In psychoanalytic theory, a pattern of personal traits determined by drives originating in the oral stage of psychosexual development.The oral character stems from the earliest phase of development, when the child’s life centers around the mouth and its functions. Since this stage is divided into two periods, the oral sucking period and the oral biting period,there are different types of oral character. In the oral sucking period, extending from birth to about eight months, the child is strongly attached to the mother and derives his basic pleasure from feeding. If this process is emotionally and physically satisfying, he goes on to the next, or anal stage without difficulty. He does, however, retain his capacity for oral satisfaction, as manifested in normal pleasure derived from thumbsucking, eating, sucking on a pen or pencil, smoking, and kissing. See THUMBSUCKING.If, on the other hand, the child experiences frustrations and conflicts during the oral sucking stage—for example, if his mother’s attitude is cold and mechanical during the feeding process, or if he is under tension during the weaning period—he may become fixated (arrested) at this stage and develop lasting oral habits and character traits. According to the Freudian theory, these residual expressions of oral sexuality may take the form of persistent thumbsucking, stuttering, chain smoking, extreme talkativeness, tics involving the mouth, or a compulsion for oral sexual contact. Severely regressed schizophrenic patients may also exhibit symptoms of an oral nature, such as verbigeration and voracious eating. See VERBIGERATION, BULIMIA.Psychoanalytic theory also traces many character traits to an oral origin. If the individual has experienced full satisfaction at the nursing stage, he may identify with the “giving” mother and become generous and altruistic. Early oral satisfaction is also believed to lead to optimism, self-assurance, and a normal degree of narcissism. However, if the individual has been deprived during the oral period, he may develop neurotic character traits such as pessimism and dependence on others for satisfaction of immediate needs. These individuals constantly demand that others look after them and are usually unwilling to give anything in return.The oral biting period yields a different set of behavior patterns and character traits, on both a normal and neurotic level. During this second stage of oral sexuality, which lasts from the eighth to the eighteenth month, the child ceases to identify with his mother and comes to feel that he is an independent person. He also begins to feel both love and hate for his mother— love when she satisfies him, hate when she refuses or neglects to satisfy him. During this period, cruelty and aggression make their first appearance, and the child shows his hostility by biting the mother’s breast or the nipple of his bottle during the nursing period. This is most likely to occur as a response to feelings of anger and insecurity experienced during the weaning period.Expressions of oral biting carry over to later life in the form of nail biting; spitting; sticking out the tongue; chewing a pencil, pipe, or gum. When any of these activities take extreme form, they are viewed as expressions of delayed or fixated oral aggressive drives. Various forms of oral sadism are also regarded as expressions of the biting stage. A common example is the habit of making caustic, “biting” remarks; another is the tendency of lovers to nibble at various parts of each other’s bodies. The most extreme forms are found in the cannibalistic rites of primitive tribes, in the biting manias of the Middle Ages, and in rare cases of mental disease that involve a compulsion to devour human flesh.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "ORAL CHARACTER," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/oral-character/ (accessed August 9, 2022).


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