Friday, August 12, 2011

Freud & Psychosexual Developmental Theory

Freud stressed the importance of events & experiences during childhood.  He described childhood development as being a progression through psychosexual stages: oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital.  If a child does not complete a stage successfully, Freud suggested that he or she would develop a fixation that would continue to impact the person as they grew into adulthood.
  • Stages are as follows:
    • The oral stage: begins at birth, the infant finds comfort from nursing & sucking.  Having these needs met also leads to a sense of trust.  Stage lasts about 1 – 1 ½ years.  Failure to resolve this stage (i.e. being nursed too much or not enough) leads to the infant growing into an adult who is either pessimistic & sarcastic or overly optimistic & gullible.
    • The anal stage: begins with the advent of toilet training, or around age 1 – 1 ½.  Child becomes obsessed with the anus & the retention or expulsion of feces.  Results in a conflict between the id (which says it’s fun to poop all over the place) and the ego & superego (which say you better listen to your mommy).  Unsuccessful resolution leads to an anal expulsive character (messy, disorganized, destructive) or the better known anal retentive character (neat, obsessive, careful, stingy).  So next time you hear someone referred to as “anal” you can feel nice & smug that you know the origin of the term.
    • The phallic stage: child’s focus moves to his/her genitalia & curiosity about the genitalia of others.  The child has an unconscious desire to eliminate the opposite sex parent & possess the same sex one.  This is the Oedipal conflict (for boys) or the Electra complex (for girls).  Castration anxiety describes boys’ fear that his father will discover his affection for his mother & will punish him by castrating him.  Freud also believed girls suffered from penis envy.  For either sex, the general idea is that the child resolves his/her incestuous desires by learning to identify with the same sex parent & becoming more like him/her.  Failure to resolve leads to a person who may be reckless, resolute or afraid of love.
    • The latency stage: a period where the sexual drive lies dormant.  Children put their repressed libidal energy into asexual pursuits like sports, academics & same sex friendships.
    • The genital stage: begins with puberty & interests shift from same sex friends to opposite sex relationships.  Freud believed that successful resolution of the previous stages was necessary for successful pursuit of romantic relationships.
  • Critiques of Freud’s model:
    • Focuses primarily on male development.
    • The concept of penis envy has a tendency to piss women off.
    • He focused primarily on disorders, rather than normal development.
    • It is so abstract & theoretical that it is difficult to test scientifically.  Research that has been conducted tends to discredit Freudian theory.
    • Predictions & linkages are vague.
    • Theory is based upon case studies rather than empirical research.  Theory was based on Freud’s memories of adult patients & not on observations of children.

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