5 Stages of Human Development By Sigmund Freud

The 5 stages of human development

5 Stages of Human Development

There are numerous theories on human development, especially the biologically based concepts. But human development has many facets. It may include emotional, morality, etc. In this article, I will only be focusing on the personality.

So, how does one’s personality trait develop? There are several theorists who try to explain the personality development. The most prominent one was Sigmund Freud. According to him, a child will go through a series of personality development commonly known as the psychosexual stages. But this theory is one of the most controversial theories in psychology. So what is the psychosexual stages?

The assumptions of psychosexual stages

According to Freud, a child is dominated by the id or the pleasure principle. Thus a child always yearns to get whatever he/she wants but unaware of the possible result of the act. So a child is preoccupied with the erogenous zone – a body part which is responsible for producing pleasure through physical stimulation.

Sigmund Freud divided the personality development into five stages: oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital. What makes these stages controversial is that each stage is, according to Freud, associated with sexual pleasure.

The psychosexual theory of personality development is basically shaped and driven by the libido or the sexual energy. This sexual energy would greatly affect the person’s personality in the later part of the development.

Each stage has several challenges that a child must successfully deal with. If those challenges are resolved, it will result in the healthy personality formation.

However, if challenges at any stage of the development are not resolved, a problem may arise. The unresolved issues may manifest in the person’s behavior. A person becomes fixated at a certain behavior that is usually unhealthy.

Fixation is an indication that a person has stuck in the previous stage of the psychosexual development. For instance, a person who was not able to resolve the issues during the oral stage, he/she become fixated with certain behaviors. The most common one is the oral stimulation in the form of smoking or eating.

Here are the 5 stages of human development

Oral Stage

This stage of personality development starts from 0 to 1 year old. According to Freud, the erogenous zone at this point is the mouth. The mouth becomes the source of pleasure. Thus, an infant satisfies his gratification through eating and sucking.

In this stage, an infant learned to trust others because he is only relying on others’ cares. But such reliance may also become the source of some developmental issues. If too much dependency on others was not resolved during this stage, a child may develop fixation. In the later life, he may develop behavioral problems such as smoking and nail-biting.

Anal Stage

According to Freud, an anal stage happens between 1 to 3 years old. The erogenous zone of this stage is the anus. The child finds pleasure in controlling and releasing the bladder and bowel movements. If a child learns to control his bodily needs, he will develop the sense of accomplishment.

Parenting may play an important role in this stage. Parents who use the reinforcement parenting strategy help the child to develop positive outcomes. Most children who grow in a healthy environment become more capable and successful than their counterparts.

The positive environment allows children to grow healthier making them become competent, productive and creative in later life. In contrast, unhealthy environment distorts the child’s personality development. In fact, children who were constantly punished by their parents in childhood develop internalizing or externalizing behavior.

Phallic Stage

Phallic stage happens between 3 to 6 years old. The erogenous zone at this stage is the genitals. This means that the genital is the part of the body that gives pleasure through stimulation. It is in this stage that children realize the biological difference male and female.

Freud believed that children may develop sexual attraction with their opposite-sex parents. Boys, for instance, may develop a desire with their mother a tendency called The Oedipus Complex.

In contrast, female children may develop a desire toward their father a tendency called the Electra Complex.

The Phallic stage is also characterized by penis envy among female children and castration anxiety among male children. This assumption, however, is hard to prove in scientific studies.

Latent Stage

This stage happens from 6 years old to adolescence. Unlike the previous stages of psychosexual development, the latent stage is characterized by the temporary cessation of sexual energy. At this stage, children learn to channel their sexual fantasies to socially productive activities. They learn to form a friendship and social connectedness.

In this stage, the ego and superego develop making an adolescent capable of dismissing sexual urge. The sexual energy is being transferred to a more acceptable and productive activity. The school environment, hobbies, and social relationships all contribute to this temporary calmness.

Adolescents also develop an intellectual goal. The young mind is preoccupied with exploration and a new set of pursuits and aspirations. Adolescents learn how to deal with their peers and others in a larger context.

A person may also develop fixation at this stage. Those who stuck in this stage may find difficulties in relating with other especially when forming successful romantic relationships.

Genital Stage

The genital stage happens during puberty to death. This stage is characterized by the awakening of sexual interest in the opposite sex. The libido becomes active once again which result in the sexual awareness and interest in sex. This stage, however, is the final stage of Freud’s psychosexual development.

But the focus of a person in this final stage does not only focus on the personal needs and satisfaction. He/she widens the focus to the larger context for the common good. If the issues in the previous stages, a person is able to balance his/her life in many aspects.

Unlike the earlier stage of the development, the person is generally guided by the ego and superego. These branches of personality, according to Freud, will dictate a person to pursue more productive and desirable undertakings.

Therefore, a person is able to balance the needs and wants. A person becomes more mature to rationalize. In addition, a person is more capable of forming his/her own belief and not just to conform what others are doing.

The weaknesses of the 5 stages of human development

The psychosexual theory of Sigmund Freud is one of the most controversial theories in psychology. Nevertheless, the theory and the psychoanalytic assumptions are still used in psychiatry and psychotherapy today. Here are some of the criticisms of Freud’s theory of personality development.

  1. The number one flaw of Freud’s theory is that he mainly focused on the male’s personality development. In fact, the consideration of females only discussed in the earlier stage of personality development- the Electra Complex.
  2. The second problem of Freud’s theory is the difficulty to scientifically test some of the tenets of his theory. For decades, researchers have been experiencing challenges to prove Freud’s assumption on libido for example. The results of the previous studies on this area weaken the Freud’s assumptions.
  3. The third problem is that Freud assumed that the human’s personality and behavior are predetermined by a person’s early childhood experiences. Although at some degree, childhood experiences might predict the later life behavior, it is not always the case. People are capable of controlling or developing and changing their behavioral tendencies as they go through the different stages of development.
  4. Finally, Freud’s assumptions were generally based on the report of his patients and not on scientific findings. This what makes Freud’s 5 stages of human development controversial.

Final thoughts

Although controversial, we cannot deny the fact that Sigmund Freud had a tremendous contribution to the practice of psychology in real life. The most important contribution of Freud in psychology is the discovery and realization of the intervening power of the unconscious mind on one’s behavior.

There are ongoing debates about whether or not the early childhood experiences are powerful influential factors of human behavior in adult life. But some experts have found out that, really, the way a person was raised as a child shapes his/her current personality. In fact, childhood experiences influence a person’s behavioral aspects throughout life.

It is important to note however that there’s no single theory that can explain our personality. And not a single psychological theory that is free from any bias and other kinds of flaws. This is the reason why psychology, along with other social science disciplines use several theories or models to explain a certain phenomenon.

I’m a licensed psychometrician, author, and blogger. I’m currently working as a University instructor teaching psychology. I love writing and doing psychological research.

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