What Is Fixation? Psychology, Definition, And The Evolution Of Perspectives

By Jon Jaehnig|Updated July 26, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Have you ever felt so focused on one thing that shifting your attention to anything else seemed impossible? Or have you ever been so stuck in one place that you were unable to move past it? If so, you may be experiencing fixation.

Being fixated means being stuck and not being able to move forward. It's similar to a vehicle that's stuck in thick mud, where the engine alone can't get it to move forward or backward. It takes a much stronger force to get it out of the rut and onto a smoother, more level path.

Feeling Fixated Or Stuck -- On A Person (Or Situation) In Your Life?

What Is The Psychology Of Fixation?

The concept of fixation dates back to Freudian research. In this research, Freud claimed that people get stuck in one stage of psychosexual development. The fixation psychology definition relates to having attachments to people or things that persist from childhood to adulthood. Freud believed that persistent fixations were due to unresolved issues in previous psychological stages of personality development. In other words, we can become obsessed and fixated on things because we get stuck somewhere in our growth and development.

The Evolution Of Perspectives On Fixation

Sigmund Freud

Freud theorized that fixations caused people to focus on energies that create pleasure at an earlier stage of psychosocial development. He believed that one has to resolve an issue or conflict in one stage before it would be possible to move onto the next stage. But, because they were focused on creating pleasure, they did not always want to move past the stage where they would mature and focus on other energies.

Freud identified three types of fixations:

  1. Oral
  2. Anal
  3. Phallic

Freud stated that if someone couldn't get through an oral stage with the resolution, they would become fixated in the oral stage. The fixation would cause them to continue to seek oral pleasures such as biting their nails, chewing gum, and drinking excessively. Once they can resolve this stage, they can move on to the next stage.

Freud described the second stage of psychosexual development as the anal stage. This stage is primarily centered on children learning to control their bowel movements. Freud surmised that people who get stuck in the anal stage could become anal-retentive or anal-expulsive. According to Freud's theory, anal retention may result from children whose parents or caregivers took a harsh approach to potty training. The trauma they felt may have caused them to be overly obsessed with being tidy and orderly. On the other hand, people who are anal-expulsive may have had potty-training experiences that were lax, which turned them into adults who are messy and disorganized.

For the final stage, Freud determined that a phallic fixation was where children were apt to identify most closely with a same-sex parent. People who get stuck in the phallic stage may become conceited, pleasure-seeking, or sexually aggressive.

Freud also believed that children focused their energy on different areas of the body during various psychosexual stages. For example, during the anal stage, children gain a sense of satisfaction after being able to control their bladder and bowel movements successfully. It's vital for them to complete this stage before they can move to the next stage, or they'll become stuck in the anal stage. Freud also generalized about fixations. He claimed that if a certain stage of psychosexual development left a dominant impression on a person's personality, then they could develop fixations.

In the area of resolving psychosexual conflicts, Freud determined that resolving conflicts required a substantial amount of energy from the libido. For people who expended a large amount of their energy in trying to resolve a point in their development, the stage they focused on would likely leave a stronger impression on that individual's personality.

It's important to note that these are Freud's views, and many psychologists today disagree with his methods. A few other researchers have dabbled a bit in fixation psychology.

Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein focused her work on paranoid-schizoid and depressive behaviors. She connected parts of her work to the notion of fixation. She saw fixation as a pathological issue. She believed that people repressed memories by subliminally blocking them to protect themselves from having to re-experience painful memories. Because these memories have been blocked, people can become fixated on these events because they have not experienced any resolution.

Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson was another well-known researcher who attributed various areas of his work to fixation. Erikson believed that fixations that we have at earlier developmental levels help us understand our problems later in life. Erikson also connected fixation to libido theory, believing that our libido helps us to organize things mentally.

Eric Berne

Eric Berne was a Canadian psychiatrist who developed theories around transactional analysis. These theories are based on the notion that our behavior and social relationships are a reflection of the interactions between parental or adult rationale and the childlike personality traits that we see in early childhood development. Berne suggested that particular games and scripts, along with physical symptoms were based in various zones and modes.

Heinz Kohut

Heinz Kohut primarily studied the concept of narcissism. He theorized that people who had grandiose visions of themselves were fixated on a normal childhood stage of development.

Other researchers have explored the role of fixation as it pertains to aggression and criminality.

What Are The Treatments For Fixation?

Fixation psychology suggests that the general mode of therapy is to replace invasive and unwelcome thoughts with healthier thought patterns. As a result, most of the treatments for fixations involve helping the individual identify unhealthy or unhelpful thought patterns.

It's common for children to have oral fixations, such as trouble stopping sucking, biting, chewing, and putting things in their mouths. Children may need specialized help if oral fixations persist. Babies use oral fixations as a way to calm themselves down or explore the world around them. Oral fixations long past the infancy stage include side effects like drooling, poor eating, and terrible oral hygiene habits. They may also be underweight or overweight, lag socially, or have trouble separating from their parents.

The best thing to do for children living with oral fixations is to ask for an evaluation from an occupational or speech therapistto rule out developmental delays as the cause and then seek an appropriate course of treatment.

For older children, teens, and adults, fixations are more likely to take on the form of persistent thoughts. For adults, treatment focuses on practicing exercises to help control thoughts. There are infinite strategies to help guide your thoughts into healthier thinking patterns, and a qualified counselor can help you find the best strategies to help you.

Below are some of the more common thought transferring strategies that counselors might suggest.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a process that guides you to understand how your mind and body feel at the moment. This gradually trains individuals to be more aware of what they are feeling or thinking about, so they can recognize unhealthy or unproductive thoughts and feelings before they become problematic. When done properly, this can be a preventative step.

Feeling Fixated Or Stuck -- On A Person (Or Situation) In Your Life?

Distraction

Mindfulness can take a long time to practice, but distraction is an approach that an individual can take without any additional help or resources.

Grab your "to-do" list and get started on one of the projects. Read a book, go to a movie, or take a short trip to somewhere you have always wanted to go, even if you don't feel like it. Once your mind has switched gears, you may be able to stop fretting about issues you can't control. The only problem is that once the thought or feeling has become noticeable to the individual, they may have a hard time distracting themselves. As a result, this approach can work better when coupled with methods like mindfulness.

Affirmations

Think about some of the things that you like about yourself or your life. Write them down. Say them out loud. Affirmations can take the form of quotes, statements, affirmations, prayers, poems, or songs. This can help you focus on areas of your life that are positive and shift your focus away from the object of your fixation.

Exercise

If the weather's nice, get outside and take a walk. There are numerous things to focus on as you walk. Notice the birds chirping, the sound of leaves rustling, the laughter of children playing, and the feel of the sun warming your body. If the weather isn't in your favor, do a quick treadmill workout or put on some tunes and get your dance moves on. By focusing on the outside, it will be easier to change your mood on the inside.

There's also the bonus that exercise releases chemicals that trigger the reward center in the brain, making the person feel good.

Count Your Blessings

As bad as things may feel, there is always someone else who has things far worse. It's easy to get so engrossed in your head that you fail to remember all the things that make your life happy and complete. Thanksgiving isn't the only time to feel thankful for your friends, family, and the positive circumstances in your life. Spend a few moments thinking about all the things that you do have and write them down as a reminder.

Like mindfulness, this exercise can gradually train an individual to be more optimistic. The more time that you spend looking for things to be grateful for, the easier it is to find things without looking.

Phone A Friend

Life gets so busy that it's easy to put off getting together with friends. Call or text a friend that you haven't seen in a while and make plans to go out for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. You could even just go out to enjoy a decadent dessert. Go somewhere that's quiet, so you can chat to your heart's content.

When times are trying and circumstances are bothering you, it's tempting to overthink things. Replaying things in your mind over and over is rarely a good investment of your time. We're constantly faced with situations that are out of our control. By taking steps to replace unhealthy thoughts with healthy thoughts, it will be easier to rid of pesky fixations, so you can enjoy a greatly improved state of mind.

Get Help

All of the above methods are approaches that can be employed with little or no outside help. They can be very helpful to people with mild fixations, but none of them will actually resolve the fixation. That means that for people with severe fixations the above steps may not be enough.

If a fixation is a symptom of a larger issue, an in-person or online counselor may be able to help. This gets them going in the right direction, so they can learn techniques to counter thoughts that can lead to fixation and address, with the guidance of a professional, the larger issue.

Try BetterHelp

BetterHelp is an online platform that can connect you with licensed professionals, and it is very affordable. Numerous therapists and counselors are ready to talk to you through messaging, phone calls, and even texting at a time that works best for you. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing a range of issues related to childhood development.

Counselor Reviews

"Dr. Celosse is everything that a therapist can potentially hope to be. She's Plato's form of a therapist. Before I started my sessions with BetterHelp and Dr. Celosse, my life and my psyche were in complete disarray. I was struggling immensely and I was getting so frustrated that I saw no hope in sight. I though people around me were trying to help, but it was only by talking with Dr. Celosse that I have finally been able to make some grounds on myself. With just a few weeks of interaction with her, I have been able to make progress from my childhood that I never even thought I could escape. It is only with her help and with her guidance that I feel I am at this point. She is patient, kind, compassionate, hyper intelligent, thoughtful, loving, has a profound ability to listen, lacks judgement, philosophically oriented, incredibly intuitive and provides a safe space for someone to be. I highly recommend Dr. Celosse to anyone because I think she is one of the best therapists that I have ever come across. You would be lucky to have her in your life."

"Dr. Baggs has been very helpful in helping me deal with anxiety, and I've been overall satisfied with the experience. She's helped me work through and understand trauma from my childhood, as well as help me realize I'm on the right path to getting help and improving my life. Overall a very good experience."

Moving Forward

Fixations can distract you and prevent you from reaching your goals. The good news is that with a little mental training and possibly some help from the experts, anyone can get past their fixations and enjoy a fulfilling, healthy life. Take the first step today.

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