Psychoanalytic Social Perspectives (Adler, Erikson, and Horney)

Psychoanalytic Social Perspectives (Adler, Erikson, and Horney)


The issue of personality development has been the central theme for psychological studies for decades, and this is based on the idea that understanding the personality of individuals is essential in determining our cognizance of why people behave differently under similar circumstances. Sigmund Freud contributed immensely to the psychoanalytic theory of personality development which emphasized on the role of childhood experiences and sexual impulses on personality development. However, while there was a general consensus on the part of other psychologists on the influence of experiences during childhood, some psychologists like Carl Jung differed with him on the role of libido, while other Neo-Freudian psychologists like Adler, Erikson, and Horney added new insights. This paper will concentrate on the uniqueness of the psychoanalytic social perspective, components of each theory advanced by Adler, Erikson and Horney and the differences between them as well as my own personality development through one of the theories.

What makes the psychoanalytic social perspective unique is that it explains the development of the personality through the lens of childhood experiences as well as the unconscious mind’s role (Lundin, 2015). Through tracing the environmental and social influences that the individual was exposed to in their early formative years, the theory is able to describe the importance of tending to neurotic needs and the consequences of not meeting such needs. Further, the psychoanalytic social theory is different from previous theories on personality development that focused on the role of the conscious and subconscious minds and ignored their interactions with their environment. There is a need to be not only aware of the mental and physical drivers of a person but also the social ones, and this is covered in the psychoanalytic social perspective theory. This is because a person is usually influenced by the different environments that they are placed in when they are born so that personality development is different for most people.

Components and differences of each of the psychoanalytic social personality theories

There is one common underlying similarity among all psychoanalytic-social personality theories which is that there is the beginning of personality development is at childhood. However, the theories, which are modeled on Freud’s original theory, have broken free of the psychosexual aspect and modeled their own versions. Therefore, the components of each are also what differentiates it from the rest. There are three main Neo-Freudian psychologists whose theories we shall explore, and they include Erik Erikson, Alfred Adler, and Karen Horney. Alfred Adler was the founding chairman of Freud’s Vienna Psychoanalytical Society but disagreed with Freud’s postulation of motivation based on sexual and primal urges, choosing to concentrate on the aspect of the inferiority complex as the driving force behind our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. He believed that people’s needs to prove that they were capable of measuring up to societal standards, due to internal feelings of weakness and unworthiness, drove them to aim for higher achievements toward superiority. He also believed in the idea of birth order where older siblings became overachievers after losing attention to the younger ones, and the youngest became spoilt due to too much attention (Lundin, 2015).

Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development suggested that personality development was a lifelong process which differs from Freud’s view that personality was fixed in childhood. Erikson described eight stages of development and advanced that different social relationships were important to each distinct stage. He also introduced the concept of identity crises which were characterized by the confrontation of challenges and new experiences and analysis which informs the different ways a person looks at themselves. While he agreed that conflicts and their resolutions during the formative years were important, like Freud suggested, his view was that these conflicts were socially-charged rather than sexual in nature (Rageliene, 2016).

Karen Horney was a trained Freudian psychoanalyst who moved from Germany to the United States during the Great Depression. She disagreed with Freud’s theories about sex including the idea of penis envy among girls and womb envy among boys. She attributed such jealousy to the idea of the societal privilege granted to males and not females and felt that it was cultural and social factors that influenced personality development as opposed to sexual factors. She explained personality development as a function of unconscious anxiety which stems from isolation and childhood loneliness so that the way children behave at various stages in life is defined by the coping mechanism that they adapt to deal with the anxiety during early life. There are three coping strategies that she advances including moving closer, against and away from people. Those who move towards people become dependent on attention from other people and their parents while those who move against people, become aggressive and bullies. Those who move away simply choose to be isolated and will live their lives trying to avoid social situations and interactions (Aldridge, Kilgo, & Jepkemboi, 2014).

In my own life, the theory that I would apply to my life would be Horney’s psychoanalytic social perspective which defines anxiety. I do not suffer from any medical condition that is associated with anxiety or depression. However, I have grown up as the kind of person who moves away from people and tries to exist on my own. I have what is commonly referred to as an introverted personality where people with such a personality tend to value their own space and hate any forms of unwarranted intrusion. While I also attend social events and interact reasonably well with other people, given a choice, I always choose to spend time alone. I have trained myself to be dependent upon myself and find ways to cater to my own needs without depending on other people to support me as well. Part of this is because I have grown up observing other people disappoint close members of my family and friends and so, I just chose to be independent.


One common theme about these three theories is the center, either wholly or partly, on the existence of powerful unconscious drives and conflicts that underlie the development of defense mechanisms and anxiety. They also agree on the starting point of the development of personality at childhood even though Erikson and Harney seem to support a lifelong development rather than Freud’s fixed development at childhood. All in all, it is clear that development is not only a physical and mental function but a social and cultural one too.