Freud's Phallic Stage of Development

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  • 0:01 The Phallic Symbol
  • 0:31 The Phallic Stage
  • 1:38 The Oedipal Complex
  • 2:13 Castration Anxiety
  • 2:59 Girls & the Phallic Stage
  • 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Foley

Stephanie has a BA & MA iin psychology and has taught for 13 years.

The phallus is the focus of Freud's third stage of Psychosexual development. In this lesson, learn about this state of development and how it affects both girls and boys.

The Phallic Symbol

Anything penis-shaped is considered a phallic symbol. Architecture, transportation, and foods such as bananas and hot dogs resemble the basic shape of a penis or phallus and therefore evoke a connection to male sexuality and power. Phallic symbols have been found in art and buildings for thousands of years. Even our own Washington Monument has the classically tall and erect shape. Archeologists have uncovered ancient sculptures of male figures with disproportionally large penises as signs of dominance and fertility.



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Freud's highly controversial theory of psychosexual development is based upon male superiority, penises being the main anatomical difference between the sexes and what the 3-6-year-old boy learns is his source of power.

The Phallic Stage

With five developmental stages total, the phallic stage is the third and most important one. The child forges his sense of self in relation to his genitalia, learning that he is masculine. Masculinity and his gender role are modeled for him by his father. Basically, Dad shows him how to be a man and what it means to be a man in the family and within society.

The boy from birth has strong incestuous love for his mother. After all, she is the one who fed him in infancy, thereby gratifying his oral desire through breastfeeding. The boy loves his mother so intensely that he is willing to fight for her to have her all to himself. Remember this is a 3- to 6-year-old; he can be highly possessive of his mother and he lacks the logical understanding that his love may be inappropriate. Plus, for Freud, all of this is unconscious, so the child is not aware of it.

The Oedipal Complex

The real threat for mother's undivided attention is father. He is the competition. He must be eliminated. The energy or motivational force that drives the phallic stage is sexual and aggressive. The boy unconsciously wishes for his father's death. This aspect of the phallic stage is called the Oedipal Complex. Named for the Greek myth that centers on a son's sexual desire for his mother and him killing his father (he did not know that either was his parent), the Oedipal Complex must be resolved because it causes the boy to be very anxious.

Castration Anxiety

With a death wish for his father, the boy becomes anxious because his father is the most powerful member of this family. After all, father is masculine and has a penis. The most punishing act a father could do is remove his son's masculinity. The boy begins to fear that his father will castrate him or cut off his genitals if he knew about his love for his mother and his unconscious drive to off his father to get her.

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