Anal retentiveness

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The term anal retentive (also anally retentive), commonly abbreviated to anal,[1] is used to describe a person who pays such attention to detail that the obsession becomes an annoyance to others, potentially to the detriment of the anal-retentive person. The term derives from Freudian psychoanalysis.


In Freudian psychology, the anal stage is said to follow the oral stage of infant or early-childhood development. This is a time when an infant's attention moves from oral stimulation to anal stimulation (usually the bowels but occasionally the bladder), usually synchronous with learning to control his or her excretory functions. In other words, toilet training. Freud theorized that children who experience conflicts during this period of time may develop "anal" personality traits, namely those associated with a child's efforts at excretory control: orderliness, stubbornness, a compulsion for control.[2] If these qualities continue into later life, the person is said to be "anal-retentive". Conversely, those who reject anal-retentive characteristics are said to have "anal-expulsive" personality types.

While Freud's theories on early childhood have been influential on the psychological community, research suggests that the overall pattern of parental attitudes has a much more concrete effect on how an infant will grow up. There is no conclusive research linking anal stage conflicts with "anal" personality types.[3]

Although the term "anal retentive" survives in common usage, the concept, along with much of Freud's theories of psychoanalysis, is largely regarded as unscientific "pop-psychology" and therefore discredited by the majority of psychologists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.[3] Chicago psychoanalyst Robert Galatzer-Levy speaks of how this theory of Freud is mostly a product of its time when indoor plumbing was new and less numerous per household, and families were large, causing "much more control of defecation than was necessary in a world of chamber pots and outhouses."[4][unreliable source?]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "anal-retentive". Memidex/WordNet Dictionary/Thesaurus. Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  2. ^ Hall, Calvin S. (1954). A Primer of Freudian Psychology. New York: New American Library. p. 108. ISBN 0-452-01183-3. 
  3. ^ a b Berger, Kathleen (2000). The Developing Person. New York: Worth Publishers. p. 218. ISBN 1-57259-417-9. 
  4. ^ The Straight Dope: How to tell if you're anal retentive[unreliable source?]