Sigmund Freud was a Viennese physician who developed his theory of development by trying to help emotionally troubled adults. His theory was described as a psychosexual theory of development, meaning parents had a crucial role in managing their children's sexual and aggressive drives during the first few years of life in order to develop properly.
Freud believe the personality consisted of three interworking parts - the id, the ego and the superego . These parts become unified as a child works through the five stages of psychosexual development. The id, the largest part of the mind, is related to desires and impulses and is the main source of basic biological needs. The ego is related to reasoning and is the conscious, rational part of the personality. The ego monitors behavior in order to satisfy basic desires without obtaining negative consequences. This interaction is known as the reality principle. The superego, or conscience, develops through interactions with others (mainly parents), who want the child to conform to the norms of society. The superego restricts the desires of the id, taking into account morals and values from society. Freud believed that a struggle existed between these levels of consciousness, influencing personality development and psychopathology
Stages of Development
Even though Freud's stages are related to children, he never treated children and instead based his theory on his work with troubled adults. The five stages of his psychosexual development theory include the oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages, described below.
- Oral - During this stage, the mouth is the pleasure center for development. Freud believed this is why infants are born with a sucking reflex and desire their mother's breast. If a child's oral needs are not met during infancy, he or she may develop negative habits such as nail biting or thumb sucking to meet this basic need.
- Anal - During this stage, toddlers and preschool-aged children begin to experiment with urine and feces. The control they learn to exert over their bodily functions is manifested in toilet-training. Improper resolution of this stage, such as parents toilet training too early, can result in a child that is uptight and overly obsessed with order.
- Phallic - During this stage, preschoolers take pleasure in their genitals, and they begin to struggle with sexual desires toward the opposite sex parent (boys to mothers and girls to fathers). This gives rise to the Oedipus conflict (in boys) and the Electra conflict (in girls).
- Latency - During this stage, sexual instincts subside, and children begin to further develop the superego, or conscience. Children begin to behave in morally acceptable ways and adopt the values of their parents and other important adults.
- Genital - During this stage, sexual impulses reemerge. If other stages have been successfully met, adolescents engage in appropriate sexual behavior, which may lead to marriage and childbirth.
Freud's psychosexual theory is controversial and has been met with much criticism. First, Freud never worked directly with children; his stages are based on his work with adults. Second, many believed his work was too focused on human sexuality; this is especially true of the Oedipus complex and sexual desire toward parents. Some critics of Freud believe the memories and fantasies of childhood seduction Freud reported were not real memories but constructs that Freud created and forced upon his patients. Finally, supporters of feminist theory believe Freud's theory to be sexist and overly reliant upon a male perspective (for example, his belief that girls developed sexual libido due to "penis envy").