FREUD began his researches into the
workings of the human mind in 1881, after a century during which Europe
and America saw the reform of the insane asylum and an ever-increasing
interest in "abnormal" psychological states, especially
the issue of "nervous diseases" (which was the first phenomenon
that Freud studied, examining the nervous system of fish while gaining
his medical degree at the University of Vienna from 1873 to 1881).
Freud turned to the issue of psychology after reading in 1884 about
Breuer's treatment of hysteria by hypnosis and after studying under
Charcot at the Sorbonne in 1885. Freud faced opposition and even ridicule
for many of his ideas until a group of young doctors began to follow
him to Vienna in 1902, leading to the creation of the Viennese Psycho-Analytic
Society and, then later in 1910, the formation of the International
Although he often distinguished his ideas
from medicine and biology, Freud was especially interested in establishing
a scientific basis for his theories and, so, he often turned to biological
models in order to underline the empirical basis for what were, by
necessity, subjective interpretations of apparently illogical and
certainly multivalent symbols
(for example, in his analysis of dreams). In A Introductory Lectures
on Psycho-Analysis (First Lecture), Freud confesses of the difficulties
faced by a psychoanalytical critic at the turn of the twentieth century:
no empirical evidence; a reliance on the spoken word, because of the
talking cure; the extremely personal (because barbaric) nature of
sexual drives, which therefore resist exposure (hence the notion of
and civilization's "natural" antipathy to the revelation
of the instinctive
pleasures that we continually sacrifice for the common good (15.15-24).
Despite these caveats, Freud was, indeed,
drawn by scientific models for his theories. Although Freud's main
concern was with "sexual desire," he understood desire in
terms of formative drives, instincts,
and appetites that "naturally" determined one's behaviors
and beliefs, even as we continually repress
those behaviors and beliefs. (As a young student in Vienna, Freud
was, in fact, especially fascinated by Charles Darwin's theories of
evolution.) Following a biological logic, if you will, Freud
therefore established a rigid model for the "normal" sexual
development of the human subject, what he terms the "libido
development." Here, then, is your story, as told by Freud, with
the ages provided as very rough approximations since Freud often changed
his mind about the actual dates of the various stages and also acknowledged
that development varied between individuals. Stages can even overlap
or be experienced simultaneously.
0-2 years of age. Early in your development,
all of your desires were oriented towards your lips and your mouth,
which accepted food, milk, and anything else you could get your
hands on (the
oral phase). The first object of this stage was, of course,
the mother's breast, which could be transferred to auto-erotic objects
(thumb-sucking). The mother thus logically became your first "love-object,"
already a displacement
from the earlier object
of desire (the breast). When you first recognized the fact of your
father, you dealt with him by identifying
yourself with him; however, as the sexual wishes directed to your
mother grew in intensity, you became possessive of your mother and
secretly wished your father out of the picture (the
Oedipus complex). This Oedipus
complex plays out throughout the next two phases of development.
2-4 years of age. Following the
oral phase, you entered the sadistic-anal phase, which is split
between active and passive impulses: the impulse to mastery on the
one hand, which can easily become cruelty; the impulse to scopophilia
(love of gazing), on the other hand. This phase was roughly coterminous
with a new auto-erotic object:
the rectal orifice (hence, the term "sadistic-anal phase").
According to Freud, the child's pleasure in defecation is connected
to his or her pleasure in creating something of his or her own,
a pleasure that for women is later transferred to child-bearing.
4-7 years of age. Finally, you entered the
phallic phase, when the penis (or the clitoris, which, according
to Freud, stands for the penis in the young girl) become your primary
In this stage, the child becomes fascinated with urination, which
is experienced as pleasurable, both in its expulsion and retention.
The trauma connected with this phase is that of castration, which
makes this phase especially important for the resolution of the
complex. Over this time, you began to deal with your separation
anxieties (and your all-encompassing egoism) by finding symbolic
ways of representing and thus controlling the separation from (not
to mention your desire for) your mother. You also learned to defer
bodily gratification when necessary. In other words, your ego
became trained to follow the reality-principle
and to control the pleasure-principle,
although this ability would not be fully attained until you passed
through the latency period. In resolving the Oedipus
complex, you also began to identify
either with your mother or your father, thus determining the future
path of your sexual orientation. That identification
took the form of an "ego-ideal,"
which then aided the formation of your "super-ego":
an internalization of the parental function (which Freud usually
associated with the father) that eventually manifested itself in
your conscience (and sense of guilt).
7-12 years of age. Next followed a long
period" during which your sexual development was more or
less suspended and you concentrated on repressing
your earlier desires and thus learned to follow the reality-principle.
During this phase, you gradually freed yourself from your parents
(moving away from the mother and reconciling yourself with your
father) or by asserting your independence (if you responded to your
incestuous desires by becoming overly subservient to your father).
You also moved beyond your childhood egoism and sacrificed something
of your own ego
to others, thus learning how to love others.
13 years of age onward (or from puberty
on). Your development over the latency
period allowed you to enter the final genital
phase. At this point, you learned to desire members of the opposite
sex and to fulfill your instinct
to procreate and thus ensure the survival of the human species.
To explain the early psycho-drama of your childhood, Freud turned
to a dramatic work, Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, in which Oedipus
(who, according to a prophecy, is fated to sleep with his mother and
kill his father) attempts to escape his fate but, in the process,
unwittingly does the very things he was attempting to avoid. Freud
therefore coined the term, the Oedipus
complex. One should note that anyone can get arrested at or insufficiently
grow out of any of the primal stages, leading to various symptoms
in one's adult life. (See fixation
One thing "you" have surely noticed
is the decidedly masculine bent of Freud's story of sexual development.
Indeed, Freud often had difficulty incorporating female desire into
his theories, leading to his famous, unanswered question: "what
does a woman want?" As Freud states late in life, "psychology
too is unable to solve the riddle of femininity" ("New Introductory
It is for this reason that many feminists have criticized Freud's
ideas and one reason why many feminists interested in psychoanalysis
have turned instead to Kristeva. (See
also Gender and
Sex.) To explain women, Freud argued that young girls followed
more or less the same psychosexual development as boys. Indeed, he
argues paradoxically that "the little girl is a little man"
("New Introductory Lectures" 22.118)
and that the entrance into the phallic phase occurs for the young
girl through her "penis-equivalent," the clitoris. In fact,
according to Freud, the young girl, also experiences the castration-complex,
with the difference that her tendency is to be a victim of what Freud
terms "penis-envy," a desire for a penis as large as a man's.
After this stage, according to Freud, the woman has an extra stage
of development when "the clitoris should wholly or in part hand
over its sensitivity, and at the same time its importance, to the
vagina" ("New Introductory Lectures" 22.118).
According to Freud, the young girl must also at some point give up
her first object-choice
(the mother and her breast) in order to take the father as her new
Her eventual move into heterosexual femininity, which culminates in
giving birth, grows out of her earlier infantile desires, with her
own child now taking "the place of the penis in accordance with
an ancient symbolic equivalence" ("New Introductory Lectures"