Freud talks about five stages through which personality develops in individuals as they encounter conflicts between society’s demands and their own desires about experiencing pleasure. Unresolved conflicts due to ignoring or overindulging lead to fixations or conflicts that extend beyond the particular developmental stage. Therefore, these stages predict behaviour in adulthood while also describing certain biological functions as sites of pleasure in each stage.
1. Oral Stage
The oral stage extends from birth to 12–18 months of age. In this stage, the mouth is the site of pleasure, and the child’s interest is in oral gratification. If the child is ignored or over-gratified in being fed, says Freud, it will become fixated in adulthood as someone who is unusually interested in oral activities such as smoking or symbolic activities such as being ‘bitingly’ sarcastic.
2. Anal Stage
From 12–18 months to 3 years of age extends the anal stage. Here, the anal region is the site of pleasure, and the child’s interest is in expulsion or retention of faeces during toilet-training. If fixated at this stage due to too strict or too lax training, the child would grow up to become a rigid or disorderly person, says Freud.
3. Phallic Stage
The phallic stage begins at age 3 when the site of pleasure shifts to the genitals and the child’s interest is in fondling it. Boys and girls experience Oedipus and Electra complexes, respectively, in which they sexually desire the opposite-sex parent. The superego develops at this stage—in boys through castration anxiety, and in girls through penis envy—leading to their identification with the same-sex parent in order to find partners like their opposite-sex parents. Fixation at this stage, says Freud, leads to adults who adopt improper sex-role behaviours or do not develop a conscience.
4. Latency Stage
The latency stage extends from age 5 or 6 to puberty during which sexual desires are dormant, even in the unconscious.
5. Genital Stage
From puberty till death extends the genital stage during which interest is in mature sexual intercourse.