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Ego Psychology

Freud believed the ego drew all its energy from the id. Jung believed that the big source of power in the psyche was the unconscious. However, Adler and Horney both believed that the ego or conscious self was a source of power, and that will power could enable people to change their lives voluntarily.

What is ego psychology? In what respect could Adler and Horney be considered ego psychologists?

Personality theorists who emphasize the role of conscious decision-making in forming the personality are called ego psychologists. Adler is sometimes called the first ego psychologist because he spoke of the creative self and said people could play a major role in determining their own personalities. Horney also believed the ego could analyze and change itself; that is why she promoted the idea of self-analysis. In America of the 1930s and 1940s, Adler and Horney were the closest thing to "ego psychologists."

What name is associated with the beginning of ego psychology, in Europe?

In Europe, the beginning of ego psychology was associated with the name of Heinz Hartmann. Hartmann, a good friend of Freud's, wrote papers in the early 1930s proposing that the ego was an active, independent force. Hartmann coined the term ego psychology. His book Ego psychology and the problem of adaptation (1939/1958) might have had a greater impact in America if it had been available in English before its eventual translation in 1958.

Erik Erikson

The best-known ego psychologist in America was Erik Erikson. Erikson did most of his work between 1950 and 1980. His ideas have found their way into our vocabulary, for example, in the notion of searching for identity, identity crisis, and mid-life crisis. His book Gandhi's Truth won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for outstanding works of literature.

How did Erikson himself suffer an identity crisis?

Erikson went through an identity crisis himself. His parents split up before he was born and when he was three his mother re-married a pediatrician in Karlsruhe, Germany, Theodore Homberger. This fact was concealed from young Erik who grew up as Erik Homberger. When he found out Dr. Homberger was not his biological father, Erik felt unsure of who he really was. He did poorly in school and never went to college. Resisting his adoptive father's urgings to pursue a medical education, he wandered Europe for a few years, "alienated from everything my bourgeois family stood for" (Erikson, 1975, p.28).

What are some theories about Erikson's name?

Erik Erikson

When he immigrated to the new world, Erik Homberger decided on a new identity for himself, changing his name to Erik H. Erikson. His choice of the name Erikson was never adequately explained. It was not the name of his biological father. Perhaps it was symbolic of his self-regenerated identity...that he was "son of himself." Some say he wished his two sons to be known as "Erik's sons." Erikson is also a good Danish name, and both of Erik's biological parents had been Danes.

Erikson was a close friend of Sigmund Freud and never renounced Freud's theory, claiming instead to be building upon its foundations. However, Hjelle and Ziegler (1992) identify four ways in which Erikson departed from Freud's assumptions.

Did Erikson renounce Freud's theory? What are some differences between his ideas and Freud's?

1. Erikson regarded the ego as an autonomous system. It dealt with reality through the conscious thought process, including perception, attention, and memory. It was not at the mercy of the id or super-ego.

2. Erikson stressed the historical and cultural setting in which a person's ego was formed. He compared the influences of different times and different cultures on ego development in his book Young Man Luther (about Martin Luther) and in Gandhi's Truth.

3. Erikson's theory covers the entire lifespan of the individual, from infancy to old age. Freud felt the major influences on the ego occurred in the early years of life.

4. Erikson emphasizes the possibility of triumph over the crises of life. Freud discussed mostly the ill effects of early crises.

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