Anal-Sadistic Stage

views updated


The anal-sadistic stage, the second type of organization of libidinal cathexes, instates the anal zone as the predominant erotogenic zone during the second year of life. The relation to the object during to this period is shot through with meanings relating to the function of defecation (expulsion or retention) and to the symbolic value of feces (given or refused).

Freud saw the conflicts of this stage as defining for the sadomasochistic object-relationship and its three characteristic dichotomies: activity/passivity, domination/submission, and retention/expulsion.

The anal-sadistic stage takes form during the second year of life, which is devoted to the mastery of the object and the development of the "drive for mastery." Anal erotism, anaclitically attached to the retention or evacuation of feces, becomes conflicted during this stage.

The erotogenic zone involved is not confined exclusively to the anal orifice, but extends to the whole ano-recto-sigmoidal mucosae and even to the digestive system as a whole and to the musculature responsible for retention and evacuation. The instinctual object cannot be reduced solely to feces to be retained within the body or expelled into the outside world, for during this time the mother and people around her also function as partial objects to be mastered and manipulated.

The instinctual aims of this period are twofold: to gain erotic pleasure linked to the erotogenic zone and mediated by stools and to explore ways to manipulate and master the mother, who is now beginning to be differentiated. "The child looks upon its stools as a part of itself that it may either expel or retain (a gradual differentiation between inside and outside) and that thus becomes a medium of exchange between itself and the adult" (Golse, 1992).

Freud placed special emphasis on the symbolic meanings of giving and withholding attached to the activity of defecation. He showed how anal erotism, which is linked to both destructive expulsion and conservative retention, assigns to feces the role of a part-object that the child can use either to please or to challenge the mother. "Defaecation affords the first occasion on which the child must decide between a narcissistic attitude and an object-loving attitude. He either parts obediently with his faeces, 'sacrifices' them to his love, or else retains them for purposes of auto-erotic satisfaction and later as a means of asserting his own will" (Freud, 1917c, p. 130). Freud went on to stress the symbolic equivalence of feces, gifts, and money. This equivalence was further extended with the notion of a "little, detachable part of the body" (excrement, the penis, and the baby) that can stimulate a mucosal passage by entering and leaving it. These parts, as detachable parts of the body, are symbolically interchangeable. It is worth noting that even before describing the anal-sadistic pregenital organization, Freud had earlier made a connection between certain character traits in adults (love of order, avarice, and obstinacy) and the child's anal erotism (1908b).

Following Freud's lead, Karl Abraham (1927, pp. 422-433) proposed to divide the anal-sadistic stage into two phases on the basis of two contrasting kinds of behavior with respect to the object. In a first, expulsive phase, dependent on the musculature, auto-erotism is associated with evacuation. This period is sadistic in the sense that the expulsion of the destroyed object also acquires the meaning of an act of defiance toward an adult. A second, retentive phase is passive and masochistic in character. The instinctual aim here is mastery of the object, which implies its preservation. This phase is masochistic in that it involves an active search for pleasure through painful retention and dilation of the mucous membranes and anal canal.

The anal stage is thus a time of ambivalence par excellence, when the same fecal object may be either preserved or expelled, and may thus underpin two quite different types of pleasure and assume the qualities by turns of a good or bad object.

For Abraham (1924/1927, p. 433), the dividing line between the first and second phases of the anal stage correspond to the boundary between psychosis and neurosis. In his view, in the psychoses the object is expelled and lost, whereas in obsessional neurosis it is withheld and preserved. In the neuroses, preservation of the object implies that retention wins out over expulsion and that ambivalence is resolved, with the result that there are fewer splits of various kinds. This underscores the role of an obsessional organization in maintaining the link to the object.

In The psycho-analysis of children (1932/1975, pp. 144-146), Melanie Klein described anal-sadistic fantasies in which objects (and the subject too, by way of the law of talion [an eye for an eye]) are attacked by poisoned or explosive fecal matter.

Jean-FranÇois Rabain

See also: Anality; Demand; Imago; Stage (or phase).


Abraham, Karl. (1927). A short study of the development of the libido, viewed in the light of mental disorders. In Selected papers of Karl Abraham, M.D.. London: Hogarth. (Originally published 1924)

Freud, Sigmund. (1908b). Character and anal erotism. SE,9: 167-175.

. (1917c). On transformations of instinct as exemplified in anal erotism. SE, 17: 127.

Golse, Bernard. (1992). Le développement affectif et intellectuel de l'enfant. Paris: Masson.

Klein, Melanie. (1975). The psycho-analysis of children (Alix Strachey, Trans.; revised by H. A. Thorner). Vol. 2 of The writings of Melanie Klein. London: Hogarth and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis. (Originally published 1932)