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©1998-2013 Maria Helena Rowell

The Anal Stage
Freud's second phase of psychosexual development


As the physical ability to control the sphyncter matures (2-3 years of age), the child's attention shifts from the oral to the anal zone.

This change provides further outlets for libidinal gratification (anal erotism) and for the emerging aggressive drive (anal sadism).

The musculature is the source of sadism and the anal mucous membrane is the source of the anal erotic drive.

The sadistic instinct, which contradictory aim is (1) to destroy the object but also, by mastering it, (2) to preserve it, coincides with activity, whereas the anal-erotic instinct is related to passivity.

The interaction between these two component instincts is the following: the bipolar aim of sadism corresponds to the biphasic functioning (expulsion/retention) of the anal sphincter and its control.

About the child's behavior vis-à-vis the object, in "The Disposition to Obsessional Neurosis" (1913i) [SE, XII, 321], Freud says: "And now we see the need for yet another stage to be inserted before the final shape is reached - a stage in which the component instincts have already come together for the choice of an object and that object is already something extraneous in contrast to the subject's own self, but in which the primacy of the genital zones has not yet been established."

Karl Abraham suggested that the anal-sadistic stage should be broken down into two phases:

first phase - anal erotism is linked to evacuation and the sadistic instinct to the destruction of the object;

second phase - anal erotism is connected to retention and the sadistic instinct to possessive control of the object.

Thus the polarities between erotism/sadism, expulsion/retention, anal function/fecal product are expressed in conflicts related to ambivalence, activity/passivity, mastery, separation, and individuation.

Orderliness, parsimony and obstinacy are common traits of the anal character.

Ambivalence, untidiness, defiance, and sadomasochistic tendencies represent conflicts from this period.

Various aspects of obsessive-compulsive neurosis suggest anal fixation.

The symbolic meanings of giving and withholding ascribed to the activity of defecation at this stage are condensed in the Freudian equation faeces=gift=money.


Abraham, K. "A short study of the development of the libido, viewed in the light of mental disorders". In Selected Papers (London: Hogarth, 1927), 422-33

Freud, S.

  • Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d) [SE, VII, 185-87] - Buy this book

  • "Character and Anal Erotism" (1908) [SE, IX, 167-175]

  • "The Disposition to Obsessional Neurosis" (1913i) [SE, XII, 321]

  • "On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Erotism" (1917c) [SE, XVII, 127-33]

Brenner, C. - An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis - Buy this book

Laplanche, J. & Pontalis, J.-B. - The Language of Psychoanalysis, London, KARNAC, 1988 - Buy this book

Moore, B. E. & Fine, B. D. - Psychoanalytic Terms & Concepts, New Haven, The American Psychoanalytic Association and Yale University Press, 1990 - Buy this book

Glossary/ Index Oral Stage Phallic Stage Latency Period Genital Stage These Books