Freud believed that all persons passed through a set series of stages in personality development. Each of these stages involves a conflict, and how the person resolve this conflict gives rise to various aspects of his or her personalit . So, in psychoanalytic theory, the source of individual differences lies in how the child comes to resolve conflicts in each of the stages of development. The end result, after going through all the stages, is a fully formed personality . Because all of this happens in childhood, the famous phrase, "The child is father to the man," captures a key Freudian idea.
At each of the first three stages, young children must face and resolve specif conflicts. The conflicts revolve around ways of obtaining a type of sexual gratific tion. For this reason, Freud's theory of development is called the psychosexual stage theory. According to the theory , children seek sexual gratification at each stage b investing libidinal ener gy in a specific body part. Each stage in the developmenta process is named after the body part in which sexual ener gy is invested.
If a child fails to fully resolve a conflict at a particular stage of development he or she may get stuck in that stage, a phenomenon known as fixation Each successive stage represents a more mature mode of obtaining sexual gratification. If child is fixated at a particular stage, he or she exhibits a less mature approach t obtaining sexual gratification. In the final stage of development, mature adults obta pleasure from healthy intimate relationships and from work. The road to this fina stage, however, is fraught with developmental conflicts and the potential for fixatio Let's examine these stages and discuss the conflicts that arise, as well as the conse quences of fixation at each stage
The first stage, which Freud called the oral stage, occurs during the initial 18 months after birth. During this time, the main sources of pleasure and tension reduction are the mouth, lips, and tongue. You don't have to be around many babies to realize how busy they are with their mouths (e.g., whenever they come across something new, such as a rattle or toy , they usually put it into their mouths first). The main conflict during this stage is weaning, withdrawing from the breast or bottle. This conflict has both a biological and a psychological component. From a biological stand point, the id wants the immediate gratification associated with taking in nourishmen and obtaining pleasure through the mouth. From a psychological perspective, the conflict is one of excessive pleasure versus dependenc , with the fear of being left to fend for oneself. Sometimes a child has a painful or traumatic experience during the weaning process, resulting in a degree of fixation at the oral stage. Adults who still obtain pleasure from "taking in," especially through the mouth, might be fixated a this stage (e.g., people who overeat or smoke). Problems with nail biting, thumb sucking, or pencil chewing might also occur. At a psychological level, people who are fix ated at the oral stage may be overly dependent: they may want to be babied, to be nurtured and taken care of, and thus to have others make decisions for them. Some psychoanalysts also believe that drug addiction (because it involves pleasure from "taking in") is a sign of oral fixation
There is another possible conflict of the oral stage that is associated with bit ing. This conflict can occur after the child grows teeth and finds that he or she c obtain pleasure from biting and chewing. Parents typically discourage a child from biting, particularly if the child bites other children or adults. Thus, the child has the conflict between the u ge to bite and parental restrictions. People who fixate durin this stage might develop adult personalities that are hostile, quarrelsome, or mocking. They continue to draw gratification from being psychologically "biting" and verball attacking.
The second stage of development is the anal stage, which typically occurs between the ages of 18 months and 3 years of age. At this stage, the anal sphincter is the source of sexual pleasure. During this time, the child obtains pleasure from first expelling feces and then, during toilet training, from retaining feces. At first the id desires immediate tension reduction whenever there is any pressure in the rectum. This is achieved by defecating whenever and wherever the ur ge arises. Parents, however, work to instill in the child a degree of self-control through the process of toilet training. Many conflicts arise around this issue of the child s ability to achieve some self-control. Some children achieve too little control and grow up to be sloppy and dirty . Other children have the opposite problem: they develop too much self-control and begin to take pleasure in little acts of self-control. Adults who are compulsive, overly neat, rigid, and never messy are, according to psychoanalysts, likely to be fixated at the anal stage. After all, toilet training usually presents a child with the first opportunity to exercise choice and willpowe . When a parent puts the child on the potty seat and says, "Now , do your business," the child has the opportunity to say, "No!" and to withhold. This might signal the beginnings of being stingy, holding back, not giving others what they want, and being overly willful and stubborn.
The third stage, which occurs between 3 and 5 years of age, is called the phallic stage, because the child discovers that he has (or she discovers that she does not have) a penis. In fact, the major event during this stage is children' s discovery of their own genitals and the realization that some pleasure can be derived from touching them. This is also the awakening of sexual desire directed outward and, according to Freud, it is first directed toward the parent of the opposite sex. Littl boys fall in love with their mothers, and little girls fall in love with their fathers. But children feel more than just parental love, according to Freud' s theory. A little boy lusts for his mother and wants to have sex with her . His father is seen as the competitor, as the one who is preventing the little boy from possessing his mother and receiving all of her attention. For the boy , the main conflict, which Freud calle the Oedipal conflict is the unconscious wish to have his mother all to himself by eliminating the father. (Oedipus is a character in Greek mythology who unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother.) Daddy is the competitor for Mommy's attention, and he should be beaten and driven from the home or killed. But killing or beating Daddy is wrong.
Part of the Oedipal conflict, then, is that the child loves, yet is competing with the parent of the same sex. Moreover , the little boy grows to fear his father because, surely, this big and powerful person could prevent this all from happening. In fact, Freud argued that little boys come to believe that their fathers might make a preemptive strike by taking away the thing that is at the root of the conflict: the boy s penis. This fear of losing his penis, called castration anxiety, drives the little boy into giving up his sexual desire for Mommy . The boy decides that the best he can do is to become like the guy who has Mommy—in other words, like his father . This process of wanting to become like Daddy, called identification marks the beginning of the resolution of the Oedipal conflict and the successful resolution of the phallic stage of psychosexual devel opment for boys. Freud believed that the resolution of the Oedipal conflict was th beginning of both the superego and morality , as well as the male gender role.
For little girls, the situation is at once similar and dif ferent. One similarity is that the conflict centers on the penis, or actually the lack thereof, on the part of th little girl. According to Freud, a little girl blames her mother for the fact that she lacks a penis. She desires her father yet, at the same time, envies him for his penis. This is called penis envy, and it is the counterpart of castration anxiety . Penis envy is different in that the little girl does not necessarily fear the mother , as the boy fears the father. Thus, for girls, there is no strong motivation to give up her desire for her father.
Freud's student Carl Jung termed this stage the Electra complex, for girls. Elec-tra was also a character in a Greek myth. Electra convinced her brother to kill their mother, after the mother had murdered the father . Freud actually rejected the idea of the Electra complex, and he was vague about how the phallic stage is resolved for girls. He wrote that it drags on later in life for girls and may never fully be resolved. Since successful resolution results in the development of the superego, Freud believed that women must therefore be morally inferior to men. This aspect of Freud's developmental theory is not widely accepted today , and Freud has been strongly criticized for his beliefs about sex dif ferences (e.g., Helson & Picano, 1990).
The next stage of psychosexual development is called the latency stage. This stage occurs from around the age of 6 until puberty . Little psychological development is presumed to occur during this time. It is mainly a period when the child is going to school and learning the skills and abilities necessary to take on the role of an adult. Because of the lack of specific sexual conflicts during this time, Freud believed th it was a period of psychological rest, or latency . Subsequent psychoanalysts have argued, instead, that much development occurs during this time, such as learning to make decisions for oneself, learning to interact and make friends with others, developing an identity, and learning the meaning of work. Because this is a more contemporary modification of Freud s theory, we will examine it in Chapter 10.
The latency period ends with the sexual awakening brought about by puberty . If the Oedipus or Electra complex has been resolved, the person goes on to the next and final stage of psychosexual development, the genital stage. This stage begins around puberty and lasts through one' s adult life. Here the libido is focused on the genitals, but not in the manner of self-manipulation associated with the phallic stage. This differs from the earlier stages in that it is not accompanied by a specific con flict. People reach the genital stage only if they have resolved the conflicts at the pri stages. It is in this sense that personality development, according to Freud, is lar gely complete at around the age of 5 or 6: the adult personality is dependent on how the conflicts that arise during infancy and childhood are resolved
Freud's psychosexual stage theory is a theory about personality development, both normal and abnormal. In a nutshell, the theory states that we are all born with a drive for sexual pleasure (the id) but that the constraints of civilized society limit the ways we can satisfy that drive. We all go through a series of predictable clashes or conflicts between our desire for pleasure and the demands placed on us by our par ents and by society in general. The nature of the conflicts and the stages we go throug are universal, but the specific instances and outcomes are each unique. Parts of ou personalities are shaped at each stage by the particular ways we resolve the conflict If, for example, at the oral stage, a person did not receive enough gratification (wa weaned early) or received too much gratification (was weaned too late), then he o she might continue to have inappropriate demands for oral gratification throughou the rest of his or her life (perhaps in the form of being a dependent personality or developing an eating disorder or developing an alcohol or drug problem).
Freud developed the metaphor of an army whose troops are called into battle during each stage of psychosexual development. If the resolution of a stage is incomplete, then some soldiers must be left behind to monitor that particular conflict. It i as if some psychic ener gy must stand guard, lest the psychosexual conflict break ou again. The poorer the resolution at a particular stage, the more psychic soldiers have to be left behind. One consequence of this is that less psychic ener gy is available for the subsequent tasks of maturity . The more soldiers brought forward to the genital stage, the more psychic ener gy that can be invested in mature intimate and productive relationships and the better the adult personality adjustment. It is interesting to note that neither happiness nor life satisfaction was directly a part of Freud' s conception of successful personality development. Successful personality development, instead, was defined by the ability to be productive and to maintain loving relationships
Was this article helpful?