The 5 stages of psychosexual development by Sigmund Freud

The current of psychoanalysis initiated by Sigmund Freud over 100 years ago in one of the main influences of contemporary Western culture.

If his theories on the functioning of the unconscious have exerted an influence in many fields of human sciences and art, it is nonetheless true that a large part of his approaches have to do with human sexuality. . The theory of psychosexual development with its different stages is the embodiment of this idea., And that is why it has historically received a lot of attention.

Sexuality according to Freud

For Freud, human sexuality is one of the main aspects of the life energy that drives human behavior. This energy, which was called libido, is the source of the impulses which for the father of psychoanalysis make us tend towards certain short-term goals and, at the same time, oblige other instances of our psyche to suppress these tendencies so as not to not endanger ourselves or come into conflict with the environment in which we live.

The vital energy that is expressed through sexuality, according to Freud, is already present from the first weeks of our life, which means that our sexual side is not born in adolescence, as many researchers have argued. of his time.

But the repercussions of this have nothing to do simply with where we start our sexual development at some point in our life schedule. This has profound implications for how it is freud linked our personality to our intimate side, Affective and impulse-based.

The development of the unconscious

One of the essential ideas of Freud’s theory of psychosexual development is that the way he handles libido satisfaction during childhood leaves traces in our unconscious that will be noticed in adulthood.

Thus, if factors external to the child make him unable to satisfy these tendencies as he would like (for example, due to reprimands from his parents), this anxiety results in a fixation that has to do with ideas related to the child. Erogenous zone in particular (which does not have to be in the genital area). For Freud, therefore, biology and parenthood are involved in psychosexual development.

Other followers of the psychodynamic current ended up rejecting Freud’s deterministic view that the unconscious part of ourselves he constantly manipulates us without us being able to do too much. However, this way of thinking led Freud to create the theory of psychosexual development, one of the most memorized in the history of psychology.

The stages of development and their fixings

On the different ways in which the stage of growth of minors conditions the appearance of a particular type of fixation, Sigmund Freud he formulated the theory that would unite sexuality with the development of the Freudian unconscious.

In it, it is proposed that in the early years of our life we ​​go through different stages of development related to sexuality and different fixations, and that what happens during these will influence how the subconscious conditions the person once they have reached adulthood. In other words, each of the stages of psychosexual development would mark the tempos which delimit the type of actions necessary for express libido satisfactorily and which can lead to creating conflicts that take root unconsciously in us.

The instinctive phases of psychosexual development

From the psychosexual theory of personality development, it is understood that each person’s past history determines how the power relationship is modeled between the individual’s unconscious structures, on the one hand, and the structures that they struggle not to express them. elements that belong outside of consciousness, on the other.

Thus, the way a person behaves will depend on how he has faced the different stages of psychosexual development and the challenges characteristic of each phase.

As for the father of psychoanalysis libido is believed to be the main type of energy that gets people movingThese challenges and conflicts of each phase of maturation will have a more or less veiled link with their way of experiencing sexuality (understood in a very broad sense in which all kinds of symbolisms participate).

According to Freudian theory, the the stages of psychosexual development and their characteristics are as follows.

1. Oral stage

The oral stage takes about the first 18 months of life, And in it appear the first attempts to satisfy the demands promoted by the libido. In her, the mouth is the main area in which pleasure is sought. The mouth is also one of the main areas of the body when exploring the environment and its elements, which would explain the propensity of children to try to “bite” everything.

If babies are completely prevented from using their mouths to satisfy themselves, it could lead to a blockage which would lead to the resolution of certain problems in the subconscious (still according to Freud).

2. Anal stage

This stage would occur from the end of the oral phase and up to 3 years. It is trapped from the phase in which the sphincter begins to be controlled during defecation. For Freud, this activity is linked to pleasure and sexuality.

The fixations related to this phase of psychosexual development have to do with accumulation and expenditure, related to the saving spirit and discipline in the first case, and the disorganization and waste of resources in the second. However, according to the father of psychoanalysis, these dynamics of spending and savings are not expressed solely or mainly through the management of money.

3. Phallic stage

This instinctive phase would last between 3 and 6 years, And its associated erogenous zone is that of the genitals. In this way, the main pleasant sensation would be to urinate, but it would also come from this phase the beginning of the curiosity about the differences between men and women, boys and girls, starting with the obvious dissimilarities in the form of the genitals and ending with interests, ways of being and dressing, etc.

Moreover, Freud linked this phase to the appearance of the “Oedipus complex”, in which boys feel an attraction to the person playing the role of mother and experience jealousy and fear towards the person playing the role of mother. the role of mother-father. As for girls going through this stage of psychosexual development, Freud “slightly adapted the idea with the Oedipus Complex so that you encompass them, although the concept was developed to make sense primarily in men. It was more late when Carl Jung proposed the Electra complex as the female equivalent of Oedipus.

4. Latency stage

This phase begins around the age of 7 and extends until the onset of puberty.. The latency phase is characterized by not having a specific erogenous zone associated with it and, in general, representing a freezing of sexual experiences by children, in part because of all the punishments and reprimands received. This is why Freud described this phase as a phase in which sexuality is more camouflaged than in the previous ones.

The latency phase has been associated with the onset of modesty and shame associated with sexuality.

5. Genital stage

The genital stage appears with puberty and now lasts. It is linked to the physical changes that accompany adolescence. Moreover, in this phase of psychosexual development, the sexual desire becomes so intense that it cannot be repressed as effectively as in the earlier stages.

The erogenous zone linked to this vital moment is still that of the genitals, but unlike what happens in the phallic phase, here the necessary skills have already been developed to express sexuality through bonds of character union. more abstract and symbolic which have to do with consensus and affection with others. It is the birth of adult sexualityAs opposed to another related only to simple instant gratification and obtained through stereotypical activities.

the Freudian theory, in context

The theory of psychosexual development can lead to some alarmism if one thinks that mismanagement of the education of children during these phases can leave them with traumas and all kinds of troubles if Freud’s ideas are not well understood. . However, it should be noted that this theory was formulated and developed at a time when psychology was born.

When Sigmund Freud developed his theories, he was based on specific cases of patients he knew, i.e. his research method was based on a mixture of case studies and interpretation of symbolic content of people’s behavior. He barely made any assumptions that could be opposed to reality, and when he did, he simply observed, not experienced. The theory of psychosexual development was no exception to this rule.

It also does not make much sense to study the utility of the theory of psychosexual development using statistical analyzes, because the formulation of these ideas it was based on the interpretation that has been done on the acts of patients and their past.

Partly because of this, and partly because Freudian psychoanalysis does not adhere to the epistemology used in present-day science, there is no reason to believe that this theory serves to explain and predict problems associated with sexuality and the socialization of women. This means that psychosexual theory cannot be used to detect red flags about whether children or adolescents are developing properly or not, nor to ensure that mental disorders are due to this type of mechanism.

Bibliographical references:

  • Bullock, A., Trombley, S. (1999) The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought. London: Harper Collins.
  • Grunbaum, A. (1985). The foundations of psychoanalysis: a philosophical critique. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Quidonoz, JM (2005). Reading Freud. A chronological exploration of Freud’s writings. New York: Routledge.
  • Mannoni, O. (2015). Freud: the theory of the unconscious. London: Verse.
  • Scott, J. (2005). Electra after Freud: myth and culture. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Sigmund, F. (2012). Three essays on sexual theory. Buenos Aires: Publishing Alliance.

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