Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Psychosexual Development

Last Updated: 26 Mar 2023
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Life history

Sigmund Freud was a renowned Austrian neurologies, known for founding psychoanalysis. He was born Sigismund Schlomo Freud on the 6th of May 1856. Sigmund is the first of eight children and highly favoured by his Jewish Galician parents in Moravian town of Pribor (German: Freiberg in Mahren), Austrian Empire, part of the Freud, and other psychoanalysts (1922) Czeck Republic. His father, Jacob Freud (1815-1896, was a wool merchant who had fathered two children from previous marriages.

Although Jacob’s family was Hassidic Jews, he did not follow this tradition. Sigmund’s mother, Amalia (nee Nathansohn), was 20 years her husband’s junior. The young couple were financially unwell at the time their son Sigmund was born but Amalia took solace in the fact that her son was born with a caul because she saw it as a positive omen for the boy’s future. They were living in a rented room in a blacksmith’s house at Schlossergasse 117 As a result of the Panic of 1857, Jacob lost his business and the Freud family had to move to Leipzig before settling in Vienna in 1865.

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Despite their financial situation, Sigmund’s education was priority to his parents resulting in him entering the Leopoldstadter Kommunal-Realgymnasium, a prominent high school when he was only nine years, where he proved to be an outstanding pupil and graduated from the Matura in 1873 with honors. He loved literature and was proficient in German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Latin and Greek. It has been suggested that due to the fact that he read William Shakespeare in English throughout his life, his understanding of human psychology was derived from Shakespeare’s plays.

Sigmund Freud entered the University of Vienna at age 17, intended to study law but joined the medical faculty instead, where he studied zoology under Darwinist Professor Karl Claus. He spent four weeks at Claus’s zoological research station in Trieste, dissecting hundreds of eels in an inconclusive search for their male reproductive organs. He graduated with an MD in 1881 Career and marriage Freud started his medical career in a psychiatric clinic in Vienna General Hospital, a practice owned by Theodor Meynert.

He got married to Martha Bernays, the granddaughter of Isaac Bernays, a chief Rabbi in Hamburg, in 1886. The couple had six children. In 1886 Sigmund Freud resigned his hospital post and entered a private practice specializing in nervous disorders. Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychotherapist and psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology Started the rumour that a romantic relationship may have developed between Freud and his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays, who had moved in to the Freud family household at Berggasse 19 in 1896 after the death of her fiance.

Some Freud scholars reckoned that there was factual basis to these rumours after a publication of a Swiss hotel log, dated 13 August 1898, showed Freud had stayed there with a woman not his wife Although this does not prove that Freud stayed at the hotel with Minna Bernays, it does confirm the part about Freud stepping out of his marital vows. Peter Gay, a Sterling professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and former director of the New York Public Library’s Center for Scholars and

Writers (1997-2003), who was previously skeptical of this rumour, revised his view of the matter and concluded that an affair between Freud and Minna was possible. Based on historical investigations and contextual analysis of Freud’s writings, Peter J. Swales, a Welsh “guerilla historian of psychoanalysis”, who had written essays and letters about Sigmund Freud suggested that Minna became pregnant and had an abortion during their affair. Freud who initially smoked cigarette began smoking tobacco at age 24. He believed that smoking enhanced his capacity to work and that he could exercise self-control by smoking in moderation.

He neglected to consider the fact that self-control cannot prevent buccal cancer, a disease he eventually suffered from. Wilhelm Fliess, a German Jewish otolaryngologist who practiced in Berlin, became concerned about the effect of smoking on his health and warned him of the same as a friend and colleague, but he remained a smoker. Freud suggested to Fliess in 1897 that addictions, including that to tobacco, were substitutes for masturbation, stating that it was “the one great habit”.

Introduction to Psychoanalysis

Freud became greatly influenced by the work of his friends who later became his colleagues. In October 1885, Sigmund Freud went to Paris on a fellowship to study with Jean-Martin Charcot, a renowned neurologist who was conducting scientific research into hypnosis. Charcot specialized in the study of hysteria and susceptibility to hypnosis, which he frequently demonstrated with patients on stage in front of an audience. Freud began using hypnosis in his clinical work at his established private practice in 1886 Freud was greatly influenced by Josef Breuer, an Austrian physician whose work laid the foundation of psychoanalysis, mentor and collaborator with Freud.

Breuer used a different method of hypnosis from the French method to help his patient, a method that does not use suggestion. Freud postulated that psychoneuroses had their origins in deeply traumatic experiences that had occurred in patient’s past such as sexual molestation in early childhood (hysteria and obsessional neurosis), a formulation now known as Freud’s seduction theory. Freud and Breuer published their theories and findings in Studies in Hysteria (1895). The treatment of Anna O, a patient of Breuer, proved to be transformative.

When interviewed Anna mentioned that talking uninhibitedly while under hypnosis caused a reduction in the severity of her symptoms as she retrieved her memories of early traumatic incidents in her life. A treatment she referred to as “talking cure”. This led Freud to eventually conclude in the course of his clinical practice that a more consistent and effective pattern of symptom relief could be achieved, without recourse to hypnosis, by encouraging patients to talk freely about their experiences. This procedure he called “free association”.

Further more, he found that patients’ dreams could be fruitfully analyzed to reveal the complex structuring of unconscious material and to demonstrate the psychic action of repression, which underlay symptom formation. By 1896 Freud had done away with hypnosis all together and was using the term “psychoanalysis” to refer to his new clinical method and the theories on which it was based. In 1897, Freud argued that the repressed sexual thoughts and fantasies of early childhood were the key cause factors in neuroses, whether derived from real events in the child’s history or not.

This led to the emergence of Freud’s new theory of infantile sexuality and eventually to the Oedipus complex. After much work together, Breuer ended the relationship because he felt Freud placed too much emphasis on the sexual origins of a patient’s neuroses and completely refused to consider other viewpoints. Freud continued to refine his argument and in 1900, after a serious period of self-analysis, he published The Interpretation of dreams, and then in 1901 he published another book titled The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. In 1905, he published Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.

The great reverence given to Freud’s theories was not in evidence for some years as most of his contemporaries felt like Breuer, that his emphasis on sexuality was either scandalous or over played. Oedipus complex in psychoanalytic theory term denotes the emotions and ideas that the mind stores in the unconscious through dynamic repression, these concentrate upon a child’s desire to sexually possess his/her mother and kill his/her father. It was derived from the 5th-century BC Greek mythologic character Oedipus, who unwittingly kills his father, Laius, and marries his mother, Jocasta.

Freud believed that the Oedipus complex is a desire for the mother in both sexes (he felt girls have a homosexual attraction towards their mother); a complex he believed is a universal, psychological phenomenon innate (phylogenetic) to human beings and the cause of most unconscious guilt. In the classical Freudian psychoanalytic theory, child’s identification with the same-sex parents is the successful resolution of the Oedipus complex and of the Electra complex key psychological experiences that are necessary for the development of a mature sex role and identity.

Sigmund Freud further proposed that boys and girls experience the complexes differently: boys in a form of castration anxiety, girls in a form of penis envy; and unsuccessful resolution of the complexes might lead to neurosis, paedophilia and homosexuality. Men and women who are fixated in the Oedipal and Electra stages of their psychosexual development might be considered “mother-fixated” and “father-fixated”, which may result in an adult choosing a sexual partner who resembles their parent.

Stages of development

The six-stage chronology of Sigmund Freud’s theoretic evolution of the Oedipus complex is:

  • Stage 1. 897 – 1909. After his father’s death in 1896, and having seen the play Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles, Freud begins using the term “Oedipus”.
  • Stage 2. 1909 -1914. Proposes that Oedipal desire is the “nuclear complex” of all neuroses; first usage of “Oedipus complex” in 1910.
  • Stage 3. 1914 – 1918. Considers paternal and maternal incest.
  • Stage 4. 1919 – 1926. Complete Oedipus complex; identification and bisexuality are conceptually evident in later works.
  • Stage 5. 1926 – 1931. Applies the Oedipal theory to religion and custom.
  • Stage 6. 1931 – 1938. Investigates the “feminine Oedipus attitude” and “negative Oedipus complex”; later the “Electra complex”.

Definition of id, ego and superego Id, ego and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Freud’s structural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction mental life is described. According to this model, the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends.

The ego is the organized, realistic part and the super-ego comprises that organized part of the personality structure mainly but not entirely unconscious, that includes the individual’s ego ideals, piritual goals, and the psychic agency or conscience that criticizes and prohibits his or her drives, fantasy, feeling, and action through guilt.

Oedipus and Oedipus complex

Otto Rank behind the Sphinx, by Gustave Moreau (1864) Worth mentioning is an article on Sigmund found on About. com education by Kendra Cherry, She writes “Psychology’s most famous figure is also one of the most influential and controversial thinkers of the twentieth century. Sigmund Freud’s work and theories helped shape our views of childhood, personality, memory, sexuality and therapy. His work is relevant in all areas of development. I am thrilled to find that his work is related to childhood development, perhaps not as well rounded and child focused as Maria Montessori’s interest which is solely on all aspect of child progressive development.


  1. Sigmund Freud, Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 20 Feb. 2013.
  2. wikipedia. org;. Sigmund Freud. biography. 20 Feb. 2013. Bio. true story.
  3. www. biography. com
  4. Kendra Cherry, About. com education. 20 Feb 2013.
  5. about. com;

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Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Psychosexual Development. (2017, Jun 30). Retrieved from

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