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