Sigmund Freud's Psychosexual Development Theory

Born on May 6, 1856 in Moravia, Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist who, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, developed the field of psychoanalysis. Freud developed many theories including those that focus on the unconscious, the interpretation of dreams, Id, ego, and super ego, and what is referred to as the psychosexual development theory. Psychosexual development is a theory that Freud based upon the Greek tragedy by Sophocles Oedipus Rex and is often referred to as the Oedipus Complex. The Oedipus Complex teaches that the unconscious holds repressed thoughts that boys have a desire to have sexual intercourse with their mothers, while wanting to murder their father. The theory isn't limited solely to males, as Freud believed that girls had a sexual attraction to their fathers; this was later referred to as the Electra Complex. Freud taught that these unconscious thinking patterns form during several stages of development until they are eradicated by normal, healthy sexual development. Freud’s theory of psychosexual development is divided into five stages. These are oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital. Freud’s theory was an important factor to his teachings based upon the development of the human personality.

Oral Stage

The oral stage occurs in an infant’s life from birth to 18 months. During this time, an infant is focused with receiving oral pleasure. This occurs through breast or bottle feeding, or sucking on a pacifier. It is believed that if an infant receives too much or too little oral stimulation, they may develop a fixation or a personality trait that is fixated on oral gratification. It is believed that these people may focus on activities that involve the mouth such as over eating, biting the fingernails, smoking, or drinking. The theory states that these people may develop personality traits such as becoming extremely gullible or naive, always following others and never taking the lead, and becoming extremely dependent upon others.

Anal Stage

The anal stage is directly related to a child’s awareness of bowel control and gaining pleasure through the act of eliminating or retaining feces. Freud’s theory puts the anal stage between 18 months and three years. It is believed that when a child becomes fixated on receiving pleasure through controlling and eliminating feces, a child can become obsessed with control, perfection, and cleanliness. This is often referred to as anal retentive, while anal expulsive is the opposite. Those who are anal expulsive may be extremely disorganized, live in chaos, and are known for making messes. 

Phallic Stage

Freud believes the phallic stage or the Oedipus or Electra complexes occurs during a child is three to six years of age. The belief is that male children harbor unconscious, sexual attraction to their mothers, while female children develop a sexual attraction to their father. Freud taught that young boys also deal with feelings of rivalry with their father. These feelings naturally resolve once the child begins to identify with their same sex parent. By identifying with the same sex parent, the child continues with normal, healthy sexual development. If a child becomes fixated during this phase, the result could be sexual deviance or a confused sexual identity.

Latency Stage

The latency stage is named so because Freud believed there weren't many overt forms of sexual gratification displayed. This stage is said to last from the age of six until a child enters puberty. Most children throughout this age form same sex friendships and play in a manner that is non-sexual. Unconscious sexual desires and thoughts remain repressed.

Genital Stage

Freud believed that after the unconscious, sexual desires are repressed and remain dormant during the latency stage, they are awakened due to puberty. This stage begins at puberty and develops with the physiology changes brought on through hormones. The prior stages of development result in a focus on the genitals as a source for pleasure and teens develop and explore attractions to the opposite sex. The genital stage is the last stage of the psychosexual development theory.

Check out these resources for more information on Freud and his Psychosexual Development Theory:

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