Classical Psychodynamic Theory





The classical psychodynamic theory is used to explain personality development. One of the most significant proponents of this theory is Freud. Freud believed that individuals have three levels of awareness, the conscious, preconscious, and the unconscious. He developed a theory on how individuals’ feelings and thoughts affect their actions (psychodynamic theory). Freud argued that individuals can infer the existence of the unconscious through slips of dreams and tongue. This theory is still prevalent in the field of psychology. He understood the mind as frequently in conflict with itself (Hutchison, 2011). He further understood the conflict to be the fundamental cause of human unhappiness and anxiety. It is vital to note that the division of the mind by Freud is not the splitting up of the mind into distinct structures and functions that exist in physical divisions in the brain. In fact, they are not structures, but separate elements and aspects of the structure of the mind.

According to Freud, human personality is comprised of three aspects that work together to produce complex behaviors (Sheehan, 1993). These are the id, the ego, and the superego (Hutchison, 2011). These elements function in different levels of consciousness. The interface between the three components of the mind reflects a steady movement of objects from one stage to another. The three elements require to be well-balanced to have a significant level of psychological energy and reasonable mental health. The ego has a complicated time handling the desires of the superego and the id. The psychological conflict is a pervasive and intrinsic part of human experience. One of the most fundamental psychological conflicts that all people face is the clash between the id and the superego. The way in which an individual characteristically resolves the immediate gratification versus long term reward in numerous ways reflects on their character. The id functions in the emotional and irrational part of the mind. According to Sheehan (1993), it comprises all the basic feelings and needs. This represents the source for psychic force. The id operates on the pleasure principle. As a child comes into the realism of life, it wishes to satisfy all its needs. The urges of the id are represent the most primordial motivational power. In pursuit of the demands, the id demands instant gratification regardless of conditions and potential undesirable effects. If people are ruled entirely by the pleasure principle, people would steal and snatch things from others regardless of the owners watching them. The id cannot stand for a holdup in satisfaction. If the desire is not satisfied, the id develops a memory of the end of the inspiration (Burger, 2011).

The ego operates with the rational and sane part of the mind. It develops out of increasing awareness that one cannot always get whatever he or she wants. It relates to the actual world and functions through the reality principle. It recognizes the need for cooperation and bargains between the superego and the id. The role of the ego is to get the get the pleasures of the id, but to be rational and reasonable and bring the long-term effects in mind. It denies both immediate gratification and moral delaying of gratification. Ego-strength refers to how ell the ego copes with conflicting forces. The ego develops from the eventual understanding that instant gratification is not possible (Burger, 2011). Therefore, the ego operates as a mediator of the the superego and the id. It suppresses the urges of the id until a proper situation arises. The repression of improper urges and desires reflects tension on, and the most vital function of the mind. Often, the ego uses defense mechanisms in achieving and aiding in repression. The efforts of the ego at pragmatic fulfillment of urges ultimately create a variety of memories and skills and recognize itself as an entity. According to Burger (2011), with the development of the ego, the person becomes a self, rather than an amalgamation of needs and urges.

On the other hand, the superego is the last element of the mind to build up. It is an embodiment of societal and parental values. It enforces and stores rules. It frequently strives for perfection, although this excellence model may be far from possibility or reality. The power of the superego to enforce rules comes from its ability to build anxiety. The superego is comprised of two subsystems; the ego ideal and conscience. On one hand, the ego ideal gives rules for good behaviors and values of fineness towards which the ego must struggle. It is fundamentally what societal members approve or value as right in society (Hutchison, 2011). On the other hand, the conscience is the rules about what constitutes unaccepted behavior. It is basically all the things that individuals feel that the entire society will punish or disapprove. While the ego may repress certain urges and demands temporarily in fear of punishment, the external causes of punishment are internalized. This implies that individuals will restrain from activities that are likely to bring negative effects on society. The superego applies self-approach and guilt as its basic means of enforcement of rules. However, when an individual does something that is tolerable by the superego, he or she experiences self-satisfaction and pride.

Stages of psychosexual development

Sigmund Freud advanced his theory of development of human personality that centered on the impacts of the sexual gratification drive on the psyche of an individual (Shaffer, 2009). At certain points in the process of development, Freud claimed that one body part is specifically sensitive to erotic, sexual stimulation. The erogenous zones described by Freud include the mouth, the genital region, and the anus. The libido of the child centers on actions affecting the basic erogenous zone of the child’s age. Therefore, the child cannot focus on the principal erogenous region of the next stage before resolving the conflict of development of the immediate stage. A child at a particular developmental stage has certain demands and needs. Some of the needs include the need of the child to nurse. However, frustrations crop up when these needs are not met. Overindulgence comes from such an adequate meeting of the needs that the child becomes reluctant to go beyond the stage. Both overindulgence and frustration lock some level of the child’s libido enduringly into the phase in which they happen, both lead to fixation. On one hand, if a child progresses in the normal way through the phases, resolving each clash and moving on, then there is only little amount of libido that remains invested in each developmental stage. On the other hand, if the child fixates at a certain stage, the method of getting satisfaction that characterized the phase will control and influence the child’s personality in a negative manner (Shaffer, 2009).

The oral stage is the first stage of personality development according to Freud. This occurs from birth to 18 months of a child. This stage starts at birth, whilst the oral cavity is the prime concern of libidal vigor. The child preoccupies itself with nurture and attention, with the pleasure obtained from sucking and taking things into its mouth. The oral character who gets frustrated during this period, whose mother declined to nurse, is characterized by the aspect of pessimism, sarcasm, envy, and suspicion. The overindulged character, on the other hand, whose nursing demands and urges were always and extremely satisfied becomes optimistic, full of admiration for people around him or her and is also gullible. This stage ends in the primary battle of weaning that deprives the child of both the psychological and sensory gratification of being cared for, held, and mothered. As stated earlier, the stage lasts for an approximation of one and half years (Sigelman, 2011).

The anal stage is the next stage in psychosexual development. It takes place between 18 months and three years. With the initiation of toilet training arises the obsession of the child with the erogenous region of the anus and with the expulsion or retention of the faeces. This reflects a classic clash between the id that obtains pleasure from expulsion of wastes of the body and the superego and the ego that reflect the societal and practical pressures to control the functions of the body. The child gets into conflict between the child’s urges and physical capabilities and the parent’s demands in either of the two ways. The child may put up a fight or simply decline to go. The child that wants to fight may take pleasure in excreting unkindly before being placed in the toilet or potty. In case the parents are too compassionate and the child derives pleasure from this action, it results to the creation of an anal expulsive personality. This personality is normally disorganized, messy, careless, reckless, and defiant. On the other hand, a child may choose to retain faeces deriving pleasure from spiting the parents and retaining faeces built-up in the intestines. According to Shaffer (2009), if this strategy succeeds and the child becomes overindulged, the child will grow into an anal retentive character. The features and characteristics of this character is that he is precise, neat, careful, orderly, stingy, obstinate, and withholding. The resolution to this stage, appropriate toilet training, permanently influences the individual tendencies to attitudes and possession towards authority.

The third stage is called the phallic stage. It takes place between three to six years. This stage reflects the most vital sexual conflict in developmental model of Freud. During this stage, the genital region is the child’s erogenous region. Conflict arises as the child becomes interested in his or her genitals, as well as, other people’s genitals. The conflict is called Oedipus complex in males and Electra complex, in females. This entails the child’s unconscious urge to get rid of the same-sexed parent and have the opposite-sexed parent. In males, Oedipus conflict arises from the child’s natural desire for his mother (Sigelman, 2011). This love becomes sexual as the libidal energy moves from the anal to the genital region. Unluckily, the child feels envy and aggression towards his father as the child sees him as a rival. He feels as if they are competing with his father for the love and affection of the mother. The child is struck by a lot of fear that the father might remove his penis as the mother does not have a penis. This anxiety is intensified by the discipline and threats he gets when caught masturbating by the parents. The boy, therefore, represses the desire as the castration anxiety outshines the desire for his father. Furthermore, albeit the boy knows that he cannot have his mother has his father already has her; he feels he can still have her vicariously by identifying with the father. This identification reflects in the later life in the voice of the father within him (the boy), thus resolving the conflict. Failure to resolve this conflict may result to the child becoming homosexual in the future. This implies that fixation at this phase creates a phallic personality who is resolute, reckless, self-assured (Sigelman, 2011). Failure to resolve this conflict may also result to the individual being afraid or incapable of establishing close relationships.

The latency stage takes place between six years to puberty. This period is not a psychosexual stage of development; however, it is a stage in which the sexual force becomes dormant. Freud describes this stage as the stage of unparalleled repression of erogenous impulses and sexual desires. During this stage, individuals are concerned with school, same-sex friendships, and activities such as sports. However, libidal energy arises when the age of puberty strikes (Shaffer, 2009).

The last psychosexual stage is the genital stage, which occurs from the age of puberty onwards. Individuals’ energy is focused on his genitals as interests turn into heterosexual relationships. According to Sigelman (2011), the less the energy the individual has put in unsettled psychosexual developments, the higher his aptitude will be to establish normal relations with the opposite sex. However, if an individual remains fixated especially on the phallic phase, his or her development will be challenged as he or she struggle with further defenses and repression.


Burger, J. M. (2011). Personality. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Hutchison, E. D. (2011). Dimensions of human behavior: The changing life course (4th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Shaffer, D. R. (2009). Social and personality development. Australia: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Sheehan, S. (1993). Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. New York: Vintage.

Sigelman, C. K., & Rider, E. A. (2011). Life-span human development. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.




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