The Phallic Stage

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From age 3 to 5 (or a bit later), the primary erogenous area of the body is the genital zone. Freud called this stage of development the phallic stage, reflecting his conviction that the phallus (penis) is the most important organ for the development of both males and females. (Critics chastise Freud for being phallocentric.) The child's desire for sexual pleasure is expressed through masturbation, which is accompanied by important (and, to critics, incredible) fantasies. At this stage, males and females follow different developmental paths.

Male Development: The Oedipus Conflict. According to Freud, the young boy wants to kill his father and to replace him as his mother's sexual partner. This Oedipus conflict is derived from Sophocles' play Oedipus Rex, in which Oedipus unwittingly murders his father and takes his own mother as his wife. The young boy fears that if his father knew what he desired, he would punish him with the most appropriate punishment for the crime: castration. Castration anxiety, the fear that his penis will be cut off, is the motivating anxiety of the young boy at this stage. While such castration anxiety may seem an incredible idea, threats of castration do occur in some bizarre circumstances. We are told, for example, that Adolf Hitler ordered artists to be castrated if they used the wrong colors for skies and meadows (Waite, 1977, p. 30). It has also been suggested that many of the sexual problems that patients bring to medical clinics that treat sexual dysfunction are derived from castration anxiety. In other cultures, castration anxiety is expressed differently; for example, in southeast Asia, the phenomenon of k.oro is the sudden anxiety that the penis (or, in females, the vulva and nipples) will recede into the body (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; Kirmayer, 1992). Freud believed that the Oedipus complex was universal throughout all human societies, but others have argued that it does not occur everywhere (Wax, 2000) and that incest itself, especially mother-son incest, is unusual among humans across the world, and also in animals, because it is maladaptive from an evolutionary viewpoint (Sugiyama, 2001).

In normal development, castration anxiety is repressed. LTnconscious castration anxiety may be displaced, experienced as the fear of tonsillectomy (Blum, 1953, p- 87) or as the fear of disease. Freud believed that syphilidophobia, fear of being infected with syphilis, is derived from castration anxiety (Freud, 1933/1966a, p. 552). Presumably, he would regard exaggerated fear of AIDS as evidence of a similar displacement today.

In a healthy resolution of the Oedipal conflict, the boy gives up his fantasy of replacing his father and instead decides to become like his father. By this identification, the boy achieves two important developments: (1) appropriate male sex-typing, and (2) the internalization of conscience, called superego. Conscience is fueled by castration anxiety: The stronger the castration fear, the stronger the superego. Or as Freud (1923/19ó2b, p. 38) so memorably phrased it, "The superego ... is the heir of the Oedipus complex."

Female Development: The Electra Conflict. Girls develop differently. Seeing that they lack a penis, girls believe that they have been castrated. According to Freud, girls interpret their clitoris as inferior to a penis and wish for the latter (penis envy). Like boys, girls in the phallic stage fantasize sexual union with the opposite-sex parent. LTn-like boys, girls must shift their erotic attachment from the mother (the first, pre-Oedipal love object for both sexes) to the father. This change of object is facilitated by the girl's anger toward her mother for not being powerful enough to protect her from castration.

Freud (1933/19óóa, p. 590) lists three possible outcomes of the girl's castration complex: sexual inhibition or neurosis, a masculinity complex, or normal femininity. By masculinity complex, Freud meant that the woman strives for achievements considered in his day to be inappropriate for females, such as career advances to the exclusion of traditional feminine family commitments. Normal feminine development, according to Freud, results in accepting the role of wife and mother and developing the "normal" feminine traits of passivity and masochism. Many psychoanalysts today reject Freud's claim that healthy women need to become wives and mothers in order to satisfy their innate cravings (M. G. Morris, 1997). Without castration anxiety to motivate their development, girls are theoretically less psychologically developed than males, with a weaker superego. Naturally, this assertion has been rejected by those who argue that cultural factors can adequately explain the acceptance of suffering that Freud described as biologically determined masochism (e.g., Caplan, 1984). It also contradicts the empirical record of sex differences: that women report more shame and guilt (interpreted as evidence of moral development), have more empathy for other people's feelings (Tangney, 1990, 1994), and score higher than males on the level of ego development (e.g., Mabry, 1993)-

Incest: Freud's Abandonment of the Seduction Hypothesis. Freud developed and revised his theory over many decades. In his final view, the girl's fantasy of a sexual relationship with her father is just that: fantasy. Earlier, Freud had believed that actual, rather than imagined, incest was important in the histories of his female patients (the seduction hypothesis). His seduction hypothesis, which he later abandoned, held that the father's sexual behavior with his daughter was responsible for her development of psychiatric problems, specifically, hysteria (Freud, 1896/1962a; McGrath, 1986). Why did Freud change his mind, first believing that his patients had been sexually assaulted and later concluding that this had been their imagination? Could he have been defending himself against a suspicion that his own father had seduced Freud himself and his siblings (Kupfersmid, 1992)? One critic, Jeffrey Masson (1984, p. 134), thought so, and he accused Freud of a "loss of courage," putting career interests ahead of his patients.

Others disagree. Orthodox Freudians accept Freud's abandonment of the seduction hypothesis as the correction of an earlier error (e.g., Gleaves & Hernandez, 1999; Lawrence, 1988; Paul, 1985; Rosenman, 1989)- Throughout Freud's theory, thoughts and wishes are centrally important and actual events are less important. Thoughts and fantasies can be changed through therapy, as facts cannot (Birch, 1998), and so the analysis concentrates on what the abusive memory means for the patient, now, rather than the abuse simply as an historical fact. Recollections of abuse become, in effect, narratives that serve as organizing metaphors for experience; but a theory that focuses on fantasized incest while ignoring actual incest invites criticism (Mack, 1980).

Effects of Fixation. Psychoanalytic theory says that fixation at the phallic stage results in difficulties of superego formation; sex role identity; and sexuality, including sexual inhibition, sexual promiscuity, and homosexuality. Historically, Freud argued that homosexuality is understandable, since people all have some attraction to both men and women (bisexuality), but that a heterosexual outcome was more mature and healthy (Freud, 1905/1962b, 1920/1978; Jacobo, 2001). Problems with sex role identification (accepting cultural standards for male or female behavior) may stem from difficulties at this stage. This classic formula assumes that cultural sex norms will be accepted by healthy individuals; it does not allow for the possibility that sex role norms are themselves in need of change. Recently, psychoanalysts have attempted to describe the dynamics of the Oedipus conflict in modified form to relate to gay men (Lewes, 1998; Schwartz, 1999)- In addition, other research implicates biological causes of sexual orientation, including prenatal hormone exposure (Meyer-Bahlburg et al., 1995) and brain structure (LeVay, 1991).

Freud asserted that personality is largely formed during these first three psychosexual stages, when the basic ego mechanisms for dealing with libidinal impulses are established. If fixation has occurred, the specific neurosis will depend on the stage at which development was impaired. The earlier the fixation, the more serious the resulting disorder. Freud suggested that schizophrenia, paranoia or obsessional neurosis, and hysteria result from serious fixation at the first three stages, respectively (Sulloway, 1979).

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Responses

  • hubert
    Why male and female phallic stages follow different paths?
    3 years ago
  • Julia Scholz
    How does phallic stage affects personality?
    3 years ago
  • robert
    What is fixation in phallic stage?
    2 years ago
  • gary campbell
    What is involved in the phallic stage?
    2 years ago
  • Hildifons
    What happened to phallic?
    2 years ago
  • hagosa mebrahtu
    How can phallic stage be applied to oedipus rex?
    1 year ago
  • Carol Gilmore
    How promiscuity affects personality?
    1 year ago
  • Peter
    Can girls get stuck in the phallic stage?
    1 year ago
  • john
    What is the phalic stage of psychosexual?
    1 year ago
  • lobelia
    What is the fixation of the phallic stage as an adult?
    1 year ago
  • lavonda
    What is the fixation of the latency stage?
    3 months ago

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