength of love.

Love: The Basic Strength of Young Adulthood
Love, the basic strength of young adulthood, emerges from the crisis of intimacy versus isolation. Erikson (1968,
1982) defined love as mature devotion that overcomes basic differences between men and women. Although
love includes intimacy, it also contains some degree of isolation, because each partner is permitted to retain a
separate identity. Mature love means commitment, sexual passion, cooperation, competition, and friendship. It is
the basic strength of young adulthood, enabling a person to cope productively with the final two stages of

The antipathy of love is exclusivity, the core pathology of young adulthood. Some exclusivity, however, is
necessary for intimacy; that is, a person must be able to exclude certain people, activities, and ideas in order to
develop a strong sense of identity. Exclusivity becomes pathological when it blocks one’s ability to cooperate,
compete, or compromise—all prerequisite ingredients for intimacy and love.

The seventh stage of development is adulthood, that time when people begin to take their place in society and
assume responsibility for whatever society produces. For most people, this is the longest stage of development,
spanning the years from about age 31 to 60. Adulthood is characterized by the psychosexual mode of
procreativity, the psychosocial crisis of generativity versus stagnation, and the basic strength of care.


Erikson’s psychosexual theory assumes an instinctual drive to perpetuate the species. This drive is the
counterpart of an adult animal’s instinct toward procreation and is an extension of the genitality that marks young
adulthood (Erikson, 1982). However, procreativity refers to more than genital contact with an intimate partner. It
includes assuming responsibility for the care of offspring that result from that sexual contact. Ideally, procreation
should follow from the mature intimacy and love established during the preceding stage. Obviously, people are
physically capable of producing offspring before they are psychologically ready to care for the welfare of these

Mature adulthood demands more than procreating offspring; it includes caring for one’s children as well as
other people’s children. In addition, it encompasses working productively to transmit culture from one generation
to the next.

Generativity versus Stagnation
The syntonic quality of adulthood is generativity, defined as “the generation of new beings as well as new
products and new ideas” (Erikson, 1982, p. 67). Generativity, which is concerned with establishing and guiding
the next generation, includes the procreation of children, the production of work, and the creation of new things
and ideas that contribute to the building of a better world.

People have a need not only to learn but also to instruct. This need extends beyond one’s own children to an
altruistic concern for other young people. Generativity grows out of earlier syntonic qualities such as intimacy
and identity. As noted earlier, intimacy calls for the ability to fuse one’s ego to that of another person without fear
of losing it. This unity of ego identities leads to a gradual expansion of interests. During adulthood, one-to-one

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intimacy is no longer enough. Other people, especially children, become part of one’s concern. Instructing others
in the ways of culture is a practice found in all societies. For the mature adult, this motivation is not merely an
obligation or a selfish need but an evolutionary drive to make a contribution to succeeding generations and to
ensure the continuity of human society as well.

The antithesis of generativity is self-absorption and stagnation. The generational cycle of productivity and
creativity is crippled when people become too absorbed in themselves, too self-indulgent. Such an attitude
fosters a pervading sense of stagnation. Some elements of stagnation and self-absorption, however, are
necessary. Creative people must, at times, remain in a dormant stage and be absorbed with themselves in order
to eventually generate new growth. The interaction of generativity and stagnation produces care, the basic
strength of adulthood.

Care: The Basic Strength of Adulthood
Erikson (1982) defined care as “a widening commitment to take care of the persons, the products, and the ideas
one has learned to care for” (p. 67). As the basic strength of adulthood, care arises from each earlier basic ego
strength. One must have hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, and love in order to take care of that which one
cares for. Care is not a duty or obligation but a natural desire emerging from the conflict between generativity and
stagnation or self-absorption.


The antipathy of care is rejectivity, the core pathology of adulthood. Rejectivity is the unwillingness to take
care of certain persons or groups (Erikson, 1982). Rejectivity is manifested as self-centeredness, provincialism,
or pseudospeciation: that is, the belief that other groups of people are inferior to one’s own. It is responsible for
much of human hatred, destruction, atrocities, and wars. As Erikson said, rejectivity “has far-reaching
implications for the survival of the species as well as for every individual’s psychosocial development” (p. 70).

Erikson’s stages of development extend into old age.
Darren Greenwood/Design Pics

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Old Age
The eighth and final stage of development is old age. Erikson was in his early 40s when he first conceptualized
this stage and arbitrarily defined it as the period from about age 60 to the end of life. Old age need not mean that
people are no longer generative. Procreation, in the narrow sense of producing children, may be absent, yet old
people can remain productive and creative in other ways. They can be caring grandparents to their own
grandchildren as well as to other younger members of society. Old age can be a time of joy, playfulness, and
wonder; but it is also a time of senility, depression, and despair. The psychosexual mode of old age is generalized
sensuality; the psychosocial crisis is integrity versus despair, and the basic strength is wisdom.

Generalized Sensuality
The final psychosexual stage is generalized sensuality. Erikson had little to say about this mode of psychosexual
life, but one may infer that it means to take pleasure in a variety of different physical sensations—sights, sounds,
tastes, odors, embraces, and perhaps genital stimulation. Generalized sensuality may also include a greater
appreciation for the traditional lifestyle of the opposite sex. Men become more nurturant and more acceptant of
the pleasures of nonsexual relationships, including those with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Women become more interested and involved in politics, finance, and world affairs (Erikson, Erikson, & Kivnick,
1986). A generalized sensual attitude, however, is dependent on one’s ability to hold things together, that is, to
maintain integrity in the face of despair.

Integrity versus Despair
A person’s final identity crisis is integrity versus despair. At the end of life, the dystonic quality of despair may
prevail, but for people with a strong ego identity who have learned intimacy and who have taken care of both
people and things, the syntonic quality of integrity will predominate. Integrity means a feeling of wholeness and
coherence, an ability to hold together one’s sense of “I-ness” despite diminishing physical and intellectual


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