Freud believed that the nature of the conflicts among the id, ego, and superego change over time as a person grows from child to adult. Specifically, he maintained that these conflicts progress through a series of five basic stages, each with a different focus: oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital. He called his idea the psychosexual theory of development, with each psychosexual stage directly related to a different physical center of pleasure.
- the child seeks pleasure from the mouth (e.g., sucking)
- During this stage the need for tasting and sucking becomes prominent in producing pleasure.
- the child seeks pleasure from the anus (e.g., withholding and expelling feces).
- Parents stress toilet training and bowel control during this time period.
Phallic(3 to 5 or 6 years)
- the child seeks pleasure from the penis or clitoris (e.g., masturbation).
- Children tend to develop characteristics of the same-sex parent during this stage.
Latent(5 or 6 to puberty)
- the child has little or no sexual motivation.
- Thus, children are able to develop social skills, and find comfort through peer and family interaction.
Genital(puberty to adult)
- the child seeks pleasure from the penis or vagina (e.g., sexual intercourse; ).
- The onset of puberty reflects a strong interest from one person to another of the opposite sex.
Across these five stages, the child is presented with different conflicts between their biological drives (id) and their social and moral conscience (superego) because their biological pleasure-seeking urges focus on different areas of the body (what Freud called “erogenous zones”). The successful completion of each stage lead’s to a healthy personality as an adult. If, however, a conflict remains unresolved at any particular stage, the individual might remain fixated or stuck at that particular point of development. A fixation can involve an over dependence or obsession with something related to that phase of development. For example, a person with an “oral fixation” is believed to be stuck at the oral stage of development. Signs of an oral fixation might include an excessive reliance on oral behaviors such as smoking, biting fingernails, or eating.
Freud’s most controversial yet enduring concepts
The Oedipal complex, also known as the Oedipus complex, is a term used by Sigmund Freud in his theory of psychosexual stages of development to describe a child’s feelings of desire for his or her opposite-sex parent and jealousy and anger toward his or her same-sex parent. Essentially, a boy feels that he is competing with his father for possession of his mother, while a girl feels that she is competing with her mother for her father’s affections. According to Freud, children view their same-sex parent as a rival for the opposite-sex parent’s attentions and affections.
Freud first proposed the concept of the Oedipal complex in his 1899 book The Interpretation of Dreams, although he did not formally begin using the term Oedipus complex until the year 1910. The concept became increasingly important as he continued to develop his concept of psychosexual development.Freud named the complex after the character in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex who accidentally kills his father and marries his mother. In the Greek myth, Oedipus is abandoned at birth and thus does not know who his parents are. It is only after he had killed his father and married his mother that he learns their true identities.
The analogous stage for girls is known as the Electra complex in which girls feel desire for their fathers and jealousy of their mothers. The term Electra complex was introduced by Carl Jung to describe how this complex manifests in girls. Freud, however, believed that the term Oedipus complex referred to both boys and girls, although he believed that each sex experiences it differently.
Freud also suggested that when girls discover that they do not have a penis, they develop penis envy and resentment toward their mothers for “sending her into the world so insufficiently equipped.” Eventually, this resentment gives way to identification with her mother and the process of internalizing the attributes and characteristics of her same-sex parent.It was Freud’s views of female sexuality that were perhaps his most heavily criticized. The psychoanalyst Karen Horney refuted Freud’s concept of penis envy and instead suggested that men experience womb envy due to their inability to bear children.
Freud himself admitted that his understanding of women was perhaps less than fully realized. “We know less about the sexual life of little girls than on boys,” he explained. “But we need not feel ashamed of this distinction. After all, the sexual life of adult women is a ‘dark continent’ for psychology.”