Psychosexual Stages of Personality Development

Little girls dress attempting to wrap around sarees and dupattas to look like their mothers. The daughter argued to sit close to her father. Son calls his mother darling just like his dad does. These are all events that can be studied through a psychoanalytical lens. Anecdotal instances like these have already been studied within the field. Sigmund Freud proposed the theory of psychosexual stages of personality development to study such instances.

Psychosexual Stages

Like other stage theories, Freud's Stages of Psychosexual Development have to be completed in a predetermined sequence. Completing all stages results in developing a healthy personality, while incomplete development causes failure leading to an unhealthy personality. This is one of the most well-known as well as the most controversial theories within the discipline of psychology. Freud felt that humans evolve in phases based on our erogenous zone. A failed completion throughout each stage implies that a youngster becomes obsessed with that particular erogenous zone and either over- or under-indulges as an adult.

Oral Stage

A baby can be usually seen suckling one's thumb or smiling. The child focuses on oral pleasure (feeding) during the oral phase. Too much or too little satisfaction can lead to oral fixation or verbal personality, which is reflected in preoccupation with verbal activities. This type of personality may be more prone to smoking, drinking, overeating, or biting their nails. Personality-wise, these individuals can become overly dependent on others, becoming gullible and persistent followers. On the other hand, you can fight this urge and develop pessimism and aggression towards others.

Anal Stage

At this stage, the child's pleasure is focused on passing and holding feces. Due to pressure from society, especially from parents, children must learn to control anal stimulation. Personality-wise, anal fixation at this stage can lead to an obsession with cleanliness, perfection, and control (anal retention). The theory also contends that a parent's approach to potty training a child impacts the child's subsequent behavior.

Phallic Stage

At this age, the pleasure zone switches to the genitals. At this stage, children just become aware of the opposite sex. Freud argued that being conscious of sexual differences might lead to desire, competition, jealousy, and terror. This, according to him, led to the development of the Oedipus complex and the Electra complex in children at this stage.

  • Oedipus complex − According to Freud's theory, boys develop unconscious sexual desires for their mothers during this stage. Due to this, boys develop a fear of and rivalry with their fathers and compete for their mother's affection.
  • Electra complex − Similarly, girls develop unconscious sexual desires for their fathers. Although Freud strongly disagreed with this idea, it was widely accepted by more recent psychoanalysts.

According to Freud, out of fear and due to the strong competition with fathers, boys eventually decide to identify with their fathers. By identifying with their fathers, the boy develops masculine characteristics, identifies as a male, and represses sexual feelings toward his mother. According to psychoanalysts, a focus at this point may lead to sexual deviancies (both overindulgence and avoidance) and a weak or muddled sexual identity.

Latency Stage

Freud believed that the ego suppresses the id during this stage. This stage, according to him, is when a child begins to relate to the community by taking on values, mastering social skills, and making friends outside of their immediate family. During this stage, the ego and superego are important, directing sexual energy toward various outlets. Hobbies, extracurricular, and education all take center stage. According to Freud, this is when kids form the closest bonds with other kids their age, devote their attention to these friendships, and pick up new skills and experiences. Freud believed fixation at this stage would lead to immaturity and the incapacity to form intimate interpersonal relationships as an adult.

Genital Stage

According to Freud, the genital stage begins at puberty and lasts until adulthood. He claimed that the onset of puberty causes an active libido and sexual attraction. According to Freud's theory, the pleasure experienced during the genital stage is concentrated on heterosexual pleasure instead of the self-pleasure experienced during the phallic stage. Freud thought that heterosexual partnerships were the best way for the sexual urge to express itself. By this time, Freud believes that the ego and superego have been fully developed. Unlike early childhood, by the time of puberty, children learn to keep their desires in check, keeping them within societal norms.

Major Criticism

Despite its popularity and influence, Freud's idea of psychosexual phases has drawn much criticism. For various reasons, scientific experts and feminist theorists have rejected his theory. For one thing, Freud's theory is difficult to test scientifically, and some studies have found it not entirely plausible. Freud himself never conducted empirical research, relying on anecdotal reports from adult patients. Finally, his focus on male development, and his theory of penis envy, have led many feminist scholars to declare his theory groundless and completely wrong.

Why Read About It Now?

Even though this theory has been heavily criticized, at its core, it holds an idea that forms the basis of several fields of psychology today. The core of this theory focuses on the fact that childhood experiences have a profound and lasting impact on our behavior, and this premise has been used to derive multiple theories of human behavior that are actively used in the present. Therefore, understanding Freud's theory on developmental stages provides a perspective into olden-day psychological studies and has also largely influenced how we study human development today.


According to Freud, the relationships an individual maintains, their beliefs about themselves and others, and their level of adjustment and well-being as adults are all affected by the quality of their experiences during the psychosexual stage. Although this is one of the most complex and controversial theories of child development, we cannot ignore the important ideas that Freud contributed to the field of psychology and human development.


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