Sigmund Freuds Psychosexual Theory
Sigmund Freud was one of the prominent psychoanalysts that emerged from Europe in the early 20th century. I will be briefly evaluating the Freudian Psychosexual Theory, taking into consideration the implications of his theories and methodologies as well as remarking on his contributions. I will also lightly touch upon the Psychosexual stages, which Freud believed to be the basis for perversions in adults.
Comprised of three essays of Sexuality (1905), Freud formalised an account of his psychosexual development theory through Psychoanalytical methods that were developed in order to cure neurosis. In this essay, the Psychosexual perspective postulates that children navigate through a series of stages in which they confront biological drives and social expectation paradox. The resolution of these conflicts determines a person’s aptitude to learn, to integrate socially and to cope with anxiety (Berk, 2004; p16–17). Thus positing the ideas illuminated by Freud in his (1905) essay. It expresses that if a certain stage was only partially developed the result would be detrimental to that person’s development. For example, if a child’s oral stimuli is not received there could be propensity to acquire habits such as smoking in later development (Berk, 2004; p17).
Freud (1913) himself stated, ‘The normal sexuality of adults emerges from infantile sexuality by a series of developments, combinations, divisions and suppressions, which are scarcely ever achieved with ideal perfection and consequently leave behind predispositions to a retrogression of the function in the form of illness”. Although revolutionary for his era, these ideas contracted criticisms for over-sexualising children’s development, being limited to the sexually repressed wealthy society he analysed, inapplicable to other cultures and from the absence of childhood study itself (Berk, 2004; p16).
In contrast, Neo-Freudian Erik Erikson extrapolations refine Freud’s theory. With the addition of three adult stages, he created the dually mirrored ‘Psychosocial’ stages in which he accentuated ego development and societal factors across the lifespan, which Freud’s theory had overlooked. Berk (2004) asserts, “Unlike Freud, Erikson pointed out that normal development must be understood in relation to each culture’s life situation”. Erikson was also unique because he created the ‘adolescent crisis’ (Green and Piel, 2013; p99). Freud’s lack of capacity in the domain of children’s human development across the lifespan in society allowed Erikson to discover the necessity of theory covering development across the entire human cycle (Berk; p17).
With the publication of ‘The Ego and The Id’ in 1923 “The corpus of his basic writings was completed: from this point on, Freud was simply to modify details in a fully constructed theory” (Hughes, 1979; p394). In this theory he portrayed three conflicting parts of the mind: the id, ego and superego. The id is propelled by unconscious biological desires, the superego is driven by the urge to conform to societal norms and the ego must mediate between the id and the superego. “From birth the ego emerges to rationalise and redirect the the id’s impulses… between three and six years of age the superego or conscience develops through interactions with parents, insist that children conform to the values of society now the ego faces that increasingly complex task of reconciling the demands of the id, the external world and conscience”’ Berk (2004; p16). She compares the Psychoanalytic approach in children’s development and explains that thorough moral development finalises at the ages of 5 and 6, thus declaring that researchers contemporary thought clashes with Freud’s ideas about conscience development, elucidating morality and conscience contrasting new research to Freud’s understanding. “First, his view of guilt as a hostile impulse redirected toward the self is no longer accepted… high levels of self-blame are not associated with moral internalisation… children experience guilt when they intentionally engage in acts that harm others and feel personally responsible for the outcome… Freud assumed the fear of punishment and loss of parental love motivate conscience formation” Berk (2004; p484–485).
The Ego, Id and Superego is then divided and integrated into a sequence of five stages. (Berk, 2004; p16). ‘Freud proposes a series of stages in psychosexual development, each typified by the primacy of a specific erotic zone and by characteristic forms of object-relations’ (Payne and Barbera, 2013, p. 288). The oral phase or ingestion and breastfeeding are first. Thereafter, the anal phase follows, children would respond with extreme orderliness (anally retentive) or perfectionism (anal expulsion) (Freud’s Psychosexual stage theory, 2002). At ages three to six children develop into the phallic stage, where genital simulation is explored. The phallic stage Freud postulates, is where Oedipus conflict arose in boys and the Elektra complex for girls. Children begin to display feelings of sexual desire towards other-sex parent and aversions to the same-sex parent. “To avoid punishment and loss of parental love, they suppress these impulses and, instead, adopt the same-sex parent’s characteristics and values. As a result, the superego is formed and children feel guilty whenever they violate its standards” (Berk, 2004; p16).
After this stage, Latency takes place between the ages of six and eleven. Sexual instincts decrease “new social values are formed from adults and peers outside of the family “(Berk, 2004) and the superego develops. With the onset of puberty thereafter, the sexual impulses of the phallic stage present themselves again and upon the successful completion of earlier phases, developed sexual maturation occurs. For example, if a young boy were to become fixated at the phallic stage with a deep unconscious lust for his mother, he would simultaneously display resentment for his father and internalise guilt, creating an unhealthy paradox. These unhealthy paradoxes that parents must navigate with their children serve as a reminder that although Freud’s ideas have been considered questionable when compared to contemporary psychoanalytic theory, they are still intrinsic to the foundations of therapy.
To Freud’s merit, childhood sexuality had been heavily cloaked from the Victorian era. Before Freud, there was little to no theoretical or methodological understanding with regards to children’s sexuality and children were often considered asexual beings “without sexual feelings or motivations”, Freud rejected this notion (Jane, 2013, p.20).
He illuminated facets of childhood development, however. His studies predominantly involved middle-class women and were therefore limited in not being representative of larger demographic variables (Hull.ac.uk, 2016). It could be argued that the absence of children in his studies negates the theories and methods used to facilitate the curing of his patients. Between each stage a parent had to disseminate a fine line between permitting little or over-gratifying their child’s basic needs (Berk, 2004; p16). His methods of observation contain limitations, as most techniques of studying humans do. (Coleman and Hanlon, 2004; p4). Observers create bias’ with a tendency to use their own personal experience to “affect the interpretation”. Finally, Dinkmeyer (1966; p49) says “The third limitation in observation is assuming that a tentative hypothesis has been proved” This assumptive mentality impedes true evaluation of any concept.
As depicted in Greek mythology, the king of Thebes, Oedipus, killed his father and married his mother, who also mothered his children. (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016). Both Freud and Carl Jung regularly referred to this Greek mythos and used it symbolically, he believed dreams to be glimpses of the unconscious and through the interpretation of dreams, a personal and subjective construction, can reveal and encourage a better understanding of the self in the absence of mythos and culture in early 20th century (Campbell, 1973). Grünbaum (2016) relates: “that dreams … do not provide genuinely autonomous evidence for the unconscious. Rather, the argument from dreams … is dependent on the historically prior and intellectually more fundamental argument from the neuroses”. A constraint of his methodology by means of ‘free association’ was that it was predisposed to clients recalling memories. Recent studies on memory show that the recollection of memory can not always be entirely reliable; this development in the field of memory shows a feasible argument that Freud’s patients may have been inadvertently fabricating their memories to suit Freud (Mastin, 2010).
Sigmund Freud led the wave of Psychoanalysis which slowly drip fed into the early 20th century psyche. In America, his Nephew Edward Bernays used Freud’s theories and turned them to advertising, targeting consumers’ insecurities in ways which are still used today. (Buxton, The Century of The Self, 2002). Freud developed and advocated Psychoanalytical theories such as the “biological theory of personality”; methods used to conduct observations though critique have been found in the memories recited by his patients and debunked by studies relating to memory (Dinkmeyer, 1965; p25) (Mastin, 2010).
Whilst criticism of Freud’s patriarchal bias may perhaps be justified by his social and historical context, his methods and theories were challenged by feminist critics who were to later dissect his work. (Chisholm, MacCannell, and Whitford, 1992; pp. 51–443). However, his efforts to create the childhood Psychosexual theory was radical, it brought the subject of children’s sexuality into Psychoanalysis and eventually the critical public forum. It remains an admirable conquest considering how taboo these subjects were prior to Freud’s theories. Freud’s entire body of work supplements our understanding of individual development across the lifespan. Although the disparity between his original ideas and contemporary theory is highlighted by developments such as Erikson’s, there is no denying that Freud remains in the fabric, haunting the psyches of history, still fundamental to modern psychoanalytic thought.
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