Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Freud’s Psychosexual Stages

How does the Oedipal complex influence the development of the phallic stage?

Freud put a lot of emphasis on the Oedipal complex, which he believed to be a universal drama that children undergo during the phallic stage. The Oedipal complex is best understood in boys, though Freud also proposed an Electra complex for girls. Both complexes are named after characters in classical Greek plays. Oedipus was the Greek prince who unwittingly killed his father and married his mother. When he realized what he had done, he gouged out his own eyes in remorse. In little boys, the phallic stage brings an increased interest in their own genitals. Along with this, they start to become interested in their mothers as romantic partners. Recognizing their fathers as rivals for their mother’s exclusive attention, they fantasize about getting rid of their fathers, even of killing them. However, they also love their fathers, so the tension between feelings of love and hate cause them much conflict and guilt. They project their guilt feelings onto their fathers and fear that their much larger and more powerful fathers will retaliate against them by cutting off their now highly valued penis. This fear is known as castration anxiety.

As a means of resolving their conflict, they identify with their fathers, aiming to become just like their big and strong fathers when they grow up. They also internalize the moral code of their father. This newfound respect for authority reflects the development of the superego, the part of the mind that adopts parental rules as the basis of a moral code. Freud attributed many aspects of adult personality to the successful resolution of the Oedipal complex. These include capacity for ambition, aspiration, guilt, and morality.


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