Modern Psychodynamic Theories

Link to French translation by Jean-Etienne Bergemer

Although the last chapter focused on Freud's version of psychoanalytic theory, others within Freud's circle made significant contributions to psychoanalysis while Freud was still alive. Notable among these were Fliess, Rank, Jung, and Adler. Still, Fliess's role was mostly as a sounding-board for Freud's ideas; and Rank, Jung, and Adler were dismissed from Freud's inner circle as they strayed too far from the master's vision. Thus, it is very much the case that psychoanalytic theory of personality originated in the mind of one individual, Sigmund Freud.

However, development of the theory did not cease when Freud died in 1939. A number of individuals expanded on many ideas that were implicit in Freud's writings, but never fully developed by him. The result, since 1939, has been an intellectual evolution much like what is observed in biological history. More recent psychoanalytic theories acknowledge a single common ancestor, Freud himself. Each of the theories develops some feature of Freud's writing, so that they manifest more or less direct links to him. In this chapter, we discuss three such evolutionary branches. One set of theories has focused on the role of social as opposed to biological motives. Another has focused on psychological development after the oedipal crisis. The third has focused on the nondefensive functions of the ego.

Neo-Freudian Psychoanalysis

One group of psychoanalysts has come to be known as "neofreudian". These theorists were persuaded that personality was the product of the social environment as well as biology. Of course, Freud had acknowledged the importance of social factors. In his view, personality emerges from the conflict between biological instincts and social forces. It follows, then that the nature of social forces arrayed against the instincts were important determinants of conflict, and thus of personality. However, the neofreudians de-emphasized the biological instincts, and especially infantile sexuality. They argued that social factors made an independent contribution to personality, and focused their attention on the social conditions of childhood development and adult life.

Anna Freud

A treatment of post-Freudian trends in psychoanalysis properly begins with a theorist who is both the intellectual and biological offspring of Freud: his daughter Anna (1895-1982), of "stwabewwies" fame (see the chapter on "Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory"). In violation of all the rules of psychotherapy, Anna was psychoanalyzed by her father. And for the last years of his life, as Freud was dying of cancer, she served as her father's secretary, nurse, closest colleague, and intellectual stand-in. After Freud's death, she became the self-appointed conservator of her father's heritage, going so far as to control access to his letters and private papers sought by historians of psychology (Malcolm, 1983) -- and, according to some accounts (Masson, 1983), editing his letters so as to conceal important doubts, contradictions, and errors. In some respects, she is such a conservative psychoanalyst that she hardly qualifies for the label "neofreudian".

As noted in the earlier chapter, one of Anna Freud's major works was the systematic classification and description of the defense mechanisms, as represented in The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense (1936). All of these had been hinted at by Freud, but only a very few had received thorough treatment at his hand. She accomplished this, and added a few of her own: for example, displacement was Anna's, not Sigmund's, idea.

Anna Freud's unique intellectual contribution was in extending the scope of psychoanalytic theory to children. It should be recalled that Freud reconstructed childhood experience from the memories of adults. He analyzed only one child himself: Little Hans, whose fear of horses was traced to castration anxiety. Even in this case, his interpretation of Little Hans's problems was based entirely on letters written by Hans's father. Anna Freud was the first to study children's lives directly. When she did, she discovered that her patients' problems had their origins in social reality as well as in private fantasy. From observations of children in wartime, children growing up, and children of divorce, Anna Freud concluded that the ego has to cope with life as well as with the instincts.

Children of War. In 1939 and 1940, London was the object of a devastating series of bombing attacks by the German air force. Many children lost their parents as a result of these air raids. Moreover, as part of the British civil defense effort, many children were evacuated from London to foster homes in the outskirts of the city or in the surrounding countryside. Anna Freud became very interested in these two groups of children, who provided a sort of natural laboratory for the study of separation and parent-child relationships. Accordingly, she set up a group of residential homes, known as the Hampstead Nurseries (one of the sites was in the Hampstead section of London), where some of these children could live, and their reactions observed closely while they were cared for. These observations were summarized in a book, Infants Without Families (Freud & Burlingham, 1944/1973). After the war, a similar opportunity arose when a group of Jewish children were rescued by Allied soldiers from a German concentration camp, where their parents had died in the gas chambers. These children were evacuated to London and raised in a group at Bulldogs Bank, a country estate. Their story is told in a paper, "An Experiment in Group Upbringing" (Freud & Dann, 1951/1968).

Children of Divorce. In the last years of her life, Anna Freud -- by then a professor of Medicine at Yale -- took up another form of parent-child separation: divorce and the question of child custody. Her reflections on these matters are contained in Beyond the Best Interests of the Child (19xx).

Developmental Lines. Anna Freud did not have to rely on these special cases to support her theoretical conclusions. They only revealed in bold relief the sorts of problems encountered by even ordinary children as they confront the tasks of everyday living. For example, every child has to deal with separation anxiety when he or she marches out the door on the first day of school. The child must learn to cope with everyday reality in other instances as well: the birth of a sibling, establishing friendships outside the family, the onset of puberty, moving to a new city, and adolescent romance are familiar examples. In Normality and Pathology in Childhood (1965), she synthesized her observations of disturbed and normal children into a novel theory of psychological development. In this theory, Freud attempts to show how children gradually come to master both their instincts and the world around them.

The theory revolves around the concept of the developmental line, in which the child progressively loosens his or her dependence on external control in some domain (see Table 7.1). In each of these domains, the child develops from an initial position of infantile dependency, irrationality, and passivity into a mature adult characterized by a stance of independence, rationality, and activity. The concept of developmental line is different from that of developmental stage. As described by Sigmund Freud, the developing child moves through a succession of stages, ideally completing each one before moving on to the next. The view of Anna Freud is somewhat different. The various developmental lines co-exist, and the child moves through all of them simultaneously. As such, they represent the mastery of various life tasks -- becoming independent, rational, and responsible, for example. Within each developmental line, however, Anna Freud held that the child moved through a definite succession of sub-stages, and several of these, especially early in each line, incorporate the essential features of Sigmund Freud's scheme for psychosexual development.

One such line is From Dependency to Emotional Self-Reliance, in which the biologically dependent neonate grows into an adolescent who battles with his or her parents in order to break the parent-child tie. The neonate, according to theory, initially fails to recognize any separation between it and its mother. Gradually the infant develops the concept of the mother as a separate person, a concept that remains in force even when the mother is out of sight. The possessiveness and rivalry that marks the Oedipal crisis is replaced by a denigration of the parents, and a transfer of object relations to peers and authorities outside the family. Finally, in adolescence, the struggle for independence is completed, and the individual is ready to establish genital relationships with a non-parental love object.

In the second,From Suckling to Rational Eating, the infant who is nursed on someone else's schedule becomes an adolescent who determines his or her own schedule of meals, and who takes pleasure in the social rituals of eating. Initially, according to the theory, the infant goes so far as to identify the mother with food. Later, conflicts with parental authority and adolescent sexuality spill over into problems at mealtime; the psychoanalytic view of adolescent eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, can be found in this developmental line. Finally, eating becomes liberated from sexuality, and the individual can take pleasure in eating for its own sake.

The third line,From Wetting and Soiling to Bowel-Bladder Control, moves from the reflexive elimination of the infant to the adolescent and adult pursuit of cleanliness for its own sake. Just as the first two developmental lines seem to incorporate the oral phase of psychosexual development, this line emphasizes anal conflicts. Just as there is a battle of wills between child and parent over eating, there is also a battle of wills over toilet training and personal cleanliness. Like eating, cleanliness and self-control are eventually freed from these early conflicts, and are practiced as good in and of themselves.

The fourth,Irresponsibility to Responsibility in Body Management, is the shift from self-injury through biting and scratching to voluntary compliance with the rules of health and hygiene. Here we see Anna Freud's development of Sigmund Freud's idea that aggression is originally directed at oneself (thanatos). Eventually the child comes to recognize the physical dangers posed by the external world, and the desirability, from the standpoint of self-preservation, of good health habits.

In the fifth,Egocentricity to Companionship, the child moves from selfishness to a view of other children as equal partners and competitors. In the stage of infantile narcissism, children are initially ignored in favor of the parents; later they are perceived as objects to be manipulated for one's own satisfaction, without wills of their own. Later, peers are appreciated for the help that they can give the child. Only much later are they perceived as people with their own goals and desires, with whom a variety of social relations, positive and negative, is possible.

In the sixth,Body to Toy and Play to Work, the child moves from infantile play focused on his or her own body to childhood play focused on cuddly objects to play whose pleasures come from completion and achievement, to a life of work supplemented by hobbies and sports. In line with Freud's emphasis on infantile sexuality, the child is conceived as initially deriving pleasure from touching its own body, and that of its mother. Later, in a phase sometimes called transitional object relations, these pleasures come to be obtained from inanimate objects such as security blankets and teddy bears. While the child originally clings to these objects incessantly, eventually they are sought only at bedtime and the child's daytime play is focused on other objects such as trucks and dollhouses. Eventually, the child gives up the pleasure derived from cuddling, and begins to take pleasure in achievement -- first simply from completing some play activity, and later from hobbies, games, sports, and work.

As a result of her clinical investigations, Anna Freud clearly recognized the important role played in personality development by environmental as well as biological factors. It became apparent to her that many of the symptoms of maladjustment which she observed in children had nothing to do with conflict between instinctual drives and societal constraints. Some problems are simply a product of maturation, while others arose from purely environmental conditions. At the same time as she made these points, Anna Freud did not go so far as to abandon the instinct-theory entirely. Thus, her conclusion from the Hampstead Nurseries project was that the mother-child relationship was especially important in personality development, not that the ravages of war have especially profound effects on defenseless children. Progress along the six developmental lines was motivated by the need to cope with the demands of the instinctual needs as well as the demands of external reality.

Perhaps most tellingly, Anna Freud refused to generalize her conclusions from children to adults. While neurosis in children could have its origins in either internal or environmental events, neurosis in adults was to be traced to unresolved childhood conflicts over sex and aggression. Freud's theory was saved by being limited. Nevertheless, Anna Freud's extensions of Freud's thinking -- coming as they did from one so close to the master, biologically and intellectually -- probably did much to legitimize later and more radical departures from classic psychoanalytic thinking.

Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) was an early disciple of Freud's, and the first major psychoanalyst to break with him (in 1911) over the issues of biological determinism and infantile sexuality. Adler based his theory on his conception of the tasks of life: to undertake a vocation, to adapt to others, and to fulfill one's sexual role.

Two dynamic principles guide the individual in the pursuit of these tasks. First the individual must strive for superiority. Adler did not mean that the individual is motivated by a quest for power. Rather, the individual desires to achieve perfection. The second principle follows from the first: the individual must compensate for inferiority. Again, Adler does not mean that the individual wants to avoid subjugating him- or herself to the demands of another. Rather, he argues that the person must overcome disability.

The individual's characteristic mode of striving for superiority and compensating for inferiority is called the life style. According to Adler, one's life style is formed early in life, and is the product of such factors as birth order, constitutional infirmities, and the degree of pampering and neglect received from the parents and other caretakers. Throughout life, the person seeks and creates experiences that are consistent with his or her style of life. In stark contrast to Freud, who placed primary emphasis on the unconscious determinants of personality, Adler held that people were largely aware of their patterns of striving, compensation, and living.

Karen Horney

In her writings, Horney sought to eliminate what she considered to be the "biological fallacies" in classic psychoanalysis. She developed the concept of basic anxiety, which stemmed from the individual's feelings of isolation and helplessness in a hostile world. Thus, for Horney, the fundamental issue for the person is not sexuality but security.

Horney argued that each individual evolved a characteristic strategy, roughly analogous to the defense mechanisms of Freud, for coping with basic anxiety.

  • In one of these,moving toward people, the person complies with the demands of other people in order to prevent rejection.

  • In another,moving against people, the individual engages in aggressive behaviors in an attempt to dominate others.

  • In a third,moving away from people, the individual detaches from others in order to avoid the anxiety that comes with competition and intimacy.

Under certain circumstances, these strategies can become inflexible, neurotic needs.

Eric Fromm

In his work, Fromm was influenced as much by the economic theories of Karl Marx as he was by the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud. According to his analysis, people in the modern era are caught in a kind of paradox. On the one hand, the technological development that characterizes the 20th century has resulted in a dramatic increase in human freedom. Men and women are no longer at the mercy of nature, and no longer dependent on each other for survival. On the other hand, it is precisely this separation from nature, and from other people, that leads to the development of anxiety. As a result, people attempt to relieve their anxiety by escaping from freedom.

In the course of this escape attempt, the individual develops an unproductive orientation toward society. Fromm described four of these.

  • In the receptive orientation, the individual conforms in order to prevent others from withdrawing.

  • In the exploitative orientation, he or she uses force and cunning to overcome his or her weaknesses.

  • In the hoarding orientation, the person refuses to share with others, in order to prevent them from competing.

  • Finally, in the marketing orientation, he or she promotes him- or herself in order to build self-confidence.

These unproductive orientations, which again function like Freud's defense mechanisms, are the stuff of which neurosis is made. However, Fromm argued that it is possible for the individual to transform an unproductive orientation into a productive one. Thus, receptivity can become friendliness; exploitation, the taking of initiative; hoarding, conscientiousness; and marketing, interpersonal responsivity. If this transformation takes place, people are able to realize their potentials and enjoy living. However, these kinds of productive orientations can only develop fully within a particular kind of social environment. Fromm called this environment communalistic humanitarian socialism.

Harry Stack Sullivan

An early American contributor to post-Freudian psychoanalysis was Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949; we were born in the same small town in upstate New York!), who argued -- as Lewin did, and as I do in this course -- that personality cannot be separated from social psychology: the individual's personality develops in a social context, and expresses itself in social interaction. "No man is an island", and all that. His major monograph, perhaps not surprisingly, is titled the Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry (1947). Sullivan's views were embraced by the so-called "Washington School" of psychoanalysis, and provided the foundation for the work of the William Alanson White Institute in New York City.

Whereas William James thought that the individual self was the primary datum for psychology, Sullivan argued that the unit of study was the interpersonal situation. He defined a dynamism as a relatively enduring, characteristic pattern of individual behavior.Dynamisms, therefore, are like habits, or perhaps personality traits. But Sullivan insists that these are not features of the individual, taken out of context.

Most dynamisms operate in the service of the individual's basic needs (this gives Sullivan's theory its psychodynamic quality). But one particular dynamism, the self-system, protects the individual against the anxiety that results from conflict between the individual and various societal forces. One's self-system is acquired from one's mother, the primary caretaker, in infancy.

Sullivan's theory also has a strong cognitive component in his concept of personifications, which are essentially mental representations of oneself and of other people. Of particular importance are the personifications of the caring, nurturing good mother and the anxious bad mother. There are also other personifications of mother, including the seductive mother and the overprotective mother. There are also personifications of the good me and the bad me. Stereotypes are personifications that are widely shared within a society.

In line with his emphasis on cognitive processes, Sullivan identifies three characteristic modes of experience. The prototaxic mode is the immediate "stream of consciousness", consisting of raw, unconnected, and unanalyzed sensations, images, and feelings. The parataxic mode infers the causal relations among these mental cognitive based on spatiotemporal proximity: among other bad things, it is the source of superstitions. The syntaxic mode consists of verbalized and consensually validated causal connections: it is the source of logical thought.

Like all psychodynamic theories, Sullivan's interpersonal theory emphasizes tension from two sources: the individual's needs and social anxiety. His needs are hierarchically arranged, such that needs at a lower level must be satisfied before needs at a higher level can be addressed. Anxiety is initially transmitted to the infant by the mother, and the infant quickly learns various ways of coping with it.

Unlike Freud, but very much like the other neo-Freudians, Sullivan argued for a stage view of personality development, but like the other neo-Freudians, Sullivan de-emphasized the role of infantile sexuality. For Freud, in the oral stage, the infant is focused on the breast and the nipple as sources of pleasure and sexual gratification. For Sullivan, the oral stage is about eating: the infant gets hungry, and can satisfy that hunger through nursing at its mother's breast. Just as there are "good" and "bad" mothers, so there are "good" and "bad" nipples. A "good" nipple is a source of hunger satisfaction. A "bad" nipple is attached to an anxious mother.

And so it goes. Rather than elaborate on Sullivan's social-psychological take on the stages of personality development, we'll turn instead to the psychosocial view of Erik Erikson, which has been much more influential.

Life-Span Personality Development

Although Anna Freud, Horney, Fromm, and Adler departed from Freud over the matter of social versus biological determinants of personality, they largely agreed with him that personality was established early in childhood. A second contemporary trend in psychoanalysis has been an interest in the development of personality in the years after childhood and adolescence. As a group, these investigators agree that events occurring in young adulthood, middle, middle, and old age are just as decisive as those that occurred earlier. Accordingly, they have attempted to describe the course of personality development throughout the life-span, from birth to death.

Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson is the most prominent disciple of Freud still alive, (in fact, he was psychoanalyzed by Anna Freud) -- and after Freud himself, perhaps, the psychoanalyst who has had the most impact on popular culture. Erikson focused his attention on the issue of ego identity, which he defined as the person's awareness of him- or herself, and of his or her impact on other people. Interestingly, this was an issue for Erikson personally (for a definitive biography of Erikson, see Coles, 1970; for an autobiographical statement, see Erikson, 1970, reprinted 1975).

Erikson has described himself as a "man of the border". He was a Dane living in Germany, the son of a Jewish mother and a Protestant father, both Danes. Later his mother remarried, giving Erikson a German Jewish stepfather. Blond, blue-eyed, and tall, he experienced the pervasive feeling that he did not belong to his family, and entertained the fantasy that his origins were quite different than his mother and her husband led him to believe. A similar problem afflicted him outside his family: the adults in his parents' synagogue referred to him as a gentile, while his schoolmates called him a Jew. Erikson's adoptive name was Erik Homburger. Later he changed it to Erik Homburger Erikson, and still later just Erik Erikson -- assuming a name that, taken literally, meant that he had created himself.

Erikson agreed with the other neofreudians that the primary issues in personality are social rather than biological, and he de-emphasized the role of sexuality. His chief contribution was to expand the notion of psychological development, considering the possibility of further stages beyond the genital stage of adolescence. At the same time, he gave a social reinterpretation to the original Freudian stages, so that his theory is properly considered one of psychosocial rather than of psychosexual development.

Erikson.JPG (45942 bytes)Erikson's developmental theory is well captured in the phrase, "the eight ages of man". His is an epigenetic conception of development similar to Freud's, in which the individual must progress through a series of stages in order to achieve a fully developed personality. At each stage, the person must meet and resolve a particular crisis. In so doing, the individual develops particular ego qualities; these are outlined in Erikson's most important book, Childhood and Society (1950), and in Identity: Youth and Crisis (1968). In Insight and Responsibility (1964), he argued that each of these strengths was associated with a corresponding virtue or ego strength. Finally, in Toys and Reasons (1976), Erikson argued that a particular ritualization, or pattern of social interaction, develops alongside the qualities and virtues. Although Erikson's theory emphasizes the development of positive qualities, negative attributes can also be acquired. Thus, each of the eight positive ego qualities has its negative counterpart. Both must be incorporated into personality in order for the person to interact effectively with others -- although, in healthy development, the positive qualities will outweigh the negative ones. Similarly, each positive ritualization that enables us to get along with other people has its negative counterpart in the ritualisms that separate us from them. Development at each stage builds on the others, so that successful progress through the sequence provides a stable base for subsequent development. Personality development continues throughout life, and ends only at death.

Stage 1: Trust, mistrust, and hope. The oral-sensory stage of development covers the first year of life. In this stage the infant hungers for nourishment and stimulation, and develops the ability to recognize objects in the environment. He or she interacts with the world primarily by sucking, biting, and grasping. The developmental crisis is between trust and mistrust. The child must learn to trust that his or her needs will be satisfied frequently enough. Other people, for their part, must learn to trust that the child will cope with his or her impulses, and not make their lives as caregivers too difficult. By the same token, if others do not reliably satisfy the child's needs, or make promises that they do not keep, the child acquires a sense of mistrust. As noted earlier, both trust and mistrust develop in every individual -- though in healthy individuals, the former outweighs the latter.

Out of the strength of trust the child develops the virtue of hope: "the enduring belief in the attainability of fervent wishes, in spite of the dark urges and rages which mark the beginning of existence". The basis for hope lies in the infant's experience of an environment that has, more than not, provided for his or her needs in the past. As a result, the child comes to expect that the environment will continue to provide for these needs in the future. Occasional disappointments will not destroy hope, provided that the child has developed a sense of basic trust.

An important feature of social interaction during this period is the ritualization of greeting, providing, and parting. The child cries: the parents come into the room, call its name, nurse it or change it, make funny noises, say goodbye, and leave -- only to return in the same manner, more or less, the next time the situation warrants. Parent and child engage in a process of mutual recognition and affirmation. Erikson calls this ritualization numinous, meaning that children experience their parents as awesome and hallowed individuals. This can be distorted, however, into idolism in which the child constructs an illusory perception of his or her parents as perfect. In this case, reverence is transformed into adoration.

Stage 2: Autonomy, Shame, Doubt, and Will. The muscular-anal stage covers the second and third years of life. Here the child learns to walk, to talk, to dress and feed him- or herself, and to control the elimination of body wastes. The crisis at this stage is between autonomy and shame or doubt. The child must learn to rely on his or her own abilities, and deal with times when his or her efforts are ineffectual or criticized. There will of course be times, especially early in this period, when the child's attempts at self-control will fail -- he will wet his pants, or fall; she will spill her milk, or put on mismatched socks. If the parents ridicule the child, or take over these functions for him or her, then the child will develop feelings of shame concerning his or her efforts, and doubt that he or she can take care of him- or herself.

If things go well, the child develops the virtue of will: the unbroken determination to exercise free choice as well as self- restraint, in spite of the unavoidable experience of shame and doubt in infancy. As will develops, so does the ability to make choices and decisions. Occasional failures and misjudgments will not destroy will, so long as the child has acquired a basic sense of autonomy.

The ritualization that develops at this time is a sense of the judicious, as the child learns what is acceptable and what is not, and also gets a sense of the rules by which right and wrong are determined. The hazard, of course, is that the child will develop a sense of legalism, in which the letter of the law is celebrated over its spirit, and the law is used to justify the exploitation and manipulation of others.

Stage 3: Initiative, Guilt, and Purpose. The locomotor-genital stage covers the remaining years until about the sixth birthday. During this time the child begins to move about, to find his or her place in groups of peers and adults, and to approach desired objects. The crisis is between initiative and guilt. The child must approach what is desirable, at the same time that he or she must deal with the contradictions between personal desires and environmental restrictions.

The development of autonomy leads to the virtue of purpose: the courage to envisage and pursue valued goals uninhibited by the defeat of infantile fantasies, by guilt and by the foiling fear of punishment.

Stage 4: Industry, Inferiority, and Competence. The latency stage begins with schooling and continues until puberty, or roughly 6 to 11 years of age. Here the child makes the transition to school life, and begins to learn about the world outside the home. The crisis is between industry and inferiority. The child must learn and practice adult roles, but in so doing he or she may learn that he or she cannot control the things of the real world.

Industry permits the development of competence, the free exercise of manual dexterity and cognitive intelligence.

Stage 5: Identity, Role Confusions, and Fidelity. The stage of puberty-adolescence covers ages 11-18. Biologically, this stage is characterized by another spurt of physiological growth, as well as sexual maturity. Socially, the features of adolescence are involvement with cliques and crowds, and the experience of adolescent love. The crisis is between identity and role confusion. The successful adolescent understands that the past has prepared him or her for the future. If not, he or she will not be able to differentiate him- or herself from others, or find his or her place in the world.

Identity, a clear sense of one's self and one's place in the world, forms the basis for fidelity, the ability to sustain loyalty to another person.

Stage 6: Intimacy, Isolation, and Love. Erikson marks the stage of young adulthood as encompassing the years from 18 to 30. During this time, the person leaves school for the outside world of work and marriage. The crisis is between intimacy and isolation. The person must be able to share him- or herself in an intense, long-term, committed relationship; but some individuals avoid this kind of sharing because of the threat of ego loss.

Intimacy permits love, or mutuality of devotion.

Stage 7: Generativity, Stagnation, and Care. The next 20 years or so, approximately 30 to 50 years of age, are called the stage of adulthood. Here the individual invests in the future at work and at home. The crisis is between generativity and stagnation. The adult must establish and guide the next generation, whether this is represented in terms of children, students, or apprentices. But this cannot be done if the person is concerned only with his or her personal needs and comfort.

Generativity leads to the virtue of care, the individual's widening concern for what has been generated by love, necessity, or accident.

Stage 8: Ego Integrity, Despair, and Wisdom. The final stage, beginning at about 50, is that of maturity. Here, for the first time, death enters the individual's thoughts on a daily basis. The crisis is between ego identity and despair. Ideally, the person will approach death with a strong sense of self, and of the value of his or her past life. Feelings of dissatisfaction are especially destructive because it is too late to start over again.

The resulting virtue is wisdom, a detached concern for life itself.

Life-Span Theory Since Erikson

Erikson's theory was extremely influential. By insisting that development is a continuous, ceaseless processes, he fostered the new discipline of life-span developmental psychology, with its emphasis on personality and cognitive development after adulthood. Much life-span work has been concerned with cognitive changes in the elderly, but personality psychologists have been especially concerned with the years between childhood and old age.

Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man

Erikson's account of the Eight Ages of Man is a play on the Seven Ages of Man, described by Shakespeare in As You Like It:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then,the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice
In fair round belly, with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,
His youthful hose well sav'd, a world too wide,
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again towards childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Life-Span Theory Since Erikson

Erikson's theory was extremely influential. By insisting that development is a continuous, ceaseless process, one which didn't end at puberty or adolescence, he fostered the new discipline of life-span developmental psychology, with its emphasis on personality and cognitive development after adulthood. Much life-span work has been concerned with cognitive changes in the elderly, but personality psychologists have been especially concerned with the years between childhood and old age.

Erikson's stages inspired a number of popular treatments of "life span" personality development, including Daniel Levinson's The Seasons of a Man's Life, and Gail Sheehy's Passages.

Gould.JPG (24619 bytes) Levinson.JPG (38095 bytes)
Sheehy1976.JPG (19308 bytes) Sheehy1995.JPG (18669 bytes)

Linking Psychoanalysis and Psychology

Classical Freudian psychoanalysis, as well as the "neo-Freudian" psychodynamic theories, emerged and developed more or less independently of scientific psychology. Freud's reception among scientific psychologists was not particularly warm. When Freud made his only visit to America, in 1909 to deliver a set of lectures at Clark University, he very much wanted to meet William James, who in fact was in attendance. But James was very skeptical of Freud's notions. And Freud returned the favor. When, toward the end of his life, he received a letter from Seymour Rosenzweig describing a series of experiments that seemed to demonstrate repression, Freud replied curtly that the work was "gantz Amerikanisch" ("wholly American"). For Freud, clinical insights needed no laboratory confirmation. That stance essentially isolated Freud from the mainstream of scientific psychology. And to the extent that Freud's view, that clinical evidence was sufficient, was embraced by next-generation psychologists, the gulf persisted.

Nevertheless, later generations of neo-Freudian psychoanalysts, while hewing to Freud's basic ideas, nevertheless developed theories that tended to bring psychoanalysis somewhat closer to scientific psychology -- both social psychology and cognitive psychology.

Object-Relations Theory

For example, psychoanalytic object-relations theory brought psychoanalysis into contact with social psychology. To understand how this occurred, it is helpful to recall how the term object is defined in psychoanalysis. In Freud's instinct theory,

  • The source of an instinct is the bodily need which must be satisfied.

  • Its aim is to eliminate the source of the need.

  • Its impetus is the amount of force or energy associated with the instinct.

  • And its object is the behavioral or cognitive activity that will accomplish the aim.

The instincts in question here, are sexual and aggressive in nature, and so the objects in question are people. People are the objects of our needs and desires. Object-relations theory is concerned with interpersonal relationships, and so is social psychology.

As noted earlier, psychoanalytic object-relations theory has its origins in the work of Anna Freud herself -- who, during World War II, studied real children with real problems, including the problem of being separated from their parents; and later, after she emigrated to America, became interested in the problems of children of divorce. Other individuals identified with object-relations theory are Melanie Klein (as in her books, Love, Guilt, and Reparation; and Envy and Gratitude);Ronald Fairbairn, who coined the term "object-relations theory" in his Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, 1952); and D.W. Winnicott. It's not an accident, I think, that all of these individuals focused their attention on children -- whom Freud himself largely ignored. And it's probably no accident that all of these theorists were British -- or, at least, object-relations theory is sometimes known as the British independent perspective on psychoanalysis. Freud's emphasis on sex didn't go down much better in England than it did in America (beginning in 1971, the play, No Sex Please, We're British, panned by the critics, nonetheless ran for about a decade in London's West End).

The overarching theme of classical Freudian psychoanalytic theory is drive-reduction. For Freud, infant and adult alike were primarily motivated to seek satisfaction, in fantasy or reality, of their innate, instinctual sexual and aggressive drives. Klein and the other object-relations theorists, however, had a different idea: that the child is primarily motivated to relate to other people in the real world of social relationships.

Object-relations theory remains deeply rooted in Freud, however, with its emphasis on unconscious conflict,phantasy (deliberately spelled with a ph to distinguish it from mere fantasy), and the like.

Object-relations theory also translates certain Freudian concepts into the real world of interpersonal relations. A good example is the transference. Whereas Freud thought that the neurotic patient projected his early relations with his parents onto the therapist, the object-relations theorists thought that people in general projected their childhood object-relationships, as with their parents, onto their adult object-relationships, as with their husbands and wives (as the old song goes, "I want a girl / Just like the girl / that married dear old dad). Now, of course, Freud could have cited this song just as easily. But for Freud, the boy wants a girl that reminds him of Mom because he unconsciously wants to have sex with his mother. For the object-relations theorists, boys want girls who remind them of their mothers because he knows how to relate to that kind of person. He's used to that kind of person, he knows what to expect, and he's likely to be happier when he's on familiar territory. And girls want boys who remind them of their fathers for much the same reason. The whole process of transference might well be unconscious, but unconscious sexual urges directed toward the parent of the opposite sex have nothing to do with it.

Similarly, John Bowlby (another Brit) was inspired by object-relations theory in his theory of attachment.

So you can see how object-relations, which attempts to understand how people operate in the real world of social relationships, could connect to scientific social psychology. Whether people really are attracted to people who are like their parents, and whether their own marriages mirror those they were exposed to in childhood, is an empirical matter. But in testing such a hypothesis, object-relations theorists and social psychologists occupy common scientific ground in a way that Freud and his classical followers simply never could.

Ego Psychology

As a psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud was primarily interested in the id -- in the primitive, biological drives toward pleasure and death that were the dynamic core of personality. He paid scant attention to the defenses arrayed by the ego against instinctual impulses (and left it to his daughter Anna to catalog them in The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense,1936; see the chapter on classical Freudian theory). They were of interest only in a negative sense -- as barriers to knowledge that must be removed in order to reveal the truly important motivational processes hidden underneath.

Beginning with Anna Freud's work on the defense mechanisms, however, psychoanalysts became increasingly interested in the functions of the ego. The defenses, after all, are properties of ego functioning. Later, other analysts became interested in other, nondefensive functions of the ego. This led to the development of a whole new stream of thought within psychoanalysis: psychoanalytic ego psychology.

Among the earliest to see the possibility for a psychology of ego functions was Heinz Hartman, who developed the notion of the conflict- free sphere of the ego (see Ego Psychology and the Problem of Adaptation, 1939; and Essays on Ego Psychology, 1964; also Lowenstein et al., Psychoanalysis: A General Science, 1966; Robert White, and David Rapaport ("A historical survey of psychoanalytic ego psychology", in Psychological Issues, 1959;George Klein, no relation to Melanie, Perception, Motives, and Personality, 1970; and Roy Schafer (A New Language for Psychoanalysis, 1976). Whereas object-relations theory was largely a British enterprise, ego-psychology was mostly American, with many of its proponents affiliated with the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, and, even, some with formal academic affiliations. The ego-psychologists also published their own journal of research and theory, Psychological Issues.

newlook1.jpg (15124 bytes)The connection between ego-psychology and cognitive psychology is clearest in a movement that emerged in the 1940s and the 1950s, still in the shadow of behaviorism (and, for that matter, literally in the shadow of B.F. Skinner), known as The New Look in perception. The New Look was introduced by Jerome Bruner and Leo Postman, who were then on the faculty at Harvard (Postman left Harvard in 1950 for UC Berkeley, where he helped found the Institute for Human Learning, which became, over time, the Institute for Cognitive Studies and later the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences). In this way, they were literally in the shadow of B.F. Skinner -- who, along with the psychophysicist S.S. Stevens, dominated the department at that time. The New Look took its name from a post-war trend in women's fashion, fomented by Christian Dior, a Parisian fashion designer who replaced wartime padded shoulders and short skirts for longer, fuller skirts, narrow, more natural (and sloped) shoulders, and cinched waistlines.

The hostility of the Harvard psychology department to anything other than the narrowest form of experimental psychology -- psychophysics and animal learning -- is exemplified by the controversy over granting a tenured appointment to Henry Murray, the long-time director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic, and one of the foremost personality psychologists of his time. Eventually, the hostility between "experimental" and "social" psychology led to the splitting of the department into two units, one called Experimental Psychology and the other called Social Relations (which included anthropologists and sociologists as well as psychologists). And when Bruner became interested in cognitive psychology, and sought (with George Miller) to establish a Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard, they had to do so in rented space off-campus in Harvard Square (at the intersection of Bow and Arrow Streets). And when William James Hall was built to accommodate both departments, as well as Sociology and Anthropology, the elevators were initially configured so that one elevator would stop at the "Experimental" floors but not the "Social Relations" floors, and another the reverse.

But I digress.

Anyway, the New Look was based on two basic propositions.

  • First, contrary to classical psychophysics, functional behaviorism, and other manifestations of Stimulus-Response theory, perception couldn't be understood solely in terms of the stimulus. Like Helmholtz, Bruner (especially) argued that the information provided by the stimulus was vague, fragmentary, and ambiguous, and that the perceiver had to "go beyond the information given" in the stimulus in order to form a perceptual representation of the object or event. In "going beyond the information given", the perceiver had to draw on his knowledge, expectations, and beliefs. This activity on the part of the perceiver was what cognition was all about.

  • Second, and this was closer to the interests of the psychoanalytic ego-psychologists, was the idea that perception and other cognitive functions were influenced by emotional and motivational processes. That, in some sense, we see the world through rose-colored glasses (or the opposite); and that, to some extent, what we want to see). So, for example, Bruner and Postman (1947) performed a series of studies showing that the thresholds for identifying "taboo" words (such as whore and pubis -- those were the days!) were higher than those for "neutral" words (e.g., beard and power). The paradoxical implication was that you had to understand the meaning of a word before you could identify the word -- or, put another way, that perception was not simply a matter of "bottom-up" processing, but that the "higher" mental processes that deal with meaning could influence "lower" mental processes involved in perception.

Other areas of ego-psychological research involved memory, and promoted a revival of Bartlett's concept of the schema and the idea that the reconstruction of memory could be influenced by emotions and motives as well as by cognitive factors such as knowledge, expectations, and beliefs (Paul, 1959, 1967).

Another contribution of ego-psychological research was the concept of cognitive style -- the idea that individuals differed in their characteristic habits of perceiving, remembering, and thinking, independent of their level of intelligence (Gardner et al., 1959, 1960).

Credit Where Credit Is Due

By trying to understand how normal people -- not just neurotic patients -- interact with other people, the object-relations theorists connected directly to social psychology, at a time when academic social psychology was almost completely focused on the measurement of attitudes. And by trying to understand how normal people -- not just neurotic patients -- perceive and understand the real world, the ego-psychologists connected directly to what we now call cognitive psychology. In fact, we must give credit to the ego psychologists for keeping an interest in cognition alive during the dark days of Skinnerian behaviorism -- when, having already lost its soul, also lost its mind -- or very nearly so.

So some people operating within the psychoanalytic tradition were trying. But not enough, and not enough attention was paid to them by those in the academy. But, frankly, the dead hand of Freud was just too heavy, and dragged the enterprise down. Already in the 1950s, researchers like Hans Eysenck were casting doubt on the effectiveness of psychoanalysis as a form of psychotherapy. And by the early 1960s the cognitive revolution in psychology was in full swing, and spilling over to personality and social psychology, and psychoanalysis was just deemed irrelevant. Psychologists decided that they could get along just fine without it, and the process began of consigning Freud, and even science-friendly forms of psychoanalysis like object-relations theory and ego-psychology, to the dustbin of history.

For that study, see the next chapter.