Anal retentive

From Academic Kids

The term anal retentive (or anally retentive) is one of a variety of examples of Freudian terminology which have found their way into common usage with a slight shift in the original meaning.

Common usage

In common usage, the phrases "anally retentive", "anal retentive" or "anal" are used to describe a certain style of behaviour, and it is implied that this is due to a person clenching their anal sphincter, causing retention of feces (although this is not necessarily literally the case). A person characterized as anal retentive is perceived to be worrying too much about "nit-picking" little details of form, style and etiquette or otherwise being overly uptight or distressed over ordinarily minor problems. Another term used in a similar context is "hair splitting". The intended implication is that an anally retentive person needs to "loosen up" a little instead of "holding on to it".

Freudian terminology

Sigmund Freud proposed that in a child's early years there is a pre-occupation with the mouth. This is known as the "oral stage". Then the child typically moves on to the "anal stage" which is characterised by the child deriving pleasure from bowel movements. The child discovers the pleasure which comes from the exercise of power (in this instance the power to hold on or let go). After the anal stage the child's development will be able to move on to the "phallic stage" when the child's focus of attention will shift to the genital region. Freud believed that conflicts with parents and delays during toilet training can cause a person to become fixated on anal control, which later manifests itself as a compulsive concern with order and cleanliness. In this original sense, the term means simply that a person has retained traits from the anal stage of psychosexual development.

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