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The stages -Freud

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The stages

As I said earlier, for Freud, the sex drive is the most important motivating force. In fact, Freud felt it was the primary motivating force not only for adults but for children and even infants. When he introduced his ideas about infantile sexuality to the Viennese public of his day, they were hardly prepared to talk about sexuality in adults, much less in infants!

It is true that the capacity for orgasm is there neurologically from birth. But Freud was not just talking about orgasm. Sexuality meant not only intercourse, but all pleasurable sensation from the skin. It is clear even to the most prudish among us that babies, children, and, of course, adults, enjoy tactile experiences such as caresses, kisses, and so on.

Freud noted that, at different times in our lives, different parts of our skin give us greatest pleasure. Later theorists would call these areas erogenous zones. It appeared to Freud that the infant found its greatest pleasure in sucking, especially at the breast. In fact, babies have a penchant for bringing nearly everything in their environment into contact with their mouths. A bit later in life, the child focuses on the anal pleasures of holding it in and letting go. By three or four, the child may have discovered the pleasure of touching or rubbing against his or her genitalia. Only later, in our sexual maturity, do we find our greatest pleasure in sexual intercourse. In these observations, Freud had the makings of a psychosexual stage theory.

The oral stage lasts from birth to about 18 months. The focus of pleasure is, of course, the mouth. Sucking and biting are favorite activities.

The anal stage lasts from about 18 months to three or four years old. The focus of pleasure is the anus. Holding it in and letting it go are greatly enjoyed.

The phallic stage lasts from three or four to five, six, or seven years old. The focus of pleasure is the genitalia. Masturbation is common.

The latent stage lasts from five, six, or seven to puberty, that is, somewhere around 12 years old. During this stage, Freud believed that the sexual impulse was suppressed in the service of learning. I must note that, while most children seem to be fairly calm, sexually, during their grammar school years, perhaps up to a quarter of them are quite busy masturbating and playing “doctor.” In Freud’s repressive era, these children were, at least, quieter than their modern counterparts.

The genital stage begins at puberty, and represents the resurgence of the sex drive in adolescence, and the more specific focusing of pleasure in sexual intercourse. Freud felt that masturbation, oral sex, homosexuality, and many other things we find acceptable in adulthood today, were immature.

This is a true stage theory, meaning that Freudians believe that we all go through these stages, in this order, and pretty close to these ages.

The Oedipal crisis
Each stage has certain difficult tasks associated with it where problems are more likely to arise.

For the oral stage, this is weaning.

For the anal stage, it’s potty training.

For the phallic stage, it is the Oedipal crisis, named after the ancient Greek story of king Oedipus, who inadvertently killed his father and married his mother.

Here’s how the Oedipal crisis works: The first love-object for all of us is our mother. We want her attention, we want her affection, we want her caresses, we want her, in a broadly sexual way. The young boy, however, has a rival for his mother’s charms: his father! His father is bigger, stronger, smarter, and he gets to sleep with mother, while junior pines away in his lonely little bed. Dad is the enemy.

About the time the little boy recognizes this archetypal situation, he has become aware of some of the more subtle differences between boys and girls, the ones other than hair length and clothing styles. From his naive perspective, the difference is that he has a penis, and girls do not.

At this point in life, it seems to the child that having something is infinitely better than not having something, and so he is pleased with this state of affairs.

But the question arises: where is the girl’s penis? Perhaps she has lost it somehow. Perhaps it was cut off. Perhaps this could happen to him! This is the beginning of castration anxiety, a slight misnomer for the fear of losing one’s penis.

To return to the story, the boy, recognizing his father’s superiority and fearing for his penis, engages some of his ego defenses: He displaces his sexual impulses from his mother to girls and, later, women; And he identifies with the aggressor, dad, and attempts to become more and more like him, that is to say, a man. After a few years of latency, he enters adolescence and the world of mature heterosexuality.

The girl also begins her life in love with her mother, so we have the problem of getting her to switch her affections to her father before the Oedipal process can take place. Freud accomplishes this with the idea of penis envy: The young girl, too, has noticed the difference between boys and girls and feels that she, somehow, doesn’t measure up. She would like to have one, too, and all the power associated with it. At very least, she would like a penis substitute, such as a baby. As every child knows, you need a father as well as a mother to have a baby, so the young girl sets her sights on dad.

Dad, of course, is already taken. The young girl displaces from him to boys and men, and identifies with mom, the woman who got the man she really wanted. Note that one thing is missing here: The girl does not suffer from the powerful motivation of castration anxiety, since she cannot lose what she doesn’t have. Freud felt that the lack of this great fear accounts for fact (as he saw it) that women were both less firmly heterosexual than men and somewhat less morally-inclined.

Before you get too upset by this less-than-flattering account of women’s sexuality, rest assured that many people have responded to it. I will discuss it in the discussion section.

Character

Your experiences as you grow up contribute to your personality, or character, as an adult. Freud felt that traumatic experiences had an especially strong effect. Of course, each specific trauma would have its own unique impact on a person, which can only be explored and understood on an individual basis. But traumas associated with stage development, since we all have to go through them, should have more consistency.
I
f you have difficulties in any of the tasks associated with the stages — weaning, potty training, or finding your sexual identity — you will tend to retain certain infantile or childish habits. This is called fixation. Fixation gives each problem at each stage a long-term effect in terms of our personality or character.

If you, in the first eight months of your life, are often frustrated in your need to suckle, perhaps because mother is uncomfortable or even rough with you, or tries to wean you too early, then you may develop an oral-passive character. An oral-passive personality tends to be rather dependent on others. They often retain an interest in “oral gratifications” such as eating, drinking, and smoking. It is as if they were seeking the pleasures they missed in infancy.

When we are between five and eight months old, we begin teething. One satisfying thing to do when you are teething is to bite on something, like mommy’s nipple. If this causes a great deal of upset and precipitates an early weaning, you may develop an oral-aggressive personality. These people retain a life-long desire to bite on things, such as pencils, gum, and other people. They have a tendency to be verbally aggressive, argumentative, sarcastic, and so on.

In the anal stage, we are fascinated with our “bodily functions.” At first, we can go whenever and wherever we like. Then, out of the blue and for no reason you can understand, the powers that be want you to do it only at certain times and in certain places. And parents seem to actually value the end product of all this effort!

Some parents put themselves at the child’s mercy in the process of toilet training. They beg, they cajole, they show great joy when you do it right, they act as though their hearts were broken when you don’t. The child is the king of the house, and knows it. This child will grow up to be an anal expulsive (a.k.a. anal aggressive) personality. These people tend to be sloppy, disorganized, generous to a fault. They may be cruel, destructive, and given to vandalism and graffiti.

The Oscar Madison character in The Odd Couple is a nice example.

Other parents are strict. They may be competing with their neighbors and relatives as to who can potty train their child first (early potty training being associated in many people’s minds with great intelligence). They may use punishment or humiliation. This child will likely become constipated as he or she tries desperately to hold it in at all times, and will grow up to be an anal retentive personality. He or she will tend to be especially clean, perfectionistic, dictatorial, very stubborn, and stingy. In other words, the anal retentive is tight in all ways. The Felix Unger character in The Odd Couple is a perfect example.

There are also two phallic personalities, although no-one has given them names. If the boy is harshly rejected by his mother, and rather threatened by his very masculine father, he is likely to have a poor sense of self-worth when it comes to his sexuality. He may deal with this by either withdrawing from heterosexual interaction, perhaps becoming a book-worm, or by putting on a rather macho act and playing the ladies’ man.

A girl rejected by her father and threatened by her very feminine mother is also likely to feel poorly about herself, and may become a wall-flower or a hyper-feminine “belle.”
But if a boy is not rejected by his mother, but rather favored over his weak, milquetoast father, he may develop quite an opinion of himself (which may suffer greatly when he gets into the real world, where nobody loves him like his mother did), and may appear rather effeminate. After all, he has no cause to identify with his father. Likewise, if a girl is daddy’s little princess and best buddy, and mommy has been relegated to a sort of servant role, then she may become quite vain and self-centered, or possibly rather masculine.
T
hese various phallic characters demonstrate an important point in Freudian characterology: Extremes lead to extremes. If you are frustrated in some way or overindulged in some way, you have problems. And, although each problem tends to lead to certain characteristics, these characteristics can also easily be reversed. So an anal retentive person may suddenly become exceedingly generous, or may have some part of their life where they are terribly messy. This is frustrating to scientists, but it may reflect the reality of personality!

Therapy

Freud’s therapy has been more influential than any other, and more influential than any other part of his theory. Here are some of the major points:
Relaxed atmosphere. The client must feel free to express anything. The therapy situation is in fact a unique social situation, one where you do not have to be afraid of social judgment or ostracism. In fact, in Freudian therapy, the therapist practically disappears. Add to that the physically relaxing couch, dim lights, sound-proof walls, and the stage is set.
Free association. The client may talk about anything at all. The theory is that, with relaxation, the unconscious conflicts will inevitably drift to the fore. It isn’t far off to see a similarity between Freudian therapy and dreaming! However, in therapy, there is the therapist, who is trained to recognize certain clues to problems and their solutions that the client would overlook.
Resistance. One of these clues is resistance. When a client tries to change the topic, draws a complete blank, falls asleep, comes in late, or skips an appointment altogether, the therapist says “aha!” These resistances suggest that the client is nearing something in his free associations that he — unconsciously, of course — finds threatening.

Dream analysis.

In sleep, we are somewhat less resistant to our unconscious and we will allow a few things, in symbolic form, of course, to come to awareness. These wishes from the id provide the therapist and client with more clues. Many forms of therapy make use of the client’s dreams, but Freudian interpretation is distinct in the tendency to find sexual meanings.

Parapraxes.

A parapraxis is a slip of the tongue, often called a Freudian slip. Freud felt that they were also clues to unconscious conflicts. Freud was also interested in the jokes his clients told. In fact, Freud felt that almost everything meant something almost all the time — dialing a wrong number, making a wrong turn, misspelling a word, were serious objects of study for Freud. However, he himself noted, in response to a student who asked what his cigar might be a symbol for, that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Or is it?
Other Freudians became interested in projective tests, such as the famous Rorschach or inkblot tests. The theory behind these test is that, when the stimulus is vague, the client fills it with his or her own unconscious themes. Again, these could provide the therapist with clues.

Transference, catharsis, and insight

Transference occurs when a client projects feelings toward the therapist that more legitimately belong with certain important others. Freud felt that transference was necessary in therapy in order to bring the repressed emotions that have been plaguing the client for so long, to the surface. You can’t feel really angry, for example, without a real person to be angry at. The relationship between the client and the therapist, contrary to popular images, is very close in Freudian therapy, although it is understood that it can’t get out of hand.

Catharsis is the sudden and dramatic outpouring of emotion that occurs when the trauma is resurrected. The box of tissues on the end table is not there for decoration.
Insight is being aware of the source of the emotion, of the original traumatic event. The major portion of the therapy is completed when catharsis and insight are experienced. What should have happened many years ago — because you were too little to deal with it, or under too many conflicting pressures — has now happened, and you are on your way to becoming a happier person.
Freud said that the goal of therapy is simply ” to make the unconscious conscious.”

Discussion

The only thing more common than a blind admiration for Freud seems to be an equally blind hatred for him. Certainly, the proper attitude lies somewhere in between. Let’s start by exploring some of the apparent flaws in his theory.

The least popular part of Freud’s theory is the Oedipal complex and the associated ideas of castration anxiety and penis envy. What is the reality behind these concepts? It is true that some children are very attached to their opposite sex parent, and very competitive with their same-sex parent. It is true that some boys worry about the differences between boys and girls, and fear that someone may cut their penis off. It is true that some girls likewise are concerned, and wish they had a penis. And it is true that some of these children retain these affections, fears, and aspirations into adulthood.

Most personality theorists, however, consider these examples aberrations rather than universals, exceptions rather than rules. They occur in families that aren’t working as well as they should, where parents are unhappy with each other, use their children against each other. They occur in families where parents literally denigrate girls for their supposed lack, and talk about cutting off the penises of unruly boys. They occur especially in neighborhoods where correct information on even he simplest sexual facts is not forthcoming, and children learn mistaken ideas from other children.

If we view the Oedipal crisis, castration anxiety, and penis envy in a more metaphoric and less literal fashion, they are useful concepts: We do love our mothers and fathers as well as compete with them. Children probably do learn the standard heterosexual behavior patterns by imitating the same-sex parent and practicing on the opposite-sex parent. In a male-dominated society, having a penis — being male — is better than not, and losing one’s status as a male is scary. And wanting the privileges of the male, rather than the male organ, is a reasonable thing to expect in a girl with aspirations. But Freud did not mean for us to take these concepts metaphorically. Some of his followers, however, did.

Sexuality

A more general criticism of Freud’s theory is its emphasis on sexuality. Everything, both good and bad, seems to stem from the expression or repression of the sex drive. Many people question that, and wonder if there are any other forces at work. Freud himself later added the death instinct, but that proved to be another one of his less popular ideas.
First let me point out that, in fact, a great deal of our activities are in some fashion motivated by sex. If you take a good hard look at our modern society, you will find that most advertising uses sexual images, that movies and television programs often don’t sell well if they don’t include some titillation, that the fashion industry is based on a continual game of sexual hide-and-seek, and that we all spend a considerable portion of every day playing “the mating game.” Yet we still don’t feel that all life is sexual.

But Freud’s emphasis on sexuality was not based on the great amount of obvious sexuality in his society — it was based on the intense avoidance of sexuality, especially among the middle and upper classes, and most especially among women. What we too easily forget is that the world has changed rather dramatically over the last hundred years. We forget that doctors and ministers recommended strong punishment for masturbation, that “leg” was a dirty word, that a woman who felt sexual desire was automatically considered a potential prostitute, that a bride was often taken completely by surprise by the events of the wedding night, and could well faint at the thought.

It is to Freud’s credit that he managed to rise above his culture’s sexual attitudes. Even his mentor Breuer and the brilliant Charcot couldn’t fully acknowledge the sexual nature of their clients’ problems. Freud’s mistake was more a matter of generalizing too far, and not taking cultural change into account. It is ironic that much of the cultural change in sexual attitudes was in fact due to Freud’s work!

Written by Bhushan Kulkarni

May 25, 2007 at 7:52 am

Posted in Freud

Tagged with , ,

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