Sigmund Freud developed a theory for personality development centred on the sex drive and its effect on an individuals psyche. He believed that at certain points in a child’s development, a particular part of their body would be more sensitive to stimulation than others. The child will focus on each of these areas of the body because it receives pleasurable stimulation from doing so, although it doesn’t understand why. An example would be during the oral stage when the child takes pleasure in putting toys in its mouth.
During each stage the child has needs and demands that must be met. Frustration or overindulgence can cause the child to be fixated on one particular stage of development, and this becomes almost hard wired into their psyche. In other words they fail to move from one stage to the next. Freud believed that if a child successfully negotiates each stage, they will have a healthy amount of libido (sexual urge or desire) invested in each stage. This in turn will lead to a well developed adult personality that is not fixated with one particular stage.
Oral Stage (0 to 18 months old)
The child finds pleasure in sucking and biting at this stage. Through feeding the child discovers that suckling brings pleasure, both from the act itself and because it removes the feeling of hunger. The child cannot understand the concept of hunger, but it does recognise the fact that an unpleasant feeling has been removed. The child starts by suckling on the breast, and then proceeds to put anything it can into its mouth. Children who are overindulged at this stage may develop a gullible and optimistic adult personality. Children who are frustrated at this stage may develop suspicious, envious and sarcastic adult personalities.
Anal Stage (18 months to 4 years old)
During this stage a child finds pleasure in contracting and relaxing the muscles that control the anus. Pleasure is experienced when passing feces. The conflict at this stage is between the ID, which takes pleasure in the act of passing feces, and the EGO and SUPEREGO which remind the child that society expects children to use a potty. If a child takes pleasure in not using the potty to spite its parents, and the parents are lenient about this, the child may develop an ‘anal expulsive character’. This character is usually reckless, defiant, messy and disorganised. Conversely the child who decides not to use the potty by holding in its feces may develop an ‘anal retentive character’. This character is usually neat, precise, tidy, organised, obstinate and careful with money.
Phallic Stage (4 years to 7 years old)
The focus of the child’s pleasure moves to the genitals during this stage. Freud described this stage as crucial because it involves the understanding of sexual roles, and dealing with sexual conflict. These conflicts are the ‘Oedipus Conflict’ for boys, and the ‘Electra Complex’ for girls.
The Oedipus conflict involves the boy feeling love for his mother, but acknowledging that his father is a competitor for his mother’s love. Freud believed that a boy fears castration (castration anxiety) by his father, so instead the boy takes on his father’s personality traits and suppresses his desire for his mother. The boy believes that he can win his mother vicariously by doing so. At the same time he develops his own sexual identity by copying his father’s character.
The Electra Complex involves a girl wanting to own her father, but acknowledging that her mother is a competitor for her father’s love. A girl will try to win her father’s love vicariously by taking on her mother’s personality traits.
Children who become fixated during this stage may become reckless, self assured and extremely vain. Failure to resolve this conflict can also cause a person to be afraid, or incapable, of commitment and close love.
The Latency Stage (7 to puberty)
During this stage of development the libido is suppressed in favour of learning. The child will channel sexual energy into sport, same sex friendships and the pursuit of knowledge.
The Genital Stage (puberty onwards)
This stage occurs during puberty and the child becomes preoccupied with the genitals, and the libido in general. If the child has become fixated during any of the other stages of development, this will be a difficult time. A child who has progressed through the other stages with little or no difficulty will find it easier to develop relationships with the opposite sex.