Anal retentiveness still a problem, literally

In an interesting Times editorial this morning, Perri Klass discusses a recent study showing that the most common specific diagnosis for child ER visits is constipation. She cites several likely causes for this, including physiological predisposition and dietary problems. Another contributing factor, however, is purely psychological: Children withhold.

Klass describes this as children doing “anything… to keep from cooperating from the parental agenda,” but those familiar with the classical psychoanalytic literature know this phenomenon better by a term that has made its way into popular parlance: “anal retentiveness.” Freud postulated that children who experience conflict and anxiety during potty-training age develop an obsessive control over their bowels as a means of coping. So though Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages has lost much of its popularity in the last few decades, it appears that anal retentiveness is alive and well.


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