Dr Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality development is one of the most popular, and also most controversial theories of modern psychiatry. Read more about the various stages Freud believed an individual needed to successfully complete to develop a healthy personality.
Personality can be defined as the various enduring and distinctive patterns of behaviour and thought that are characteristic of a particular person. Experts differ on the how and why of development of our adult personality. Some believe it is a result of the expression of genetically determined traits, others claim they are creations shaped by environmental influences, while yet others attribute it to the product of interaction between nature and nurture. In the following series, we try and understand some of the prominent theories of personality development.
Freud’s Theory of Personality Development
One of the earliest theories of personality development was given by the ‘Father of Psychiatry’, Sigmund Freud. Freud emphasized the role of childhood experiences in shaping the adult personality. He claimed that childhood experiences are repeated throughout life and are critical in determining one’s adult relationships. It is now known that childhood experience is pivotal in creating neural networks that shape the personality and person’s expectations of how others will respond to them. According to Freud, each individual goes through various stages of psychosexual development and how an individual progresses through these shapes his/her personality. A brief description of these stages is given below.
The Oral Stage
The Oral stage, occupies the first 12 – 18 months of life, and centres on the mouth, lips and tongue. It is manifested by chewing, biting and sucking. The objective is to establish a comfortable expression and gratification of oral needs without excessive conflict. It helps establish a trusting dependence on nursing. Excessive oral gratification or deprivation can contribute to pathological traits such as pessimism, narcissism, excessive optimism and demandingness. Envy and jealousy are often associated with oral traits. Successful resolution of oral stage provides a basis in character for a capacity to trust others as well as have a sense of self – reliance and self – trust.
The Anal Stage
The Anal stage, from 18 – 36 months of age, involves bowel function and control. This is essentially a period of striving for independence and separation from dependence and control by the parent. Maladaptive character traits such as excessive orderliness, stubbornness, wilfulness can be a result of fixation on anal functions, while on the other extreme can be heightened indecisiveness, lack of tidiness, messiness and defiance. Successful resolution leads to development of a capacity for independence and personal initiative without guilt, a capacity for self determining behaviour without a sense of shame or self doubt.
The Phallic Stage
The Phallic stage, starts sometime during the 3rd year of life and goes on till the 5th year. This stage is characterized by primary focus of sexual interests, stimulation, and excitement in the genital area. This focusing lays the foundation of gender identity. The penis becomes the organ of principal interest in children of both sexes, with the lack of penis in female being an evidence of castration. Freud described the controversial Oedipal and Electra complex during this stage. The patterns of identification that emerge from the phallic phase are the primary determinants of the development of human character, according to Freud. This stage gives rise to powerful internal resources for regulation of drive impulses and their direction to constructive ends known as the superego.
The Latency Phase
The Latency phase, is a phase of relative inactivity, starting at the age of 5 or 6 and going on to age of 11 – 13 years. There is a further integration of sex – role identity. The quiescence or quietness allows for development of ego apparatuses and mastery of important skills. This is the phase when there is broadening of contacts with other significant figures outside the family, such as teachers, coaches, and other adults.
The Genital Stage
The Genital or adolescent phase, extends from the onset of puberty at around 11 to 13 years and continues to young adulthood. The physiological maturation of systems of sexual functioning and associated hormonal system leads to an intensification of drives and impulses. The primary objective of this phase is the ultimate separation from dependence on and attachment to the parents and the establishment of adult, mature relationships. The person reaches a satisfying capacity for self realisation and meaningful participation in the areas of work and love; fulfilling one’s adult roles and duties.
Only in the recent years has this presumed relationship between psychosexual development and maturation of personality functioning been put in question.
Written by Dr Abha Bang, Psychiatrist
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