How does the Psychoanalytical Ego Psychology theory by Erik Erikson, explain the development of pathological behavior.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The basic premise of Erik Erikson's Ego theory is that the ego, as the compendium of traits that form our personality, has to undergo a series of developmental and psychological challenges. This series of events compose the Psychosocial theory of development. In each challenge, all which coincide with a specific developmental stage, there can only be two outcomes upon meeting the challenge; a) to benefit and reinforce positive personality traits, or, b) to pathologically detour them from acceptable, social behavior.

In Erikson's theory, behavioral pathology is defined as the exact opposite of a behavioral strength or, more specifically, as 

an antipathy of a virtue.

Hence, the successful completion of a stage entails that all the support systems, family members and social resources worked in tandem to ensure the success of the individual, hence developing in him outcomes such as

  • trust
  • autonomy
  • initiative
  • industry
  • identity
  • solidarity
  • generativity

On the contrary, when social, cognitive, financial, or biological obstacles come into play, the developmental stage does not reach its expected outcome. For example, a child who is over-protected during ages 3-5 may not experience a sense of purpose nor individuality. Moreover, the overprotected and under-exposed child will not develop the personal defenses that will render him less prone to being co-dependent on others. When purpose and initiative are restrained, the outcome will be that the child will develop a sense of guilt, even inferiority that may permeate him throughout his life. Hence, through psychoanalysis and Gestalt therapy, among others an individual may re-gain that missing link that was lost during childhood and enforce a stronger sense of self awareness.