Psychodynamic Perspective (Full Guide)

The most misunderstood and controversial psychologist theorist of the time might be Sigmund Freud.

When you are reading the theories presented by Freud, it is really important to keep in mind that he was not a psychologist but more of a medical doctor.

At that time there was nothing as a degree in psychology or any other formal education that can help us understand the controversies present in his theories today.

However, he was the first one to theorize and systematically study the workings on an unconscious mind that we can associate today with modern psychology.

Psychodynamic Perspective

The psychodynamic perspective suggests that the main conflict developed between our personality is because of two forces: our pleasure-seeking and our biological aggressive drives versus our internal control that we are trying to exert over these drives.

The personality that we develop is based on the balance we are trying to keep between these two competing forces.

According to the Psychodynamic perspective, we can understand this competition by imaging in our mind a three interacting system which was called ego, id, and superego by Freud.

The unconscious id is present by birth and contains the most primitive urges and drives that are present inside us.

It is the main component that directs impulses for thirst, hunger, and sex. The psychodynamic perspective also believed that id is looking for immediate gratification and hence works on the principle of “pleasure principle”.

This id is further controlled using ego and superego that are developed in a child through its social interaction with parents and other people.

The superego is developed in a child when he interacts with other people around him and learns about the social norms of the society and starts to differentiate between them from right to wrong. 

This superego also acts as our moral compass or conscience which further tells us how we should be behaving in a given situation.

It judges our behavior all the time and strives for perfection which might lead to our feelings of perfection or feeling of the guild in case we fall short of our goal.

In contrast to the rule-based superego and instinctual id, the ego is more of the rational reasoning of our personality.

It is the basis of what the Psychodynamic perspective considers to be self and is usually the part of our personality that we portray on others.

The main job of the ego is to keep a balance between superego and id within the context of reality and is called by Freud as “reality principle”.

The ego also supports the id to fulfill its desires in a realistic way.

The superego and id in a person are always in a constant state of conflict, as the id is looking for and wants the instant gratification irrespective of the situation and consequences, but the superego is there to tell us to behave in a proper way in the society.

Thus, giving the main job to the ego to find a middle ground between these two.

It helps both things to be satisfied in a rational way hence the person can satisfy the desires by id without behaving inappropriately in society.

Freud suggested that a person who is usually healthy always has a strong ego and rational thinking that can keep a demanding balance between his superego and id.

According to Freud this imbalance in the system if not taken care of in the long run can lead to anxiety disorders, neurosis, or unhealthy behaviors.

A person who is controlled by his superego might be controlled by their feelings of guilt and might even deny them any socially acceptable pleasures, in a similar way if it is too strong in a person he might become a psychopath.

A dominant superego might be seen in a  person whose reality or rational grasp is so strong that they usually are not aware or do not even bother about the emotional needs, in short, you can say overly defensive. 

The transition that happens between the conscious and unconscious mind or a midway between the both is called Liminal spaces.

According to this Psychodynamic approach, traumas in childhood affect one’s growth negatively, causing him to develop mental disorders or difficulties.

On the contrary, according to the Theory of Positive Disintegration, childhood traumas are essential for a healthy growth.

Defense Mechanism

According to Psychodynamic Perspective, the basis of the feelings of anxiety comes from the inability of one’s ego to mediate a conflict between the superego and id.

When such an occasion happens, Freud believed that ego will enforce the balance using different protective measures which can also be called defense mechanisms.

When certain feelings, events, or yearnings cause anxiety to an individual, he might wish to reduce that specific anxiety or feeling which will result in ego starting its defense mechanism on the back of his unconscious mind.

This will result in the starting of unconscious protective behaviors whose sole purpose will be the reduction of that anxiety whereas the individual is unaware of the fact that he is using those defense mechanisms.

Further, these defense mechanisms operate in such a way that it distorts reality.

Freud believed that every person alive uses these mechanisms in their daily life. An example of this defense mechanism for anxiety is Sublimation.

Similarly, when one experiences emotions of an old traumatic event, it is known as Catharsis.

The psycho dynamic perspective also explains the idea of Free Association which is exercised by people who have gone through trauma in their early years of life.

Stages of Psychosexual development 

According to Psychodynamic Perspective: the personality of a person develops during the time of his early childhood, the experience that he faces and the observations that he does as a child help form up his personality and behavior as an adult.

He also emphasized that these things are developed during different stages in childhood as every person has to go through the same stage if they are not properly parented and nurtured, some of them might get stuck in that stage even after they become an adult.

The split attraction model might be explaining the behaviors of some people who suffered negatively during the psycho sexual stages of development.  

Some of the stages described by Freud are given in the following table and described after it in some details:

StageAge (years)Erogenous ZoneMajor ConflictAdult Fixation Example
Oral0–1MouthWeaning off breast or bottleSmoking, overeating
Anal1–3rectumToilet trainingNeatness, messiness
Phallic3–6GenitalsOedipus/Electra complexVanity, overambition

Psychodynamic Perspective: Oral Stage

The oral stage of the Psychodynamic Perspective is the first and foremost stage of childhood where the pleasure is mainly focused on the mouth.

Eating new things and the pleasure from sucking takes a large part of the first year of a baby’s life.

At around the age of 1 year, the baby is usually shifted to drink milk through a bottle which can create problems if this transition is not handled properly by the caregiver.

Freud believed that the person who drinks, smokes, bites her nail or overeats is usually fixated on the initial oral stage of her psychosexual development; it might be the cause of her weaning either too early or too late and can result in such anxieties.

Psychodynamic Perspective: Anal Stage

After going through the initial oral stage, the child enters the anal stage of the Psychodynamic Perspective: which is from 1 – 3 years of age.

In this age, the child experiences pleasure in their bladder and bowel movements so the main conflict in this age is based on the child’s toilet training.

According to Freud, the success at this stage can be a direct measure of how the toilet training of the child is handled by the parents.

Parents who offer rewards and praise to the child often result in positivity and help the kid to feel competent.

Whereas, parents who are harsh on the child during this phase can result in the child being fixated at this stage which can result in them developing an anal-retentive personality.

This kind of personality is stubborn and stingy and is considered a perfectionist with a need for neatness and order. 

On the other hand, if the parents are too lazy or easy on the child during this training, it can result in the development of an anal expulsive personality that is careless, messy, prone to emotional outbursts, and disorganized. 

Psychodynamic Perspective: Phallic Stage

The third stage considered by Psychodynamic Perspective: is the Phallic stage which is from the ages of 4 to 6, this is usually the age when the child becomes aware of their body parts and starts to recognize the difference between a girl and a boy.

The pleasure zone for this stage of development is the genitals. In this phase, there are usually conflicts as the child goes for the parent of the opposite sex and starts to avoid or become jealous of the parent of the same sex.

In the case of boys, this complex is usually referred to as the Oedipus complex where the boy takes his father as his rival for the mother’s attention and tries to either replace him or overtake him.

In the meantime, the boy is also in fear of his father punishing him because of these feelings which might result in castration anxiety.

This complex can be resolved successfully when the boy starts to identify an indirect way to have the mother along with his father.

If this complex is not solved in time this can lead to the development of such a personality that is over-ambitious and vain. 

Whereas for the girls, they experience the Electra complex in the phallic stage. This complex was basically described by another person Carl Jung before Freud.

In this complex, the girl is always looking for attention from her father and wants to take the position of her mother.

While in the start, Freud rated the Electra complex in parallel to the Oedipus complex but later on, he rejected the rating of both as equal.

Psychodynamic Perspective: Latency Period

After the phallic stage of development in the psychodynamic perspective of a child, a period known as the latency period or puberty in common.

This period is normally not considered as a stage, as the sexual feelings in this stage are dormant while the child focuses on his other pursuits such as hobbies, friendships, school, and sports.

During this period the kids are generally engaged in different activities within the same sex which further solidified the gender role identity for the child.

Psychodynamic Perspective: Genital Stage

The final stage for the development of the psychodynamic perspective in a child is known as the genital stage.

This stage is also known as after puberty as the incestuous urges came back and there is a sexual reawakening of them.

At this stage, the young person redirects his urges to other more acceptable partners socially.

Most of the people in this stage are more mature in their sexual interests which according to Freud meant a strong desire for the opposite sex. 


Freud was the first person to present a comprehensive theory of personality.

He was also the first person to study an individual’s mental life and recognize that it takes place outside of our conscious awareness.

He also proposed the three basic components of our personality: ego, id, and superego.

The main component of these is the ego who tries to maintain a balance between the id and the superego and to keep in check the aggressive and sexual drives of the id within the moral behavior of the superego.

Freud also suggested different psychosexual stages of childhood through which the personality develops for the child.

In each stage, the focus for the child is different and if these stages are not developed with care, the child might get fixated in these stages and develop some unhealthy personality traits.

FAQ about Psychodynamic Perspective 

What is a psychodynamic perspective?

The psychodynamic perspective is focused on unconscious psychological processes.

What is an example of a psychodynamic perspective?

One of the examples of psychodynamic perspective is: Obsessive hand washing could be linked to a trauma in childhood that now causes this behavior.


The Psychodynamic Approach by Saul McLeod (2017)