Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson were psychoanalysts, and both worked on personality development theories. Freud’s work was focused on psychosexual development in early childhood. His ideas influenced Erikson’s theory; however, it was centered on psychosocial development across the whole lifespan. Some of the stages described by Freud and Erikson can be traced across the life of Cersei Lannister, a character from George R. R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire.
The first stage of Erikson’s theory is known as Trust vs. Mistrust. It usually occurs until the child grows up to the first year of life. If the children are provided with care in this stage, they tend to develop more trust than children whose caregivers struggled to nurture them. Cersei Lannister was born in a noble house, being taken care of by her mother and her wet nurse. Since she never lacked food, warmth, and safety, she grew up expecting her needs to be met (Martin 37). This stage of development resulted in her trusting her closest family and friends.
Erikson’s second stage, called Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt, describes the development of a child’s independence at the ages of eighteen months up to three years old. Being able to assert their independence and choose for themselves while feeling safe, children can grow more confident and secure. Criticizing and controlling a child can lead to a lack of self-esteem and feelings of shame and doubt. Starting at an early age, Cersei was independent and willful; her father was too busy to control her, and her mother was too loving of her to forbid her anything. She wandered the castle with her brother, exploring every corner of it (Martin 460). All of this can be considered the main reason for her assertiveness and courage.
The third stage of Erikson’s theory, Initiative vs. Guilt, usually occurs in a child’s preschool years. It involves connecting with other children, initiating different games, and social interactions. Success in this stage leads to an individual’s capability to assert power and control. If children try to exert too much power, they are left with disapproval and guilt. Cersei and her twin brother Jaime always played together in early childhood. Once, being dared to climb into a lion’s cage, Cersei went as far as to touch the beast (Martin 99). She displayed initiative and power in her early childhood, which led to her succeeding as a confident ruler.
Erikson’s fourth stage is known as Industry vs. Inferiority. It usually takes place between the ages of five and eleven. This stage challenges the child’s abilities to fulfill the demands of society. By being competent, and gaining encouragement and approval, children acquire higher self-esteem and a sense of significance. Failing individuals develop a feeling of inferiority and doubt of their abilities. Despite Cersei’s annoyance with the differences in education she received and her twin brother, she exceeded in fulfilling every task set before her (Martin 141). Being the only daughter of a great lord-father, she was constantly reminded of the pride and significance of her house. Due to these reassurances, Cersei became an accomplished and competent person, certain of her abilities.
Erikson’s Fourth stage, Identity vs. Confusion, occurs during an individual’s adolescence. In this stage, children explore themselves and their roles in society. Succeeding results in forming personal goals and identity; failure leads to role confusion or identity crisis. Cersei’s identity was greatly influenced by her father, who reassured her that she was worthy of marrying only the prince himself (Martin 344). Becoming a queen has been her life’s goal ever since. Therefore, her life goal and identity formed very early in her childhood because of her father and status.
Intimacy vs. Isolation is the sixth stage that Erikson describes in his theory. In early adulthood, the exploration of close relationships forms the individual’s sense of intimacy and commitment. The inability to build lasting, meaningful relationships can result in loneliness and isolation. Knowing that their intimate relationship with Jaime will never be accepted by society, Cersei did not fully commit to it (Martin 198). Upon marrying King Robert, she was disappointed to find out that no love or intimacy would be present in her marriage (Martin 473). These discouragements resulted in her losing hope to form a loving, intimate relationship, condemning her to loneliness and isolation.
The seventh of Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development is Generativity vs. Stagnation. It takes place during middle adulthood and explains the development of a sense of being a part of the world through giving back to society. Generativity refers to leaving a mark, for example, by having children or accomplishing something great. Failing to do so leaves an individual stagnated with a feeling of being unproductive and uninvolved. Cersei became a loving mother of three children and a sole-ruling queen regent of the entire kingdom (Martin 90). As such, she has left a significant impact on the world, and her involvement and productivity are doubtless.
During the third, the Phallic Stage described by Freud, between the ages of three to six, an individual explores their genitalia and the anatomical sex differences. It usually resolves in developing erotic attractions, rivalry, and jealousy through identification. Since Cersei and Jaime were inseparable and almost identical as children, they explored each other’s bodies and their physical differences. Starting at an early age, Cersei noticed that despite her and her brother’s similarities, people treated them much differently based on their gender (Martin 200). Thus, this results in her jealousy of Jaime and his sex.
Latency is the fourth stage of Freud’s psychosexual development that starts at the age of six and ends with puberty. During this stage, any sexual impulses are considered dormant, channeling the child’s energy towards developing new skills and acquiring new friendships. As a lord’s daughter, Cersei had no shortage of bed maids and companions of her age. Being separated from Jaime, she spent her days with the daughters of other lords, playing and praying (Martin 473). She did not exhibit any sexual desires until puberty, just as Freud’s theory suggests.
The last stage described by Freud is called the Genital Stage; it usually starts in puberty. It marks the development of sexual desires and results in sexual experimentations, the success of which is resolved in a happy relationship. Young Cersei thought that only two men were worthy of her desires. The beautiful, silver-haired prince that she hoped to marry one day and her twin brother Jaime, reminded her of herself and made her feel whole. Later, she was denied the betrothal with the prince and separated from Jaime (Martin 351). Thus, Cersei did not indulge in many sexual experiments until much later in her life. These circumstances can be considered the reason behind her not settling down in a loving relationship with another person.
The character of Cersei Lannister from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is an excellent example to explore Freud’s psychosexual and Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development. Examining Cersei’s childhood and adolescence helped me discover the reasons behind her personality. She is found to be a confident, independent yet trusting, initiative, and capable person, unable to commit to a healthy relationship due to the impact of social experiences in her life.
Martin, George R. R. A Song of Ice and Fire: A Feast for Crows. Random House Publishing Group, 2005.