When you grow up, you go through all sorts of developmental stages, psychosexual ones included.
Freud’s psychosexual theory of development attributes these forces to sexual instincts. The Phallic Stage begins when an instinctual interest arises in the genitalia that also coincides with the birth of an independent ego (mind).
This phase, in laymen’s terms, deals with every boy’s (and possibly girl’s as well?) sexual desire and curiosity with their genitals and those of other people as well.
What Is the Phallic Stage?
The phallic stage (or phallic stage of psychosexual development) is the third stage in the psychosexual development of Freud and his followers.
During this stage, children become aware of their genitals and identify them as male or female. It begins at about age three and lasts until age six or seven, and they typically become more interested in their and other people’s bodies.
Children learn more about their gender identity and awareness of being male or female. This occurs when they realize they have a penis or vagina (primary sex characteristics). They also learn more about gender roles — how boys and girls are “supposed” to act like men and women in society.
Simply put, in the phallic stage, boys and girls undergo similar personality changes. These include:
- Becoming interested in their bodies and those of others
- Becoming curious about their genitals and those of others
- Developing a sense of gender identity (boy or girl)
- Developing sexual feelings for people of their gender or both genders
- Having sexual fantasies about people of their gender or both genders
Oedipus Complex and Its Role in Phallic Stage
The Oedipus complex concept from psychoanalysis refers to the complex emotional relationship between a child and their parents. In the Oedipal stage, children develop feelings of sexual desire for their opposite-sex parent and jealousy toward their same-sex parent.
The term was first introduced by Sigmund Freud, who believed that this phase occurs during the phallic stage of development. Freud later developed his theory of psychosexual development and argued that the Oedipal conflict occurs during the phallic stage, which typically spans from ages three to six.
The Oedipal conflict is often associated with the rivalry between a father and son for the affection and attention of the mother (or mother figure). This rivalry can be expressed in various ways, such as through direct aggression, passive aggression (like withdrawal), identification with the father against the mother, or the reverse.
Resolving this conflict at the end of the phallic stage leads to identifying one’s gender role. If a boy successfully resolves his Oedipal conflict by identifying with his father, he will develop a masculine gender identity.
Electra Complex and Its Role in Phallic Stage
The Electra complex is the female equivalent of the Oedipus complex.
According to Freud, the Electra complex is the female equivalent of the Oedipus complex and refers to a girl’s psychosexual development during the phallic stage. A girl’s identification with her mother and her rivalry with her mother for her father’s affection are the main elements of this stage.
The Electra Complex plays a pivotal role in the psychosexual development of a girl during the Phallic Stage. Freud posited that girls first experience a feeling of “penis envy” upon realizing they do not possess the same genitalia as their fathers.
However, his theories evolved, leading him to suggest that girls might instead encounter a sense of “womb envy” as they concentrate on their reproductive capabilities to compensate for the perceived absence.
Navigating through the Electra Complex resolution challenges, a girl finds her footing when she identifies with her mother and assimilates her values. In doing so, she embraces traditional feminine roles and ideals.
This transformative journey entails relinquishing her affection for her father and redirecting her attachments to other men beyond her immediate family unit. By understanding this process, one can appreciate individuals’ complexities and struggles during their psychosexual development.
Key Differences Between the Phallic Stage in Boys and Girls
Boys and girls develop differently in many ways. The phallic stage is one such example. Here are some key differences between the development of boys and girls during this stage:
|Age||Typically occurs between 3-6 years old||Typically occurs between 3-6 years old|
|Primary Focus||Development of the penis and testicles||Development of the clitoris|
|Key Concept||Oedipus Complex, Electra Complex||Penis Envy, Castration Anxiety|
|Fear||Castration anxiety||Loss of love and attention from their father|
|Father Figure||Identification with their father||Identification with their mother or with female role models|
|Relationship with the opposite-sex parent||Sexual attraction to the mother, rivalry with the father||Sexual attraction to the father, rivalry with the mother|
|Relationship with the same-sex parent||Develops a close, loving bond||Develops a close, loving bond|
|Outcome of stage||Identity develops around the same-sex parent||Identity develops around the same-sex parent|
How to Deal With Your Kids in the Phallic Stage
Facing the phallic stage in your child’s development may be challenging, but understanding and navigating it can lead to a smoother journey into adulthood. Here are some valuable insights to help you engage with your child during this phase and foster their balanced growth.
1. Open Dialogue: Encourage your child to express their thoughts and emotions freely and let them know it’s safe to share doubts or concerns they may experience.
2. Reassurance and Support: It’s common for children in this stage to face anxiety or confusion about their self-identity and body. Validate their feelings as normal, and offer the support they need during this significant development period.
3. Avoid Shaming or Belittling: Remember that the phallic stage involves natural curiosity and exploration. Instead of criticizing your child, guide them gently towards an age-appropriate understanding of their development.
4. Stay Informed: Familiarize yourself with key concepts like the Oedipus/Electra complex to better empathize with your child’s experiences.
5. Teach Respect for Boundaries: Help your child grasp the importance of respecting their own and others’ boundaries.
6. Foster a Healthy Gender Identity: Inspire the formation of positive relationships with role models of both sexes and allow your child to explore their interests free from gender stereotypes.
7. Enlist Professional Help If Needed: If you notice serious developmental concerns associated with the phallic stage, consider seeking advice from a qualified therapist or counselor.
Moving Through the Phallic Stage of Development
While it is normal for children to experience genital envy, these feelings should never be encouraged or allowed to permeate their psyche. Sexual and psychological maturity are correlative, and both must be advanced together.
This is because until all stages of psychosexual development are complete, a child is not truly “mature” in either the sexual or the psychological sense. Therefore, if a child’s emotional needs are met during a certain stage of sexual development, that child will feel safe moving on to the next stage.
But if those psychological needs are not adequately met, that child may become fixated at that particular stage and never reach subsequent stages in their psychosexual growth.
As such, the individual’s behavior will often manifest in a quest for mastery and authority over their environment as they experiment with how different levels of parental response will influence certain behaviors.
What Is the Phallic Stage?
The phallic stage is a term coined by Sigmund Freud. It forms a part of his psychosexual theory of development, which emphasizes the impact of our childhood experiences on our adult personality.
The Phallic Stage Primarily Occurs in a Child of What Age?
The phallic stage primarily occurs from around the age of three up to six years.
- Karlsson, G. (2016). Phallic Stage. In: Zeigler-Hill, V., Shackelford, T. (eds) Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1410-1