It can be argued that no one has contributed more to the field of psychology
than Sigmund Freud.
Freud spent years developing various aspects of his theories, and although he is very often criticized, he can also be credited for exploring provocative frontiers and opening new areas of study that had never before been considered.
Freud introduced many new ideas and in this article we'll be exploring some of his most prominent ones:
Besides providing you with fascination information on the above theories of Freud, in this article you will also get:
So all in all, this is an in-depth, all-inclusive exploration
So if you're here for specific info - just follow one of the links above - if you're here for the 'full monty', just read on, open your mind and let your conscious (and subconscious mind) do the work for you :-)
Sigmund Freud was born
on May 6, 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia, known today as the Czech
At about age 4, his family moved to Vienna, Austria, where he lived for most of his life until emigrating to England the year before his death.
He studied medicine at the University of Vienna and shortly after graduation he went to France to work with Jean Martin Charcot (also known as the 'Father of modern French neurology').
It was under Jean Martin Charcot's direction that Freud began studying hysteria - the name given to physical symptoms that didn't seem to have a medical cause.
learned about hypnosis as a research and therapy technique,
although he later abandoned this method for his own treatment
It was around this time that he switched his focus from neurology to psychology and began investigating the "inner workings" of the mind.
In 1886 he married his wife, Martha, and the couple had six children, the most famous being Anna Freud who followed in her Father's footsteps and became recognized for her work in psychoanalysis.
The term "psychoanalysis" was first introduced in 1896, and Freud claimed that it
was a way of tapping into a patient's unconscious thoughts and
feelings to find the root cause of certain anxieties and
In 1902 Sigmund Freud became an associate professor at the University of Vienna, and in 1908 he founded the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.
In 1906, he began communicating with Carl Jung, and Freud's influence can be seen in much of Jung's work.
Being of Jewish descent, Freud found that Austria was no longer safe so he emigrated to England just before the onset of WWII.
Sigmund Freud died of cancer a year later, on September 23, 1939.
While Sigmund Freud is mainly criticized by contemporary
theorists, he is one of the most influential psychologists,
both past and present, to have ever lived.
Many will argue that his ideas were too limited, his research incomplete, and his theories unproven.
But, despite decades of criticism, he is still being talked about, and his works are still being studied in almost every area of society - from parenting to education, counselling, relationship workshops, and even the law.
Below you will find a short 2 minute video featuring Sigmund Freud where he tells about his struggle for recognition of his theories:
Almost everyone has heard of Sigmund Freud, and most
people are familiar with his psychosexual stages of
In fact, this is the area that has come under the most scrutiny in the past because Freud suggested that all personality is connected to our libido, our sex drive.
Well, you can imagine the shock this created when he first introduced the idea in the Victorian age of the 1890s!
And even today most people don't like to think of their infants as sexual beings who are driven by their "urges", but Freud talked about so much more than many people realize.
instance, you have probably heard of defense mechanisms,
right! You know, things like denial, projection, or isolation?
Most of us have used one of Freud's strategies to protect ourselves at some point in our lives.
In fact, a lot of counselling and support groups will work to make people aware of their defense mechanisms and try to teach them how to develop a healthier approach to problem solving.
Whether they know it or not, they are implementing ideas first introduced by Sigmund Freud.
Or what about psychoanalysis?
Although it has changed over the years, psychoanalysis still forms the basis for many counselling and psychiatric approaches.
Free Association (a client verbalizes thoughts, dreams, and responses without the guidance or input of the therapist and without concern about "making sense"), Play Therapy, and Hypnosis, actually all have Freudian roots.
How many times have you said something
like, "I just do it unconsciously"?
Well, the idea of the unconscious mind wasn't popularized until Freud suggested that it played a large role in the development of personality. If you believe there is a difference between the conscious and unconscious, then you can thank Freud.
Whether you agree or disagree with his ideas, it can be argued that Freud has influenced every subsequent theory because it seems that most experts are either working to elaborate on his theories or trying to discredit and contradict his findings.
Either way, everything seems to come full circle and end up right back at Sigmund Freud.
To understand Sigmund Freud, we must first
discuss his idea of the unconscious mind and the role it plays
in child development.
The conscious mind consists of the things you are aware of
such as your perceptions, thoughts, memories, or how you feel
at a particular moment in time.
Since the conscious mind functions primarily in the present, Freud also talked about the preconscious, which consists of those things that are not in your immediate awareness but can be readily accessed.
For example, you may forget about a particular event until someone reminds you.
You are not always thinking about what happened on your holiday last summer or how a newspaper article affected the way you view local politics, but you are aware that you hold these memories or perceptions and can draw on them easily if required.
The conscious and preconscious mind had been the focus of most psychological research, but Freud suggested that these two aspects were actually the smallest part of the mind.
Sigmund Freud believed that the origin of all human behavior could be found in the unconscious.
Today, we are very
familiar with the term "unconscious" and we understand that
the brain is absolutely amazing.
But, when Sigmund Freud first introduced this idea, it caused a fair bit of controversy!
First, he proposed that the unconscious mind contains all those things that we are not consciously aware of such as our drives, instincts, traumatic memories, or painful emotions that we have selectively forgotten in order to protect ourselves.
In other words, we are
driven by the forces that we aren't even aware of. Well, this
started a whole new debate!
In a science-based world, it was difficult for people to accept the idea that the largest part of their mind was the unconscious and that the majority of their behavior was being controlled by unseen forces that could not be scientifically identified.
But, Freud didn't stop there ...
He believed that all behavior is motivated by drives and instincts that cause people to seek what is necessary for survival.
Sigmund Freud called this "energy" or "force" libido, which is Latin for "I desire".
Sigmund Freud, the libido - or the sex drive - is the source
of all motivation.
He also claimed that personality was primarily developed before the age of five and presented a series of sexual stages that children must pass through on their way to healthy personality formation (more on that later in this article).
Freud believed that parents instill more or less fortunate beliefs or associations in their children that later in life become unconscious behaviors, perceptions, and attitudes - all based on their experiences or traumas at the different stages of development.
In other words, sometimes as adults we do things and do not know why. In so many ways we behave and react unconsciously:
But, Freud's story of
development does not end here ...
Have you ever heard the expression "the battle
begins in the mind"?
Well, the person who coined it must have been reading Freud. According to Sigmund Freud, life is a constant battle between the three aspects of personality: Id, Ego, Superego.
Id is that biological
force or drive that every organism is born with - including
The Id operates according to what Freud calls the "pleasure principle", meaning that its primary purpose it to meet needs immediately.
A newborn is almost completely Id. Almost every action is based on biological forces and unconscious behavior.
No one has to teach a baby how to cry - it is a strategy that the Id uses to satisfy the needs of hunger, thirst, or discomfort.
As the baby grows, the Ego will begin to assert itself.
The Ego operates according to the "reality principle", and tries to find acceptable ways of meeting the needs presented by the Id.
This is the part of the personality that is connected with the conscious or the "real world" and works to keep the Id under control.
While the Id is driven by passion, the Ego rules with common sense and reason. It works to satisfy the Id without harming the organism.
For example, the Id may want food immediately and be willing to eat anything in sight; whereas, the Ego will use planning, memory, and environmental awareness to make sure that what is eaten is safe, even if it means deferring satisfaction for a period of time.
So, the Ego's main job is to keep the Id happy, but it often meets with obstacles along the way.
Basically, the Superego
is the moral part of the personality.
It is the internal judge, it provides the ideas of "right and wrong", and accounts for the uniqueness of individuals.
There are two parts to the Superego:
conscience is built by internalizing punishments or
When people say, "He has a conscience", they are implying that he wouldn't do something immoral or harmful because he doesn't want negative outcomes.
Conscience is based on knowing what is wrong and avoiding such behavior.
The other aspect
of the Superego is referred to as the Ego Ideal.
This is the part that develops from rewards and positive outcomes or influences.
Ego Ideal is based on knowing what is right and leads to action because of expectations of the positive feelings or consequences that result.
According to Sigmund Freud, the Superego takes on the
role of the parent or caregivers in that it will punish the
Ego with feelings of guilt or shame, or it will reward the Ego
with feelings of pride and self-esteem.
While the Id is the biological needs and wishes, the Superego represents the social needs and desires.
And mediating between the two is the poor Ego.
When the Id and Superego
have a conflict, it is the Ego that must smooth things over.
Sometimes this can become very threatening or overwhelming and Freud calls this feeling anxiety.
Fear, shame, guilt,
feeling like you might go crazy or lose control, anger,
depression - these are all results of anxiety, and the Ego
deals with them by employing defense mechanisms.
For example, a child who has experienced a traumatic event may use regression to deal with his feelings and begin sucking his thumb again or sleeping with a stuffed toy that he hasn't needed in years.
A traumatic experience to a young child can be anything that dramatically changes his world, such as the birth of a sibling, parental divorce, moving to a new school or away from friends, or a long-term sickness.
An abused child may use denial and appear to be lying to authorities when questioned about his situation.
Often the only way he can deal with the difference between the way things are and the way he thinks things should be is to employ defence mechanisms - in this case, denial.
stressed the importance of childhood experiences on
personality development. He claimed that while a large part of
personality is biologically based (nature), there is a part
that is based on parent-child interaction.
It is this relationship which determines the development of the Superego and accounts for a person's unique character.
Remember, Freud stated that sex drive, or libido, is the main force that motivates everyone, even infants.
Over the years,
"libido" had come to mean only sex; however, Freud's
definition is much more expansive. In fact, he used the word
to refer to any action that created pleasure through physical
touch and included such things as caressing, massaging,
kissing, or cuddling.
With this definition in mind, Sigmund Freud's theory makes much more sense.
He claimed that during the first five years of their life, children pass through a series of stages. At each stage there is a different part of the body that brings pleasure.
He also stated
that every stage presented a conflict and difficulty dealing
with this conflict can lead to "fixation".
This is the term Sigmund Freud gave to someone who seemed to be "stuck" in a specific stage, or carried over certain behaviors and habits through to adulthood.
Fixation indicates an incomplete development of personality and will cause problems for a person's entire life.
In this stage,
pleasure is focused around the mouth (lips, tongue, cheeks)
and the infant enjoys actions such as sucking, biting, or
A newborn is completely dependent on his caregivers, particularly his mother, and his libido (or sexual energy) is directed toward her because she is the person who is meeting his needs and creating his pleasurable experiences.
The mother's response to the baby will determine how he learns to view the world around him.
A positive experience can lead to feelings of trust, comfort, safety, and satisfaction, whereas a negative experience can create feelings of danger, frustration, or uncertainty.
The main conflict at this stage is weaning, and this can be a little scary for a baby since he has to leave the safety of his mother's arms and become less dependent on his parents for the task of eating.
A successful journey through this stage will produce a healthy child; however, Freud believes that many people become fixated and carry some problems with them into adulthood.
There are two types of personalities identified:
If a baby experiences some frustrations
during the first several months of his life, such as
difficulty suckling, a tense or stressed mother, or early
weaning, then he can become what Freud calls an oral-passive
He also believes that this type of personality can result if an infant is overindulged or receives "excessive gratification".
Some experts argue that it is impossible to "over-gratify" an infant. Most babies will instinctively stop eating when they are full. And, can you really excessively hug, hold, caress, or cuddle your baby?
Anyway, an oral passive adult tends to be overly optimistic (which Freud claims comes from over indulgence), extremely dependent on others for the gratification of their needs, gullible, too trusting, and is often obsessed with oral activities such as drinking, smoking, eating, or kissing.
personality can begin to develop during teething. If a nursing
baby is punished for biting while feeding or if he is weaned
because of teething, then Freud claims that he can carry a
need for biting things into his adulthood years.
An oral-aggressive adult will be pessimistic, hostile, aggressive, and argumentative.
He will have an obsession for chewing on things such as pencils, gum, or fingernails, but he will also have a "biting" or sarcastic personality.
stage, the child is very interested in his bodily functions
and the libido is focused on the anus and the controlling of
both the bladder and bowel.
The conflict of the anal stage is toilet training and Freud felt that it was extremely important to personality development.
Up to this point, a child can empty his bowel or bladder whenever (and wherever) he wants, and according to Freud this produces great pleasure.
Now, all of a sudden, he is being told that he must wait for certain times and places. What was once instinctual must now become a controlled and "conscious" action.
In the oral stage, the child has no choice in the weaning process; however, toilet training offers a child his first opportunity to have some control over his own outcomes.
In fact, it often becomes a "weapon" or source of manipulation for him to use against his parents, since a parent cannot make a child comply.
So, if the process of toilet training is not going well, the child may display his frustration is one of two ways.
A child may decide that he is not going to follow the new
rules and will simply empty his bladder or bowels whenever and
wherever he pleases.
In this case, the child is in charge.
Parents may act happy when he uses the potty and very sad or heartbroken when he doesn't.
Now, he is manipulating his parents by choosing when and how to comply to their wishes.
If this behavior is allowed to continue, the child will develop what Freud calls an Anal-Aggressive or Anal-Expulsive personality.
Anal-Aggressive adults tend to be sloppy, disorganized, cruel, destructive, prone to temper tantrums, and may view other people as objects to be possessed.
According to Freud, some parents are too lenient and allow the
child to control the toilet training process; however, there
are also those who are far too strict.
These are the people who compete with their friends to see whose child will be trained first because they believe that their parental abilities or child's intelligence are somehow connected to the early achievement of this milestone.
These types of parents are intense and rigid, and may use punishment, humiliation, or manipulation to force their child to comply.
In this case, a child may retain or hold his feces as a means of maintaining some control over the situation. Freud believed that this behavior led to an Anal-Retentive personality.
As adults, anal-retentive personalities are often perfectionists. They are stubborn, stingy, dictorial, obsessively clean, and find their security in possessions.
In this stage the libido is focused on
This is the time when children become curious about the differences between boys and girls and may start asking questions about "where babies come from".
Sigmund Freud believed that the major conflict faced in this stage is the emergence of the Oedipal Complex.
A child will experience a desire for the parent of the opposite sex and may also feel a dislike or sense of competition with the parent of the same sex.
If an Oedipal Complex (sometimes referred to as the Electra Complex for girls) remains unresolved, Freud outlined two major types of personalities that can develop.
If a boy feels rejected by
his mother (she does not return his desire) but also
threatened by his father's manhood or masculinity (because his
mother is attracted to his father and not him) then he can
develop low self-esteem when it comes to his sexuality.
This can manifest is one of two ways - either he withdraws from relationships with the opposite sex or he becomes a "ladies man" who has several relationships without any commitment.
He will typically need to be praised or supported in order to keep his self-worth elevated and may suffer feelings of inferiority or inadequacy without constant appreciation and affirmation.
Similarly, if a girl feels rejected by her father (because he does not return her desire) but also threatened by her mother's beauty or femininity then she can also develop a low self image and may either avoid relationships with the opposite sex OR begin engaging in several physical yet non-emotional unions.
However, there is also another scenario that can emerge.
some cases, a boy will not feel rejected by his mother, but
will in fact, believe that she prefers the son over the father.
This is what we would call a "mommy's boy". In this case, a boy views his father as weak and lacking, and therefore will develop a very high opinion of himself.
This can pose a problem when he leaves the home and learns that not everyone loves or appreciates him as much as his mother.
Similarly, a "daddy's girl" views her mother as nothing more than a housekeeper or servant and believes that she is favored by her father. In this case, she will become very self-centered and vain.
During this stage, Freud claims that sexual impulses and
libido are suppressed.
Children are focused more on developing peer relationships and pursuing other interests such as hobbies and sports.
Sexual energy is still present, but it is repressed because other things take a higher priority.
If fixation occurs in the latency stage it is because of the lack of ability to follow the direction of the energy into social relationships and hobbies.
Freud has been criticized for his lack of detail and interest in this stage of development. While he admits that social skills are built during this time, Freud seemingly glosses over the latency stage.
Puberty brings a resurgence of the sex
drive and the libido focuses on the pleasures derived from
There is conflict during this stage, although Freud is not as specific about its nature and believes that it is not as severe as the conflict experienced in earlier stages.
If a person has come through all subsequent stages with no major fixations then he may be able to develop strong heterosexual relationships.
According to Freud, an inability to form healthy heterosexual relationships is an indication of incomplete development.
He also claims that women suffer what he calls "penis envy".
In fact, his theory implies that the only truly developed human being is the heterosexual male, and women, homosexuals, or those who choose abstinence (priests, monks etc) are not fully developed because of negative experiences at one of the stages.
As you can imagine, this has come under quite a bit of criticism in recent years, and is largely responsible for the discrediting of Freud's ideas.
pure psychoanalysis has
declined in popularity, many of the principles are still
evident in modern counselling techniques.
Since Sigmund Freud believed that much of behavior begins in the unconscious, he determined that the only way to discover the root of mental illness or unhealthy behavior is to probe the unconscious to unveil its secrets.
At first, he used hypnosis as a method of revealing buried
memories or unaware thoughts. While this proved to be
effective, he eventually found greater success with a
technique he called Free Association.
Free Association involved having the patient talk about whatever came to mind and express every thought, image, dream, or perception that they were aware of at that point in time.
The therapist takes a very hands-off approach while the patient basically 'daydreams' out loud.
Freud believed that, although the person was not hypnotized, the thoughts expressed during Free Association were not subject to conscious choice and were actually an insight into what was happening within the unconscious.
His goal was to identify the childhood experience or perception that was responsible for causing current problems.
The only drawback was the fact that Freud believed all personality was set by the age of 5, 7 at the latest, and that nothing that happened beyond this point was relevant in the determination of adult behavior.
Freud also used dream analysis quite
extensively since he believed that the unconscious mind was
suppressed during waking hours but expressed itself freely
while the conscious mind was sleeping.
The idea of the unconscious mind, the importance of childhood experience on adult behavior, and the employment of defence mechanisms are all principles that can be seen in contemporary psychology.
So, although psychoanalysis - in its purest form - is rarely used anymore, it definitely laid the foundation for many subsequent methods of therapy.
From a scientific point of view, many disagree with the fact that Freud used terms which cannot be verified - how do you test or measure libido?
others argue that he placed too much emphasis on biological
factors, claiming that the instincts and drives that motivate
us are purely inherent.
Some studies have refuted this fact, showing that social experiences - rather than sexual factors or libido - are more influential in shaping personality.
experts take objection to the idea that we are all victims of
our instincts, drives, and conflicts, with little control over
our own behavior or actions. Freud eliminates the "free will"
aspect and suggests a more deterministic view of personality.
This means that a child cannot be taught to make responsible or beneficial decisions, cannot learn from his mistakes, and has no control over his own fate or future. His drives and his parenting will determine who he becomes with little or no input from the child himself.
Still others dispute the suggestion that our
future is shaped by our past and all our thoughts,
aspirations, plans, and decisions are completely determined by
experiences we had before the age of five.
A child hasn't even built a lot of the cognitive or intellectual skills needed for adulthood functioning, so how can he possibly be fully developed?
Based on Sigmund Freud's theory, parenting becomes irrelevant after age 5 since everything that matters has already happened.
Sigmund Freud has also been criticized for his claim that
women have undeveloped superegos because they suffer from
penis envy and feel inferior about their bodies.
He also believed that the heterosexual male is the ultimate example of a fully developed person, implying that everyone else is fighting a losing battle.
A woman might as well not even try because she will never achieve Freud's highest level. In fact, he focuses almost entirely on male development and devotes little time to the uniqueness of women.
Also, Sigmund Freud views mankind in a
very pessimistic way, believing that we are trapped in an
endless struggle to deal with conflicts and inner forces - a
battle that we cannot win.
There is no hope, encouragement, or possibility of improvement. If a child didn't come through the first five years successfully, he was doomed for the rest of his life.
Finally, Freud based his theory almost
completely on the memories and recollections of adult patients
and much of his data was provided through hypnosis, free
association, and dream analysis.
Many experts argue that it is not always possible to verify an individual's memories or information obtained through psychoanalytic methods.
It is difficult to accurately document the development of children when you haven't actually observed or studied children.
Sigmund Freud published more than 320 works including
books, articles, and essays throughout his lifetime.
While all of his writings are important and quite interesting, there are a few that stand out as being among his most important and popular publications.
In this book, Freud talks
about actions that deviate from the norm or stereotype such as
slips of the tongue, forgetting names, concealed childhood
memories, mistakes in speech, and other errors in both reading,
Freud believed that all these deviations are actually manifestations of the unconscious and that they reveal those things that are hidden in the mind such as worries, fantasies, drives, and motivations.
This book provides a brief outline of the psychoanalytic theory, but for a full understanding of Freud's theories, it should be read in combination with three other popular works:
This is thought to be one of Freud's most important books and outlines his theory of psychosexual development, including the ideas of the Oedipus Complex, penis envy, castration anxiety, and the effects that unresolved conflict can have on adult behavior.
perhaps Freud's most well-known publication and discusses the
relationship between the individual and the civilization in
which he lives.
Freud suggests that there is a great deal of tension between the individual and society because a person has an inherent desire for freedom while society inflicts very specific rules of conformity and expected behavior that requires a repression of many natural instincts.
Since the Id is driven by the pleasure principle, it is concerned only with immediate gratification.
It has no concern for the effect that certain actions will have on others, but wants its needs met regardless of the propriety of methods.
Society, on the other hand, has laws prohibiting certain actions such as killing, rape, stealing, or substance abuse.
The Id (or biological instincts) is at odds with the laws that are created to protect society as a whole, and this results in discontentment in the individuals.
This book explores the root of discontentment and the consequences that deviation has on both the individual and civilization.
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