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Castration Anxiety

  Castration anxiety or complex is what makes the Oedipal stage of development, as described by Sigmund Freud, so intolerable. In Freudian analysis there are only two complexes, the Castration Complex and the Oedipal Complex. In the Oedipal stage, which happens roughly between the ages of 3 and 5 years, the child desires the opposite-sex parent and wishes to kill the same-sex parent. The boy-child at this stage is also aware of his father\'s penis (phallic stage) and is afraid of his superior size and power. He also knows that girls (his mother and sisters) do not have penises. There therefore seems to be a possibility that he could lose his. This is the castration anxiety, and it becomes so acute that all sexual thought and feelings are repressed to overcome this unbearable state. Freud saw this intense rivalry and fear of the father as a colossal psychic event, which forced the boy\'s sexuality into latency and simultaneously created the moral agency in the psyche, the Superego.

The events that lead to castration anxiety in the boy are not identical for the girl because of her different anatomy. Freud thought that when little girls observe their fathers\' and brothers\' penises they think that they have already been castrated. Their anxiety is therefore a state of resentment and envy called ‘penis envy’. This resentment is directed at the girl\'s mother, according to Freud, and the girl compensates for this loss by wishing to have a baby by her father and thereby comes into Oedipal conflict with him. In this way the Oedipal pattern, and its consequences, latency and the development of the Superego, are set up in the girl-child. Basing these ideas about female sexuality on only a handful of cases, Freud concluded from the pattern of female Oedipal development that women have a weaker Superego and a weaker moral sense than men, and that ‘anatomy is destiny’. This position was opposed by later psychotherapists. MJ



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