1924 – Hédi Fried, Swedish author and psychologist.
Erik Homburger Erikson (born Erik Salomonsen; 15 June 1902 to 12 May 1994) was a German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychological development of human beings. He coined the phrase identity crisis.
Despite lacking a university degree, Erikson served as a professor at prominent institutions, including Harvard, University of California, Berkeley, and Yale. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Erikson as the 12th most eminent psychologist of the 20th century.
Hédi Fried (née Szmuk; born 15 June 1924) is a Swedish-Romanian author and psychologist.
A Holocaust survivor, she passed through Auschwitz as well as Bergen-Belsen, coming to Sweden in July 1945 with the boat M/S Rönnskär.
Erik Homburger Erikson (born Erik Salomonsen; 15 June 1902 to 12 May 1994) was a Danish-German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychological development of human beings. He coined the phrase identity crisis.
Despite lacking a university degree, Erikson served as a professor at prominent institutions, including Harvard, University of California, Berkeley, and Yale. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Erikson as the 12th most eminent psychologist of the 20th century.
Love and hate as co-existing forces have been thoroughly explored within the literature of psychoanalysis, building on awareness of their co-existence in Western culture reaching back to the “odi et amo” of Catullus, and Plato’s Symposium.
Love and Hate in Freud’s Work
Ambivalence was the term borrowed by Sigmund Freud to indicate the simultaneous presence of love and hate towards the same object. While the roots of ambivalence can be traced back to breast-feeding in the oral stage, it was reinforced during toilet-training as well. Freudian followers such as Karl Abraham and Erik H. Erikson distinguished between an early sub-stage with no ambivalence at all towards the mother’s breast, and a later oral-sadistic sub-phase where the biting activity emerges and the phenomenon of ambivalence appears for the first time. The child is interested in both libidinal and aggressive gratifications, and the mother’s breast is at the same time loved and hated.
While during the pre-oedipal stages ambivalent feelings are expressed in a dyadic relationship between the mother and the child, during the oedipal conflict ambivalence is experienced for the first time within a triangular context which involves the child, the mother and the father. In this stage, both the boy and the girl develop negative feelings of jealousy, hostility and rivalry toward the parent of the same sex, but with different mechanisms for the two sexes. The boy’s attachment to his mother becomes stronger, and he starts developing negative feelings of rivalry and hostility toward the father. The boy wishes to destroy the father so that he can become his mother’s unique love object. On the other hand, the girl starts a love relationship with her father. The mother is seen by the girl as a competitor for the father’s love and so the girl starts feeling hostility and jealousy towards her. The negative feelings which arise in this phase coexist with love and affection toward the parent of the same sex and result in an ambivalence which is expressed in feelings, behaviour and fantasies. The negative feelings are a source of anxiety for the child who is afraid that the parent of the same sex would take revenge on him/her. In order to lessen the anxiety, the child activates the defence mechanism of identification, and identifies with the parent of the same sex. This process leads to the formation of the Super-Ego.
According to Freud, ambivalence is the precondition for melancholia, together with loss of a loved object, oral regression and discharge of the aggression toward the self. In this condition, the ambivalently loved object is introjected, and the libido is withdrawn into the self in order to establish identification with the loved object. The object loss then turns into an ego loss and the conflict between the Ego and the Super-Ego becomes manifested. The same ambivalence occurs in the obsessional neurosis, but there it remains related to the outside object.
In the Work of Melanie Klein
The object relations theory of Melanie Klein pivoted around the importance of love and hate, concern for and destruction of others, from infancy onwards. Klein stressed the importance of inborn aggression as a reflection of the death drive and talked about the battle of love and hatred throughout the life span. As life begins, the first object for the infant to relate with the external world is the mother. It is there that both good and bad aspects of the self are split and projected as love and hatred to the mother and the others around her later on: as analyst, she would find herself split similarly into a “nice” and a “bad” Mrs Klein.
During the paranoid-schizoid position, the infant sees objects around it either as good or bad, according to his/her experiences with them. They are felt to be loving and good when the infant’s wishes are gratified and happy feelings prevail. On the other hand, objects are seen as bad when the infant’s wishes are not met adequately and frustration prevails. In the child’s world there is not yet a distinction between fantasy and reality; loving and hating experiences towards the good and bad objects are believed to have an actual impact on the surrounding objects. Therefore, the infant must keep these loving and hating emotions as distinct as possible, because of the paranoid anxiety that the destructive force of the bad object will destroy the loving object from which the infant gains refuge against the bad objects. The mother must be either good or bad and the feeling experienced is either love or hate.
Emotions become integrated as a part of the development process. As the infant’s potential to tolerate ambivalent feelings with the depressive position, the infant starts forming a perception of the objects around it as both good and bad, thus tolerating the coexistence of these two opposite feelings for the same object where experience had previously been either idealised or dismissed as bad, the good object can be accepted as frustrating without losing its acceptable status. When this takes place, the previous paranoid anxiety (that the bad object will destroy everything) transforms into a depressive anxiety; this is the intense fear that the child’s own destructiveness (hate) will damage the beloved others. Subsequently, for the coexistence of love and hate to be attainable, the child must believe in her ability to contain hate, without letting it destroy the loving objects. He/she must believe in the prevalence of the loving feelings over his/her aggressiveness. Since this ambivalent state is hard to preserve, under difficult circumstances it is lost, and the person returns to the previous manner keeping love and hate distinct for a period of time until he/she is able to regain the capacity for ambivalence.
Refer to The Life and Death Instincts in Kleinian Object Relations Theory.
In the Work of Ian Suttie
Ian Dishart Suttie (1898-1935) wrote the book The Origins of Love and Hate, which was first published in 1935, a few days after his death. He was born in Glasgow and was the third of four children. His father was a general practitioner, and Ian Suttie and both of his brothers and his sister became doctors as well. He qualified from Glasgow University in 1914. After a year he went into psychiatry.
Although his work has been out of print in England for some years, it is still relevant today. It has been often cited and makes a contribution towards understanding the more difficult aspects of family relationships and friendships. He can be seen as one of the first significant object relations theorists and his ideas anticipated the concepts put forward by modern self psychologists.
Although Ian Suttie was working within the tradition set by Freud, there were a lot of concepts of Freud’s theory he disagreed with. First of all, Suttie saw sociability, the craving for companionship, the need to love and be loved, to exchange and to participate, to be as primary as sexuality itself. And in contrast with Freud he didn’t see sociability and love simply as a derivative from sexuality. Secondly, Ian Suttie explained anxiety and neurotic maladjustment, as a reaction on the failure of finding a response for this sociability; when primary social love and tenderness fails to find the response it seeks, the arisen frustration will produce a kind of separation anxiety. This view is more clearly illustrated by a piece of writing of Suttie himself: ‘Instead of an armament of instincts, latent or otherwise, the child is born with a simple attachment-to-mother who is the sole source of food and protection… the need for a mother is primarily presented to the child mind as a need for company and as a discomfort in isolation’.
Ian Suttie saw the infant as striving from the first to relate to his mother, and future mental health would depend on the success or failure of this first relationship (object relations). Another advocate of the object relations paradigm is Melanie Klein. Object relations was in contrast with Freud’s psychoanalysis. The advocates of this object relations paradigm all, in exception of Melanie Klein, held the opinion that most differences in individual development that are of importance for mental health could be traced to differences in the way children were treated by their parents or to the loss or separation of parent-figures. In the explanation of the love and hate relationship by Ian Suttie, the focus, not surprisingly, lies in relations and the social environment. According to Suttie, Freud saw love and hate as two distinct instincts. Hate had to be overcome with love, and because both terms are seen as two different instincts, this means repression. In Suttie’s view however, this is incompatible with the other Freudian view that life is a struggle to attain peace by the release of the impulse. These inconsistencies would be caused by leaving out the social situations and motives. Suttie saw hate as the frustration aspect of love. “The greater the love, the greater the hate or jealousy caused by its frustration and the greater the ambivalence or guilt that may arise in relation to it.” Hate has to be overcome with love by the child removing the cause of the anxiety and hate by restoring harmonious relationships. The feeling of anxiety and hate can then change back into the feeling of love and security. This counts for the situation between mother and child and later for following relationships.
In Suttie’s view, the beginning of the relationship between mother and child is a happy and symbiotic one as well. This happy symbiotic relationship between mother and baby can be disrupted by for example a second baby or the mother returning to work. This makes the infant feel irritable, insecure and anxious. This would be the start of the feeling of ambivalence: feelings of love and hate towards the mother. The child attempts to remove the cause of the anxiety and hate to restore the relationship (retransforming). This retransforming is necessary, because hate of a loved object (ambivalence) is intolerable.
In the Work of Edith Jacobson
The newborn baby is not able to distinguish the self from others and the relationship with the mother is symbiotic, with the two individuals forming a unique object. In this period, the child generates two different images of the mother. On one hand there is the loving mother, whose image derives from experiences of love and satisfaction in the relationship with her. On the other hand, there is the bad mother, whose image derives from frustrating and upsetting experiences in the relationship. Since the child at this stage is unable to distinguish the self from the other, those two opposite images are often fused and confused, rather than distinguished. At about six months of age, the child becomes able to distinguish the self from the others. He now understands that his mother can be both gratifying and frustrating, and he starts experiencing himself as being able to feel both love and anger.
This ambivalence results in a vacillation between attitudes of passive dependency on the omnipotent mother and aggressive strivings for self expansion and control over the love object. The passive-submissive and active-aggressive behaviour of the child during the pre-oedipal and the early oedipal period is determined by his ambivalent emotional fluctuations between loving and trusting admirations of his parents and disappointed depreciation of the loved objects. The ego can use this ambivalence conflicts to distinguish between the self and the object. At the beginning, the child tends to turn aggression toward the frustrating objects and libido towards the self. Hence, frustration, demands and restrictions imposed by parents within normal bounds, reinforce the process of discovery and distinction of the object and the self. When early experiences of severe disappointment and abandonment have prevented the building up of un-ambivalent object relations and stable identifications and weakened the child’s self-esteem, they may result in ambivalence conflict in adulthood, which in turn causes depressive states.
Erik Homburger Erikson (born Erik Salomonsen; 15 June 1902 to 12 May 1994) was a Danish-German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychological development of human beings.
He coined the phrase identity crisis.
Despite lacking a bachelor’s degree, Erikson served as a professor at prominent institutions, including Harvard, University of California, Berkeley, and Yale. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Erikson as the 12th most eminent psychologist of the 20th century.
Erikson’s mother, Karla Abrahamsen, came from a prominent Jewish family in Copenhagen, Denmark. She was married to Jewish stockbroker Valdemar Isidor Salomonsen, but had been estranged from him for several months at the time Erik was conceived. Little is known about Erik’s biological father except that he was a non-Jewish Dane. On discovering her pregnancy, Karla fled to Frankfurt am Main in Germany where Erik was born on 15 June 1902 and was given the surname Salomonsen. She fled due to conceiving Erik out of wedlock, and the identity of Erik’s birth father was never made clear.
Following Erik’s birth, Karla trained to be a nurse and moved to Karlsruhe. In 1905 she married Erik’s Jewish paediatrician, Theodor Homburger. In 1908, Erik Salomonsen’s name was changed to Erik Homburger, and in 1911 he was officially adopted by his stepfather. Karla and Theodor told Erik that Theodor was his real father, only revealing the truth to him in late childhood; he remained bitter about the deception all his life.
The development of identity seems to have been one of Erikson’s greatest concerns in his own life as well as being central to his theoretical work. As an older adult, he wrote about his adolescent “identity confusion” in his European days. “My identity confusion”, he wrote “[was at times on] the borderline between neurosis and adolescent psychosis.” Erikson’s daughter wrote that her father’s “real psychoanalytic identity” was not established until he “replaced his stepfather’s surname [Homburger] with a name of his own invention [Erikson].” The decision to change his last name came about as he started his job at Yale, and the “Erikson” name was accepted by Erik’s family when they became American citizens. It is said his children enjoyed the fact they would not be called “Hamburger” any longer.
Erik was a tall, blond, blue-eyed boy who was raised in the Jewish religion. Due to these mixed identities, he was a target of bigotry by both Jewish and gentile children. At temple school, his peers teased him for being Nordic; while at grammar school, he was teased for being Jewish. At Das Humanistische Gymnasium his main interests were art, history and languages, but he lacked a general interest in school and graduated without academic distinction. After graduation, instead of attending medical school as his stepfather had desired, he attended art school in Munich, much to the liking of his mother and her friends.
Uncertain about his vocation and his fit in society, Erik dropped out of school and began a lengthy period of roaming about Germany and Italy as a wandering artist with his childhood friend Peter Blos and others. For children from prominent German families, taking a “wandering year” was not uncommon. During his travels he often sold or traded his sketches to people he met. Eventually, Erik realized he would never become a full-time artist and returned to Karlsruhe and became an art teacher. During the time he worked at his teaching job, Erik was hired by an heiress to sketch and eventually tutor her children. Erik worked very well with these children and was eventually hired by many other families that were close to Anna and Sigmund Freud. During this period, which lasted until he was 25 years old, he continued to contend with questions about his father and competing ideas of ethnic, religious, and national identity.
Psychoanalytic Experience and Training
When Erikson was twenty-five, his friend Peter Blos invited him to Vienna to tutor art at the small Burlingham-Rosenfeld School for children whose affluent parents were undergoing psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud. Anna noticed Erikson’s sensitivity to children at the school and encouraged him to study psychoanalysis at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute, where prominent analysts August Aichhorn, Heinz Hartmann, and Paul Federn were among those who supervised his theoretical studies. He specialised in child analysis and underwent a training analysis with Anna Freud. Helene Deutsch and Edward Bibring supervised his initial treatment of an adult. Simultaneously he studied the Montessori method of education, which focused on child development and sexual stages. In 1933 he received his diploma from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. This and his Montessori diploma were to be Erikson’s only earned academic credentials for his life’s work.
In 1930 Erikson married Joan Mowat Serson, a Canadian dancer and artist whom Erikson had met at a dress ball. During their marriage, Erikson converted to Christianity. In 1933, with Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, the burning of Freud’s books in Berlin and the potential Nazi threat to Austria, the family left an impoverished Vienna with their two young sons and emigrated to Copenhagen. Unable to regain Danish citizenship because of residence requirements, the family left for the United States, where citizenship would not be an issue.
In the United States, Erikson became the first child psychoanalyst in Boston and held positions at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Judge Baker Guidance Centre, and at Harvard Medical School and Psychological Clinic, establishing a singular reputation as a clinician. In 1936, Erikson left Harvard and joined the staff at Yale University, where he worked at the Institute of Social Relations and taught at the medical school.
Erikson continued to deepen his interest in areas beyond psychoanalysis and to explore connections between psychology and anthropology. He made important contacts with anthropologists such as Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Ruth Benedict. Erikson said his theory of the development of thought derived from his social and cultural studies. In 1938, he left Yale to study the Sioux tribe in South Dakota on their reservation. After his studies in South Dakota, he travelled to California to study the Yurok tribe. Erikson discovered differences between the children of the Sioux and Yurok tribes. This marked the beginning of Erikson’s life passion of showing the importance of events in childhood and how society affects them.
In 1939 he left Yale, and the Eriksons moved to California, where Erik had been invited to join a team engaged in a longitudinal study of child development for the University of California at Berkeley’s Institute of Child Welfare. In addition, in San Francisco, he opened a private practice in child psychoanalysis.
While in California he was able to make his second study of American Indian children when he joined anthropologist Alfred Kroeber on a field trip to Northern California to study the Yurok.
In 1950, after publishing the book, Childhood and Society, for which he is best known, Erikson left the University of California when California’s Levering Act required professors there to sign loyalty oaths. From 1951 to 1960 he worked and taught at the Austen Riggs Centre, a prominent psychiatric treatment facility in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he worked with emotionally troubled young people. Another famous Stockbridge resident, Norman Rockwell, became Erikson’s patient and friend. During this time he also served as a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh where he worked with Benjamin Spock and Fred Rogers at Arsenal Nursery School of the Western Psychiatric Institute.
He returned to Harvard in the 1960s as a professor of human development and remained there until his retirement in 1970. In 1973 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Erikson for the Jefferson Lecture, the United States’ highest honour for achievement in the humanities. Erikson’s lecture was titled Dimensions of a New Identity.
Theories of Development and the Ego
Erikson is credited with being one of the originators of ego psychology, which emphasized the role of the ego as being more than a servant of the id. Although Erikson accepted Freud’s theory, he did not focus on the parent-child relationship and gave more importance to the role of the ego, particularly the person’s progression as self. According to Erikson, the environment in which a child lived was crucial to providing growth, adjustment, a source of self-awareness and identity. Erikson won a Pulitzer Prize and a US National Book Award in category Philosophy and Religion for Gandhi’s Truth (1969), which focused more on his theory as applied to later phases in the life cycle.
In Erikson’s discussion of development, he rarely mentioned a stage of development by age. In fact he referred to it as a prolonged adolescence which has led to further investigation into a period of development between adolescence and young adulthood called emerging adulthood. Erikson’s theory of development includes various psychosocial crises where each conflict builds off of the previous stages. The result of each conflict can have negative or positive impacts on a person’s development, however, a negative outcome can be revisited and readdressed throughout the life span. On ego identity versus role confusion: ego identity enables each person to have a sense of individuality, or as Erikson would say, “Ego identity, then, in its subjective aspect, is the awareness of the fact that there is a self-sameness and continuity to the ego’s synthesizing methods and a continuity of one’s meaning for others”. Role confusion, however, is, according to Barbara Engler, “the inability to conceive of oneself as a productive member of one’s own society.” This inability to conceive of oneself as a productive member is a great danger; it can occur during adolescence, when looking for an occupation.
Erikson’s Theory of Personality
The Erikson life-stages, in order of the eight stages in which they may be acquired, are listed below, as well as the “virtues” that Erikson has attached to these stages, (these virtues are underlined).
Hope, Basic Trust vs. Basic Mistrust: This stage covers the period of infancy, 0-1½ years old, which is the most fundamental stage of life, as this is the stage that all other ones build off of. Whether the baby develops basic trust or basic mistrust is not merely a matter of nurture. It is multi-faceted and has strong social components. It depends on the quality of the maternal relationship. The mother carries out and reflects her inner perceptions of trustworthiness, a sense of personal meaning, etc. on the child. An important part of this stage is providing stable and constant care of the infant. This helps the child develop trust that can transition into relationships other than parental. Additionally, children develop trust in others to support them. If successful in this, the baby develops a sense of trust, which “forms the basis in the child for a sense of identity.” Failure to develop this trust will result in a feeling of fear and a sense that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable.
Will, Autonomy vs. Shame: This stage covers early childhood around 1½-3 years old and introduces the concept of autonomy vs. shame and doubt. The child begins to discover the beginnings of his or her independence, and parents must facilitate the child’s sense of doing basic tasks “all by himself/herself.” Discouragement can lead to the child doubting his or her efficacy. During this stage the child is usually trying to master toilet training. Additionally, the child discovers their talents or abilities, and it is important to ensure the child is able to explore those activities. Erikson states it is essential to allow the children freedom in exploration but also create an environment welcoming of failures. Therefore, the parent should not punish or reprimand the child for failing at the task. Shame and doubt occurs when the child feels incompetent in ability to complete tasks and survive. Will is achieved with success of this stage. Children successful in this stage will have “self-control without a loss of self-esteem.”
Purpose, Initiative vs. Guilt: This stage covers preschool children from ages three to five. Does the child have the ability to do things on her own, such as dress herself? Children in this stage are interacting with peers, and creating their own games and activities. Children in this stage practice independence and start to make their own decisions. If allowed to make these decisions, the child will develop confidence in her ability to lead others. If the child is not allowed to make certain decisions, then a sense of guilt develops. Guilt in this stage is characterised by a sense of being a burden to others, and the child will therefore usually present themselves as a follower as they lack the confidence to do otherwise. Additionally, the child is asking many questions to build knowledge of the world. If the questions earn responses that are critical and condescending, the child will also develop feelings of guilt. Success in this stage leads to the virtue of purpose, which is the normal balance between the two extremes.
Competence, Industry vs. Inferiority. This area covers school age children from five to twelve. Children compare their self worth to others around them. Friends can have a significant impact on the growth of the child. The child can recognise major disparities in personal abilities relative to other children. Erikson places some emphasis on the teacher, who should ensure that children do not feel inferior. During this stage the child’s friend group increases in importance in his life. Often during this stage the child will try to prove competency with things rewarded in society, and also develop satisfaction with his abilities. Encouraging the child increases feelings of adequacy and competency in ability to reach goals. Restriction from teachers or parents leads to doubt, questioning, and reluctance in abilities and therefore may not reach full capabilities. Competence, the virtue of this stage, is developed when a healthy balance between the two extremes is reached.
Fidelity, Identity vs. Role Confusion: This section deals with adolescence, meaning those between twelve and eighteen years old. This occurs when we start to question ourselves and ask questions relevant to who we are and what we want to accomplish. Who am I, how do I fit in? Where am I going in life? The adolescent is exploring and seeking for her own unique identity. This is done by looking at personal beliefs, goals, and values. The morality of the individual is also explored and developed. Erikson believes that if the parents allow the child to explore, she will determine her own identity. If, however, the parents continually push her to conform to their views, the teen will face identity confusion. The teen is also looking towards the future in terms of employment, relationships, and families. Learning the roles she provides in society is essential since the teen begins to develop the desire to fit in to society. Fidelity is characterised by the ability to commit to others and acceptance of others even with differences. Identity crisis is the result of role confusion and can cause the adolescent to try out different lifestyles.
Love, Intimacy vs. Isolation: This is the first stage of adult development. This development usually happens during young adulthood, which is between the ages of 18 to 40. This stage marks a transition from just thinking about ourselves to thinking about other people in the world. We are social creatures and as a result need to be with other people and form relationships with them. Dating, marriage, family and friendships are important during this stage in their life. This is due to the increase in the growth of intimate relationships with others. It is important to note that ego development earlier in life (middle adolescence) is a strong predictor of how well intimacy for romantic relationships will transpire in emerging adulthood. By successfully forming loving relationships with other people, individuals are able to experience love and intimacy. They also feel safety, care, and commitment in these relationships. Furthermore, if individuals are able to successfully resolve the crisis of intimacy versus isolation, they are able to achieve the virtue of love. Those who fail to form lasting relationships may feel isolated and alone.
Care, Generativity vs. Stagnation: The second stage of adulthood happens between the ages of 40–65. During this time people are normally settled in their lives and know what is important to them. A person is either making progress in his career or treading lightly in his career and unsure if this is what he wants to do for the rest of his working life. Also during this time, a person may be raising their children. If they are a parent, then they are re-evaluating their life roles. This is one way of contributing to society along with productivity at work and involvement in community activities and organisations. Individuals that exercise the concept of generativity believe in the next generation and seek to nurture them in creative ways through practices such as parenting, teaching, and mentoring. Having a sense of generativity can be considered significant for both the individual and the society, exemplifying their roles as effective parents, leaders for organizations, etc. If a person is not comfortable with the way his life is progressing, he is usually regretful about the decisions that he has made in the past and feels a sense of uselessness.
Wisdom, Ego Integrity vs. Despair: This stage affects the age group of 65 and on. During this time an individual has reached the last chapter in her life and retirement is approaching or has already taken place. Individuals in this stage must learn to accept the course of their life or they will look back on it with despair. Ego-integrity means the acceptance of life in its fullness: the victories and the defeats, what was accomplished and what was not accomplished. Wisdom is the result of successfully accomplishing this final developmental task. Wisdom is defined as “informed and detached concern for life itself in the face of death itself.” Having a guilty conscience about the past or failing to accomplish important goals will eventually lead to depression and hopelessness. Achieving the virtue of the stage involves the feeling of living a successful life.
Ninth Stage: Psychosocial Crises: All first eight stages in reverse quotient order.
Favourable outcomes of each stage are sometimes known as virtues, a term used in the context of Erikson’s work as it is applied to medicine, meaning “potencies”. These virtues are also interpreted to be the same as “strengths”, which are considered inherent in the individual life cycle and in the sequence of generations. Erikson’s research suggests that each individual must learn how to hold both extremes of each specific life-stage challenge in tension with one another, not rejecting one end of the tension or the other. Only when both extremes in a life-stage challenge are understood and accepted as both required and useful, can the optimal virtue for that stage surface. Thus, ‘trust’ and ‘mis-trust’ must both be understood and accepted, in order for realistic ‘hope’ to emerge as a viable solution at the first stage. Similarly, ‘integrity’ and ‘despair’ must both be understood and embraced, in order for actionable ‘wisdom’ to emerge as a viable solution at the last stage.
Erikson’s Psychology of Religion
Psychoanalytic writers have always engaged in nonclinical interpretation of cultural phenomena such as art, religion, and historical movements. Erik Erikson gave such a strong contribution that his work was well received by students of religion and spurred various secondary literature.
Erikson’s psychology of religion begins with an acknowledgement of how religious tradition can have an interplay with a child’s basic sense of trust or mistrust. With regard to Erikson’s theory of personality as expressed in his eight stages of the life cycle, each with their different tasks to master, each also included a corresponding virtue, as mentioned above, which form a taxonomy for religious and ethical life. Erikson extends this construct by emphasizing that human individual and social life is characterised by ritualisation, “an agreed-upon interplay between at least two persons who repeat it at meaningful intervals an in recurring contexts.” Such ritualisation involves careful attentiveness to what can be called ceremonial forms and details, higher symbolic meanings, active engagement of participants, and a feeling of absolute necessity. Each life cycle stage includes its own ritualisation with a corresponding ritualism: numinous vs. idolism, judicious vs. legalism, dramatic vs. impersonation, formal vs. formalism, ideological vs. totalism, affiliative vs. elitism, generational vs. authoritism, and integral vs. dogmatism.
Perhaps Erikson’s best-known contributions to the psychology of religion were his book length psychobiographies, Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History, on Martin Luther, and Gandhi’s Truth, on Mohandas K. Gandhi, for which he remarkably won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Both books attempt to show how childhood development and parental influence, social and cultural context, even political crises form a confluence with personal identity. These studies demonstrate how each influential person discovered mastery, both individually and socially, in what Erikson would call the historical moment. Individuals like Luther or Gandhi were what Erikson called a Homo Religiosus, individuals for whom the final life cycle challenge of integrity vs. despair is a lifelong crisis, and they become gifted innovators whose own psychological cure becomes an ideological breakthrough for their time.
Erikson married Canadian-born American dancer and artist Joan Erikson (née Sarah Lucretia Serson) in 1930 and they remained together until his death.
The Eriksons had four children: Kai T. Erikson, Jon Erikson, Sue Erikson Bloland, and Neil Erikson. His eldest son, Kai T. Erikson, is an American sociologist. Their daughter, Sue, “an integrative psychotherapist and psychoanalyst”, described her father as plagued by “lifelong feelings of personal inadequacy”. He thought that by combining resources with his wife, he could “achieve the recognition” that might produce a feeling of adequacy.
Erikson died on 12 May 1994 in Harwich, Massachusetts. He is buried in the First Congregational Church Cemetery in Harwich.
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