Due to the fairly predictable time-line that the childhood behaviors in question follow, Freud developed a model for what he considered to be the "normal" sexual development of the child, which he called "libido development". According to this theory, each child passes through five psychosexual stages. During each stage, the libido has a different erogenous zone as the source of its drives.
However, in the pursuit of satisfying these sexual urges, the child may experience failure or reprimands from its parents or society and may thus come to associate anxiety with this erogenous zone. In order to avoid this anxiety, the child becomes preoccupied with themes related to this zone, a phenomenon Freud termed fixation. Freud believed the fixation persists into adulthood and underlies the personality structure and psychopathology, including neurosis, hysteria and personality disorders. Freud called this psychosexual infantilism.
|Stage||Age Range||Erogenous zone(s)||Consequences of Fixation|
|Oral||0-18 months||Mouth|| Orally aggressive: Signs include chewing gum or ends of pens.|
Signs include smoking/eating/kissing/fellatio/cunnilingus
Fixation at this stage may result in passivity, gullibility, immaturity and manipulative personality
|Anal||18-36 months||Bowel and bladder elimination|| Anal retentive: Obsession with organization or excessive neatness|
Reckless, careless, defiant, disorganized, Coprophiliac
|Phallic||3-6 years||Genitals||Oedipus complex (in boys only according to Freud) Electra complex (in girls only, later developed by Carl Jung)|
|Latency||6 years-puberty||Dormant sexual feelings||(People do not tend to fixate at this stage, but if they do, they tend to be extremely sexually unfulfilled.)|
|Genital||Puberty and beyond||Sexual interests mature||Frigidity, impotence, unsatisfactory relationships|
The key experience in this stage is weaning, during which the child loses much of the intimate contact with the mother and leads to the first feeling of loss ever experienced by the baby. Weaning also adds to the baby’s awareness of self, since it learns that not everything is under its control, but also that gratification is not always immediate.
In this stage, the gratification of needs will lead to the formation of independence (since the baby forms a clear idea about the limits of the self and has formed its ego), and trust (since the baby learned that specific behaviours will lead to gratification and thus to trust its own abilities as well as its parents' and general social environment's willingness to meet its requirements) . On the other hand, a fixation can lead to passivity, gullibility, immaturity and unrealistic optimism, and also to the formation of a generally manipulative personality due to improper formation of the ego. This can be the result of either too much or too little gratification. In the case of too much gratification, the child does not learn that not everything is under its control and that gratification is not always immediate (which are the results of weaning), forming an immature personality. On the other hand, the child’s needs may be insufficiently met, and thus the child becomes passive since it has learned that whether it produces behaviour or not, no gratification will come. In some societies it is common for a child to be nursed by its mother for several years, whereas in others the stage is much shorter. Sucking and eating, however, compose the earliest memories for infants in every society. This stage holds special importance because some tribal societies commonly found in the Southwest Pacific and Africa, consider the stomach to be the seat of emotions.
The major conflict of this stage is called Oedipus complex Oedipal conflict, the name deriving from Oedipus, who killed his father and unintentionally slept with his mother. Freud used the term Oedipal for both sexes, but other analysts proposed that we refer to the female variant as electra complex. In the beginning, for both sexes the primary care giver (at least at most societies) and main source of gratification is the mother. As the child develops, however, it starts forming a sexual identity and the dynamics for boys and girls alter. For both sexes, the parents become the focus of drive energy.
For the boy, the mother becomes more desired, while the father is the focus of jealousy and rivalry, since he is the one who sleeps with the mother, but still he is one of the main caregivers. The id wants to unite with the mother and kill the father (like Oedipus did), but the ego, based on the reality principle, knows that the father is stronger. The child also feels affectionate towards the father, one of the caregivers, and his feelings are ambivalent. The fear that the father will object to the boy’s feelings is expressed by the id as fear that the father will castrate him. The castration fear is not rational, and occurs in a subconscious irrational level.
Freud argued that young girls followed more or less the same psychosexual development as boys. Whereas the boy would develop a castration anxiety castration conflict, the girl would go on to develop penis envy, the envy the female feels toward the male because the male possesses a penis. The envy is rooted in the fact that without a penis, the female cannot sexually possess the mother as driven to by the Id. As a result of this realization, she is driven to desire sexual union with the father. After this stage, the woman has an extra stage in her development when the clitoris should wholly or in part hand over its sensitivity and its importance to the vagina.The young girl must also at some point give up her first object-choice, the mother, in order to take the father as her new proper object-choice. Her eventual move into heterosexual femininity, which culminates in giving birth, grows out of her earlier infantile desires, with her own child taking place of the penis in accordance with an ancient symbolic equivalence. Generally, Freud considered the Oedipal conflict experienced by girls more intense than that experienced by boys, potentially resulting in a more submissive and less confident personality.
In both cases the conflict between the id drives and the ego is resolved through two basic defence mechanisms of the ego. One of them is repression, which involves the blocking of memories, impulses and ideas from the conscious mind, but does not lead to resolution of the conflict. The second is identification, which involves incorporation of characteristics of the same-sex parent into the child’s own ego. The boy by adopting this mechanism seeks for the reduction of castration fears, since his similarity with the father is thought to protect the boy from him. The identification of girls with the mother is easier, since the girl realises that neither she, nor her mother have a penis. Freud's theory regarding the psychosexual dynamic present in female children in this point of their psychosexual development is termed, though not by Freud himself, the Electra complex. Freud's theory of feminine sexuality, particularly penis envy, has been sharply criticized in both Gender theory gender and feminist theory.
If the conflict is not resolved, a fixation in this stage may lead to adult women striving for superiority over men, if she had overwhelming feelings of devastation due to lack of penis, being seductive and flirtatious, or very submissive and with low self-esteem. On the other hand, men can exhibit excessive ambition and vanity. Overall, the Oedipal conflict is very important for the super ego development, since by identifying with one of the parents, morality becomes internalised, and compliance with rules is not any more the result of punishment fear. A poor identification with the opposite sex parent may lead to recklessness or even immorality.
The latency period is typified by a solidifying of the habits that the child developed in the earlier stages. Whether the Oedipal conflict is successfully resolved or not, the drives of the id are not accessible to the ego during this stage of development, since they have been repressed during the phallic stage. Hence the drives are seen as dormant and hidden (latent), and the gratification the child receives is not as immediate as it was during the three previous stages. Now pleasure is mostly related to secondary process thinking. Drive energy is redirected to new activities, mainly related to schooling, hobbies and friends. Problems however might occur during this stage, and this is attributed to inadequate repression of the Oedipal conflict, or to the inability of the ego to redirect the drive energy to activities accepted by the social environment.
Scientifically minded researchers have criticized Freud's statement, in his 1914 paper, "On Narcissism," that "It is impossible to suppose that a unity comparable to the ego can exist in the individual from the very start". Ample evidence documents a functioning ego in infants, even in neonates, contrary to Freud's speculation. The neonate shows surprising ability to track moving targets, to differentiate a familiar from an unfamiliar stimulus, and to react meaningfully with the care giver. Further, children show signs of superego behaviour earlier than Freud's suggestion that it does not arise until after the Oedipal Complex has been resolved.
Cultural considerations have largely influenced the assumptions within the psychodynamic perspective. Freud stated that the Oedipal Complex is universal and essential for development. Bronislaw Malinowski, an anthropologist who studied the behaviour of villagers in the Trobriand Islands, challenged common western views such as Freud's Oedipus complex and their claim to universality. In the Trobriand society the boys are disciplined by their mothers’ brothers instead of their biological fathers (avunclular society). As he recounts in his work, Sex and Repression in Savage Society (1927), Malinowski found that boys had dreams in which the target of fears was not their father, but their uncle. Based on this observation, Malinowski argued that power, not sexual jealousy, is the base for the oedipal tension. As a result, Segall et al. hypothesised that Freud’s theory was based on a misinterpretation of a confounding variable .
A survey of scientific research showed that while personality traits corresponding to Freud's oral, anal, Oedipal, and genital phases can be observed, they cannot be observed as stages in the development of children, nor can it be confirmed that such traits in adults result from childhood experiences (Fisher & Greenberg, 1977, p. 399) .
For example, Freud stated that young females develop "penis envy" toward the males during their psychosexual development. In response, Karen Horney, a German Freudian psychoanalyst, argued that young females develop "power envy" instead of "penis envy" toward the male. She also suggested the concept of "womb envy" in males, which is defined as jealousy of ability to bear children. However, more modern formulations consider this as an envy of the perceived right of women to be nurturing.