Introduction to Psychoanalytic Personality Theory
Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality argued that human behavior was the result of the interaction of three component parts of the mind: the id, ego, and superego. His structural theory placed great importance on the role of unconscious psychological conflicts in shaping behavior and personality. Dynamic interactions among these basic parts of the mind were thought to carry human beings through five psychosexual stages of development: oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital. Each stage required mastery for a human to develop properly and move on to the next stage successfully. Freud’s ideas have since been met with criticism, mostly because of his singular focus on sexuality as the main driver of human personality development.
Freud’s Structure of the Human Mind
According to Freud, the human personality was structured into three separate parts: the id, ego, and superego (Figure 2). The id was the most primitive structure, functioned unconsciously, operated on the pleasure principle, and sought instant gratification. The ego was less primitive, functioned in partial consciousness, operated with reason on the reality principle, and regulated the id by satisfying urges only when appropriate. The superego was the most modern structure, functioned consciously, operated on the moral principle, and regulated the id based on social learning and issues of morality. Freud believed that these three basic structures were in constant conflict. The results of these internal struggles throughout childhood were thought to influence the development of adult personality and behavior.
Psychosexual Stages of Development
Freud worked mainly with troubled adults, and delved deeply into their childhood memories during his experiments and examinations (Figure 1). Based on their accounts of experiences and dreams in youth, Freud defined five basic stages of development that he believed to be crucial in the formation of adult personality. He called his idea the psychosexual theory of development, with each stage directly related to a different physical center of pleasure. At each stage, the child is presented with a conflict between biological drives and social expectations. His/her ability to resolve these internal conflicts determined future coping and functioning ability as a fully-mature adult.
1. Oral Stage (birth to 1.5 years of age): The oral stage’s major pleasure center is the oral cavity. A baby’s first experience with much of the physical world is through the mouth. The goal of this stage was to develop the proper amount of sucking, eating, biting, and talking, which aid in early development steps such as breast feeding and speaking. Children who did not master this stage would develop an oral fixation that might lead to drinking, smoking, and nail-biting or other mouth-based aggressive behaviors.
2. Anal Stage (1.5-3 years of age): The anal stage’s major pleasure center is the anal cavity. One of the first impulses that a baby must learn to control is his/her excretion system. The goal of this stage is mastery of this system, which usually culminates in proper toilet training. Children who do not adequately master this stage or were harshly punished during the toilet training process developed an anal fixation. This might lead to anal retentive or anal expulsive personalities in which one is overly tidy, and the other overly messy.
3. Phallic Stage (3-5 years of age): The phallic stage’s major pleasure center is the main genital organ in either boys or girls. The child is thought to develop his/her first sexual desires which are directed at the closest known adult: the opposite sex parent. Boys develop the Oedipal complex with affection for their mothers while girls developed the Elektra complex with affection for their fathers. The goal of this stage is to master this internal conflict and move toward more appropriate sexual desires. Children who struggle here develop phallic fixations which affect their relationships with their parents adversely.
4. Latency Stage (5-12 years of age): The latency stage’s major pleasure centers are dormant sexual feelings for the opposite sex. Here, the child consolidates character habits developed in the previous three stages. Successful mastery in each of these stages is necessary for a mature, adult personality to develop before puberty. If the child does not learn to derive pleasure from external sources such as schooling or friendships, he/she may develop neuroses or fixations on socially unacceptable activities.
5. Genital Stage (12 years - adulthood): The genital stage’s main pleasure center is the surge of sexual hormones in the body during puberty. Adolescents must establish successful relationships with peers in order to master this stage. Young adults who do not transition from solitary, infantile sexuality to consensual, mature sexuality develop fixations on sex and tend to have unsuccessful relationships.