The Psychosociosexual, Part I: The Psychosexual

There are several theories about the development of children, but none come close to the ingenuity of Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual and Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theories of development, both of which are psychodynamic perspectives, which is to say that they are concerned with the conflicts within our very own psyches, or souls. As the founding father of psychoanalysis and modern psychology, in this volume of “Çamlık” I will be discussing Freud and his theory. According to Freud, our personalities are molded within the first 6 years of our lives according to our experiences, and that we go through 5 different stages of development, all of which present us with unique challenges and possible healthy or unhealthy outcomes. These stages are: oral (birth to 1 year of age), anal (1 to 3 years), phallic (3 to 6 years), latent (6 to puberty), and genital (puberty onward). These stages derive their names from the main source of pleasure, or primary erogenous zone. Next, I will be describing each stage in detail (as much as the format allows me).

THE ORAL STAGE (Birth – 1 Year)

During this stage, a child’s main concern is being breastfed by his mother, which builds trust and a loving bond between them. If the mother is attentive to the child’s needs during this formative first year, breastfeeds him regularly and moderately, and near the end of the stage, weans the child off of breastmilk successfully, the oral stage is said to be successfully completed, or resolved.

If, however, the child is either not breastfed enough, or, breastfed too much and not weaned off timely, oral fixations, could occur. The effects can be readily seen in our adult lives; we all know people who are inclined to smoke, drink, overeat, talk excessively, chip at their nails, chew their pencils, and so on. The exact results depend on the ways in which the stage was not successfully completed.

THE ANAL STAGE (1 – 3 Years)

In this stage, the child’s primary erogenous zone becomes the anus, or, in other words, defecation is the source of pleasure, and whether/when to hold it in, and when to let it go is the primary concern. As parents potty train their child during these years, the child is conflicted within himself; on the one hand, defecating as it comes is pleasurable, on the other, the parents are trying to teach the child the proper time and place to do so. If the parents strike a balance between establishing authority and giving the child autonomy, the child can successfully complete this stage.

If, however, the parents are too rigid, or too loose, the child’s personality is affected. If the former is true, he could become too tidy, organized, stingy, and obsequious. If the latter is, then the exact antonyms of those adjectives apply, and they, the anally expulsive, have an impulse to share every little thing.

THE PHALLIC STAGE (3 – 6 Years)

This is the stage in which the child’s source of pleasure shifts from his anus to his genitals, and masturbation is discovered. These can be observed in children’s becoming aware of the two different sexes and corresponding genitalia, and acts such as rubbing genitals against objects. For boys, this stage also brings with it the well-known Oedipus complex, which draws its name from Oedipus Rex, a tragedy, by the famous Greek playwright Sophocles. Briefly, the child develops sexual feelings for his mother, but because of the presence of the father, despairs at the impossibility of its consummation, and possibility of being punished by his father. The child believes that the punishment will come in the form of castration, which invokes in him castration anxiety. This conflict is resolved through the child’s identification with his father, hence the reason boys in this stage begin to dress, talk, and behave like their fathers, and wish to take up their jobs as well.

In the case that such a father figure is not present physically, or the father is seen as weak, the conflict goes unresolved. As a result, the child could become obsessed with his mother, go for partners who resemble them to a great degree, and/or lack a proper set of values and morals, for the lack of identification.

As for girls, Freud, in an old fashion, uses the term penis envy to describe their experience. He argues that girls come to think they once had a penis, and it had been cut off by their mother. This evokes feelings of wrath towards them, and the desire to have sex with their fathers, in order to take possession, even if for the duration of the consummation, of their penis. Freud does not believe penis envy is ever resolved successfully, which leads to father fixation (colloquially known as “daddy issues”) in many of them. (Mind you, Freud’s beliefs on this subject are outdated, and other psychodynamic thinkers, such as Carl Gustav Jung or Karen Horney, have come up with different theories.)

THE LATENT STAGE (6 – Puberty)

The definition of the word latent very well explains what is meant by this stage: “Present or potential but not evident or active”. The sexual urges of the previous stage are repressed, and as the period coincides with the beginning of children’s formal education, the formation of social skills through interaction with peers and academic skills through schoolwork takes place.

Failure to do as such could lead to the formation of unhealthy relationships in adult life.

THE GENITAL STAGE (Puberty onwards)

With puberty, sexual urges become active once again, in the light of the resolved and unresolved conflicts of one’s past. Those in the former category develop likable, socially acceptable personalities, and go on to build healthy relationships with peers, ultimately finding a suitable partner.

Freud, however, thinks that there are almost no healthy individuals, that everyone is damaged and neurotic in some way, and needs psychoanalysis to overcome their unresolved conflicts. The presence of unusual fetishes, for instance, results from a failure in such a prior stage. A cheerful example would be defecation and urination fetishes, owing to problems in the anal stage, about which I will not be going into detail.

Fortunately, a vast majority of us are neurotic in perfectly healthy ways, and merely have some personality quirks, such as being tidier, or more talkative, or more rebellious, and so on, than others, and need not worry. Not that psychoanalysis would do us any harm, in any case.