Freudian Stages of Development

Sigmund Freud was an early 20th century Austrian neurologist who founded the psychoanalytic school of psychiatry. He pioneered the theory of psycho-sexual development, one of the best known personality theories, which is a series of stages that children go through. Each stage is primarily concerned with a specific part of the anatomy, and each has implications for adult life.

The first stage of development, which takes place between birth and two years, is known as the oral phase. This focuses on the pleasures of the mouth. Babies learn about the world by putting objects into their mouths. If the child becomes fixated on this phase he or she will remain in it through adulthood and display oral behaviour such as smoking, compulsive eating, or drinking.

Stage Two, known as the anal phase, takes place when the child is between two and four years of age. During this time, the child is potty training and therefore has a growing awareness of this part of his or her body. A child who does not want to use a potty can react one of two ways, depending on whether there is too much or too little punishment during toilet training.  An anal retentive child simply refuses to use the toilet because he or she is unable to go when and where they please. When the anal retentive child grows up, he or she will display behavioural traits such excessive order and tidiness, fussiness, stinginess, and may even be anti-social. An anal expulsive child is the complete opposite of this; he or she will simply soil their pants or simply go to the toilet wherever they please. An anal expulsive personality will manifest itself in adulthood by a lack of organisation and self control, messiness, and a lack of concern for other people’s feelings.

Stage Three occurs between four and six years of age and is known as the phallic stage.  At this age the child becomes aware of his or her genitals. They will masturbate frequently. How they react will depend on their parents’ reaction if they catch them doing it. If the parents are upset, the child is likely to develop a complex whereby the find their genitals dirty and shameful. If their parents simply ignore this behaviour, there are unlikely to be any adverse consequences for the child. It is during this stage that the Oedipus and Electra complexes occur.

The resolution of the phallic stage leads to the latency period, which takes place between ages six and twelve. Freud saw this as a quiet period, during which no psycho-sexual development occurred, and instead, repression of sexual desires took place. The child channels their sexual energy into other pursuits, such as school, friendships, and sports. Once puberty begins, however, the genitals once again become the central focus of the child’s sexual energy.

The fifth and final stage of development is the genital phase, which takes place between ages 12 and18. This is when the child is going through puberty. The child reaches sexual maturity during this phase and develops a strong interest in the opposite sex. If the other psycho-sexual stages have been successfully completed, the individual will have grown into a well-rounded, warm and caring adult. If the child has not moved through all previous stages, however, they may grow up to become isolated or sexually promiscuous.

Freud’s theory is widely discounted today, as psychologists believe that development does not end when an individual is 18, but does, in fact, continue throughout a person’s life. His work does remain influential in clinical approaches, however, and he is still considered to be one of the most prominent original thinkers of the first half of the 20th century.