Erickson’s vs. Freud’s Personality Theories


Studies have established that most personality theories have some level of relationship and, at the same time, contradictory with regard to their description of the growth process. The opposing nature of the theories helps one to draw numerous elements about personality because of the differences and similarities between them in terms of defining the key influencing factors. Human beings have different social experiences throughout their life, most of which influence on the kind of personality traits one gains.

During adolescence, children start experiencing puberty, where most things are basically done using trial and error methods. The Oedipus complex explains the way children start seeing their parents differently as they advance through different stages of development. However, their focus slowly shifts as they start seeing them as role models because of their moral values.


The field of psychology plays a crucial role in helping people understand various dynamics associated with human beings. These dynamics constitute a number of elements that include someone’s personality. The concept of personality refers to behavioral, temperamental, emotional, and mental attributes that characterize a unique individual (Dweck, 2013). These traits are permanent, unique, and consistent in an individual’s life, thus defining their distinctiveness.

Some of the famous theorists who have attempted to explore the concept of personality include Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Albert Bandura, and Eric Erickson. A number of theories have been developed to explain this concept by explaining the various stages of human growth, the attributes that one gains in each of them, and their influences. Some of the common personality theories include the traits theory, Banduara’s social learning theory, psychodynamic theory, and behaviorism theory, among others (Ellis & Abrahams, 2009).

Eric Erickson’s theory vs. Sigmund Freud’s theory

Erickson and Freud are some of the theorists who developed their own explanations of the concept of personality by analyzing the numerous stages of human development defined by age. According to Erickson, human beings have different social experiences throughout their life, most of which influence on the kind of personality traits one gains (Dweck, 2013). On the other hand, Freud sought to understand a mental or personality disturbance not attributable to any know neurological or organic dysfunction that influences personality traits in different people. He argues that personality is the outcome of the mental processes that develop from the aspiration to seek out pleasure (Dweck, 2013).

These pleasures are achieved through the three levels of the mind, which Freud identified as conscious, preconscious, and subconscious. These two theories of personality have a number of similarities, as well as differences that tag, along with the growth process and human experiences. Their major differences are in the manner of conceptualization, while the similarities develop along with the need to fulfill the motivations of one stage before moving to the next one (Frick, 2007).

Infancy stage

This is the first stage of development that Erickson and Freud used to explain the concept of personality. According to Freud, this is the stage in which infants start to experience the world by developing their oral abilities. He argues that this kind of stimulation happens as a result of childish sexuality (Ellis & Abrahams, 2009). This explains the immature tendencies of infants because their comprehension of the world is highly limited.

The desire to learn and have new experiences plays a crucial role in the development of traits that define someone’s personality. On the other hand, Erickson drew specific cases from Freud’s hypothesis to develop an explanation that depicts personality as something that develops from conflicts (Dweck, 2013). Erickson argues that the infancy stage is characterized by conflicts between conviction and suspicion with regard to the social experiences of children.

He argues that the development of personality requires a balance between harmonious and disruptive experiences. These experiences help an infant to acquire certain traits that define and influence the development of their individuality (Frick, 2007). At this stage, infants begin to experience the world and develop different levels of trust towards various elements in their immediate environment. This trust helps to build hope, which eventually builds the capacity of a child to differentiate various elements in their environment (Ellis & Abrahams, 2009). This plays a pivotal role in influencing development in subsequent stages.

Early childhood

This is the stage of development that entails the development of conflicts between personal independence and uncertainty about the truth. Erickson and Freud identified this stage as crucial with regard to the development of independence. It also helps children to develop the ability to examine something and determine their credibility (Dweck, 2013). Freud argues that children at this stage start understanding their physicality and their environment.

He argues that this helps a child to develop his or her personality depending on the things learnt and the degree of trust they develop (Allen & Murphy, 2008). On the other hand, Erickson described this stage as the development of a conflict between the ability of children to be independent and the parent’s desire to limit what the child can do on their own (Frick, 2007). He argues that both harmonious and disruptive experiences also have a huge role to play in terms of helping a child develop traits that define their individuality.

A balance between the two experiences helps children to have the will to learn more about the world and have better experiences (Ellis & Abrahams, 2009). This can lead to conflicts because parents will only try to create positive experiences for the child without providing room for self-exploration. Freud argues that parents who discipline their children for not doing the right things set a good foundation for later stages because the chances of children developing rebellious tendencies will be low. However, giving children freedom to explore helps in building their confidence (Dweck, 2013).

Play age stage

The two theorists described this as a very crucial stage of the growth process. According to Freud, children at this stage start developing sexual desires towards their parents owing to the fact that they are the first people who were able to meet their needs (Hiriyappa, 2012). He uses the Oedipus complex to explain the way children start seeing their parents differently as they advance through this stage. The focus slowly shifts from seeing their parents in a sexual manner to taking them up as role models because of their moral values. On the other hand, Erickson emphasized on the sentiments raised by Freud by using the Oedipus complex to derive his understanding of this stage (Allen & Murphy, 2008).

He argues that although children develop a sexual viewpoint of their parents, the feelings are quickly suppressed by feelings of guilt (Hiriyappa, 2012). The feelings of guilt develop from societal standards, which are also influential in helping children understand important concepts such as reproduction, maturation, and fatality among others. Erickson argues that in order to develop strong personalities in children at this stage, it is important to ensure a balance between building confidence and imposing restrictions on children (Allen & Murphy, 2008). The reason for this is that it helps children to have experiences motivated by their own desires.

School age stage

In this stage, Erickson argues that children start developing the need to gain knowledge. In addition, they start seeing the world as a more complex thing that goes beyond their own experiences characterized by interactions with caregivers (Hiriyappa, 2012). Children at this stage develop a different and more mature orientation towards life, as they start having an identity and making friends through the socialization process. On the other hand, Freud describes this stage as highly latent because a child starts to either become industrious or inferior. He argues that the results of this stage depend on the kind of interactions that a child develops, as well as the strengths gained from previous stages (Ellis & Abrahams, 2009).

Genital/Adolescence stage

The two theorists argue that this stage is characterized by the desire to have an identity. Erickson calls it adolescence while Freud calls it genital development stage (Engler, 2013). At this stage children start experiencing puberty where most things are basically done using trial and error method. Whatever works is considered as the right thing and the defining moment for one’s future roles (Hiriyappa, 2012).

He also argues that the things one tries during their genital development stage are highly dependent on the social environment that they experienced during the earlier stages. Erickson and Freud argue that identity confusion at this stage that lead to negative experiences, which can result in loss of certain strengths that shaped an individual’s personality from a young age (Hiriyappa, 2012).

Young adulthood

This stage is characterized by development of love. Theorists argue that then desire to love someone else can lead to development or loss of certain personality strengths, as some people can easily get into relationships with an aim to discover their true identities (Allen & Murphy, 2008). Freud argues that young adults often experience a conflict between being in intimate relationships and the social isolation that come with it. Freud defines intimacy as the ability of someone to fuse their identity with that of someone else (Hiriyappa, 2012). Erickson echoes these sentiments by arguing that developing intimate relationships entails the ability to be exclusive with people that match one’s identity without necessarily losing it.


This stage of human growth entails the ability and willingness of someone to provide for others. Freud argues that during this stage an individual tends to put their real personality into test, as the need to reproduce and develop new ideas comes into contention (Engler, 2013). Erickson argues that this stage helps one to determine their real potential with regard to making a positive impact on the current and future generations. He identifies that during this stage an individual starts to experience conflicts between the general nature of life and the desire to fight stagnation. Developing a balance between in the conflict is essential for development of caring strengths that help people in this stage to handle parenting roles (Hiriyappa, 2012).

Old age

This is the last stage of the human growth process that involves people age sixty years and above. According to Erickson, people in this stage often experience a conflict between the desire to maintain their integrity and a state in which all hope is lost or absent. He further states that it is important for the two conflicting states to be given equal chances of influencing an individual’s personality. Freud echoes these sentiments by Erickson by stating that the two conflicting scenarios can help in attainment of wisdom if allowed to take their own course. In addition, Freud argues that attainment of wisdom will allow people in this stage to enjoy better fulfillment in life (Engler, 2013).


Allen, B.P., & Murphy, K.R. (2008). Personality Theories: Development, Growth, and Diversity. San Francisco: Prentice Hall.

Ellis, A., & Abrahams, M. (2009). Personality Theories: Critical Perspectives. California: SAGE Publications.

Dweck, C.S. (2013). Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. New York: Psychology Press.

Engler, B. (2013). Personality Theories. New York: Cengage Learning.

Frick, W.B. (2007). Personality Theories: Journeys into Self. New York: Teachers College Press.

Hiriyappa, B. (2012). Development of Personality and Its Theories. New Jersey: Book Tango.