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Psychosexual Stages of Personal Development

Examination of the psychosexual stages of child development and how inappropriate parenting can impact child development.

The Viennese neurologist, Sigmund Freud, was among the first to offer a model of psychological development in early childhood (within the framework of psychoanalysis). He closely linked the sex drive (libido) to the formation of personality and described five psychosexual stages, four of which are centered around various erogenous zones in the body.

The pursuit of pleasure ("the pleasure principle") and the avoidance of pain drive the infant to explore his or her self and the world at large. Pleasure is inextricably linked to sexual gratification. In the oral phase (from birth to 24 months), the baby focuses on the tongue, lips, and mouth and derives gratification from breast feeding, thumb sucking, biting, swallowing, and other oral exploratory activities.

This is naturally followed by the anal stage (24 to 36 months). The baby immensely enjoys defecation and related bowel movements. But it is also the first time in his or her life that the toddler is subjected to the censure and displeasure of caretakers. Hitherto unconditionally adoring adults now demand that the infant delay gratification, relieve himself only in the bathroom, and not play with his feces. This experience - of hitherto unprecedented adult approbation - can be traumatic.

The phallic stage (age 3 to 6 years) involves the discovery of the penis and clitoris as foci of pleasurable experience. This tantalizing novelty is coupled with sexual desire directed at the parent of the opposite sex (boys are attracted to their mothers and girls, to their fathers). The child overtly and covertly competes with the same-sex parent for the desired parent's attention: boys joust with their fathers and girls with their mothers. These are the famous Oedipal and Electra complexes.

If the parent is insufficiently mature or narcissistic and encourages the attentions of the child in acts of covert (emotional) and overt (physical) incest, it could lead to the development of certain mental health disorders, among them the Histrionic, Narcissistic, and Borderline personality disorders. Doting, over-indulgence, and smothering are, therefore, forms of child abuse. Sexual innuendo, treating the child as an adult or substitute partner, or regarding one's offspring as an extension of one's self also constitute abusive conduct.

The phallic stage is followed by 6 to 7 years of latent sexuality that is rekindled in puberty. Adolescence is a period of personal development labeled by Freud the genital phase. In the previous rungs of psychosexual evolution, the child's own body was the source of sexual pleasure. Hitherto, the adolescent and young adult seeks sexual gratification from and invests sexual energy in others. This object-relatedness is what we call mature love.

This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited"


 

next: International Classification of Diseases (ICD) 10

APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2009, October 1). Psychosexual Stages of Personal Development, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/psychosexual-stages-of-personal-development

Last Updated: July 5, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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