Psychosexual developmental stages
Freud developed a theory on “psychosexual development” based on the principle that the “libidinal” energy is continually moving throughout development and is concentrated on certain objects/areas in the process. It was thought that if an individual’s progress through the early psychosexual stages, i.e., in early childhood, is somehow disrupted, the consequential fixation at a certain stage leads to certain behaviour/ personality traits in their adult life. Freud described five stages: oral (0-18months) where the baby’s focus of attention is purely on the mouth, i.e., feeding, suckling; anal (18months-3years) where the individual’s attention is focussed on toileting needs, especially defecation and related pleasurable feelings; phallic (3-5 years) where the individual becomes aware of the genitals and related pleasurable feelings, e.g., when going to the toilet; latency (5-adolescence) where individual’s sexual activity is insignificant; and genital (adolescence on through adulthood) where the individual’s love for himself is transferred onto others with a strong physiological drive to reproduce.
Freud claimed that whereas a healthy personality would develop after progression through all the stages had been successfully accomplished, if conflict arose during one of the stages, the individual would remain fixated at that stage. According to Freud, fixation at a psychosexual stage was due to disruption, e.g., at the oral stage, a mother being unable to breast feed. These fixations would result in compensatory characteristics still being evident in the individual in adulthood such as: disruption at oral stage would lead to passivity, or/and oral habits such as overeating, sucking thumb, smoking etc.; disruption at anal stage would lead to obsessive cleanliness, order (as a reaction formation against revulsion over dirtiness of defecation), stubbornness (rebelling against parents’ toilet training, i.e., defecation) and parsimony (associated with hanging on to faeces because money and faeces are often paired in language, e.g., filthy rich); and disruption at phallic stage would lead to narcissistic tendencies and use of sex to relieve emotional build up. Claims about disruption at the genital stage were not mentioned.
More controversially, Freud believed that sadistic, masochistic, exhibitionistic, voyeuristic and fetishistic tendencies, and an interest in homosexuality were basic instincts in everyone (but further accentuated in neurotic individuals) which collectively create the adult libido. If accentuated instincts of neurotic individuals were not repressed, the individual would become a sexual pervert, however, if such instincts WERE repressed, the individual would become neurotic. It must be mentioned that, although today, some of Freud’s theory seems ridiculous to many people, and obsessed with sex (!), in Freud’s epoch such topics were completely taboo and it was therefore the beginning of overtly questioning such topics and bringing such subjects out into the open. I suppose we had to start somewhere… and there is still a long way to go! If you liked this, be sure to subscribe. It’s free and you will have access to my weekly blogs. If there are specific areas of interest that you would like me to write about, please comment or write a question and I’ll do my very best to answer. I would love to hear from you!
Storr, A. (1989) Freud: A very short introduction, New York, Oxford University Press Inc.