Stages of Psychosexual Development: Later Childhood
“Children are completely egoistic; they feel their needs intensely and strive ruthlessly to satisfy them.” ―Sigmund Freud
Welcome back! Yesterday, I introduced you to Freud’s theory of psychosexual development. We covered the first two stages, which occur in early childhood, the oral and anal stages. In today’s lecture, we are going to continue exploring the model, picking up where we left off.
Phallic stage. The phallic stage is the third in the model and takes place from about three to five years of age. The focus of the child once again shifts to a new erogenous zone; in this case the genitals. Freud argued that the child becomes aware of not only their own sex organs but also those of their parents. Children begin to develop a sense of self and the constructs of masculinity vs femininity. In addition, Freud thought that children begin to experience sexual feelings toward the opposite sex parent; for young boys, this means developing feelings for their mother, and for girls, desiring their father.
One of Freud’s most well-known and provocative ideas is the Oedipus complex. Evolved from the Greek tragedy of Oedipus Rex, the Oedipus complex states that because the child desires the opposite-sex parent, they become jealous of the same-sex parent and wish to replace them. However, they also realize that this is inherently dangerous and fear retaliation. For boys, Freud suggested that the key fear is castration; therefore, they can develop castration anxiety. As such, the only feasible option is to repress these feelings, and they instead come to identify with the father.
For girls, the situation is even more complex. Freud believed that the desire for their father never really goes away and that they begin to look for similar traits in potential mates later on. According to Freud, girls experience penis envy, a desire to possess male genitals, which they then blame on their mother. They come to hate their mother and love their father. He termed this the Electra complex, and while it creates less tension than the Oedipus complex, it typically lasts longer.
What are the signs of phallic stage fixation in adults? Freud identified male behaviors such as over-the-top masculinity, vanity, and aggression as being due to unremitted castration anxiety. In a similar vein, evidence for fixation among women would include things like narcissism and exhibitionism. In both cases, people often have difficulty maintaining romantic relationships.
Latency period. The fourth stage is the latency period, which lasts from roughly age five through to puberty. This is a period of relative calm. Sexual desires are thought to be either minimal or reduced through the defense mechanism of sublimation. During this stage, children are more preoccupied with other interests and would rather spend time with friends.
Genital stage. The fifth and the final psychosexual stage is the genital stage, which begins at around age ten and lasts through to adulthood. The primary erogenous zone of this stage is the genitals. Freud suggested that no new challenge specific to this stage appears; however, those who did not successfully navigate the challenges from previous stages may experience a re-emergence of their anxiety.
The overwhelming preoccupation of the genital stage is reproduction and developing the social skills required to attract a suitable partner. Not surprisingly, the Id-Ego-Superego dynamic experiences a great deal of instability during these teenage years. For example, some of the impulsive behavior commonly attributed to the teen years would be the result of the inability of the Ego to keep the Id’s urges in check. Successful completion of the genital stage results in the individual becoming an adult who can maintain meaningful relationships and is generally free of neuroses. Of course, this also depends on whether they have become fixated at any of the earlier stages in childhood.
Today’s task: Most of us can remember things that happened during our teenage years that we may have come to regret. Thinking about your own life, would any of your own experiences result from an Id-Ego-Superego conflict? Can you think of examples where the Ego was able to remain in control?
That brings this lesson to a close. Tomorrow, we are going to discuss Freud’s most relevant followers and colleagues, the Neo-Freudians.
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