Effects of Toilet Training to Personality Development
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“The child was the father to the man”
- Sigmund Freud
The basic premise of Dr. Sigmund Freud’s theory on personality development lies on the above statement. The determinants of one’s behavior and characteristics during adulthood may be derived from one’s childhood –how one was brought up taking into consideration the influence and interaction of values, culture, language, rules, roles, models and morals to the development of one’s personality. As such, much of the burden of honing a child’s character lies on the parents and the latter’s own upbringing may greatly influence how a child will behave upon reaching adulthood.
With this premise in mind, Freud advanced a theory that centered on the effects of sexual satisfaction to the human psyche. To Freud, man is a pleasure-seeking animal who constantly strives to avoid painful experience in order to maintain a pleasant life. He postulated that the foundation of personality is formed between the ages 1-5 wherein an individual goes through a series of developmental stages which were also called psychosexual stages. Man’s search for pleasure commences during these stages, wherein the most basic desire or sexual urge is manifested in a child’s growth and developmental needs. In explaining the four psychosexual stages that he has identified, he introduced the idea of erogenous zones.
Also called erotogenic zones, erogenous zones are areas in a man’s body where the inner and outer skins meet and when manipulated, are capable of arousing pleasant and sensual feelings. These feelings may either be inherent or developed during adulthood. Erogenous zones are also identified as areas wherein there is an exposure of the mucous membrane. The more exposed the mucous membrane is the more susceptible the area is to manipulation. The identified erogenous zones are the ears, eyes, mouth (lips), male and female genitals, and the anal aperture (Bishcof 43).
At each point in the psychosexual stage, a different area of the body becomes a child's primary erogenous zone. Each area then serves as the ultimate source of pleasure, frustration, and self-expression. Freud believed that if the pleasure is not satisfied at any of the stages, the adult personality may exhibit traits that can be regarded as fixations –a term referring to unresolved conflicts or emotional hang-up caused by overindulgence or by frustration, in one or more of the stages (“Psychodynamic Theories“).
The four identified psychosexual stages are: Oral, Anal, Phallic and Genital. During the first (oral) stage, the mouth is the principle region of dynamic activity. This lasts about a year. What follows is the anal stage where the focus shifts from food intake to waste elimination. This goes on until the second year where the child then undergoes the phallic stage in which the genitals become the primary source of pleasure. The final stage of maturity occurs in the genital stage at about the time when the child undergoes a transition to adolescence.
In determining the effects of toilet training to one’s personality, this paper shall focus its discussion to the Anal Stage of Freud’s psychosexual theory of personality development.
Roughly between eighteen months to four years, the child becomes more socialized and subjected to external demands and authority other than that of the parents. The latter then become recognized as separate beings who also make their own demands in exchange for satisfying the needs of the child. During this time, the primary source of pleasure shifts from the mouth to the genital region, but with focus on the eliminative organ rather than the genitalia.
After digesting the food, residue accumulates in the lower end of the intestinal tract and tension is produced when pressure is felt upon the anal sphincters due to the reflexive action of discharging waste material. This may cause discomfort or pain to the child and only the release of the feces can remove the feeling of discomfort and bring about relief or pleasure.
The critical event at this stage is toilet training, a process through which a child is taught to control bowel movement, that is, the proper withholding and releasing of excrement, as deemed acceptable by society’s standards. While the child at this stage discovers the pleasure and discomfort associated with bowel movements, he or she also learns about his or her own ability to control such movements through the process of toilet training. The child then learns to postpone the pleasure that comes from releasing tensions from the anal area.
Along with this learned response comes the realization that this particular ability gives them some power over their parents. Depending upon the child’s relationship with them as established during the oral stage, the child may either be eager to win their approval by complying with their demands or resist their authority with respect to toilet training practices. In other words, by exercising control over the retention and expulsion of feces, a child can choose to either resist and/or frustrate his or her parents or submit to their wishes in exchange for their approval and esteem. In a sense, this becomes the child’s first encounter with the demands of society because for the first time, he is being expected to give up his self-centeredness and recognize external controls and demands. If the child receives adequate care during his early years, he or she is likely to accept the demands of reality and give up his or her own preferences without hesitation. If the child receives little gratification for his or her needs, he or she is likely to become a resistive and stubborn individual upon reaching adulthood. Freud believed that some traits such as negativism, rigidity, frugality and stubbornness are attitudes developed during the anal period. (Rosen, Fox and Gregory 53)
The consequences of toilet training may have far-reaching effects upon the formation of certain traits and characteristics depending on the type of training that was instituted by the parent. Both frustration and overindulgence during this stage may lock a child’s sexual energy in this stage which may result in certain types of Anal fixations and corresponding personalities.
This is the type of personality characterized by expulsive traits such as cruelty, wanton destructiveness, temper tantrums, messy disorderliness, recklessness, carelessness and defiance. This is a result of a very lenient type of toilet training wherein the parents fail to instill the society's regulations on proper bowel movement control. The child, then, becomes overindulgent in deriving pleasure and success from excretion.
If the parents are very strict and repressive in their toilet training method, that is applying much pressure and implementing severe punishment during toilet training, the child is likely to experience anxiety over bowl movements and to take pleasure in being able to withhold or control waste excretion. The child then develops a retentive character and may manifest certain behaviors such as being obsessively clean and orderly, and intolerant of those who do not meet their standards of cleanliness. They may also become excessively careful, precise, stingy, withholding, obstinate, passive-aggressive, conforming and meticulous.
The “holding-on” and “letting-go” modes of control usually affect one’s psychosocial contacts. In a sense, the child at this stage begins to widen his or her reach to the external environment and at the same time increasing the psychological and physical distance from his or her parents. This is when the child starts to retain and release objects, perceptions and interpersonal relationships. Along with this is the development of one’s own sense of control and independence. Moreover, the child increasingly demands for his or her own freedom to form opinions, manipulate objects, and possibly dress him or herself. At this stage, however, the child is still very young and underdeveloped; hence the increased freedom is also somehow considered a threat to the comfort, dependency and love received during the oral stage. As such, the child becomes doubtful of his or her own abilities but at the same time feels the desire to persist on trying them out. There is then a conflict that arises between the yearning for the warm dependency toward the parents and the craving for self-autonomy.
The resolution of the anal stage, where the process of toilet training occurs, is an important aspect of man’s development which permanently affects the individual’s predispositions to control and outlook towards outside authority according to Freud’s psychosexual stages in personality development. The adequacy or inadequacy of needs gratification during this stage may produce specific character traits associated with the acts of retention and expulsion.
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