Erik Erikson’s and Sigmund Freud’s Psychological Theories Comparison

Human Development and Psychotherapy

Human development is referred to as humans’ cognitive, psychosocial, and physical development throughout life. Developmental theories present guiding concepts and principles that explain how human beings develop from when they are born to adolescents, adults, and eventually elderly people and the different changes they experience as they grow. These theories include Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory, Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory, Jean Piaget’s cognitive development theory, John Bowlby’s attachment theory, and Albert bandura’s social learning theory. The focus of this paper will be comparing and contrasting Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory and Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory and how psychotherapists can use their knowledge.

Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory Versus Sigmund Freud’s Psychosexual Theory

Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory and Sigmund Freud’s theory are two well-recognized human development theories. Erikson’s psychosocial theory focuses more on environmental and social factors while that of Freud, the psychosexual theory focuses on the significance of biological forces and basic needs (Newman & Newman, 2016). Moreover, Freud’s theory ends earlier, while Erikson expands his theory into adulthood. Similar to Freud, Erikson also recognized the significance of the unconscious on human development. He also believed that personality grows or develops in predetermined stages. Erikson did not focus on an individual’s sexual drive much like Freud but instead emphasized identity. While Freud believed that a person’s identity developed during adolescence, Erikson believed that a person’s identity developed throughout an individual’s lifespan.

Furthermore, whereas Freud emphasized maturation having a significant role, Erikson focused on a child’s cultural demands. Both theories have different explanations at different stages despite the belief that personality develops in predetermined stages. Erikson’s theory is explained in eight different stages that include Trust vs. Mistrust, Autonomy vs. Doubt, Initiative vs. Guilt, Industry vs. Inferiority, Identity vs. Role Confusion, Intimacy vs. Isolation, Generativity vs. Stagnation, and Integrity vs. Despair (Newman & Newman, 2016). On the other hand, Freud’s theory is explained in five stages, including the Oral stage, the Anal stage, the Phallic Stage, the stage of Latency, Genital Stage.

Birth to 1 Year

From birth to one year, both theories focus on the significance of early experiences, and their first stages occur at this period. However, Freud emphasized the significance of feeding, whereas Erikson focused on how responsive caretakers are to the needs of a child. According to Freud’s oral stage, the primary source of pleasure to a child is through the mouth through eating, sucking, and tasting. The mouth is essential for eating, and the child gets pleasure from oral stimulation via gratifying activities like sucking and tasting (Newman & Newman, 2016). The child also develops a sense of comfort and trust via this oral stimulation since it is entirely reliant on caretakers. The weaning process is the central conflict where the infants must become less reliant on their caretakers.

In Erikson’s first stage, Trust vs. mistrust, children learn to mistrust or trust their caregivers. Adults’ care determines if children will develop a sense of trust in the world surrounding them. The child is uncertain about their world and depends on their primary caregiver for stability and consistency of care. If the infant gets reliable, predictable, and consistent care, they start to develop a sense of trust that they will take with them to other relationships and feel safe even when threatened (McLeod, 2018). However, if the needs are not consistently met, the individual may develop anxiety, suspicion, and mistrust. As a result, infants will lack confidence in their capabilities to influence events or the world around them. The infant attains the virtue of hope if they complete this stage by developing a sense of trust.

1 to 3 years

The second stage in both theories happens between 1 to 3 years. In this period, both theories emphasize how children develop a sense of mastery and independence. In Freud’s anal stage, a child acquires a mastery sense by learning to control their bladder and bowel movements to control their bodily needs. Freud emphasized that the main focus of the libido was on controlling bowel and bladder movements (Newman & Newman, 2016). Gaining this control results in a sense of independence and accomplishment. Success at this stage is reliant on how parents approach toilet training. Caregivers that use rewards and praise for using the toilet at the right time enhance positive results or outcomes and help infants feel productive and capable. Freud believed that positive experiences serve as the foundation for individuals to become creative, productive, and competent adults at this stage (Newman & Newman, 2016). The children that succeed at this stage develop a sense and productivity. However, if the parents take a lenient approach, anal- expulsive personality could develop a messy, destructive, and wasteful personality in an individual.

Erikson’s second stage, Autonomy vs. Doubt, children become mobile and develop a sense of self-efficiency by learning to control activities such as talking, eating, and toilet training. At this stage, children develop a sense of personal control and independence. Children who are successful in the Autonomy vs. Doubt stage become more independent and confident and gain the virtue of will (McLeod, 2018). However, if they are ridiculed or overly, they start to feel inadequate in the capability to survive and may end up becoming overly reliant on others, feel a sense of shame or doubt in their abilities, and lack self-esteem.

Ages 3 to 6 Years

Erikson’s theory was concerned with how children associate with parents and peers at this period, while Freud’s theory was much more focused on the role of the libido. In Freud’s third stage, the phallic stage, the libido’s energy is concentrated on the genitals (Newman & Newman, 2016). Children become knowledgeable or conscious of their anatomical differences in sex, which leads girls to experience Electra complex as boys experience Oedipus complex. The children start to identify with their like-sex parents by the end of this period. This is the stage where boys begin to see their fathers as a rival for their mother’s affections (Lantz & Ray, 2022). The Oedipus complex describes the desire to replace the father by wanting to possess the mother. On the other hand, Electra complex describes young girls having a similar set of feelings towards their fathers.

In Erikson’s third stage of initiative versus guilt, children start to take control of their environment by associating with other children and developing interpersonal skills. The ones that succeed at this stage create a sense of purpose. Children assert themselves more through directing play and in other social interactions. Children at this stage are specifically lively and develop rapidly (Newman & Newman, 2016). The primary feature in this stage involves mainly relating with other children at school. At the same time, children play a lot at this stage which provides them with the opportunity to explore their interpersonal skills through initiating activities. However, the child develops a sense of guilt if they go through criticism. The children will start to ask numerous questions while their desire for knowledge grows at this stage.

Ages 7 to 11 Years

While Erikson believed that kids continue to develop a sense of competence and independence at this stage, Freud believed that this age served as a transitional period between childhood and adolescence. Freud’s latent stage says that libido energy is inactive or dormant, and children concentrate more on other activities, including friends, school, and hobbies. The superego continues to grow or develop while the id’s energies are inhibited (Lantz & Ray, 2022). He believed that this stage was significant for developing self-confidence, values, relationships, and social and communication skills. This stage starts when children enroll in school and become more involved with hobbies, peer relations, and other interests. The latent period is a period of exploration as the sexual energy has been rendered inactive. This energy is still present but is directed to other areas, including social interactions and intellectual interests. However, Freud believed that children could get stuck at this stage, like the other psychosexual stages.

In Erikson’s stage of Industry vs. Inferiority, a child develops a sense of competence by mastering new skills such as reading, doing sums, and writing on their own. Teachers start to take a vital role in the child’s life while training their particular skills. At this stage, the child’s peers will acquire greater importance and will become a most important source of the child’s self-esteem (Chung, 2018). At this stage, the child will now feel the need to earn approval by displaying or demonstrating particular skills appreciated in the community or society and developing a sense of pride in their accomplishments. Additionally, the children begin to feel industrious and confident in achieving goals if they are reinforced and encouraged for their initiative.


At this period, adolescents start to create their sense of identity in both Erikson’s and Freud’s theories of human development. In Freud’s fifth stage, the genital stage, children seek and explore romantic relationships. According to Freud, the goal of this phase is to establish a sense of balance between all parts of life (Newman & Newman, 2016). The start of puberty makes the libido active again. The person develops a strong interest in sex in the opposite sex during the final phase of psychosexual development. Interests in the welfare of others develop in this stage, unlike the earlier stages where emphasis or focus was exclusively on personal needs. The person should be well balanced or well adjusted, caring and warm if they successfully completed the other stages. Freud believed that the superego and ego were fully functioning and developed at this stage (Lantz & Ray, 2022). This is because the id controls younger children, which requires immediate satisfaction of most basic wants and needs. However, teens are able to balance their most basic desires in the genital stage of development to comply with the demands of reality and social norms.

On the other hand, in Erikson’s fifth stage of Identity vs. Role confusion, a child develops a sense of self and personal identity at this period. Teens begin to explore various attitudes, beliefs, goals, identities, and roles intensely as they develop a sense of self. The transition to adulthood from childhood is significant during adolescence because the children have to learn the roles they will take in adulthood. At this stage, children become more self-reliant and focus on their future careers, housing, relationships, and families (Chung, 2018). Moreover, a person wants to fit in and belong in society. Teens will re-examine their identity and attempt to determine who they are at this stage. Additionally, Erikson suggested two identities involved occupational and sexual.

According to Erikson, adolescents may feel uncomfortable with their bodies for some time until they can adapt and accept the changes. Succeeding at this stage leads to the virtue of fidelity, which involves committing oneself to others based on accepting other people where ideological differences exist (Newman & Newman, 2016). If individuals fail to establish a sense of identity in society, they find themselves in a state of role confusion (McLeod, 2018). Children will obtain a strong sense of self if they are properly encouraged. However, adolescents may experiment with different lifestyles such as education, political activities, and work in response to an identity crisis or role confusion.


Freud only talks of the Genital stage in adulthood which lasts all through life. Freud’s theory concentrated solely on development between birth and the teen years, indicating that personality is mostly developed by early childhood (Newman & Newman, 2016). Consequently, Erikson decided on a lifespan approach and subdivided the adulthood stage into three stages, the Intimacy vs. Isolation stage, Generativity vs. Stagnation stage, and the Integrity vs. Despair stage. Erikson believed that development continues after old age as well.

In Intimacy vs. Isolation, young adults between ages 18 to 40 look for companionship and romantic love. The main conflict at this stage focuses on creating intimate, loving relations with other individuals. Individuals start to share more intimately with other people and explore relationships leading to longer-term commitments with an individual apart from a relative (Newman & Newman, 2016). An individual gains happy relationships and a sense of responsibility, care, and safety in a relationship if they successfully complete this stage.

Erikson’s seventh stage of generativity vs. stagnation occurs during middle adulthood with individuals aged 40 to 65 years. Psychologically, generativity means making your mark on the world by nurturing or creating things that will outlive a person. People experience a need to nurture and create things that will outlive them, mostly by having mentees or making positive changes that will profit other individuals (Chung, 2018). Individuals give back to the community by raising their children, participating in community organizations and activities, and being productive at work. An individual can develop a sense of taking part in or participating in something bigger through generativity.

Ego Integrity vs. Despair is the eighth and last stage of Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory which starts at 65 years of age to death. At this age, individuals contemplate or consider their accomplishments and can develop integrity if they see themselves as leading a successful life (Newman & Newman, 2016). Individuals who reflect on their lives and regret not accomplishing or attaining their goals experience despair and bitterness. As a result, they end up feeling hopeless and depressed. Psychologically, ego integrity can be referred to as the acceptance of an individual’s only lifecycle as something that had to be and later as a sense of wholeness and coherence. Individuals tend to slow their productivity as they get past 65 years and explore life as a retired person (Newman & Newman, 2016). Successfully completing this stage results in the virtue of wisdom which enables an individual to look at their past life with a sense of completeness and closure and accept death without fear. However, wise individuals are not only characterized by a continuous position of ego identity but also experience ego identity and despair.

Application to Psychotherapy

Erikson’s stages can help me understand my clients’ developmental challenges and the stages at which they may have become fixated during their development. Erikson developed eight developmental stages to explain how individuals mature. His theory provides a foundation and understanding of psychosocial development from birth to adulthood (Marcia & Josselson, 2013). It also enables me to look back into the different stages of development and identify where my client might have been stuck in their younger years with expectations of working through the stage of development with an improved strong sense of self and self-confidence. Each of Erikson’s stages contains a conflict between two opposing concepts. These conflicts help me identify the point their clients got stuck and find a way to help them move past it.

To start with, trust vs. mistrust is the infancy stage’s main conflict. At this stage, trust is the main challenge and is determined by the quality of care infants receive. If it is poorly provided, the infants develop mistrust issues and miss out on the virtue of hope. Such an individual will display a lack of trust in their romantic relationships in adulthood (Marcia & Josselson, 2013). By determining this challenge, I will be able to develop ways that enable their clients to get past the issue of mistrust, thereby improving the quality of their relationships.

In the second stage, if an individual fails to successfully complete the stage, they tend to lack self-esteem and independence or feel inadequate. These are some factors that can make an individual start experiencing depression. If I can be able to identify this, I can help my clients get past this struggle and improve their self-esteem, which helps cut down on depression. Other challenges clients might be facing include fearing commitments and relationships, guilt, feeling of inferiority, avoiding intimacy, loneliness, and isolation (McLeod, 2018). Identifying all these issues will enable me to determine where my clients developed them and find a way to help them out of it, thereby ensuring that they start leading a happy and healthy life. Without Erikson’s stages, it will be close to impossible to identify the stuck point of my clients and cannot explore ways that can improve their lives.

Freud’s psychosexual stages are also important aspects to consider in psychotherapy. An individual must progressively go through each stage to mature into a well-functioning adult. An individual would become fixated at any stage if the libido drives are suppressed, or they are not discharged appropriately, leaving a child unsatisfied and developing anxiety (Newman & Newman, 2016). Freud believed that an individual would have dependency issues or aggression if fixation occurred at the oral stage leading to problems such as nail-biting, smoking, and drinking.

Individuals can also become obsessive, very orderly or messy, and stringent if they fail to complete Freud’s anal stage. Other challenges such as lack of self-confidence and lack of social and communication skills can be faced by clients if they get fixated at the latent stage or end up not being well adjusted, warm, or caring if they are fixated in the adolescence stage (Lantz & Ray, 2022). When I successfully identify how these issues came to be, I can become more efficient in finding ways to help my clients counter their problems and receive positive results. These positive results include being well adjusted, gaining self-confidence, making them more dependent, and improving their social and communication skills.


Chung, D. (2018). The eight stages of psychosocial protective development: Developmental psychology. Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, 08(06), 369-398.

Lantz, S., & Ray, S. (2022). Freud Developmental Theory. StatPearls Publishing LLC. Web.

Marcia, J., & Josselson, R. (2013). Eriksonian Personality Research and Its Implications for Psychotherapy. Journal of Personality, 81(6), 617-629.

McLeod, S. (2018). Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development by Saul McLeod, updated 2018 (pp. 1-15).

Newman, B., & Newman, P. (2016). Theories of human development. New York: Psychology Press Taylor & Francis Group.

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"Erik Erikson’s and Sigmund Freud’s Psychological Theories Comparison." PsychologyWriting, 7 Sept. 2023,


PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'Erik Erikson’s and Sigmund Freud’s Psychological Theories Comparison'. 7 September.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Erik Erikson’s and Sigmund Freud’s Psychological Theories Comparison." September 7, 2023.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Erik Erikson’s and Sigmund Freud’s Psychological Theories Comparison." September 7, 2023.


PsychologyWriting. "Erik Erikson’s and Sigmund Freud’s Psychological Theories Comparison." September 7, 2023.