Who Were the Neo-Freudians?

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Neo-Freudian psychologists were thinkers who agreed with many of the fundamental tenets of Freud's psychoanalytic theory but changed and adapted the approach to incorporate their own beliefs, ideas, and opinions. Psychologist Sigmund Freud proposed many ideas that were highly controversial, but also attracted a number of followers.

Many of these thinkers agreed with Freud's concept of the unconscious mind and the importance of early childhood. There were, however, a number of points that other scholars disagreed with or directly rejected. Because of this, these individuals went on to propose their own unique theories of personality.

Neo-Freudian Disagreements With Freud

There are a few different reasons why these neo-Freudian thinkers disagreed with Freud. For example, Erik Erikson believed that Freud was incorrect to think that personality was shaped almost entirely by childhood events.

Other issues that motivated neo-Freudian thinkers included:

  • Freud's emphasis on sexual urges as a primary motivator
  • Freud's negative view of human nature
  • Freud's belief that personality was shaped entirely by early childhood experiences
  • Freud's lack of emphasis on social and cultural influences on behavior and personality

Many of the neo-Freudians felt that Freud's theories focus too heavily on psychopathology, sex, and childhood experiences. Instead, many of them chose to focus their theories on more positive aspects of human nature as well as the social influences that contribute to personality and behavior.

While the neo-Freudians may have been influenced by Freud, they developed their own unique theories and perspectives on human development, personality, and behavior.

Major Neo-Freudian Thinkers

There were a number of neo-Freudian thinkers who broke with the Freudian psychoanalytic tradition to develop their own psychodynamic theories. Some of these individuals were initially part of Freud's inner circle including Carl Jung and Alfred Adler.

Carl Jung

Freud and Jung once had a close friendship, but Jung broke away to form his own ideas. Jung referred to his theory of personality as analytical psychology, and he introduced the concept of the collective unconscious. He described this as a universal structure shared by all members of the same species containing all of the instincts and archetypes that influence human behavior.

Jung still placed great emphasis on the unconscious, but his theory placed a higher emphasis on his concept of the collective unconscious rather than the personal unconscious. Like many of the other neo-Freudians, Jung also focused less on sex than did Freud.​

Alfred Adler

Adler believed that Freud's theories focused too heavily on sex as the primary motivator for human behavior. Instead, Adler placed a lesser emphasis on the role of the unconscious and a greater focus on interpersonal and social influences.

His approach, known as individual psychology, was centered on the drive that all people have to compensate for their feelings of inferiority. The inferiority complex, he suggested, was a person's feelings and doubts that they do not measure up to other people or to society's expectations.

Erik Erikson

While Freud believed that personality was mostly set in stone during early childhood, Erikson felt that development continued throughout life. He also believed that not all conflicts were unconscious. Many were conscious and the result, he thought, from the developmental process itself.

Erikson de-emphasized the role of sex as a motivator for behavior and instead placed a much stronger focus on the role of social relationships.

His eight-stage theory of psychosocial development concentrates on a series of developmental conflicts that occur throughout the lifespan, from birth until death. At each stage, people face a crisis that must be resolved to develop certain psychological strengths.

Karen Horney

Horney was one of the first women trained in psychoanalysis, and she was also one of the first to criticize Freud's depictions of women as inferior to men.

Horney objected to Freud's portrayal of women as suffering from "penis envy." Instead, she suggested that men experience "womb envy" because they are unable to bear children. Her theory focuses on how behavior was influenced by a number of different neurotic needs.

A Word From Verywell

While both Freudian and neo-Freudian ideas have largely fallen out of favor, they did play a role in shaping the history of the field of psychology. Neo-Freudian ideas also contributed to the development of other theories of psychology that often focused on things such as personal and social development.

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