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Psychosexual Development

Freud believed that personality develops through a series of childhood stages during which the pleasure-seeking energies of the id become focused on certain erogenous areas.

Psychosexual energy, or libido, is suggested to be the driving force behind behavior. At particular points in the developmental process, a single body part is particularly sensitive to sexual, erotic stimulation (Dimen, 1999). These erogenous zones are the mouth, the anus, and the genital region.

A child at a given stage of development has certain needs and demands, and if these psychosexual stages are completed successfully, the result is a healthy personality. However, frustration occurs when these needs are not met, and if certain issues are not resolved at the appropriate stage, the individual will become fixated and will focus persistently on an earlier psychosexual stage, in which the individual will remain stuck until this conflict is resolved.

Psychoanalytic theory suggests five psychosexual stages. The first stage is the oral stage, experienced during the first year of life. During the oral stage, the infant's primary source of interaction occurs through the mouth, so the rooting and sucking reflexes are especially important (Heimann, 1962).The mouth is vital for eating, and the infant derives pleasure from oral stimulation through gratifying activities such as tasting and sucking. Because the infant is entirely dependent on caretakers to satiate these needs, the infant also develops a sense of trust and comfort through this oral stimulation. The primary conflict at the oral stage is the weaning process; the infant must become less dependent on the caretakers and more self-reliant to meet his or her own needs. Freud believed that if fixation occurs at this stage, the individual would have issues with dependency or aggression later in life, which may result in problems with an emphasis on oral stimulation, such as drinking, eating, smoking, or nail biting (Nevid, 2009).

The second stage is the anal stage, occurring between 1 and 3 years of age. The focus of this stage is on controlling bladder and bowel movements. The major conflict at this stage is toilet training; the child has to learn to control his or her bodily needs. Developing this control leads to a sense of accomplishment and independence (Gabbard, 1979). According to Freud, success at this stage depends on the way in which parents approach toilet training. Freud believed that positive experiences during this stage serves as the basis for adults to become competent, productive, and creative, whereas inappropriate parental responses result in two primary negative outcomes. If parents take an approach that is too lenient, Freud suggested that an anal-expulsive personality could develop in which the individual has a messy, wasteful, or destructive personality. And if parents are too strict or begin toilet training prematurely, an anal-retentive personality develops, in which the individual is stringent, orderly, rigid, and obsessive (Heimann, 1962).

The third stage is the phallic stage, in which the libido is primarily focused on the genitals between ages 3 and 6. Children also discover the differences between males and females. Freud believed that at this stage, boys begin to view their fathers as a rival for the mother's affections (Howes, 1997). The Oedipus complex describes these feelings of wanting to possess the mother and the desire to replace the father. However, the child also fears that he will be punished by the father for these feelings, a fear Freud termed castration anxiety. The term Electra complex has been used to describe a similar set of feelings experienced by young girls but is derived from what Freud believed was penis envy. He theorized that eventually the girl begins to identify with the same-sex parent as a means of vicariously possessing the other parent. For girls, however, Freud believed that penis envy is never fully resolved and that all women remain somewhat fixated on this stage (Fuchs- man, 2001).

Between ages 6 and 12, children experience the latency stage, during which the id, the ego, and the superego develop the foundation for the adult's instinctual drives and behavioral responses. This fourth stage is a time of exploration in which the sexual energy is still present, but it is directed into other areas such as intellectual pursuits and social interactions. The stage begins around the time that children enter school and become more concerned with peer relationships, extracurricular activities, and personal interests. The development of the ego and superego contributes to this period of calm as the id and libido are suppressed (Schneider, 1988).

The final stage, the genital stage, begins after age 12 and continues through adulthood. During this stage, the individual develops strong sexual interests, drives, and desires. Whereas in earlier stages the focus was solely on individual needs, an interest in the welfare of others also grows during this stage. If the other stages have been completed successfully, the individual should now be well balanced, warm, and caring. The goal of this stage is to establish a balance between the various life areas. In a sense, this is the stage in which the ego fully emerges to mediate the conflict between the id and superego with regard to one's social and sexual interactions with others (Carducci, 2009).

 
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