Individual Differences


Major Neoanalytic Theories & Theorists

Last updated:
22 Sep 2003

Major neoanalytic theory and theorists:

Neoanalytic theory recasts and extends pysychoanalytic theory by:

  • de-emphasising sexuality, and

  • de-emphasising the importance of the unconscious

Instead it emphasises the role of the ego

  • some neoanalytic theorists focus on the operation of the ego

  • some focus on how the ego interacts with, and is affected by, other individuals/society/culture

Ego Psychology

Many believed that Freud did not give enough attention to the ego.  Ego psychology, as a particular perspective within the psychoanalytic framework, developed post-Freud.  It is a psychodynamic framework in which ego functioning is seen as very important.  Anna Freud, Sigmund Freud’s daughter, analysed defense mechanisms (the ego’s protective devices) in detail.

Freud felt that the ego’s primary task was to mediate among the id, superego and external reality. Ego psychologists differ from Freud by stating that:

  • The ego is involved in adaptation (Carver & Scheier), i.e. that the goal of behaviour is adaptation to the environment and that the ego is strongly involved; and that

  • The ego is present at birth

A number of famous ego psychologists have built on Freud’s early work but with a greater and different emphasis on the ego.  These ego psychologists can all be classified as Neo-analysists. Examples are: Adler (1917, 1927, 1931); Erikson (1963, 1974); Freud (1946); Hartmann (1939, 1964); Loevinger, (1969, 1976, 1987); White (1959, 1963).

The material below focuses on Adler and Erikson, along with 2 other Neoanalysists who are not classed as ego-psychologists: Jung and Horney.


Alfred Adler 1870-1937

Alfred Adler strove throughout his life to overcome his sense of inferiority: he was the 3rd of 6 children and lived in his elder brother’s shadow. He suffered rickets and pneumonia as a child and was therefore a pretty poor physical specimen.

Adler was the first disciple of Freud to strongly disagree with the master. He thought Freud focussed too much on sex as the ultimate motivator and organiser of behaviour.

Adler developed his own psychological society, and established his own journal. He called his approach individual psychology.

“It (the striving for superiority) lies at the root of all solutions of life’s problems and is manifested in the way in which we meet these problems. All our functions follow its direction” (Adler in Ansbacher and Ansbacher, 1956, p. 103).

Adler, an ego psychologist, de-emphasised sexual motivation and emphasised:

  1. Behaviour motivated by striving for superiority: He believed that all of us begin life with a sense of inferiority.  He believed that a striving for superiority was THE motivating force in life.

  2. However he didn’t believe that achievement = mental health. He argued that well-adjusted people express their striving for superiority through concern for the social interest. e.g. successful business people achieve a sense of superiority and satisfaction through their accomplishments in business but are only truly happy if they reach their goals with consideration to others i.e their staff and their customers.


Carl Gustav Jung 1875-1961

Carl Gustav Jung was born in 1875. In 1906 he began a regular correspondence with Freud.  Jung first met Freud in person in 1907. Freud decided that Jung was his heir apparent and in 1910 when the Psychoanalytic Association was founded, Jung became its first President. Their relationship cooled and was fully terminated in 1914.

After World War I, Jung wrote the book "Psychological Types". It set the differences between his position and that of Freud. Jung became more interested in the study of mythological and religious symbolism. His studies took him across the globe where he observed many different cultures. He was interested in tracing the analogies between the contents of the unconscious in Western man and the myths, cults, and rituals of primitive peoples.

Jungian therapy deals with dreams and fantasies. A discussion is set up between the conscious and the contents of the unconscious. When the therapy works the patient enters an individuation process. This consists of psychological transformations ending in the opposite tendencies working together to achieve personal wholeness.

“Instead of being at the mercy of wild beasts, earthquakes, landslides and inundations, modern man is battered by the elemental forces of his own psyche.”  (Jung, 1934)

Jung was a bitter defector from Freud's inner circle. Jung had been viewed by Freud as his heir apparent.

Jung shared Freud's view of the importance of the unconscious, however, he argued that in addition to sexual and aggressive drives (which he thought Freud over-emphasised), all humans inherited a desire to seek higher religious fulfilment and self development.  His thinking was dominated by the principle of opposites. He believed that the human experience consists of polarities - qualities that oppose and tend to balance each other. For example he believed that people are dominated by attitudes of either introversion and extraversion. (also postulates polar opposite types in terms of thinking / feeling and sensing / intuiting).

Via Jung's study of cross-cultural anthropology and mythology, he was led to posit a collective unconscious or universal set of ideas or memories that are part of our biological heritage: he believed Freud overlooked this collective unconscious.

He believed that this collective unconscious contains certain archetypes: inherited tendencies that predispose us to view the external world in certain ways. Jung believed the following are archetypes we all share:

Mother, father, wise old man, the moon, God, death, snakes and the hero. Modern work on learning preparedness does suggest that there may be a built-in tendency to learn some associations more readily than others. e.g. easier to learn fear of snakes than of say cars which our ancestors never encountered.

Some other archetypes which were particularly important in Jung’s writings were:

The anima; the animus; the shadow; and the self.

Anima / Animus: Jung believed that although we each have a sex gender we are not purely male or female.  He believed each of us has aspects of the opposite sex both in biological and psychological terms. The anima is the feminine side of the male psyche and the animus is the masculine side of the female psyche.

Shadow: This Jung considered to be the unconscious part of ourselves that is essentially negative; the dark side (Cole/Balthazar).

Self: the central archetype; the striving for unity of all parts of personality.

Persona: Jung believed that that we all have a persona (latin = mask) which represents a compromise between our true self and the expectations of society. Jung believed that if we neglect society’s expectations we become asocial whereas if we try to hard to comply with society’s expectations we put our true identity and our fulfillment at risk.

Jung viewed neurosis as a person’s attempt to reconcile the contradictory aspects of personality. Myers Briggs Type Indicator (Katherine Briggs and daughter Isabel Myers Briggs): used widely in clinical counselling and personality assessment with non-psychiatric populations.


Karen Horney 1885-1952

Note: Pronunciation is not the titillating "horny" but rather "horn-eye" (click to listen to pronunciation)

Karen Horney was born in Germany in 1885. She became a doctor of medicine (encouraged by her mother but not her father) at a time this was unusual for women. She was a career woman, a mother to 3 daughters and eventually a divorcee. She was one of the early feminist psychologists.

She moved to the US in 1932 and eventually founded both the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis and the American Institute of Psychoanalysis.

She came to believe more and more that environmental factors such as keeping a job, paying bills and other social factors were very important in inducing neurotic behaviour.

“Is not the tremendous strength in men of the impulse to creative work in every field precisely due to their feeling of playing a relatively small part in the creation of living beings, which constantly compels them to an overcompensation in achievement?”

Horney very strongly disagreed with Freud’s premise that a woman feels deep inferiority because she lacks a penis. Horney, particularly after she experienced childbirth and motherhood, led her to feel that men’s experiences in life were shallow in comparison. She came to believe that the fact that men had only a small part to play in the creating and nurturing of new life led men to suffer from a deep sense of inferiority.  She backed this up with her reports that in much of the therapy she conducted with men they showed envy of women’s ability to have children.

Freud suggested that Horney’s whole theory was based on penis-envy!

Karen Horney, like Adler focused on social interactions as the source of adult motivations. She believed that our adult personality and behaviour often represent attempts to deal with this concept she called basic anxiety. This she felt was the childhood feeling of being alone, isolated and helpless in a potentially hostile world. According to Horney, basic anxiety results not from sexual or aggressive conflicts but from disturbances in the child’s relationship with his or her parents. Things such as rejection, punishment, the breakdown of trust, overprotection can all lead to excessive anxiety, according to Horney. This is minimised by being raised with trust, love, warmth and tolerance.

She believed that in attempting to deal with basic anxiety, the person develops a characteristic social orientation, which could include being dependent on others for security and very submissive to them; the feeling one has to meet that one right person to make everything right; by developing an inflated self-concept to cope with insecurity and being competitive with others; or being avoidant of others (similarities here with the work of Bowlby, Ainsworth and attachment and attachment patterns in adulthood: romantic love).


Erik Erikson (1902-1994)

Erik Erikson was born in Germany in 1902 (of Danish parents). His father abandoned his mother when he was 3 and she remarried a Jew. Young Eric looked like a Scandinavian but was brought up as a Jew with the Jewish name - Homburger. He trained as an analyst in Vienna under Anna Freud, Sigmund’s daughter. His own personal experience presumably had a great impact upon his theory and his therapy. He came to believe that the attainment and preservation of a sense of identity was a critical task of growing up.

Erikson agreed with Freud that development occurs in stages. However unlike Freud he emphasised social as opposed to sexual development. He also felt that development occurs across the lifespan rather than just during childhood.

The central theme is ego identity: To Erikson, the ego is a relatively powerful, independent part of personality that works towards goals such as establishing one’s identity and satisfying a need for mastery over the environment. Basically, the principal function of the ego is to establish and maintain a sense of identity. Erikson’s approach to personality is often called ego psychology.

Erikson believed there are 8 psychosocial stages and that there is a  crisis / conflict at each stage. He believed that how we resolve each of these crises determines our the direction our personality development will take. Each stage is characterised by 2 different ways to resolve the crisis: one maladaptive and one adaptive.

Stage                   Conflict

Infancy                Trust vs mistrust

Early childhood      Autonomy vs shame & doubt

Preschool              Initiative vs guilt

School age            Industry vs inferiority

Adolescence          Identity vs role confusion

Young adulthood    Intimacy vs isolation

Adulthood             Generativity vs stagnation

Old age                Ego integrity vs despair