Psychosexual Development by Sigmund Freud

The Theory of Psychosexual Development, by Freud, claims that as we grow up, we pass through five critical phases which are defined by our sexual drive, also called libido, concentrating at specific erogenous zones. Freud claimed that 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. Depending on the appropriate satisfaction of the focus of our libido, the three components of our mind may be kept in or thrown out of balance, leading to addictions, neuroses and perversions.

The full story
Libido Freud - Sprouts Psychology

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 in 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.

Oral phase (age 0-1)
Oral Phase Freud - Sprouts Psychology

In the first year of our lives, we discover the world through our oral senses. Freud called this the oral phase. 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. Ernst’s 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.

Anal phase (age 1-3)
Anal Phase Freud - Sprouts Psychology

The primary focus of our libido during the anal phase 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.

Phallic phase (age 3-6)
Phallic Phase Freud - Sprouts Psychology

During the phallic phase, our libido 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)
Latent Phase Freud - Sprouts Psychology

In the latent 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.

Genital phase (puberty-death)
Genital Phase Freud - Sprouts Psychology

Once we reach puberty our libido starts to become active again and we develop an interest in sexual partners. We enter the so-called genital phase which lasts until we reach the end of our lives. 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.

The theory of the subconscious
Psychosexual Development Freud - Sprouts Psychology

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 realizing it. These past experiences then unconsciously influence our behavior on a daily basis.

Id, Ego and Superego
Id Ego Superego Psychosexual Development Freud - Sprouts Psychology

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.

Three spheres of consciousness
Id Ego Superego Psychosexual Development Freud - Sprouts Psychology

Freud claimed that our mind operates in 3 spheres, which we can imagine as a submarine. The unconscious level operates the id. The preconscious level operates the superego. The conscious and preconscious levels operate our ego.

Sigmund Freud
Psychosexual Development Freud - Sprouts Psychology

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.”

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Classroom exercise

Freud’s theory of psychosexual development can seem like an overwhelming topic to learn or teach at first. Try breaking it down into each stage and key point and assigning groups of students to each. Have them work together to create a presentation in whichever form they like. It could be a short movie shot on their phone camera, a painting, an acting scene, or a more formal presentation. Get creative! Have each group present to the class to bring the full topic together.

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