Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Psychosexual development is a major developmental theory, proposed by Sigmund Freud, which suggests that humans behave as they do because they are constantly seeking pleasure. During different periods, or stages, of life, the types of pleasure a person seeks will change. Each change in body location from which the person finds pleasure represents one stage in psychosexual development. There are a total of five stages; four of them are named for the primary body part from which a person derives pleasure during a given time in life.
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Psychosexual Stages (Psychology and Mental Health)
The first stage is the oral stage, which begins at birth and ends at one and a half years of age. Pleasure is gained from activities of the mouth, such as sucking at a mother’s nipple to obtain nourishment. The purpose of this behavior is to secure physical survival, as the infant depends on parents for food. The infant is entirely dependent, seeks immediate gratification of needs, and does not consider other people’s needs or wishes or even recognize others as separate human beings. The selfish energy that drives the infant at this age is called libido and is attributed to the child’s id, the pleasure-seeking part of a person.
The second stage is the anal stage, named for the child’s preoccupation with feces and urine, as this is generally the time of toilet training. This stage begins at age one and a half and ends around age three. The child now sees herself or himself as separate from other people and begins to assert wishes. The child becomes more demanding and controlling and often refuses parents’ wishes, but the child also learns to delay gratification and put up with frustration. For example, the child will learn to hold in a bowel movement until a time convenient for the caregiver, rather than eliminate it as soon as pressure is felt on the sphincter. Learning to be assertive and autonomous and learning to delay gratification are the two most important advances for the child that occur during this...
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Development of Ego and Superego (Psychology and Mental Health)
The two most important outcomes of psychosexual development are the development of the ego and superego and the development of psychopathology (emotional or mental illnesses or problems of sufficient severity to warrant treatment by a psychologist or psychotherapist) if the stages are not successfully mastered. The anal and phallic stages are particularly critical in the development of the ego and superego. During the anal stage, ego development progresses rapidly as the child learns what he or she likes and what distinguishes him or her from other people. In the phallic stage, the development of the superego occurs as a result of the Oedipus and Electra complexes.
Only if the child accepts the rules of society—that is, falls out of love with the opposite-sex parent and identifies with the same-sex parent—is she or he able to feel free of fear of punishment. Thus, the child learns to live by rules and regulations out of fear of punishment. The internalized sense of rules is represented by the child’s superego. The superego serves to counteract the selfish and pleasure-seeking actions of the id, which is present at birth and remains with all human beings throughout the life span. Often, the superego and id will come into conflict because a selfish desire expressed by the id is being opposed by the superego. The ego will then mediate between the two and will attempt to come up with a compromise solution....
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Development of Psychopathology (Psychology and Mental Health)
The development of psychopathology is closely related to psychosexual development. First, pathology is seen as a possible consequence of fixation—that is, the child’s failure to resolve a given stage and advance beyond it. Second, psychopathology may be caused by regression—the return to an earlier stage of development because of conflicts or problems. Adults with oral pathology, those who either did not move beyond or regressed to the oral stage, are said to be dependent and afraid to be alone, or else very hostile, evidencing verbal biting sarcasm to prevent getting too close to people. People with anal pathology can be either very retentive (miserly, tense, orderly, and constricted) or expulsive (impulsive, disorganized, free-spending, and venting). Both types of pathology are severe and were considered by Freud to be not treatable through psychoanalysis. Only pathology arising from the phallic stage lends itself well to treatment. It is referred to as neurosis and implies that the person has significant conflicts between id wishes and superego restrictions that cannot be successfully mediated by the ego.
Neurotic pathology is seen as a result of a boy’s failure to pass through the Oedipus complex or a girl’s failure to pass through the Electra complex. In both cases, the child may fail to withdraw attachment to the same-sex parent or may fail to identify with the same-sex parent. Thus, healthy...
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Historic Context (Psychology and Mental Health)
The Freudian stages through which psychosexual development progresses must be considered within the historical framework present at the time that Freud conceptualized them, that is, from the perspective of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The spirit of the times was much different from that of today, particularly with regard to how freely people were allowed to express themselves in general and with regard to sexuality in particular. It was a time in which morals and ethics forbade many normal human urges and resulted in people having to deny large parts or aspects of themselves.
This atmosphere of self-denial resulted in many different symptoms, especially among women, who were expected to follow even stricter codes of behavior than men were. For example, sometimes people were observed to have paralysis of a hand that could not be explained by any neurological damage. Freud was one of the first physicians to recognize that this paralysis had psychological rather than physical causes. He hypothesized that the strong moral restrictions placed on the individual were directly contrary to what the person wanted to do (perhaps masturbate, a definite transgression of permissible behavior). He believed that this person had a very strong id without a sufficiently strong superego to control it. The person’s unconscious mind had to devise some other strategy to keep the id controlled—hence the paralysis of the hand. The idea...
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Impact on Psychology (Psychology and Mental Health)
Psychosexual development was proposed by Freud strictly to explain why certain symptoms developed in individuals. His ideas had an extremely strong impact on the future of psychology, as they were complex and explained human behavior in an understandable manner (given the spirit of the times in which they were formulated). Many followers applied Freud’s theories to the treatment of psychopathology, and the profession of psychoanalysis was born. Psychoanalysts specialized in the treatment of persons with neuroses; they did so through daily sessions that lasted fifty minutes. Treatment often continued for many years. Only through this approach, psychoanalysts believed, could they effect changes in a person’s psychic structure—that is, in the person’s ego and the relationship between the id and superego. The profession of psychoanalysis is still a prominent one, but many changes have been made. Few psychoanalysts today follow a strictly Freudian approach to the development of a person’s psyche; new ways of understanding human development and behavior have been developed. Psychoanalysis and psychosexual development, however, remain important features of psychology’s history. They were important milestones in the discipline of clinical psychology, the branch of psychology concerned with the treatment of mental illness.
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. Provides a good, brief overview of the psychosexual stages and places them in the larger context of general living. First published in 1903, this book was written near the end of Freud’s life and contains his later ideas. The writing style is excellent.
__________. Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. First published in 1905, this book provides the case history of a woman who suffered from a neurosis. The treatment description of this case provides an excellent practical application of the theory of psychosexual development and its implications for psychopathology and personality development. Very readable; targets the layperson.
__________. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. New York: Garden City Books, 1952. Provides a thorough but very readable overview of the theories and thoughts Freud developed that support his notion of psychosexual development. A good and relatively brief primer for the layperson.
__________. Three Case Histories. New York: Collier Books, 1963. Provides three applied examples of psychopathology as an outgrowth of fixation at or regression to early psychosexual stages. Written for the layperson; presented in an interesting manner.
Lauretis, Teresa de. Freud’s Drive: Psychoanalysis, Literature, and...
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Psychosexual Development (International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis)
Psychosexual development is the progressive evolution of infantile sexuality as it passes through the different stages or phases of psychic organization (oral, anal, phallic) with due regard for a prevalent erogenous zone, which organizes fantasies, and a certain type of object relation. Complete psychosexual organization is not reached until the arrival of puberty and a final phase of libidinal development, the genital phase.
Freud saw infantile sexuality as being active from the beginning of life. This broadened the notion of sexuality, giving it a range of extension that is specific to psychoanalysis.
In the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d), Freud initially saw infantile sexuality as a sort of precursor of adult sexual perversions and a blueprint for pubertal genitality, but he later described it as the mainspring of psychic development. He used the term infantile sexuality in an effort to acknowledge the existence of the stimuli and the needs for satisfaction that involve specific body zones (erogenous zones) that seek pleasure independently of exercising a biological function. He therefore described the sexual instinct as becoming separate from the vital functions that ensure the preservation of the organism in accordance with the anaclitic model (whereby the sexual instincts initially depend on those vital functions). The pleasure bonus provided alongside the accomplishment of the function would, in a second stage, be sought for its own sake. Freud thus considered anaclisis, the erogenous zone, and autoeroticism to be three intimately linked criteria for the definition of infantile sexuality.
The Freudian scheme of the phases of libidinal development links two essential components at each stage: on the one hand, an organizing erogenous zone, along with the excitations and instinctual movements for which it is both the link and the source, and on the other, the modalities of the object relation linked to development of the ego.
In the Three Essays, Freud stressed the existence and importance of oral and anal erogenous zones (in addition to the genital which is the primary erogenous zone in adults), describing them as pregenital and highlighting the autoeroticism that is linked to them: sucking in relation to oral activity, retention/expulsion for anal erotism.
The specification of infantile genital organization as phallic organization nevertheless shows clearly that the prevalence of one erogenous zone is inseparable from a certain mode of symbolic organization. The Oedipus complex is organized around the idea of castration, which is represented in the unconscious as castration of the penis (Perron and Perron-Borelli, 1996). The loss of the breast and feces that are specific to the oral and anal stages can also be considered as early symbolic forms of genital castration.
The relationship between weanings implementing the absence of the mothernd the Oedipus complex introduces the structural point of view, which relativizes the developmental model of the stages and gives it its best perspective (Brusset, 1992).
In the normal evolution of sexuality the component instincts of childhood are progressively integrated into the genital sexuality of the adult. What remains of them is found in the foreplay that precedes the sexual act proper.
The potential for stimulation of these pregenital erogenous zones remains present in the body and in the mind and they tend to be reactivated on the occasion of later sexual experiences. Their degree of erotism is integrated into the genital sexuality of the adult. Excessive repression of these residues from the infantile period can lead to neurotic symptoms. Similarly, what persists in a prevalent and manifest manner in the perversions is repressed in neurosis. Hence Freud's famous aphorism: "Neurosis is the negative of perversion."
The phases Freud described between 1905 and 1923 correspond to successive organizations of the sexual instinct under the primacy of a given erogenous zone: the oral phase, sadistic anal phase, infantile genital or phallic phase, followed by the genital phase after puberty. He also distinguished at the same time the different stages leading from autoerotism to full object love, that is, the progression from autoerotism, narcissism, toward the homosexual or heterosexual object choice.
Three points deserve to be raised here in order to provide a better definition of the notion of psycho-sexuality as envisaged by Freud.
- The body is first and foremost considered as the seat of the instincts (drives) and the source of the excitations aiming for satisfaction. In the Three Essays he makes a point of defining infantile sexuality as a criterion for organ pleasure and autoerotic satisfaction. However, in the course of the following years he integrated his earlier discoveries about the role of fantasies into this. He showed, specifically, how the fantasy works "by integrating the attachments of infantile sexuality can, depending on the case, result in conscious formations (daydreaming, for example) or, on the contrary, formations that are repressed into the unconscious" (Perron and Perron-Borelli, 1996).
- It should be noted that these infantile manifestations of sexuality only come to play their full role "après coup." The adult pervert's exclusive fixation on certain components of infantile sexuality must be understood as a regression and a return to pregenital fixations.
- Finally, infantile sexuality culminates toward the fourth or fifth year of life, the age when sexual tumult gradually enters a latency period, and is not reactivated until puberty when it leads to adult sexuality in the context of general maturity. There is therefore at this stage a halt, a decline in psychosexuality, and this period is then subjected to the infantile amnesia of the latency period. Freud related this diphasic establishment of sexual life, which can be observed only in human beings, to events in humanity's prehistory.
In any case, it is during the period of latency "that are built up the mental forces which are later to impede the course of the sexual instinct and, like dams, restrict its flow" (1905d, p. 177).
After the Three Essays, Freud gave the oedipal conflict its full organizational value, normal libidinal development being defined in psychoanalytic theory as the integration of the polymorphously perverse aspects of infantile sexuality under the primacy of the genital organization.
Following the Three Essays, Freud's successive contributions (1913-24) continued to expand on the general outline of the stages of libidinal development.
Karl Abraham tried to find the etiopathogenic basis for all of psychopathology in this model. He distinguished two stages within each of the first two phases (oral and sadistic oral, anal and sadistic anal) and he further stressed the link existing between the specific erogenous zone and the modalities of object relation particular to it.
Many authors after him, such as the proponents of Ego-Psychology (Heinz Hartmann, Ernst Kris, and Rudolph Loewenstein), used the outline of libidinal development and made it a major element in a genetic psychology that could be integrated into a general psychology. Others, on the contrary, particularly in France (Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis; Brusset, 1992; Perron, Perron-Borelli, 1996) insisted on the importance of the notion of organization. Each stage or phase of development creates a structure, in the modern sense of a self-regulated functional system tending toward equilibrium. Each of these phases in psychosexual development organizes not only the present state of mental functioning but also its future state. Infantile genital organization therefore defines the oedipal phase as the great organizer of mental functioning, laying down in the infantile phase of sexuality what will become the genital organization of the adult.
See also: Libidinal development.
Brusset, Bernard (1992). Le Développement libidinal. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Freud, Sigmund (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.
Mijolla, Alain de, and Mijolla-Mellor, Sophie de (Eds.). (1995). Psychanalyse. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Perron, Roger, and Perron-Borelli, Michele. (1996). Le Complexe d'ipe (2nd edition). Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Davison, Susan, rep. (1998). Panel: A contemporary review of the psychosexual phases of development. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 79, 164-167.
Lester, Eva P. (1976). On the psychosexual development of the female child. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 4, 515-528.
Siskind, Diana. (1994). Arrests of psychosexual development and separation-individuation. Psychoanalytical Inquiry, 14, 58-82.