The psychosexual development is not only the first aspect that we deal with on the chart, it is also the earliest resolved. Freud, and subsequent theorists, have described in detail the ramifications of not dealing with these stages appropriately, and I imagine that we have all heard enough about the Oedipus Complex to last us for three lifetimes. Here's some good news: as developmentalists, we don't have to pay too much attention to all of that. It is great stuff, and very valuable for people who work in the fields of counseling and clinical psychology, and I am thrilled that there are people doing that work to help people get healthy. That is not our goal. All we want is an idea of what we need to do in order to not become that kind of unhealthy. An added note: sexual development as we are considering it is the development of the sexual impulse, and the progression through which it proceeds. This is not an attempt to explore the differences in sexual identity, or sexual preference, or sexual practice, or an exploration of the cultural or normative value of any of the above.
Freud offers five stages of psychosexual development, but considering that one is a Latent stage, we only really have to deal with four of them. Isn't developmental theorizing fun? The first stage is the oral stage. Kids explore both the shape of mouths, and the taste of things, and want to breastfeed. The important thing to remember here is that kids do not have a great ability to self-regulate, or exhibit patience, so denying these oral impulses will not be understood and will result in some pretty particular dysfunctions. At the same time, excessive indulgence will result in different sorts of dysfunctions. The key appears to be stability from the parental standpoint. Don't make it a big deal, and just try to keep things that you don't want in their mouth out of their reach. Weaning, which is just the transition away from breastfeeding, introduces the concept of self-regulation (self-control) and delayed gratification and that announces the end of the stage. This is the first step the identification/differentiation conflict, which provides the forward momentum for the progress through the developmental landscape. Next we move to the anal stage, where potty training becomes the central task now that self-regulation is a possibility.
At this point I think that we have enough on the table to begin talking about the developmental process. We have mentioned stages and aspects and phases, and maybe it still feels like we haven't described anything, yet. We know that people are complicated, so it stands to reason that the developmental process, if it is to be in any way accurate, will be at least similarly complex. Generally, the way that complex problems are broken down is by isolating different aspects and dealing with them in isolation before then considering them in collaboration. Which is actually exactly what psychology has been doing for the last couple of decades! Great news. So, applying our First Law of Human Dynamics, we want to identify different parts of people that we think every person has.
First we can identify the body. We all have one. At least, as far as I am aware. When I run into a disembodied human I will update my perspectives. So we have a body, and that body goes through a series of changes that compound in a gradual process leading to a greater complexity, and an accompanying greater range of functionality. This is the foundation for a lot of the changes that happen in the other areas of development. To be clear, I am not suggesting that every psychological change is entirely determined by biological changes. There are definitely social, cultural, geographic, and general environmental factors that come into play. What I am saying is that some of these developmental changes are made possible by biological changes. The ability to walk depends on the post-natal growth of the inner ear allowing for balance. Puberty follows the advent of hormones and a bump in brain space. There are things that we can do that hasten or inhibit those biological changes, but those biological changes create new capabilities and functionalities. If I want to understand the process, I start with the biological, and then I understand different aspects in light of those biological parameters.
This is a good point to address what has been a frequent misunderstanding in the many conversations that lead to this project. DNA is awesome. We understand a lot about the mechanics of how we work in light of the recent work in genetics. I just submitted my 23andMe sample a few weeks ago. I'm excited to know about my genetic marker and predispositions, because I know exactly what they are: markers and predispositions. Here is the critical distinction: genes are not fate. A high-risk allele just indicates that your risk is higher. You then have a choice as to whether or not to modify your behavior to adjust for your higher risk. What appears to be the difference between genes and fate is human volition. We have a lot of influence acting upon us at all times, and usually by being aware of them we can more appropriately decide how to respond to them.