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Freud's psychosexual stages

Updated on March 24, 2013

Freud’s psychodynamic approach:
Suggests that there are five stages – Oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital.
Each stage is associated with the part of the body that is most sensitive to sexual excitation and thus is most capable of satisfying the id.
During each developmental stage, the growing individual has to resolve the conflict between what the id wants and what can actually be obtained.
If a child’s desires are over or under gratified at any stage then it can lead to fixation (person sticks at that stage), and when they are stressed they will return to this stage.
Fixation can give rise to neurotic anxiety (an ego reaction), i.e. the individual fears fear that is unrealistic and not associated with any real threat.
The ego is discomforted at feeling neurotic anxiety and reduces it by distorting reality through the use of an ego defence mechanism.
Remember – because much of our personality is unconscious, we are unaware of the influences of the unconscious elements that yield abnormal behaviour.

The five stages:
Oral: 0 – 18 months: via the mouth, demonstrated via sucking, feeding, crying, oral exploration.
Anal: 8 – 36 months: anally, linked to toilet training.
Phallic: 3 – 6 years: genitals; associated with the oedipal conflict, penis envy in girls.
Latency: 6 years: onset of puberty, characterised by boys/girls spending little time together; the libido is quiet.
Genital: from the onset of puberty: adult expression of sexuality (genital pleasure), but not all gratification is sexual – it can also include forming loving relationships and assuming adult responsibilities.

Fixation characteristics associated with each stage:
Oral: trusting, dependent on others, aggressive, dominating
Anal: generous, mean, stubborn, obsessively tidy
Phallic: self assured, vain, impulsive
Genital: well adjusted, mature, able to love and be loved

Relationships of psychoanalytic concepts to mental abnormality:
Phobias – product of an unresolved oedipal conflict. I.e. during the phallic stage, a boy’s sexual desire for his mother was not properly resolved through identification with his father and adoption of society’s moral values that forbid the desire for the opposite sex parent. Fear of the father due to the desire for the mother is displaced onto another object or situation.
OCD – linked to the anal stage. The urge to soil transformed by reaction formation into compulsive cleanliness.
Schizophrenia – linked to the oral stage. Loss of contact with reality emerges due to regression to a point where the ego isn’t formed properly which means that the schizophrenic cannot reality test.
Depression – linked to oral stage. Oral fixation may lead to an excessive dependency on others for self esteem. If a person is excessively dependent on others for self esteem and they experience bereavement but don’t work through it properly, they can become depressed.


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