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FREUD's Theory of Psychosexual Development

According to Freud, people enter the world as unbridled pleasure seekers. Specifically, people seek pleasure through from a series of erogenous zones. These erogenous zones are only part of the story, as the social relations learned when focussed on each of the zones is also important. Freud's theory of development has 2 primary ideas: One, everything you become is determined by your first few years - indeed, the adult is exculsively determined by the child's experiences, because whatever actions occur in adulthood are based on a blueprint laid down in the earliest years of life (childhood solutions to problems are perpetuated) Two, the story of development is the story of how to handle anti-social inpulses in socially acceptable ways


Libido was Freud's word for psychic and sexual energy. How libido is expressed depends on the stage of development. But in each stage of development there are frustrations. If those frustrations are not successfully dealt with, then the libido will be tied to that stage of development more than it should. There is only so much libido for each person, and to develop successfully a person cannot use too much of their libido in one stage, because then there will less for the others. Such overuses will be reflected in later behavior in one of two ways.


Fixation may occur, which would mean that there are lingering desires for pleasure from the source experienced at that stage

Reaction Formation may occur, which would be taking the lingering desire for pleasure from some source and acting in the opposite way


Stages of Development

Freud proposed that there were 5 stages of development. Freud believed that few people successfully completed all 5 of the stages. Instead, he felt that most people tied up their libido at one of the stages, which prevented them from using that energy at a later stage.

ORAL Stage This occurs from birth to about 1 year, and the libido is focussed on the mouth. The individual may be frustrated by having to wait on another person, being dependent on another person. Being fixated at this stage may mean an excessive use of oral stimulation, such as cigarettes, drinking or eating.

ANAL Stage This period occurs about age 2 and 3 yrs. Here individuals have their first encounter with rules and regulations, as they have to learn to be toilet trained. This encounter with rules and regulations will dictate the later behavior with rules and regulations. The libido is focussed anally, and frustration may arise from having to learn a somewhat complex cognitive and motor response. Being fixated at this stage can result in stinginess, stubborness, or orderliness, as well as messiness. Essentially, behavior related to retention and expulsion may be related to experiences at this stage.

PHALLIC Stage This period starts about age 4-5 years. Some critical episodes for development occur during this stage, but these episodes occur differently for boys and girls.

  • Oedipus conflict - the boy begins to have sexual desires for his mother, and sees his father as a rival for her affections. The boy begins to fear that his father is suspicious of his longing for his mother, and that the father will punish him for his desires. That punishment, the boy fears, will be castratation, which brings us to the second critical episode for this stage.

  • Castration anxiety. The fear of castration make the boy anxious. This anxiety begun with the fear of punishment from the father leads to the boy thinking that the father hates him eventually becomes unbearable and the boy renounces his sexual feelings for his mother and chooses instead to identify with his father, and hopes to someday have a relationship with a woman (though not his mother) just like dear old dad has with his mother.

    The story for girls is slightly different. The oral and anal stages are the same for both girls and boys, so the focus of affection and attention is on the mother for both. But this focus changes, for girls, from the mother to the father, when the girls realize that they don't have penises, so they develop penis envy. This realization coupled with the knowledge that her mother doesn't have a penis leads to her thinking her mother unworthy, and becoming attracted to her father, as he does have a penis.
    Just as with boys, girls begin to suspect the same sex parent knows about their attraction to the opposite sex parent, and they hate them for it. These feelings go round and round for awhile until the point when the girls renounce their feelings for their fathers and identify with their mothers.


    LATENCY Stage This period occurs after the oedipus conflict has been resolved and the feelings that were aroused during that time have subsided. This lasts from about the age of 7 until puberty, and this is a period of rest where there are no developmental events

    GENITAL Stage Begins at puberty involves the development of the genitals, and libido begins to be used in its sexual role. However, those feelings for the opposite sex are a source of anxiety, because they are reminders of the feelings for the parents and the trauma that resulted from all that.

    Evaluation of Freud's psychosexual development theory

    Four points:

  • difficult to test, but the evidence that has been gathered is not favourable

  • the crucial events (e.g., how the libido is used) are unobservable, and there are no good means to measure them

  • there is an awfully long time between the occurence of the causal stimulus and its presumed effect; relationships between early events and later traits tend to be weak and inconsistent

  • this theory of development was conceived without studying children; rather, it was developed from patients' recollections, dreams and free associations


    Freud's theory focusses on sex and aggression. During the time period Freud lived in, sex and sexual ideas did not make for socially acceptable topics for dinner conversations, or most any other sort of conversations. Thus, those ideas were unspoken, because they were socially unacceptable.

    Recently, James Pennebaker has done some studies in which people tell negative secrets to the experimenter - in confidence and with confidentiality, in a set similar to a Catholic confessional - and Pennebaker takes various measures of their well being. He finds that a few months later, people who tell the negative secrets have higher levels of well being than people who did not reveal any negative secrets. One measure is the number of trips to the university medical office to be treated for illness.

    Let me suggest that Pennebaker's results - that confessing negative secrets leads to higher well being - relates to Freud's work by illustrating that people who release some socially unacceptable thought/belief/action feel better as a result. This suggests that Freud may have been correct about "psychic energy" being tied up in negative things, although the exact content of those thing may not be sex and aggression. Thus, Freud may have correctly identified an important aspect of well being - the notion that unspoken thoughts can influence our behavior - but the identifying the content of the thoughts as exclusively sexual and aggressive may be incorrect.

    Freud's structure for the personality

    The structure of personality involves three parts: the id, the ego, and the super-ego.

    The id contains the drives that people have. These are the drives for pleasure. If humans have instincts, this is where they are. The id wants its wishes immediately and directly fulfilled. The id is governed by the pleasure principle, which suggests that all processes operate to achieve the maximum amount of pleasure. Also, the id is almost completely unconscious.

    The superego contains all of the moral lessons the person has learned in their life. This is the internalized voice of authority. Freud suggested that usually the moral lessons a person has in their superego were learned from their parents, although as the person gets older the lessons may be learned from others as well. Our conscience is in the superego. This is also where we have a notion of what our ideal person is. The superego is also partially unconscious.

    The ego is the mediator between the id and the superego. The ego tries to reconcile the wishes of the id, and the moral attitudes of the superego. That reconciliation may entail that the ego postpone the immediate gratification demanded by the id for later, and greater, gratification. The ego is in touch with reality, and may do reality testing, which is thinking about what the best course of action is to attain goals of the id and superego. The ego is governed by the reality principle, which suggests that the person gets as much satisfaction from the world as possible. Finally, the ego is the conscious mind.

    Ego Defense Mechanisms

    Freud suggested there were habits of thought that people use to protect their minds from anxiety. Some of the important defense mechanisms are:

  • Repression: keeps anxiety arousing thoughts out of consciousness. Repression may be voluntary or involuntary. There is clinical evidence for repression in cases of multiple personality disorder, where one persona does not have access to another persona. Some suggestions have been made that multiple personalities develop because a person experiences bad events and deals with those events by creating another persona that has not suffered them.
    Also, post-traumatic disorders, such a shell-shock, suggest that person have experiences that they have not completely thought out, and would prefer not to completely think out. So, those experiences are repressed, or pushed out of the person's consciousness.

  • Identification: occurs when the person symbolically represents themself with (in) another person. The person then models their behavior on that other person's behavior.

  • Projection: a person attributes their own threatening or worrisome traits/impulses to another person, so as to ignore or overlook those traits/impulses in themself.

  • Rationalization Attribute to oneself a noble motive for an action rather than the real motive that is not so noble. I gave money to the charity because I am a generous person, rather than thinking I gave money to the charity, because they will list my name as one of the doners, and I will get a tax deduction for my contribution.



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