When I think of psychoanalysis I think of two things: unconscious mind and Sigmund Freud. Freud’s theory of psycho-sexual personality development still stands as the most provocative and talked about theory of all time. Although it has limited practical value for parents and teachers–we aren’t trained to psycho-analyze our children’s minds–it’s worth knowing the gist of Freud’s theory.

In Freud’s view we act according to our instinctual bodily drives. Two words that come up a lot in his discussion of instinctual drives are sex and aggression. He divided the human mind into three parts–id, ego, and superego. Our id is like a child–merely operating by a pleasure principle, doing whatever it wants whenever it wants. Whereas our ego is reality–the practical and rational side of our personality. It gives our id direction and tries to tell it what to do. Our superego gives us a conscience and tells us what’s right and wrong. It starts forming already at three to four years of age. Our superego’s are mostly a reflection of our parent’s value systems.

Freud believed that each one of us goes through five stages of personality development. Each stage is related to an erotic sensitivity in one part of our bodies. If conflict arises at any point we can become fixated, making us more vulnerable to crises later in our lives. Conflict stems either from frustrtion or overindulgence, or both.

(1) Freud’s first stage, Oral, lasts from birth through children’s first year of life. During their first year of life, children’s biggest source of pleasure comes from their mouth. Problems here–for instance if mothers feed them too little or too much–could turn children into gullible and accepting people later in life, who expect the world to take care of them.

(2) The next stage is Anal and it lasts till the end of children’s third year. “No” is the order of the day, and independence is their mission in life. The emotional climate parents create during toilet training could leave lasting imprints on children’s personality development. If children learn how to use the potty, self-control is on the way, however conflict could turn them into stubborn or stingy adults.

(3) At four years of age children enter the Phallic stage, where they derive pleasure from their genitals. This is the stage where boys have a sexual longing for their mothers (oedipal complex) and girls desire their fathers because fathers have a penis and they don’t. Needless to say these last two contentions are out on a limb and many professionals have dismissed them as being absurd.

(4) Freud’s fourth stage, Latency, lasts from children’s sixth year to puberty. During this time children’s sexual energy is channeled into other activities such as school, creative arts, and sports. Freud believed this stage was relatively unimportant to children’s personality development, since their basic traits were already shaped.

(5) Lastly, it is during the Genital stage that adults look for a partner and settle into family life. Normal adjustment during this stage depends on fulfillment in two areas–love and work.