Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theory. The origins of aggression

Term Paper, 2014

12 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Contents


Personality Development

Fundamentals of Freud’s Psychodynamic theory

Explaining Aggression using the Psychodynamic theory

Limitations of psychodynamic theory in explaining the origins of aggression

Other explanations of the origins of aggression




The origins of aggression dominate psychological debate. Psychologists are divided on what really is the cause of aggression in human behavior. This has evoked the inconclusive nature v nurture debate on the origins of aggression. The psychodynamic theory is a psychological theory Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and his later followers applied to trace and explain the origins of aggression. Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theory is founded on the assumption that human behavior is propelled by thoughts and feelings that lie in our sub conscious mind[1]. Aggression refers to action or behavior intended to cause harm to a person toward whom it is directed[2]. Thus aggression manifests itself in varied forms which can be verbal attacks, violent acts and threats to unleash destruction[3]. However, the psychodynamic theory has been criticized for over emphasis on innate personality at the exclusion of external effects in an individual’s environment which may predispose them to aggressive behavior. This paper analyses Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theory in explaining the origins of aggression. The paper further argues that the psychodynamic theory has its own inherent shortcomings when it comes to explaining the origins of aggression. A wholesome explanation of the origins of aggression can be achieved if theories such as the externally stimulated aggression and learned aggression theory are also considered as they offer complementary alternative aggression explanations.

Personality Development

The stages of personality development generated by Freud unlock the psychodynamic theory’s explanation of the origins of aggression. It is worth examining them in detail before focusing on how Freud’s psychodynamic theory traces the origins of aggression. The innate drives that are created at each stage of personality development create hidden momentums which can trigger aggression in human beings at a later life[4]. Freud identified five distinct stages of personality development which are:

The first stage is the oral stage. This means that pleasure is gained by, for example, eating and suckling. As the child grows older, gratification is sought through other body parts.

The second stage is the anal phase. During the anal stage (approximately 1½–3 years of age), the body focus is on the anus – pleasure is gained from expelling and/or withholding faeces.

The third stage is the phallic stage. During the phallic stage (approximately 3–6 years old) focus is on the genitals and, initially, on the parent of the opposite sex. Resolution occurs through coming to identify with the same-sex parent.

The fourth stage is the latency stage. The phallic stage is followed by the latency stage, when nothing much happens in terms of psychosexual development.

Finally, there is the genital stage. This occurs during puberty, when the main source of pleasure is again the genitals. Focus is also on the development of independence.

Fundamentals of Freud’s Psychodynamic theory

How the psychodynamic theory is used by Freud to explain the origins of aggression cannot be understood outside the fundamental tenets of the theory. It is therefore instructive at this juncture to analyze in detail the fundamental constituents of the psychodynamic theory as a springboard to understanding how it was used by Sigmund Freud to explain the origins of aggression. The psychodynamic theory is largely attributed to the ground breaking work of Sigmund Freud on psychoanalysis. It has come to represent all theories in psychology that perceive human behavior as a product of the unconscious interaction of drives and forces within an individual’s mind[5]. Freud argues that human behavior is motivated by sexual and instinctive drives known as libido which is derived from Eros or life instinct. According to Freud cited by Stepansky, human behavior is influenced by unconscious motives which are rooted in childhood experiences[6]. These childhood experiences create a momentum of their own which manifest later at the adult stage of individuals at times as acts of aggression. Freud identifies five psychosexual stages[7] which shape childhood and later life experiences at adulthood. These psychosexual stages are the oral, anal, phallic, latent and genital stages. The individual experiences at childhood manifest themselves at adulthood reflecting the struggle between tripartite components that make up the human personality. Human personality according to the Freudian psyche structural model is made up of three distinct but interacting parts[8]. These parts are the id, ego and superego. The interaction of the id, ego and superego produces varied behavioral outcomes part of which can be aggression.


[1] McLeod, S. A. 2007:2.

[2] Adler, A,1927:4.

[3] Sumrall, K 2001:1

[4] Page Proof .2009:1.

[5] Freud, A,1936:6.

[6] McLeod, S. A.. 2007 op.cit

[7] Freud, S. 1900:1-627.

[8] Ibid.

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Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theory. The origins of aggression
( Atlantic International University )
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Temba Munsaka (Author), 2014, Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theory. The origins of aggression, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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