Psychosexual Development by Sigmund Freud video


The psychosexual phases of Freud's development

The Freudian conception of the phases of the evolution of the libido is articulated to the extent of the advancement of his analytical practice. It is the result of a gradual construction.

Sexuality according to Freud

In the approach to infantile sexuality in the Three Essays for a Sexual Theory, Freud distinguishes, on the one hand, infantile sexuality and, on the other, pubertal and adult sexuality. The latter is structured under the primacy of genitality. Between the two, there is a kind of "no man's land" called the latency period. It extends from the pregenital completion (coinciding with the exit of the Oedipus Complex until the beginning of puberty where what becomes of the final pregenital stage (après-coup) is put into play.

The first characteristic that we observe in Freud's psychosexual theory is that it relies on vital functions. Nature is autoerotic. Its ends and the sources that constitute the erogenous zones are multiple. The object of satisfaction is contingent and variable.

Another novelty in Freud's stages is the conceptualization of the infantile subject as a "perverse polymorphous" insofar as its aims and objects deviate from the genitals in addition to having multiple partial drives. Each of them pursues your satisfaction independently of the others.

The drive phases of psychosexual development

As we pointed out at the beginning of this section, the theoretical construction of the stages that make up the pregenital stage is carried out by Freud between 1913 and 1923.

The stages are: oral, anal and phallic stages, which are articulated to a specific erogenous zone (mouth, anus and genitalia, respectively). The erotic activity of the infantile subject focuses on these areas.

In Freud's Psychosexual Theory, in the Three Essays, in its first edition (1905) Freud described oral sexuality (observable also in the adult subject) in the form of "perverse or preliminary acts" to the genital union.

An example of this in children is the sucking of the thumb as a masturbatory activity (recognized by pediatricians). Suction has the value of "arming itself" as a paradigm of the way in which the sexual drive is originally satisfied, and, as Freud indicated, relying on the function of nutrition. His later destiny, in a short time, is to detach himself from the support, become independent in short, and achieve an autoerotic pleasure.

We cannot escape the observation that this experience of satisfaction through the mouth (orality) determines a model of fixation of desire in relation to a specific object.

The desire and its scope of satisfaction are linked as a mark in this first experience (when the child drinks milk, the drive that is initially supported by feeding, becomes independent where pleasure is constituted through the feeling of warm, cozy milk, which it crosses his throat. That kind of satisfaction will also be the one he seeks when the child cries appealing to hunger).

The oral phase

A later addition to the Three Essays will allow Freud to point to the oral phase as the first mode of libidinal organization, that is, the first of Freud's psychosexual stages of development.

It occurs during the first year of life, where the erogenous source is the oral area together with the oral cavity and the lips, supported by the nutrient function. The object is the maternal breast and milk, and the purpose is the incorporation of the breast object (later M. Klein will speak of "good breast and bad breast"), and it will end as a paradigm of the object relationship.

The relationship with the mother, of love, will be under the mark of the meanings obtained in said experience, that is, that of eating and being eaten.

The anal phase

The oral phase is followed by the anal phase. It occurs during the second and third year, time crossed by the acquisition of toilet training. The organization of the libido is under the primacy of the anal area.

The anal phase is postulated from the observation of traits of anal eroticism and pleasure in children derived from the act of defecation or the retention of fecal matter. In this phase, the activity-passivity duality is articulated at a dynamic level.

The first is called the drive to dominate, which consists of the deployment of desire with force having the direction of seizing the object (later the destruction can be observed by the use of said force on the object). It is contemporary with sadism, being sustained by the source of the musculature.

For its part, passivity has as its source the anal mucosa. The relationship with the object is related to the retention and expulsion of feces, which by carrying out a transposition is equivalent to gift and rejection.

Freud formulates the stool-gift-money equation. Subsequently, the symbolization of it will produce character traits in the adult. These will be linked to order, greed and stubbornness.

The phallic phase

As a process of construction of the infantile genital organization, Freud takes a few years to formulate the phallic phase (1923). The discovery of infantile sexual research (sexual difference) comes to his experience, an issue that allows him to articulate the culmination of pregenital sexuality around three to five years of age .

This culmination is close to what we have already indicated in adolescence, the precipitation of sexuality (après-coup) from where the product of the phallic phase was left, and which is close to what we call adult sexuality. It is the phase where the Phallus has primacy.

To trace the idea of ​​the phallus, we turn back to the Three Essays. Freud articulates two theses: The first is about libido, indicating that it is of "masculine nature" (in men and women). The second postulates that the erogenous primacy zone in girls is the clitoris, equivalent to the genital zone in men (penis).

Little Hans' experience of analysis allows him to situate the concept of castration. The experience of castration places the child between the question of possessing the phallus or, on the contrary, of losing it, of being castrated.

Both in the texts about infantile sexual theories and in the Three Essays, he considers sexuality from the point of view of the male, and at the same time points out the girl's "interest" in the penis, envy towards it and the feeling of prejudice against children (to the extent of the significance of the symbol, the phallus).

Freud elaborates the phallic phase in three articles: The infantile genital organization (Die infantile Genital organization, 1923); the decline of the Oedipus complex (Der Untergangs des Ödipuskomplexes, 1924); some psychic consequences of the anatomical difference of the sexes (Einige psychische Folgen des anatomischen Geschlechtsunterschieds, 1925).

Making a synthesis of the phallic phase, Freud indicates that "the antithetical pair" activity-passivity (precipitated in the anal phase) is postulated in the phallic phase in the antithetic pair "phallic-castrated". Later, in the après-coup, already at puberty, the opposition will be postulated as masculinity-femininity.

Furthermore, the phallic phase coincides with the Oedipus Complex. In the decline of the Oedipus complex, it is crossed by the threat of castration which, in turn, is closely linked to the narcissistic position of the child with respect to his genital apparatus, and to the difference of the sexes (the absence of a penis in the girl).

Another point of interest to note is the phallic organization in the girl. Likewise, it is crossed by the difference of the sexes, in such a way that before its eyes it observes a preeminence of the male organ. Being deprived of it, he exercises resentment towards the mother on the grounds that he makes her responsible for his fault. A matter that also makes the girl turn towards the person of the father, in search of the organ (the demand is that he give it to her). A third moment in the Oedipus Complex in the girl is determined by the absence of this donation by the father, which will make the girl turn back to the mother.

This phallic organization in the girl denounces the asymmetry and difference with respect to the same evolution in the person of the boy. Both take the phallic organ as an object of desire. The clitoris will be taken by Freud as a phallic appendix (according to the girl's fantasy this appendix can develop).

This significance in the girl of the phallic phase has not been exempt from "misunderstandings" and opposition to it. Within the same psychoanalytic current, it provoked intense discussions. For example, Ernst Jones, K. Horney and M. Klein pointed out the existence of sensations and primary knowledge of the vaginal cavity. From this conception they promoted the postulation of articulating the phallic phase as a defensive formation.

The latency state

After the phallic phase, what is called the latency period arises. During this time the ego (constituted by the Oedipus too) and the instruments to handle the drives that will precipitate in the adolescent stage develop. The child will be ready to handle and distribute energy. It will be able to distribute the drive energy to the physical and mental structures, not being simply a load of tension and its subsequent discharge. This tells us that all activities will be "charged" with sexual energy.

The term latency period is interpreted by Freud as the absence of sexual impulses , there are no new instinctive goals. Although it is true, due to its subsequent corroboration by other authors, that it has been discovered that in the latency period the observation of voyeuristic, masturbatory and even sadomasochistic activities is precipitated.

On a dynamic level, however, if certain important changes appear, both in the ego and in the superego instance. It is Otto Fenichel who makes reference to this question stating: "During the latency period the instinctual demands have not changed much, but the Self has."

The Ego produces an unfolding through activities that have a sublimatory and adaptive character, in addition to having a defensive nature. Freud (1924) indicates that while object relations are abandoned, they are also replaced by identifications. A specific specification regarding this period is that the cathexis of an external object is turned towards the person himself.

Although previously the child was located in a situation of dependence regarding the recognition by their parents, now in the latency period it becomes a feeling of self-worth resulting from the management and control that has its specular scene in the approval of the other exteriors.

Accompanying these evolutions, the ego functions acquire strength to oppose the regression. This allows activities of the self such as perception, memory, thinking and learning to be strengthened. As in principle it is not a moment of creation of instinctual tensions, the functions that the ego articulates are not threatened.

The successes achieved in the latency period is a fundamental condition for the child to be able to approach the next evolutionary moment, adolescence. We point out some of the elements that are shown as of the first order to be able to be reached when starting the journey of adolescence.


Intelligence should be at the point of being able to differentiate between the primary and secondary processes of thought. Its manifestations will be the use of judgment, generalization and logic.

On the other hand, it is convenient to reach stability with respect to social understanding, altruism and empathy. From the physical order, the stature will allow independence and environmental control.

Those situations of daily life that rush should be managed through resistance to regression and disintegration. The self will acquire the increasing capacity to need less outside help.

These acquisitions will be precisely those that will favor the adolescent being able to face the drive energy that will invade him. Therefore, it follows that emotional immaturity is the product of leaving aside some specific goal of the phase and sustaining itself on what was achieved in the previous phase (regression).

The moment of adolescence is quite different from the pre-adolescent moment, from the mental state to the physical state. The emotional life increases in wealth, is directed to getting older (wants to be older), and the continual rambling of the question about who the adolescent is. Object relations rush as fundamental, their attention is of the first order.

The quantitative amount of drives increases in relation to the preadolescence period. The detachment from the characteristic regressive position in preadolescence becomes evident, favoring the birth of a new instinctual component, which is the anticipation of pleasure. This character is presented as definitive and irreversible, acquiring an aspect of innovation that will determine the development of the Self.

We can make a justified distinction between early adolescence and so-called adolescence. After preadolescence there is a period of repeated attempts to separate from the primary objects of love. In early adolescence the importance of idealized same-sex friendships returns. The interests and creativity that have been maintained until now are held low and the search for new values ​​is superimposed.

In adolescence as such, there is a decisive turn towards heterosexuality, concomitant with an irreversible and final renunciation of the incestuous object. For Katan, this movement is called "removing the object."

The intelectualización and asceticism all build on the adolescent phase as such. A direction toward inner experience and self-discovery becomes apparent. Its correlate is religious experience and the discovery of beauty in all expressions.

Also common in adolescence is the feeling of "being in love", interest in political, philosophical and social problems. The break with childhood takes hold.

Let us warn that, although we speak of phases or moments, it is an abstraction, insofar as the limits are imprecise in development. The fundamental psychological modifications and the purposes that characterize each phase, as they follow the energetic principle of development, entail that the transitions are slow and also with certain back and forth movements, like the pendulum of a clock.

In the phases that happen to adolescence we will find traces that in principle we had taken for granted, and instead they are maintained for more or less long periods. These connotations could muddy the development journey if we apply it rigidly.

Both early adolescence and adolescence as such precipitate well-recognized chaos. There is a profound reorganization of emotional life. Defenses are deployed to uphold the integrity of the Self, sometimes extreme and usually transitory. Some of these defenses have adaptive value, helping to integrate realistic tendencies, capabilities, ambitions, and various talents. The interweaving of these tendencies will be necessary for access to adult life in society.

In early adolescence and adolescence as such, a series of predicaments are deposited on object relations. The solution to this question is subject to many variations. These determine adulthood in an original way. They are reminiscent of childhood, for the child's need to be loved that only gradually merges with the need to give. Faced with the question of receiving, the question of giving arises. Moreover, to receive, you must first give.

There is also a nice twist in passivity and activity. The adolescent goes from being controlled, in a passive way, to the desire to control more significant and comprehensive amounts of the world around him. Actually, as we indicated with the pendulum, back and forth +, ambivalence occurs in this field, showing the same for men as for women.

It is proper for the male to rebel against the superego by adopting an attitude of defiance. This attitude is precisely the opposition of the passive, feminine tendencies, which in his day he adopted in front of the father figure, inscribed in the Oedipal plot.

Freud posits this question: "It _is not until the completion of development during the time of puberty that the polarity of sex coincides with the masculine and the feminine. In the masculine the activity and possession of the penis are concentrated; the feminine has passivity as its object. The vagina is valued as a haven for the penis, it is inherited from the maternal womb".

Once again, we will watch the pendulum back and forth regarding passive and active trends. Its permanence is usual in adolescence. Due to the maternal pole, it continues to be an attraction for adolescents of both genders. It also happens that some adolescents adopt this passive-dependent place of the father figure, an issue that makes them enter the dynamics of homosexual drives, which can be temporary or long-lasting. The directly proportional relationship becomes evident when we say that the more passive it is, the more it will deploy its defense, through fantasies and rebellions. Paranoid ideas can occur in this impasse.

This exposed conflict expresses the transformation of impulses and the tendency to place them in harmony with the ego, the ideal ego, the superego and the somatic condition of puberty. This polarity, activity and passivity, is put into play with the self, with the external world and with the object relationship. The situation will become the choice of adolescent object.

This polarity dominates the subject both in early adolescence and in adolescence as such. Submission and rebellion, delicate sensitivity and emotional clumsiness, a powerful pessimism, a decisive fidelity and, at the same time, changes to infidelity occur in the same subject. They will also be found between attractive ideas and absurd arguments, between idealism and materialism, dedication and indifference, acceptance and rejecting impulsiveness, voracious hunger, excessive condescension and great asceticism, physical exposure and abandonment.

These pendular aspects are an expression of psychological changes, which, as we have already indicated, do not advance progressively or adequately or at a certain rate, but rather as it is.

The attitudes of ambivalence, narcissism and fixation develop a significant role. During early adolescence and adolescence as such it is advisable that they renounce the primary objects of love. We refer to parents insofar as they take the place of sexual objects. This resignation is what will promote the search and appearance of others.

During early adolescence and adolescence as such, drives take the path of genitality. Libidinal objects turn from pre-Oedipal to Oedipal, that is, to non-incestuous heterosexual objects. As we have mentioned, the Self will deploy defenses to protect its integrity.

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