I don’t want to spend too much time talking about Sigmund Freud. However, his contributions to the field of developmental psychology are still being discussed today. He was a Viennese doctor who, at one point, tried to use cocaine to break a friend out of his heroin addiction. Yup, that didn’t work out too well.
Freud also believed that children have basic sexual desires and aggressive natures and the way in which parents deal with these needs would determine whether or not the child would develop into a well-adjusted adult with normal sexual behaviors. He defined five stages that every child goes through as they age, that emphases on sexual development, pleasure, and behavior, focusing on a particular part of the body. Freud also stated that all children go through all of these stages: Oral stage, anal stage, phallic stage, latency stage, and genital stage. Freud’s model for personality development are stages that represent unconscious kinds of behaviors. These no longer orient the thinking of most of today’s practicing clinicians.
Freud also developed a psychoanalytic model consisting of the id, the ego, and the superego. He also defined the ways in which we reduce anxiety by the use of defense mechanisms. These, however, will be discussed in another post.
Stages of Psychosexual Development
Please remember that these stages and this set of theories is Freud’s notions and not something that the field of psychology has proven or stands by as definitive.
The first stage is the oral stage which occurs from birth to 18 months. This stage concentrates on the mouth and oral fixations. As we discussed before, infants tend to put anything they get their hands on into their mouths. According to Freud, an infant focuses on the gratification of sucking and biting. If a child overindulges or is denied sufficient oral satisfaction they will suffer as an adult from negative oral habits, such as eating, drinking, or smoking problems.
The second stage is the anal stage which occurs from 18 months to three years of age. This stage concentrates on the anus, thus the ‘anal’ stage. This is the time to focus on the process of elimination – potty training. Freud believed that if a child is fixated at this stage, meaning that if a child takes longer to potty train past the age of three, then the child, as he grows, may become obsessed with cleanliness, or go to the opposite extreme and be exceptionally messy and a hoarder. So, if you know anyone who is extremely cluttered, then they may not have been housebroken until past the age of three (and, yes, I say this in jest).
The third stage is the phallic stage which occurs from age three to six. This stage concentrates on the genitals. This is the time when the male child may develop an unconscious sexual desire for his mother and may seek to compete with his father, and the female child may seek to compete with her mother; this is known as the Oedipus complex. Eventually, the child rejects their sexual feelings for their parent, whereas, the parent then becomes the role model. If a child becomes fixated at this stage they may develop a sexual identity problem or become a sexual deviant as an adult. Interesting to note here is that Freud believed that we are all born bisexual and it is through the proper, maturation through these stages that one becomes heterosexual; however, that living as a homosexual or bisexual was done by the highly-intelligent. Curious thoughts, and hypocritical, but noteworthy.
The fourth stage is the latency stage which occurs from age six to puberty. This is when children play mostly with children of the same sex. Girls have cooties and boys are just gross. There can be negative effects due to sexual activity that is introduced by an outside influence; that is, in this stage, little boys and girls will play with themselves but if someone else does (molestation) then the child could have unnatural or immoral sexual deviations as an adult. And something to note here is that if anyone, at any age, is molested, raped, or otherwise violated, of course there’s going to be some negative effects.
The fifth and final stage is the genital stage which starts at puberty and marks the beginning of sexual maturity that lasts through adulthood. This is the stage where a child begins to express sexual desires for the opposite sex. If a person becomes fixated or is stopped at this stage, they may become an adult who has problems with sexual function, have poor sexual relationships, or it may become impossible to reach psychosexual maturity.
Often labeled as Freud’s Fallacies, there are many problems with so many of his theories. Most of his theories fall short of any substantial empirical evidence, meaning that there are very few studies, other than his own, that can back up his ideas. There is no scientific support that proves that children go through his stages of psychosexual development, nor is there any evidence that young boys and girls lust after their mother and father, respectively. However, it is important to understand that there are many aspects of Freud’s life’s work that were substantial; that’s they we still study all of his work.