Sigmund Freud set off a new era in the field of psychoanalysis. In this age, he is well known throughout the world of Psychology for his accomplishments through his findings and theories. These achievements also earned him the title of the 'Father of Psychoanalysis'. In this paper, we give an overview of Freud's life. We talk about factors that influenced his work, such as his family life and education. We then explain his theories, which include his discoveries on the conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind, id, ego and superego, Psychosexual stages and defense mechanisms. After this, we then apply the theories into Freud's own life and analyze how they were influenced by Freud himself. We elaborate on the hypothesis that Freud developed many theories through his own life experiences.
Sigmund Freud, or Sigismund Schlomo Freud, was born on the 6th of May, 1856 in Freiberg, Austria. Sigmund Freud, born into a Jewish family from Bohemia, later flew to Vienna, Austria. Sigmund was the first child to his twice-widowed father's third marriage (European Graduate School, 2012). Sigmund's father, Jacob Freud, at the age of thirty-nine, married Amalia Nathanson when she was nineteen years old (Advameg, 2013). Sigmund Freud was his mother's favourite son, although there were seven younger children (Advameg, 2013). When Freud was eight years old, he started reading Shakespeare's books (Advameg, 2013). Freud went into a local elementary school, and then went into a secondary school in Europe (Advameg, 2013). He studied mathematics, history, natural sciences, Greek and Latin, and he was one of the superior students (Advameg, 2013). Freud passed all his examinations with flying colours and entered the University of Vienna at the age of seventeen (Advameg, 2013). Freud showed some interest in medicine, law and also philosophy (European Graduate School, 2012).
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When Freud finished his high school at the age of seventeen, Freud opted to study in medicine. His focus was more into the study of the nervous system, and he acquired his medical degree in 1881. Freud began to have a lot of interest in psychological disorders, and so he opened a medical practice. Freud gained some experience during his work on hysteria, as well as became familiar to hypnosis by joining the French neurologist, Professor Jean-Martin Charcot in October 1885 (European Graduate School, 2012).
Sigmund Freud spent four months at the Salpêtrière clinic in Paris, France, studying neurology. Then, Freud returned to Vienna, got married, and made a name for himself by privately practicing neurology. He spent most of his effort in helping his patients with hypnosis (Advameg, 2013). Joseph Breuer, Freud's old colleague, told Freud about how he treated his patient successfully using hypnosis, by tracing her symptoms back to the traumatic events she experienced at her father's deathbed (Advameg, 2013). Frued's colleague called his treatment "catharsis", and Freud's experiment with Breuer was successful (Advameg, 2013). The exposing and discussing about Freud's patients' unconscious thoughts and feelings was labelled by Freud with the term "psychoanalysis" (Advameg, 2013).
In one of the cases Frued and Breuer were working on, the patient was Anna O, who was diagnosed with hysteria. This case laid the foundation of psychoanalysis (European Graduate School, 2012). The important findings in this study are the links between repressed memories which she was unaware and the symptoms she had. Freud called this catharsis purification as well, as the symptoms subside when the patient's memories is revived under hypnosis (European Graduate School, 2012).
The birth of psychoanalysis occurred when Freud's father passed away in 1896. He used the term psychoanalysis to develop his ideas on the unconscious, talk therapy, and other theories. Freud began a project, which is his own self-analysis, by analysing his dreams. The Interpretation of Dreams (1901) was a major scientific result (Advameg, 2013). In his book titled The Interpretation of Dreams, he wrote about the unconscious, the Oedipal complex, and dream interpretations, yet the sales of his book after his publications were slow (About.com, Psychology, 2013). Freud also published The Psychopathology of Everyday Life in 1901, where he introduces the Freudian slip concept, or the slip of the tongue, where events reveal underlying motivations and unconscious thoughts (About.com, Psychology, 2013). Freud speculated that the sexual desires in early childhood that has been shut out from conscious awareness, but have preserved their great force within the personality are the unconscious forces which lead to neuroses, or mental disorders (Advameg, 2013). Freud was more a private man. He read a lot, loved to travel, and was an avid collector of archaeological oddities. He always practiced in a consultation room which was attached to his home due to his devotion to his family. He was more loyal to his friends whom he was close to and so inspired loyalty by his disciples until today (Advameg, 2013).
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Freud's Psychoanalytic theory encompasses every aspect of Freud's significant discoveries. This theory is also commonly known as Psychodynamics or Freudian theory. From this theory, many sub-groups were formed. Out of these, one sub-group is the iceberg metaphor, which includes the conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind, as well as the id, ego and superego of a person. Besides that, Freud composed the stages of Psychosexual development, which are the oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital stages. Defense mechanisms were also introduced. After the passing of Freud, his followers continued on to develop the neo-analytic theory.
In the psychoanalytic theory, Freud illustrates the consciousness of the human mind with a picture of an iceberg that is mostly submerged in water, with a part of it above water level. Freud describes the conscious mind as the smaller portion of iceberg that is above water and that can easily be seen, while the unconscious mind is depicted as the much larger part of the iceberg which is submerged and cannot be seen from the surface. The subconscious mind lies on a thin layer between the conscious and unconscious.
According to Freud's theory, the conscious mind is the most obvious layer of the mind. The conscious mind consists of thoughts that we are aware of, and those are portrayed in our overt actions. The unconscious however, contains the thoughts that we are unaware of. The unconscious mind can contain a lot of disturbing or inappropriate thoughts that are hidden there because we do not want to acknowledge them (McLeod, 2009). The subconscious mind holds thoughts that we are unaware of, but we can easily bring these thoughts to consciousness.
The id, ego and superego are three systems of personality that Freud proposed. From these, the id goes by the pleasure principle. The id is driven by libido and thanatos, which are basically the sex instinct and death instinct (McLeod, 2008). The id acts on impulse and its only goal is to satisfy its desires. On the contrary, the superego is the component that integrates our morality. The superego holds our conscience and punishes our wrong-doings through guilt. The ego on the other hand, works on the reality principle. The ego balances out the id and superego by figuring out ways to satisfy the id while taking into account our morals. This often results in satisfaction being compromised or deferred.
Freud theorized that there are five Psychosexual stages of development. These include the oral stage, anal stage, phallic stage, latency stage and genital stage. In each of these stages, the person goes through fixation on different parts of the body (McLeod, 2008). There is a conflict that needs to be resolved in every stage of Freud's Psychosexual development theory before the person can successfully move on to the next stage. If the person at any stage encounters frustration, which is not getting enough satisfaction in the part of the body or overindulgence, which is getting too much satisfaction in the part of the body, this may lead to fixation, whereby a part of the individual's libido isperpetually put into the specific stage in which fixation occurred (McLeod, 2008).
The first stage, which is called the oral stage occurs from birth to one year old. In this stage the infant derives pleasure from the mouth. This oral desire can be fulfilled through actions by the mouth such as sucking and biting any object that the infant can place in his mouth. People who suffer oral fixation may grow up to become avid smokers or fingernail-biters.
The next stage ensues during the age of one year to three years old. Children at this age experience pleasure in defecating. At this age, parents would want to start potty training their child. Harsh potty training in this stage can contribute to the child becoming anal-retentive. This child would grow up to be excessively tidy and clean, and would hate messes or even a compulsive personality. On the other hand, late potty training might result in the child being anal expulsive. This child would be the opposite of an anal-retentive child, for anal expulsive children would be dirty and messy people.
The third stage is known as the phallic stage. The phallic stage lasts from age three to age six. Children at this stage become very sensitive towards their genitals and start to recognize gender differences. This is the stage in which Freud found that Oedipus complex in boys and Electra complex in girls occurred. Oedipus complex is the situation where a boy develops sexual attraction towards his mother. Boys who go through this will try to imitate and act like their father. This is called identification. In Electra complex, the same happens for when girls feel sexually attracted to their father. Freud can associate himself to this theory for he was affectionate towards his mother when he was a child.
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Following the Phallic stage would be the latency stage. This stage lasts from age six all the way until puberty. In this stage, the libido of children is mostly hidden and the children would spend most of their time and energy focusing on learning and acquiring new knowledge or skill. The last of these stages is known as the genital stage, which is the stage people face from puberty to adulthood. During this final stage, a person would be directing sexual instinct towards relationships with the opposite gender and forming lasting relationships.
Another idea that Freud developed was defense mechanisms. Freud noted that because the ego has the imperative job of balancing the id and superego, it can become very pressured and overwhelmed. Therefore, the ego makes use of defense mechanisms to protect itself. Defense mechanisms work unconsciously within us and try to get rid of negative feelings like anxiety and guilt. Most of the time, people are not aware when a defense mechanism is working. If the defense mechanisms get out of control, neuroses like phobia and obsessions develop (McLeod, 2009).
The development of Freud and his personality can best be described using his own psychosexual stages of development. The first stage of Freud's psychosexual development is the anal stage which is also known as the pre-genital stage of sexual development (Snowden, 2010). Fixation in this stage is called oral fixation, and mostly happens when the baby has not been breast-fed (Snowden, 2010). Fixation in this stage will see the individual developing an oral dependent personality in which that individual seeks pleasure through oral satisfaction such as over-smoking (Snowden, 2010). Freud was diagnosed with oral cancer in 1923 due to heavy smoking of cigars (Snowden, 2010). Freud was so heavily addicted to cigars that he was not willing or not able to stop smoking even when he was diagnosed with oral cancer. This exaggerated behavior of over-smoking may be due to his oral dependent personality as a result of his oral fixation during his oral stage.
Freud was a compulsive man. This compulsive behavior of his can be seen in his behavior when it came to smoking. Moreover, he was a great antique collector. Even so, he did not really care about the artistic value of those antiques. It was just another compulsive behavior of his to collect those antiques. The urge in collecting antiques came from the feeling of connection from the past to him. This can be seen when his collection of antiques were simply positioned or chocked up all over the place in his study room (Snowden, 2010). In addition, Freud was also an obsessive man. He did everything in a meticulous, accurate and controlled manner (Snowden, 2010). His obsession had driven him to produce a significant amount of work that no a single normal person would do (Snowden, 2010). Freud's superstition about certain numbers also came from his compulsive behavior, where he believed that he would die at the age of 61 or 62 (Snowden, 2010). A person who suffers from anal retention is a result of anal fixation. The failure in the anal stage is believed to develop personalities which includes being stingy, obstinate, stubborn and compulsive (Lahey, 2012). With all the evidences, we can hereby believe that Freud's personalities had something to do with the anal retention during the anal stage of his psychosexual development.
Freud was the first son of his young mother, Amalie. Amalie gave birth to Freud when she was only 20 years old while Freud's father was 40 years old at that time. Freud had 7 others siblings, but he was the favorite child of Amalie. Amalie addressed Freud as "my golden Sigi" which indicated the love bond between Freud and his mother (Snowden, 2010). Freud himself was in love with his own mother and had a sexual desire towards her while he was jealous at his father. His passionate love towards his mother can be explained using his own theory, the Oedipus complex. He had affections towards his mother but was afraid to upset his father, which would result in him getting his penis removed by his father.
We can as well see Freud's affection towards his mother using his own dynamic model of the mind which is id, ego and superego. His sexual desire towards his own mother was fed by the libido energy of his id. The id has no other consideration, as it operates according to the pleasure principle which seeks immediate pleasure. He wanted to sexually possess his mother but was afraid of his father. At this stage of thinking, the ego part of his consciousness kicked in. He had to find a way to fulfill the need of his id. Little Freud at that time had to keep his sexual desire towards his mother in check until he found a way to satisfy the id, as the ego operates according to the reality principle. However, id and ego have no moral value. When the super-ego kicked in, Freud realized that his desire toward his own mother was not a proper manner and soon channeled the sexual desire to other women when he grew up. Snowden (2010) stated that the development of super-ego starts after the resolution of Oedipus complex. The incompleteness in the resolution of Oedipus complex will cause stuntedness in the strength and growth of the super-ego (Snowden, 2010). Through the repressions of Oedipus complex, the child will develop contradicting feelings such as love, fear and hostility towards the parents like how Freud felt towards his father (Snowden, 2010).
On the other hand, some defense mechanisms from Freud's psychoanalytic theory can be applied to his daily life as well. We take the relationship of Freud with other people as an example. It looks like Freud tended to show over admiration and become extremely close with a particular person at each point of his life. This can be seen in the relationship between Freud and Josef Breuer, a successful physician in Vienna at that time (Snowden, 2010). This tendency of incorporation with others is similar to the process of identification in the defense mechanism. Another example of defense mechanisms that can apply to Freud was sublimation. Sublimation is a kind of positive defense mechanism in which the person substitutes unacceptable impulses to those that can be accepted by the society (Lahey, 2012). Freud had transformed his sexual desire towards his mother to hard work in his studies. Freud did very well in school and was always achieving more than the other students in his class.
As a whole, Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory is a fundamental theory describing human personality that plays a vital role in personality psychology (Lahey, 2012). Many other recent or modern versions of psychoanalytic theories are derived from this Freudian thinking which is now known as neo-analytic. However, most of them did not agree with Freud's theories that placed too much emphasis on sexual motives in everything. As a matter of fact, most of the ideas and theories in Freud's psychoanalysis came about as a result of his own self-analysis.