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Is Freud’s Personality Theory Still Relevant?

is Freud still relevant?

Very few things survive the test of time by remaining unable or unwilling to change. It was 1895 when Sigmund Freud introduced his work in the area of human personality with the publishing of his book entitled “Studies on Hysteria.” Almost 120 years later, it remains one of the few works continuing to impact the entirety of mental health treatment. This raises a legitimate question: Is Freud’s Personality Theory Relevant Today?

It has undergone many iterations by several equally talented theorists. Each one adding to the Freudian paradigm. In addition, the work done by Freud in the field of experimental psychology gave approval for others to offer their findings. A goal of this article is to examine whether Freud’s personality theory and psychodynamic theory as its extension are still relevant.

We already discussed core concepts of Freud’s personality theory in the previous post, so here is just a brief summary. In a nutshell, Freud identified five stages of growth occurring from infancy through adulthood:

Oral: 0 – 1.5 years of age

Anal: 1.5 to 3 years of age

Phallic: 3 – 5 year of age

Latency: 5 – 12 years of age

Genital: 12 – adulthood

The experiences and information from those stages is sorted by three levels of the human mind:

Conscious  – associated with super ego

Unconscious   associated with ego

Subconscious associated with id

Imbedded in the Freudian theory is his own terminology with its dependence on human sexuality as the genesis of our behavior. As indicated in his five stages of development each stage is associated with a healthy management of the impulses, needs, and desires of each stage. Failure to do this may result in personality flaws and mental disorders.

The Freudian Theory of Personality

Freudian Theory of Personality

Sigmund Freud is considered to be the father of psychiatry. Among his many accomplishments is, arguably, the most far-reaching personality schema in psychology: the Freudian theory of personality. It has been the focus of many additions, modifications, and various interpretations given to its core points. Despite many reincarnations, Freud’s theory is criticized by many (e.g. for its perceived sexism) and it remains the focus of hot discussions on its relevance today.


Freud was a one of a kind thinker. There can be little question that he was influenced by earlier thinking regarding the human mind, especially the idea of there being activity within the mind at a conscious and unconscious level yet his approach to these topics was largely conceptual. His theoretical thoughts were as original as they were unique. It is a testament to Freud’s mind to know that whether you agree, disagree, or are ambivalent about his theory, it remains as a theoretical cornerstone in his field of expertise.


Human Personality: The adult personality emerges as a composite of early childhood experiences, based on how these experiences are consciously and unconsciously processed within human developmental stages, and how these experiences shape the personality.

Not every person completes the necessary tasks of every developmental stage. When they don’t, the results can be a mental condition requiring psychoanalysis to achieve proper functioning.

Stages of Development

Believing that most human suffering is determined during childhood development, Freud placed emphasis on the five stages of psychosexual development. As a child passes through these stages unresolved conflicts between physical drives and social expectation may arise.

These stages are:

  • Oral (0 – 1.5 years of age): Fixation on all things oral. If not satisfactorily met there is the likelihood of developing negative oral habits or behaviors.
  • Anal (1.5 to 3 years of age): As indicated this stage is primarily related to developing healthy toilet training habits.
  • Phallic (3 – 5 year of age): The development of healthy substitutes for the sexual attraction boys and girls have toward a parent of the opposite gender.
  • Latency (5 – 12 years of age): The development of healthy dormant sexual feelings for the opposite sex.
  • Genital (12 – adulthood): All tasks from the previous four stages are integrated into the mind allowing for the onset of healthy sexual feelings and behaviors.

It is during these stages of development that the experiences are filtered through the three levels of the human mind. It is from these structures and the inherent conflicts that arise in the mind that personality is shaped. According to Freud while there is an interdependence among these three levels, each level also serves a purpose in personality development. Within this theory the ability of a person to resolve internal conflicts at specific stages of their development determines future coping and functioning ability as a fully-mature adult.