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Stories about the lives we've made

module:Measuring the unmeasurable

An introduction to psychology

page:Freud's theory of 'Psychosexual Development'

Freud advanced a theory of personality development focussing on the effects of the sexual pleasure drive on a person's emerging personality. According to his theory, parts of the personality develop as we move through a series of psychosexual stages. Each stage is characterised by different demands for sexual gratification and different ways of achieving that gratification.

If as growing humans, we do not receive an appropriate amount of gratification - receiving either too little or too much - we may become fixated in a particular stage. That is, we continue to have the same demand for gratification that we had at that stage throughout the rest of our lives. This condition is thought to produce a variety of adult behaviours.

Oral stage (birth to about 15 months)

Oral stage

Oral stage drives

A newborn is governed only by its drives. Only the id is present at this stage, so the infant seeks immediate gratification, achieved through its mouth - feeding, crying, and oral exploration of the world.

Result of oral stage disturbance

According to Freud, disturbance of the oral stage may result in a permanent fixation on the oral channel for gratification. Examples of resulting adult behaviours include smoking, overeating, thumb-sucking, and pencil chewing. Typical resulting personality traits include impatience, passivity, greediness, dependence and a preoccupation with giving and taking.

Anal stage (15 months to about 3 years)


Anal stage drives

The focus of gratification shifts from the mouth to the anus. The child experiences pleasure from the elimination of faeces. According to Freud, this brings them into conflict with their parents. Random elimination (as demanded by the id) incurs parental displeasure, yet withholding elimination (as requested by the parents) is denying the demands of the id, which until this point has been the source of all motivation. The resolution of this conflict requires the development of the ego, and as such has important implications for behaviours later in life.

Result of anal stage disturbance

Freud suggests that fixations may be caused by either exceptionally strict toilet training or intense pleasure associated with taboos such as smearing faeces on the wall. Too little gratification in this stage results in an 'anal' or obsessive character who has a wish to make a terrible mess and therefore must build defences against this, such as orderliness, rigidity, and hatred of waste. They are also obstinate, stingy, punctual and possessive. Too much gratification will result in opposite behaviours, untidiness, a hot temper and destructiveness.

Phallic stage (3 years to about 5 years)

Phallic stage

Phallic stage drives

According to Freud, the focus of gratification is now on the genitals, although this gratification is not the same as that experienced by adults. Children take an increasing interest in their own genitals, and show a curiosity about other people's bodies. Freud implies that the major conflict faced during this stage is the Oedipal/Electra conflict. Resolution of this conflict should result in the attachment to the parents, most notably the same sex parent and the development of a superego. Freud suggests that an Oedipus conflict applies to boys. A boy wants his mother and therefore is jealous of his father and wants to remove him. The fear that his father will discover the son's feelings are expressed in terms of fear of castration, but is finally resolved through identifying with the father. For girls, the Freudian Electra complex describes the events leading up to gender resolution. The young girl has 'penis envy' and resents the mother for not providing her with one.

Result of phallic stage disturbance

According to Freud, the conflicts may result in homosexuality, authority problems, and rejection of appropriate gender roles if not resolved.

Latency stage (around five years until puberty)

Latency stage

Latency stage drives

The drives that have been responsible for gratification in the previous stages appear relatively inactive. This is partly due to the repression of sexual drives that is accomplished during the Oedipal stage.

Result of latency stage disturbance

Freud suggests that these repressed drives may be redirected into other activities, such as the formation of friendships, or hobbies.

Genital stage (puberty onwards)

Genital stage

Genital stage drives

With puberty there is re-emergence of the earlier drives. Drive energy is focused on the genitals once more, but this time with an adult expression of sexuality. Although the term 'genital' suggests that gratification during this stage must inevitably be sexual, Freud emphasised the importance of secondary process thinking as a form of symbolic gratification in this stage. Thus, forming loving relationships or assuming the responsibilities of adult life may all be seen as symbolic ways of satisfying the drive energy of this stage.

Result of genital stage disturbance

If too much libidinal energy is taken up in the first three stages, the individual cannot reach maturity, cannot shift the focus from their own body, their own parents and their immediate needs to larger responsibilities involving others.

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