Freud advanced a theory of personality development centred on the effects of the sexual pleasure drive on the individual consciousness. The following five stages are based on the notion that with each stage, the child’s libido becomes centred around certain erogenous zones. The Oral Stage. The oral stage begins at birth when the oral cavity is the primary focus of libidinal energy. The child, of course, preoccupies himself with nursing, with the pleasure of sucking and accepting things into the mouth.
The oral character who is frustrated at this stage, whose mother refused to nurse him on demand or who truncated nursing sessions early, is characterized by pessimism, envy, suspicion and sarcasm. On the other hand, the overindulged oral character, whose nursing urges were always and often excessively satisfied, is optimistic, gullible, and is full of admiration for others around him. The stage finishes at the weaning stage. The stage lasts approximately one and one-half years.
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The Anal Stage. At one and one-half years, the child enters the anal stage. With the advent of toilet training comes the child’s obsession with the erogenous zone of the anus and with the retention or expulsion of the feces. This represents a classic conflict between the id, which derives pleasure from the expulsion of bodily wastes, and the ego and superego, which represent the practical and societal pressures to control bodily functions.
Two types of anal characters: the anal expulsive character (The child wants to fight, takes pleasure in excreting maliciously, perhaps just before or just after being placed on the toilet) and the anal-retentive character (child opts to retain feces, spiting his parents, enjoys the pressure of built-up feces on the intestine. The resolution of the anal stage, proper toilet training permanently affects the individual propensities to possession and attitudes towards authority. This stage lasts from one and one-half to two years.
The Phallic Stage. In this stage, the child’s erogenous zone is the genital region. As the child becomes more interested in his genitals and the genitals of others, conflict arises. The conflict labelled the Oedipus complex (The Electra complex in women) involves the child’s unconscious desire to possess the opposite-sexed parent and eliminate the same-sex one. Liberal energy transfers from the anal region to his genitals.
The boy notices that women, his mother, in particular, have no penises, becomes fearful that his father will remove his penis, too. The anxiety is aggravated by the threats and discipline he incurs when caught masturbating by his parents. This castration anxiety outstrips his desire for his mother, so he represses the desire. Moreover, although the boy sees that though he cannot possess his mother because his father does, he can vicariously by becoming more like his father.
The Electra complex has its roots in the little girl’s discovery that she, along with her mother and all other women, lacks the penis which her father and other men possess. Her love for her father then becomes both erotic and envious, as she yearns for a penis of her own. She comes to blame her mother for her perceived castration and is struck by penis envy. Just as the boy learned his sexual role by identifying with his father, so the girl learns her role by identifying with her mother in an attempt to possess her father vicariously.
At the eventual resolution of the conflict, the girl passes into the latency period, though Freud implies that she always remains slightly fixated at the phallic stage. Fixation at the phallic stage develops a phallic character, who is reckless, resolute, self-assured, and narcissistic–excessively vain and proud. The failure to resolve the conflict can also cause a person to be afraid or incapable of close love. Freud postulated that fixation could be a root cause of homosexuality.
Latency Period/ The resolution of the phallic stage leads to the latency period, which is not a psychosexual stage of development, but a period in which the sexual drive lies dormant. Freud saw latency as a period of unparalleled repression of sexual desires and erogenous impulses. Children pour this repressed libidinal energy into asexual pursuits such as school, athletics, and same-sex friendships during the latency period. But soon, puberty strikes, and the genitals once again become a central focus of libidinal energy.
The Genital Stage. In the genital stage, as the child’s energy once again focuses on his genitals, interest turns to heterosexual relationships. The less energy the child has left invested in unresolved psychosexual developments, the greater his capacity to develop normal relationships with the opposite sex. If, however, he remains fixated, particularly on the phallic stage, his development will be troubled as he struggles with further repression and defences.