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Psychosexual Theory

Freud's reputation for sexually-oriented theories on our behavior was confounded by his theory of psychosexual development.

Psychosexual Theory

Freud's dubious reputation for sexually-oriented theories on our behaviour was confounded by his theory of psychosexual development, which suggests that as children we must endure a number of stages. These stages are based on our libedo (or sex drive) and satisfying it.

Freud Theories

What are these stages?

Each stage focuses on a different 'erogenous zone' - a part of the body from which the child derives pleasure.


1. The Oral Stage

The oral stage begin at birth and lasts upto the child being around 1 1/2 years old. It's based on the erogenous zone of the mouth which the child derives most pleasure from at this age, primarily through eating and drinking, but also through trying to place objects in his or her mouth (hence the satisfaction of having a dummy).

This is a mouthOne conflict that might occur at the the oral stage might be between the child and his or her caregiver, such as been deprived of food. This can lead to the child having an oral personality: characteristic of such a persona include general pessimism in life and suspicion towards others. However, if a child is satisfied orally, they may adopt an opposite character, with traits such as optimism and liking.

2. The Anal Stage

Providing the child has completed the oral stage, they enter a stage in which toilet-training is introduced and behaving in a socially respectable manner is important. This includes learning controlling one's bodily functions, and the anal stage, focusing on the anus, introduces a new conflict - between the child's urges to go to the toilet and their parental or caregivers' pressure on them to restrain themselves when it's not an appropriate time: hence potty training. The child feels the urge to repel the authority of parents and a fight commences; which side succeeds, Freud reckoned, would influence whether their personality type would be:

Anally expulsive

The anally expulsive type results from carers who perhaps do not potty train properly, and the child carries out bodily functions at inappropriate times. They tend to have scatty personalities, with low levels of neatness and tidyness, instead leading messy life styles and maybe showing less consideration for others than they should.

Anally retentive

The anally retentive type is a renowned insult, but Freud meant that those brought up to be potty trained at the anal stage would end up as more tidy people, careful in what they do and paying attention to detail. It's perhaps the excessively anally retentive type that we should try to avoid being!

3. Phallic Stage

The phallic stage of psychosexual development occurs during the pre-puberty years when we become interested in the genital region. It's during this stage that the oedipus complex (in boys) or Electra complex (in girls) occur:

In boys:

Freud believed that, before the development of the moralistic superego at about 5, boys have sexual desires for their mothers, and they see their fathers as a threat to their mother-and-son relationship. At the age of 5, they realize that their father is not a threat and learn to associate with him. It's the role model of father's that means a child acquires his morals and in turn, superego.

In girls:

Freud's explanation of girls does not vary too significantly from the Oedipus principle, instead relating to the mythological character Electra who convinced her brother to murder her mother in revenge for her father being killed. According to the Electra complex, girls suffer 'penis envy' of their father, and blame such an absence on their mothers. This envy turns into a similarly incestuous desire, which evolves into the want to mother a child, eventually leading to a resolution in a similar way to boys.

We have produced a guide detailing this more, so can read more about these complexes here

4. Latent Stage

After the resolution of the child's desires for their parents, the latent stage is a more peaceful, unsexual stage in which children concentrate on life in general - school, making friends (generally of the same sex) and play.

5. Genital Stage

The genital stage occurs with the onset of puberty when sexual drives resurface, and according to Freud, opposite sex relationships begin as we seek to satisfy our sexual desires.


Do these stages affect adults?

It seems quite viable that trauma during childhood can have consequences for people as adults. According to Freud, if a child undergoes a trauma or conflict between their id, ego and superego at a particular stage then they will suffer different effects to if it had occurred during another. The result is a character focused on the effects of the conflict as we looked at above.

Have I undergone a trauma?

Many of the traumas people experience are repressed so that we can cope with normal life, and many people will be unaware that it is a past experience that is making us feel or behave in a particular way. Freud was initially pretty keen on the use of hypnosis, which he regularly used during his time as a psychoanalyst to regress people back to their childhood in order to allow them to resolve or come to terms with the experience. Even today, hypnotherapy is used to regress people to childhood so that they can uncover their traumas, often with successful outcomes in resolving issues as an adult. Hypnotic World's Self Hypnosis Guide offers more information on hypnotizing yourself, or you may want to consult a local hypnotherapist or psychotherapist if you want to undergo regression.

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