Erik was born in Frankfurt in 1902 and spent most of his early years in Karlsruhe (1). His father had deserted his Jewish mother before he was even born. When he was three his mother married his Jewish doctor, Theodore Homburger. Erik assumed the name Homburger at this time. Young Erik was physically more alike Northern Europeans than most of the children in his stepfather's temple. There he was referred to as Goy, while at his school he was seen as a Jew. His feeling of alienation resulted in a major sense of crisis in his adolescent life. The teenage Erik considered himself an artistic type and perhaps as a consequence of his estranged family life, he wandered Europe for many years before he landed a job, rather by chance, teaching children of the psychoanalytical community in Vienna. Erik eventually became part of this movement and was familiar with the major players in psychoanalytical thought at this time, including Sigmund Freud himself. Indeed, as part of his training Erik was analysed by Anna Freud, Sigmund's daughter. It was here among this company that he first felt a sense of his own personal identity. However, as a consequence of the threat of fascism in Europe, Erik and his wife made the decision to move to the United States in 1933.
Shortly after his arrival Erik changed his name from Homburger to Erikson. He felt he would have more success and would more likely be accepted in the professional community if he did so. In America he continued his development as a psychoanalyst and became somewhat of a specialist in child and adolescent analysis. He had already carried out considerable study on childhood development in Vienna where Anna Freud had pioneered study in this area. In the U. S., he also completed a number of specialized studies on Native American child rearing practices as well as working extensively with war veterans suffering from various forms of combat related psychological problems.
Erikson's comprehensive study and analysis of different social groups intensified his belief in the influence of the environment as well as biology on psychological development. This is Erikson's most obvious departure from traditional Freudian psychoanalytical thinking. It would be wrong to suggest that Erikson turns his back on his mentor, but there are a number of areas where Erikson clearly develops distinct and unique ideas from those of Freud. It would be rather pointless after all to talk about his theory, if it's content offered nothing new.
As previously mentioned, Erikson placed a much greater emphasis on cultural and societal influences than did Freud. Drawing on the thoughts of Erick Fromm, Erikson felt a person's goal in life was to find a sense of 'identity' within society (2). His own personal circumstances would almost definitely have influenced his...