Austrian born neurologist Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) is considered the father of modern psychology. Freud’s contributions to the study of human behavior are numerous and include dream interpretation, the unconscious mind, and psychotherapy. Most notably however Freud is responsible for what is known as the five stages of psychosexual development. Freud believed that all children go through a series of sexual phases that will ultimately determine their personality.
Freud believed that the human libido (sex drive) was a major force in human development. He believed that a child goes through five stages of development where he must resolve a psychosexual conflict. If he is successful then he moves on to the next phase, if not then he can remain fixated at that stage and his personality would be forever impacted. Here then are the 5 stages of development as presented by Sigmund Freud.
Stage 1. (Birth – 1 year old) The Oral Stage
The child’s needs and pleasures are oral in nature (nursing, feeding, eating, gumming, etc) If a child’s needs are not properly met at this stage by inadequate oral gratification then the child will become “orally fixated”. This could result in a child who becomes pessimistic, suspicious, and envious. Also the child is likely to develop oral fixations later in life such as chewing things, overeating, cigarette smoking, or excessive drinking.
Stage 2. (1 – 3 years old) The Anal Stage
During this stage the child is first confronted with the issue of toilet training and expulsion habits. This is a child’s first experience with the concept of control. If a child is not successful in being toilet trained and continues to have accidents beyond the age of 3 he will develop what’s known as an “anal-expulsive personality” which is categorized by messiness, carelessness, disorganization, and defiance. On the other hand a child that controls his bowels too much or whose parents are too strict will develop an “anal-retentive personality” categorized by excessive neatness, orderliness, stinginess, obstinacy, and passive-aggressive behavior.
Stage 3. (4 – 5 years old) The Phallic Stage
During this stage of development a child discovers his genitals and learns how to pleasure himself through masturbation and fondling. Freud considered this to be the most crucial of the five stages. It is during this stage that a child must confront his sexual feelings for the opposite sex parent and his feelings of envy towards the same sex parent. In boys this is known as the Oedipus complex, in girls it is the Electra complex. Eventually a child learns his place and learns to identify with the same sex parent rather then resent or envy him. Fixation at this stage could lead a person to become self-absorbed, reckless, excessively vain, proud, and even narcissistic.
Stage 4. (Age 5 – Puberty) The Latency Stage
During this time sexual feelings are suppressed to allow children to focus their energy on other aspects of life. This is a time of learning, forming beliefs and values, developing same-sex friendships, engaging in sports, etc. This period of sexual latency lasts five to six years, until puberty, upon which children become capable of reproduction, and their sexuality is re-awakened.
Stage 5. (Puberty – ) The Genital Stage
This stage is marked by a renewed sexual interest and desire, and the pursuit of relationships. This stage does not cause any fixation. According to Freud, if people experience difficulties at this stage the damage was done in earlier oral, anal, or phallic stages. People come into this last stage of development with fixations from earlier stages.
Although Freud’s theory of human development has fallen out of favor in many psychological circles it is still highly regarded in the academic community. Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual development is still taught in thousands of college classrooms around the world and he remains one of the most respected thinkers of the 20th century.
Source material: The Victorian Web, Freud’s 3 Essays on Sexuality