The term retentive (also anally retentive), commonly abbreviated to anal, 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, a time of 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.
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. 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."[unreliable source?]
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.
Although 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.
See also 
- Psychosexual development
- Obsessive–compulsive personality disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Oral stage
- "anal-retentive". Memidex/WordNet Dictionary/Thesaurus. Retrieved 2011-03-04.
- Hall, Calvin S. (1954). A Primer of Freudian Psychology. New York: New American Library. p. 108. ISBN 0-452-01183-3.
- Berger, Kathleen (2000). The Developing Person. New York: Worth Publishers. p. 218. ISBN 1-57259-417-9.
- The Straight Dope: How to tell if you're anal retentive[unreliable source?]