Psychosexual Stages of Development
Sigmund Freud, what we do and why we do
it, who we are and how we became this way are all related to our sexual drive.
Differences in personalities originate in differences in childhood sexual
experiences. In the Freudian psychoanalytical model, child personality
development is discussed in terms of "psychosexual stages". In his "Three Essays
on Sexuality" (1915), Freud outlined five stages of manifestations of the sexual
drive: Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latency, and Genital. At each stage, different areas
of the child's body become the focus of his pleasure and the dominant source of
sexual arousal. Differences in satisfying the sexual urges at each stage will
inevitably lead to differences in adult personalities. Conflicts between the sex
drive and rules of society are present at every stage. A proper resolution of
the conflicts will lead the child to progress past one stage and move on to the
next. Failure to achieve a proper resolution, however, will make the child
fixated in the present stage. The latter is believed to be the cause of many
personality and behavioral disorders.
Stage (Age 0 - 1.5)
Erogenous Zone in Focus: Mouth
Gratifying Activities: Nursing - eating, as well as
mouth movement, including sucking, gumming, biting and swallowing.
Interaction with the Environment: To the infant, the
mother's breast not only is the source of food and drink, but also represents
her love. Because the child's personality is controlled by the id and
therefore demands immediate gratification, responsive nurturing is key. Both
insufficient and forceful feeding can result in fixation in this stage.
Symptoms of Oral Fixation:
Constant chewing on gum, pens, pencils, etc.
Sarcasm ("the biting personality") and verbal hostility
2. Anal Stage (Age 1.5 - 3)
Erogenous Zone in Focus: Anus
Gratifying Activities: Bowel movement and the
withholding of such movement
Interaction with the Environment: The major event at
this stage is toilet training, a process through which children are taught when,
where, and how excretion is deemed appropriate by society. Children at this
stage start to notice the pleasure and displeasure associated with bowel
movements. Through toilet training, they also discover their own ability to
control such movements. Along with it comes the realization that this ability
gives them power over their parents. That is, by exercising control over the
retention and expulsion of feces, a child can choose to either grand or resist
Anal-Expulsive Personality: If the parents are too lenient
and fail to instill the society's rules about bowel movement control, the child
will derive pleasure and success from the expulsion. Individuals with a fixation
on this mode of gratification are excessively sloppy, disorganized, reckless,
careless, and defiant.
Anal-Retentive Personality: If a child receives excessive
pressure and punishment from parents during toilet training, he will experience
anxiety over bowl movements and take pleasure in being able to withhold such
functions. Individuals who fail to progress pass this stage are obsessively
orderly, and intolerant of those who aren't. They may also be very
careful, stingy, withholding, obstinate, meticulous, conforming and
3. Phallic Stage (Age 4 - 5)
Erogenous Zone in Focus: Genital
Gratifying Activities: Masturbation and genital
Interaction with the Environment: This is probably
the most challenging stage in a person's psychosexual development. The key event
at this stage, according to Freud, is the child's feeling of attraction toward
the parent of the opposite sex, together with envy and fear of the same-sex
parent. In boys, this situation is called the "Oedipus Complex" (aka the
Oedipal Complex), named after the young man in a Greek myth who killed his
father and married his mother, unaware of their true identities. In girls, it is
called the "Electra Complex".
Boys, in the midst of their Oedipus Complex, often
experience intense "castration anxiety", which comes from the fear of
punishment from the fathers for their desire for the mothers. Girls' Electra
Complex involves "penis envy". That is, according to Freud, the girl
believes that she once had a penis but that it was removed. In order to
compensate for its loss, the girl wants to have a child by her father. Success
or failure in the Oedipus conflict is at the core of either normal psychological
development or psychological disorder. If a child is able to successfully
resolve the conflict, he or she will have learnt to control their envy and
hostility and begin to identify with and model after the parent of their own
sex, and are ready to move on to the next developmental stage.
For men: Anxiety and guilty feelings about sex, fear of
castration, and narcissistic personality.
For women: It is implied that women never progress past
this stage fully and will always maintain a sense of envy and inferiority,
although Freud asserted no certainty regarding women's possible fixations
resulting from this stage. Similarly, Freud admitted uncertainty on the females'
situation when he constructed the "penis envy" theory in the first place.
4. Latency (Age 5 - puberty)
Erogenous Zone in Focus: None
Interactions with the Environment: This is a period
during which sexual feelings are suppressed to allow children to focus their
energy on other aspects of life. This is a time of learning, adjusting to the
social environment outside of home, absorbing the culture, forming beliefs and
values, developing same-sex friendships, engaging in sports, etc. This period of
sexual latency lasts five to six years, until puberty, upon which children
become capable of reproduction, and their sexuality is re-awakened.
5. Genital Stage (From puberty
Erogenous Zone in Focus: Genital
Gratifying Activities: Masturbation and heterosexual
Interaction with the Environment: This stage is
marked by a renewed sexual interest and desire, and the pursuit of
Fixations: This stage does not cause any fixation.
According to Freud, if people experience difficulties at this stage, and many
people do, the damage was done in earlier oral, anal, and phallic stages. These
people come into this last stage of development with fixations from earlier
stages. For example, attractions to the opposite sex can be a source of anxiety
at this stage if the person has not successfully resolved the Oedipal (or
Electra) conflict at the phallic stage.
What do you think?
Some people find Freud's psychosexual development
theory intriguing but difficult to verify in real life. Others feel that it was
built on shaky grounds because, although the entire theory focuses on early
childhood experience, it is not based on studies of children, but memories and
dreams of Freud's adult patients. Some people reject Freud's theory for other
reasons, such as the idea that sexual desires are the primary motivation of all
our actions and psychological development, and its condescending notions about