The libido is a term used by in psychoanalytic theory to describe the energy created by the survival and sexual instincts. According to Sigmund Freud, the libido is part of the id and is the driving force of all behavior.
The way in which libido is expressed depends upon the stage of development a person is in. According to Freud, children develop through a series of psychosexual stages. At each stage, the libido is focused on a specific area. When handled successfully, the child moves to the next stage of development and eventually grows into a healthy successful adult.
In some cases, the focus on a person's libidinal energy may remain fixed at an earlier stage of development in what Freud referred to as fixation. When this happens, the libido's energy may be too tied to this developmental stage and the person will remain "stuck" in this stage until the conflict is resolved.
For example, the first stage of Freud 's theory of psychosexual development is the oral stage. During this time, a child's libido is centered on the mouth so activities such as eating, sucking, and drinking are important. If an oral fixation occurs, an adult's libidinal energy will remain focused on this stage, which might result in problems such as nail biting, drinking, smoking, and other habits.
Freud also believed that each individual only had so much libido energy. Because the amount of energy available is limited, he suggested that different mental processes compete for what is available. For example, Freud suggested that the act of repression, or keeping memories out of conscious awareness, requires a tremendous amount of psychic energy. Any mental process that requires so much energy to maintain has an effect on the mind's ability to function normally.
While the term libido has taken on an overtly sexual meaning in today's world, to Freud it represented all psychic energy not just sexual energy.
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Freud, S. (1922). Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.
Freud, S. (1956). On Sexuality. Penguin Books Ltd.