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Freud’s 4 famous psychosexual stages (which one defines you?)

Over the last century, it’s safe to say that Sigmund Freud’s ideas shaped the foundation of modern psychology as we know it.

Many of his ideas have become cultural icons, with some popular terms like penis envy and anal obsession penetrating everyday jargon.

As controversial as his ideas may now be, and as many psychologists who now reject his original concepts, it is without a doubt that Freud’s adventurous and creative thinking set the bar for psychological thought, setting up the science as it evolved over the 19th and 20th centuries.

Some of his greatest assumptions include:

  • Behavior is caused by internal compromises driven by your unconscious needs and desires
  • Behavior is a reflection of our subtle or hidden motives
  • Behavior can be indicative of several different motives in a single individual
  • People are not necessarily aware of the motivations that drive their behavior
  • Behavior is conditioned by an energy quota within us, and there is only a limited amount of available energy
  • Everything we do is meant for our own pleasure
  • People are motivated mostly by aggressive, sexual, and primal tendencies
  • Society prohibits us from expressing these feelings, so we express them subtly through our behavior
  • We have a life and death drive
  • True happiness relies in having healthy relationships and meaningful work

As interesting as those assumptions may be, one of Freud’s most controversial ideas was that events in early childhood would have a lifelong effect on our relationship with sexuality.

It is from this idea that he developed the idea of Psychosexual Stages.

There are four different stages, according to Freud: oral, anal, phallic, and genital. Each stage has its own traits and characteristics that are indicative of its primary source of pleasure.

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Psychosexual Theory believes that the sexual problems you have in adult personality are caused by the problems you experience as a child in moving from one stage to another.

However, if one experiences smooth sailing when it comes to transitioning one stage to another, they should have no kinds of sexual regressions or fixations that plague them into adulthood.

But if they do, these should last with them for a lifetime. One experiences positive or negative outcomes of these stages, and carry these traits with them as they age. The traits include:

Oral Traits: Oral types are either optimistic or pessimistic, gullible or suspicious, passive or manipulative,

Anal Traits: Unhealthy traits include stubbornness, stinginess, and obsession

Phallic Traits: Opposites include vanity or self-hatred, pride or humility, social health or isolation

The First Stage: Oral

The Oral stage is experienced from birth to the first 18 months. In this period of life, the child is obsessed with feeding, and the stressed zone is the mouth, tongue and lips.


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Here, the child will experience issues when it comes to weaning and biting.

If they experience problems in this stage, they may take up bad habits related to the mouth, including overeating, smoking, drinking, and chewing.

The Second Stage: Anal

The anal stage occurs when the child is being potty trained, and this is their source of conflict. They discover that they can control their parents’ emotions with their faeces; it is here that they realize what it means to manipulate others.

Freud believed that if they experience this stage badly, they will learn to become obsessive and sadistic. However, if the stage goes well, children will learn the importance of orderliness and cleanliness.

The Third Stage: Phallic

The phallic stage is known most for the famous Oedipal complex. This stage lasts from the ages of 2-5 years, and it involves the child’s first interactions with his or her genitals.

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The boy falls in love with his mother and hates his father for having his mother; the daughter feels love towards the father and hatred toward the mother.

If the child does not get through this stage healthily, they will become reckless or overtly sexual in their adulthood. It is also possible for them to become overtly sexually repressed, with excessive chastity.

The characteristics most associated with this stage include pride and doubt.

The Fourth Stage: Genital

The genital is after latency, and it is experienced from adulthood onwards. The individual experiences sources of conflict that we regularly experience, including a career, enjoying life, relationships, and simply maneuvering day-to-day life.

Most of you reading this are in the genital and final stage.

Freud believed that what we focus on the most in this stage is finding your healthiest defense mechanisms, or the ways for you to create a reality in which you feel safest and most at ease.

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It is also the stage in which you deal with the problems that have come from your conflicts with the other stages, and where you must finally cope with these realities.

While Freudian beliefs have been widely dismissed, some have proven to still stand the test of time. It is without a doubt that his ideas have some creative merit, and may well be used to define your own experiences if they seem to fit.

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Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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