This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 11 table of contents.

The Psychosexual Stages according to Freud

Freud believed that, as children matured, the libido moved around to several different areas of the body called erogenous (er-ROJ-e-ness) zones. If the child received too much or too little gratification during any stage, the result could be mental disturbance as an adult.

What supposedly happens during the oral stage?

The oral stage occurs first of all, in babyhood. Babies are very mouth-oriented. They have well-developed nursing reflexes when born, and during early months of life, most of the baby's pleasure (as well as life-giving sustenance) comes through the mouth. In primitive cultures, babies nurse for more than a year, sometimes several years. The mouth, a point of intimate contact with the mother, is the first erogenous zone.

What was "fixation"?

Freud said that if a baby gets too much or too little oral stimulation, the baby might be permanently affected. As an adult, the individual may act like a baby: dependent, pleasure-oriented, gullible, child-like, easily led astray. The person may become obese, or smoke, or chew gum a lot. According to Freud, this person is trying to recapture a lost paradise in the oral stage, or perhaps making up for deficiencies in gratification during that stage. Either way, the person is fixated at the oral stage, unable to grow past it. The result, Freud said, was an oral personality.

What were two "oral personality" types?

Freud also described a type of person who reacts to an oral fixation by repressing it, using the defense mechanism called reaction formation to develop the opposite characteristics: sarcasm, independence, toughness and cynicism—the exact opposite of the oral type. This tough, cynical personality is termed the oral aggressive type.

What happens during the anal stage, and how did Freud interpret it?

During the next psychosexual stage, the anal stage, pleasurable sensations become centered on the anus, and children become fascinated with their own waste products. It is common to observe young children, around the age of 2, playing with their feces or acting animated and excited about bathroom references.

Freud pointed out that waste is a child's first production. It is fascinating to the child because it is the first thing a child willfully controls in a world dominated by adults. Freud believed some children used their newfound bowel control against parents in a struggle of wills. If a parent tried to force toilet training, the child might deliberately hold back in rebellion, or else go at an inappropriate time. If fixated at the anal stage, Freud believed, the child who "holds back" might become an anal-retentive personality as an adult, fastidious and neat, while the child who goes at an inappropriate time may become an anal-expulsive personality, chronically messy.

What are two types of anal personality?

If you are familiar with the Neil Simon play The Odd Couple or the old TV series of the same name, you will recognize that Felix Unger was the anal-retentive type, Oscar Madison was anal-expulsive. Simon had the bright idea of putting two opposite anal personalities together for a comedy. Sometimes the same thing happens in college dorms. A messy person is paired with a very neat person, and the result is a lot of conflict about how the room should be maintained. (Despite Freud's theory, there is no evidence that these differences can be traced back to the toilet training phase.)

What happens during the phallic stage?

After the anal stage, children finally discover their genitals as a source of pleasure, according to Freud. Showing his typical male bias, Freud labeled this psychosexual stage the phallic stage, even though it was supposed to apply to both sexes. Children of this age—from about three to seven—are uninhibited about their bodies until they learn about modesty from parents or siblings.

The Oedipal and Electra conflicts are said to occur during the phallic stage. These conflicts are part of a sequence of events that Freud thought occurred in most families. He labeled it the family drama. The family drama involves the Oedipal conflict for boys and the Electra conflict for girls.

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