View Full Version : The origin of "Anal Retentive"
11-22-2001, 07:46 AM
So, we were sitting around the dinner table making small talk, when someone asked: What on earth is the connection between the anus and being obsessive-compulsive about having things just-so?
Let's see... taken literally, "anal retentive" sounds like someone holding his shit in rather than going to take a dump.
So my WAG would be that some psychologist identified the first time in a person's life that they were told to get their shit together and put it in one place -- namely, potty training.
If people did well with potty training, and "retained their anal" very well, then this trend continued in adulthood and they were very particular about having things done a certain way.
Or perhaps they had a traumatic experience with a potty-training accident, and forever after made all attempts (out of fear and shame) to make sure that they got their shit together properly.
But this is just a WAG. I've done some web searching, but never found a good source. All the psychologists I've asked have been no help.
So where does "anal retentive" come from?!
11-22-2001, 08:18 AM
This (http://phrases.shu.ac.uk/bulletin_board/8/messages/246.html) page has a likely sounding explanation.
11-22-2001, 08:26 AM
Freud dreamed the whole anal retentive thing (http://www.freudpage.com/en-us/freud/anal_stage.html) up nearly a hundred years ago.
Cecil gives us the straight poop on anal retentives. (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a940211.html)
11-22-2001, 08:32 AM
Sigmund Freud identified one of the early periods of personality development as the anal period. If characteristics of that period become dominant in future development he referred to that as an "anal-retentive" personality type. He was referring to retention of the characteristics of personality, not the contents of the anus.
Like most of his work, it was profoundly affected by his own judgment of personality. Categories of this sort are much more useful in denigrating people we don't like than they are for the purposes of understanding human behavior. Toilet training does not really fix the personality in an unalterable mold.
" It is when I struggle to be brief that I become obscure." ~ Horace ~
11-22-2001, 08:39 AM
I always associated the term with those affected with neurological disorders such as autism. Like many other psychological terms describing mental disorders, its use has become diluted when applied to normal functioning people (often as an insult or hyperbole), such as happened to the terms "mentally retarded," "hyperactive," or "schizophrenic," terms which are either not used much in the clinical sense any more, or are misapplied by laypeople. (For example, inappropriately calling a normal funtioning person a "retard", or acting "hyper" or "schizo" (sic).)
Years ago, I read a book called Children With Emerald Eyes : Histories of Extraordinary Boys & Girls (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0525482865/qid=1006437904/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_14_1/102-8393385-5808163), by Mira Rothenberg. It described the case histories of several developmentally disabled children. One that I clearly remember was an autistic child that refused to move his bowels. Out of control of just about everything in his environment and life, the child exerted control on one of the few things he could affect--the movement of his bowels. There was also a component where the child literally thought he was losing a part of himself during the act, similar how a normal functioning person would feel about losing a limb. In any event, the child was literally "anal-retentive." (The child also had serious resulting medical problems, as one might expect, including impaction and a severely distended abdomen.)
So basically, an aspect of the behavior associated with autistic children with control issues has today been applied to normal functioning people who like to be in control of things.
11-22-2001, 05:31 PM
Oh, I love the opportunity to link to a Fry and Laurie sketch.
Anal Retention (http://www.geocities.com/mmemym/bits2/fal0082.htm)
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