With Psychosexual Development Theory, Freud attempts to explain the behavioral influences that children’s natural drive have on their developmental journey into adulthood.
Freud’s theory of psychosexual development claims that as we grow up we pass through five critical phases.
Our sex drive, which Freud called the libido, focuses on a different erogenous zone at each phase. The phases are called: oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital. If our experience during any of these phases was traumatic we might develop fixations later in life, such as neurosis, dependencies, addictions, or depression.
To understand the theory, we need to see it in the context of Freud’s famous work on the unconscious. By acknowledging that we have a subconscious, we also imply that we store memories of early childhood and other experiences without even realising it. These past experiences then unconsciously influence our behavior on a daily basis.
The 3 spheres of our mind
Freud claimed that our mind operates in 3 spheres, which we can imagine as a submarine. The unconscious level operates the Id, our sexual drive which is longing for immediate satisfaction. The preconscious level operates the Superego, our morals which are inherited through our parents and culture. The conscious and preconscious levels operate our Ego, to balance the other 2 forces.
Young children are driven by the Id and demand immediate satisfaction. At around age seven, we begin to develop a Superego and want to become good moral citizens and please others. The Ego is formed with adolescence to balance the two forces.
The oral phase, age 0-1
In the first year of our lives, we discover the world through our oral senses. Our main pleasure comes from sucking our mother’s breast or a bottle. The conflict that occurs now is the weaning from our primary caregiver.
Hans is weaned off his mother’s breast without trauma. Ernsts’ mother stops feeding him within 4 months of birth, which is too early. Ida is often left alone crying when she is hungry.
Hans becomes a healthy and independent adult. Ernst suffers from trauma and develops an oral fixation. He tries to compensate for it by chewing gum all the time. Ida spends her entire life looking for the oral stimulation she was denied as an infant and therefore develops a manipulative and addictive personality.
The anal phase, age 1-3
The primary focus of our libido at this age is the control of the bladder and bowel movements. We have to learn how to use the potty.
Hans’ parents praise his attempts to use the toilet and encourage him to learn at his own pace. Ernst’s parents force potty training on him too early and punish him for mistakes. Ida’s parents neglect any efforts at potty training entirely.
Hans develops a competent personality and a good and balanced relationship with authority. Ernst develops an anal-retentive personality – he becomes an over-controlling and stingy adult, with disgust for his own body and a tendency to obey authority. Ida develops an anal-expulsive personality. She becomes messy, disorganized, inconsiderate of other people’s feelings, and rebellious against authority.
The phallic phase, age 3-6
Our libido now turns to the genitals as we discover the differences between the female and the male gender.
The boys’ conflict in this phase occurs as a rivalry with their father. Also called the “Oedipus Complex”. Ernst and Hans desire to possess their mother and fantasize about getting rid of their father. But they know that their father is stronger and fear being punished for their desire. Freud called this “castration anxiety”. Ida experiences “penis envy”. She believes that a penis is the key to power and domination and also wants one.
Hans’ father was very present during that phase. Later Hans resolves this conflict by identifying strongly with him. He learns to take on a male role. As an adult, he respects both genders. Ernst, whose father was absent during that phase, fails to develop a strong sense of manhood. He has a mother fixation and is not sure about his sexuality. He also tends to be aggressive towards women and constantly needs to compete with other men. Ida, like all women, maintains her penis envy for the rest of her life, which in her case causes an inferiority complex towards men.
Latent phase, age 7-13
In this phase, our libido is suppressed as our sexual energy is being sublimed into developing life skills. Our superego strengthens and we strongly identify with social values, same-sex heroes, and friends.
Hans follows many hobbies. Ernst loves learning at school and Ida makes lots of new girlfriends.
There is no real conflict in this phase. All three of them benefit for the rest of their lives from the skills they developed during latency.
The genital phase, puberty to death.
Once we reach puberty our libido starts to become active again and we develop an interest in sexual partners.
Hans, Ida, and Ernst face the challenge of balancing the sexual desires of the id and the needs of the “superego”’ to obey social norms. The development of a strong “ego” helps to find a compromise between the two.
Hans, who has experienced a childhood without much trauma, succeeds in building a strong ego. He is disciplined at work, has a loving relationship, and a fulfilled sex life. Ernst’s ego is weaker than his superego. He obeys norms and authorities and as a result suppresses his desires which leads to the development of perversions. Ida has a weak ego and a weak superego. Her sexual needs are more important than social norms or other people’s feelings. She is egoistic and feels no guilt for breaking the law or hurting others.
About Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Shlomo Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of Psychoanalysis.
Freud theorized that the unconscious would remember and store all our experiences, later they pop up from time to time through dreams and associative thoughts. By revealing traumatic memories and desires through conversation we can free ourselves from our neuroses and live a more healthy and fulfilled life.
He recommended, “We should not strive to eliminate our complexes but to get into accord with them. They are legitimately what directs our conduct in the world.”
Note that many modern psychologists regard Freud’s ideas as pseudoscience.