Major Movements in Psychology

Psychoanalytic Theory

What is the Oedipal period?

Freud believed that the libidinal instincts moved through a series of developmental stages, corresponding with different erogenous zones at different ages. In the phallic stage (approximately ages four to seven), the little boy goes through the Oedipal crisis, which results in the formation of his super-ego. Around this age, the little boy falls in love with his mother. Recognizing his father as his rival, he feels murderous rage toward his father, controlled only by his fear of his father’s greater strength. His fear that his father will cut off his penis in retaliation is termed castration anxiety.

As a solution to this dilemma, the little boy identifies with his father, realizing that he will grow up to be a man just like him and then have a wife all his own. This internalization of the father and the father’s authority is seen to be the foundation of the super-ego and of a boy’s moral development. Freud was not as sure how to account for female moral development and assumed women to have weaker super-egos due to their obvious immunity to castration anxiety. While the specifics of this theory have been roundly criticized by feminists and developmental psychologists alike, Oedipal behavior is often observed in children this age, who can show strikingly romantic behavior to older relatives of the opposite sex.


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