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Although modern psychology, and scientific fact has diminished many of Sigmund Freud's key points, the fact remains that he was considered by many to be the father of Psychology and his research and ideas laid an important foundation for the field. The subfields of Cognition, Behavior and Humanism all started with the work Sigmund Freud and those who studied at his feet began.

The Classic Freudian Approach to Psychology is rooted in the theory that personality is a reflection of an underlying emotion. In Freud's theory the id represents our instincts and is completely subconscious. As we grow and develop the ego emerges. The ego is the part of the personality that represents our decision-making. This ego has no sense of right or wrong. If the ego decides that a stomach is hungry then it will tell the mind to grab an apple regardless of the consequences. As we grow and develop we begin to have a conscience, this is the part of the personality that is called the superego. The superego constantly resolves conflict between the id and the ego. When the conflict becomes too great we begin to exhibit defense mechanisms. These defense mechanisms are what alter the behaviors reflected by our personality (Santrock, 2008).

Another important aspect of Freud's theory is his stages of development, which are deeply rooted in the human sexual impulses. It is this element of Freud's theory that has evoked staunch criticism over the years. According to Freud, if one does not move smoothly through all of these psychosexual stages then they will develop a conflict within themselves and their development will become stagnated at one of the five stages (Santrock, 2008). It is important to understand this basic foundation of thought set forth by Freud for it is this premise of the subconscious that drives both Freudian and Neo-Freudian Theory.

Erik Erikson is another prominent psychoanalyst whose approach seems to be the most rooted in research and a healthy perspective. Erikson believed that our personality unfolds throughout our lifespan. Erickson was also a Freudian Psychologist and was trained by Freud's daughter Anna (Burger, 2008). According to Erikson's theory there are eight stages of development each having a crisis that must be resolved. These crises were rooted in the subconscious and while Freud's developmental stages were considered psychosexual while Erikson's stages were considered psychosocial (Santrock, 2008). Therefore the subconscious motivations were social in nature rather than sexual.

Alfred Adler was also considered Freudian Psychologists. Sigmund Freud himself trained Adler (Burger, 2008). Adler and Jung agree with Freud in that the motives that drive our personalities are subconscious, however Adler believed the origins of those subconscious thoughts to be birth order. Adler believed that, depending on birth order a person develops an inferiority complex that is the subconscious emotion that drives ones behaviors and personality (Burger, 208).

The Neo-Freudian Approach to Psychology

Erich Fromm and Karen Horney were Neo-Freudian Psychologists. This simply means that, while they both believed in Freud's basic premise that the subconscious is what drives our behaviors and forms our personalities, they differ greatly from Freud and each other in their views and opinions as to how much and to what extreme this subconscious should be taken into account and to what degree it should be treated.

Karen Horney was quite famous for her work with neurosis and her theory of womb envy (Burger, 2008). She has a bit of a negative twist with her belief that personality is driven by neurosis and by Horney's account we are all mentally disturbed in some way, however her work on neurosis is by far the most comprehensive in the field (Boeree, 2006). Horney theorized that if a person was shy they were driven by the neurosis to stay away from people to avoid being hurt and if a person was outgoing and controlling then this personality was driven by the need to control the situation, again to avoid a bad outcome (Burger, 2008).

Horney described ten patterns of neurotic needs that are based in basic human need, however in difficult circumstances these needs become distorted and thus neurotic. These ten needs included the need for affection, a life partner, narrow boarders, the need for control over others, the need to exploit others, a need for personal achievement, social recognition, a need for perfectionism, and a need for independence (Boeree, 2006). Horney further studied these ten needs and determined that the response to them fell into one of three categories: Compliance, Aggression or Withdrawal (Boeree, 2006).

Erich Fromm was the Neo-Freudian Psychologist whose theory had the least in common with that of Sigmund Freud. Fromm put great emphasis on the impact of our environment on our personality and development (Burger, 2008). Fromm's theory focused widely on the human struggle with the concept of freedom. In Fromm's theory freedom is a central trait (Boeree, 2006). According to Fromm humans walk a constant tight rope between their struggle to maintain freedom and their need to give up their freedom to a social network. This struggle results in three types of social structures: Authoritarianism, Destructiveness, or Automation Conformity (Boeree, 2006). Authoritarianism is suppressive with a strictly governing set of rules. Destructiveness seeks to diminish themselves and others and Automation Conformity is a way of escape by hiding within the Authoritarian rules (Boeree, 2006).


Boeree, C. George. (2006). Personality Theories. Retrieved January 24, 2009.

Burger, J. M. (2008). Personality (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth-Thomson Learning.

Green, Chris. (2000). A Theory of Human Motivation. Classics in the History of


Santrock, John W. (2008). Life-Span Development. New York: McGraw Hill.

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