Erikson's Cases
Doug Davis

Consider each of Erikson's case examples in Childhood and Society from the three perspectives (governing, organizing processes) he delineates:

Bear in mind the observational and critical qualities he says psychoanalysis promotes:

The practice of psychoanalytic observation fosters the habit of searching out the points of greatest inner resistance and focusing on them. The clinical observer asks and adult patient to verbalize freely; whereupon he watches the threshold of verbalization not only for themes which cross easily in the form of straight affect, clear memory, determined statement, but also for themes which remain elusive. Such themes may alternately appear half-remembered, dreamily disguised, bitterly repudiated, brazenly projected on others, half-heartedly joked about and clumsily avoided, or followed by silent pauses. In other words, the psychoanalyst looks for disguises and omissions, and for changing quantities and qualities expressed as seemingly willing verbalization.

In looking at cultures, the psychoanalytic observer weighs themes which appear on a dynamic scale of collective behavior: in one variation as historical memory and in another as mythological theology; in one disguise re-enacted in a heavily ritual, in another as a light game, in a third entirely represented by strict avoidance. Whole complexes of such themes may be recognizable in culture-pattern dreams or in individual dreams, in humorous or hateful projections on the neighbor, on the prehuman race or on the animal world; they may be represented in deviating behavior open only to the select or to the damned or to both. (Erikson, 1950, pp. 190-191)

Egos, Selves, and Identities

Map Erikson's case examples--Sam, the Marine, Ann, Peter, Jean--onto the following:


The haunting initital images:

Early one morning, in a town in northern California [year?] the mother of a small boy of three was awakened by strange noises emanating from his room. She hurried to his bed and saw him in a terrifying attack of some kind. To her it looked just like the heart attack from which his grandmother had died five days earlier. ...
One month later...
When, two months later...
(Erikson, 1950, p. 25)

Is Sam experiencing (a) a physiological failure of homeostatic functioning in his nervous system, (b) a psychodynamic failure of his ego-defenses, or (c) a sociological failure because of stress in his family? Yes.

Try telling his story fully and coherently from each of those points of view:

What's the answer to Erikson's question (1950, p. 30)

Or had he known it before she did? (cf. p. 33)

The Marine

The associations:

The internalized "objects":

The perspectives:


She is described as "babyish," "serious," slipping easily into reverie.

Ann illustrates Erikson's reworking of Freud's "anal" theories as a necessary crisis of developing autonomy in conjunction with shame and doubt. In a striking playing-out of "sphincter morality," she pays for each willful act with a gift. She uses the anal zone's characteristic behavioral mode of elimination/retension to express an unconscious conflict between the modalities of giving and withholding: She denies mother what is mother's, and gives father more than he asked. In epigenetic perspective, this is a four-year-old's drama of self-control and will-power.


This four-year-old has made himself retain a week's feces and an enema.
In other words, he was pregnant. (1950, p. 55).

His mother's Caesarian birth, and the story of her having to wear a belt to keep him from falling out in the toilet, provides specific imagery for his performance, while his confusion and anxiety over his Myrtle's departure (and her negative reaction to his sudden "maleness") provides more general motivation. Peter identifies with "both partners of a lost relationship" (1950, p. 58).

Peter's "anality" sets up Erikson's (1950, pp. 59-61) discussion of perversion, addiction, manic-depression, and hysteria.


The gentle Mexican nurse was replaced by Teutonic Hedwig, whose favorite remark was "Ah, baby, you stink!"

Gloimb you, gloimb you, not hurt a chest,--not touch a didge--not touch a ban--not touch a dage--not touch a bandage--throw away a chest--hurt a chest. (p. 200)

Last Sunday Jean made a painting of a little girl in a yellow dress... (p. 206)