The Life and Theories of Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud is a popular name in psychology. Being one of the first to explore this field, Freud has had a significant impact. Freud’s theories were complex and targeted more to earlier years. However, the theories of Freud are the starting points and building blocks of the evolution in psychology. Without Freud’s theories, the field of psychology would not be where it is today. Freud’s theories involve why individuals do and think in certain ways. When one thinks of Freud, sex is normally the first word that comes to mind. Even though Freud did focus on the psychosexual stages of development, there were also theories based on the unconscious and defense mechanisms. Some would say that the upbringing and experiences of Freud helped shape the theories the psychologist created and tested. Therefore, it is important to study the life, theories, and accomplishments of Sigmund Freud.
Sigmund Freud was born on May 6, 1856 in a town called Freiberg. Freud’s father was a wool merchant named Jacob and Freud’s mother’s name was Amelia. Freud’s mother was Jacob’s third wife. The family moved to Vienna when Freud was four years old. Freud lived, went to school, and worked in Vienna until Nazi threats arose in 1938, seventy-nine years later. After that, the family moved to England where Freud eventually passed on September 23, 1939. Freud’s theories were based on the society he grew up in. Vienna was a city based on liberal arts and was a high end society, but it also had various struggles economically. Growing up, Freud was a smart boy. By the age of eight Sigmund Freud already knew five different languages. Freud got a degree in medicine from the University of Vienna in 1881. Freud once stated that there was never the intention or drive to study the human body as a doctor but rather was pulled to study human concerns. At first, when studying under Brücke, Freud believed that feelings and mental diseases could be blamed on physical contributions. Freud was very interested in research. This helped later theories come about and show that mental conditions were not all from physical causes. Later in his career, Freud got engaged to a woman named Martha and even though the doctor had no interest in actually practicing medicine, Freud did. This was based on the fact that there were many financial and stability pressures put on a man who would soon be married. Freud started working on theories in the 1910s and from there came psychoanalysis, personality structures, defense mechanisms, and psychosexual stages of development (Thurschwell, 2009).
Sigmund Freud is the founding father of psychoanalysis. When describing psychoanalysis, Freud said that it was medically treated patients who are nervous. Freud said that when using psychoanalysis on patients, there would be different approaches based on the patient’s state of mind. If a patient was not used to this treatment and weary about it, that individual would be reassured with how harmless the treatment was and the good outcomes. On the other hand, if the patient was neurotic, the steps taken were to inform the patient of the length and every detail of the treatment. Psychoanalysis was such a different approach to medical treatment, that Freud explains in lectures that the only measures taken were words exchanged between the patient and the caregiver (Freud, 1920). Freud describes psychoanalysis as what in today’s world would be called therapy.
According to Robert Ewen (2010), Freud identified that humans are made up of three pieces that are called the personality structure. Freud said that the id was the only part of personality that babies have at birth. Because of this, it consists completely of unconscious components. The id takes unconscious needs and turns them into cravings or drives. The goal for this part of the structure is to ease these cravings and drives. Humans then gain ego at between six to eight months of age. The ego is formed by different experiences (Ewen, 2010). Since this is such a young age, these experiences would be limited. The third structure of personality is called the superego. Robert Ewen (2010) stated that the superego is both conscious and unconscious. It is the part of the personality that makes judgements. The superego rationalizes situations and allows the person to make right and wrong decisions (Ewen, 2010). According to Freud, these structures of personality develop over time and are based on different experiences an individual has. Because of this, the experiences contribute to shaping what type of personality a person has.
Another theory that Sigmund Freud created was the concept of defense mechanisms. These mechanisms come from the structure of the personality called the ego. Phebe Cramer (2012) explained that the unconscious uses these different mechanisms to avoid and push away pain. The reason the ego is defensive in these ways is, so it does not get overwhelmed with anxieties and other negativities. The majority of these defense mechanisms are unconscious. However, there are situations where a person will intentionally defend against bad thoughts or memories by trying not to think about those things. It comes to question whether or not these mechanisms are able to be adapted or if they come naturally. Either way, defense mechanisms are a very natural part of life and development (Cramer, 2012). When it comes to the ego being defensive, it uses different mechanisms. Freud has provided the different mechanisms and Robert Ewen (2010) listed these mechanisms and gives a short summary over each. Following are a few examples.
One type of defense mechanism is called denial of reality. In this mechanism, the individual shows refusal to believe that something happened. The next type of defense mechanism is displacement. This is when a person transfers feeling about one situation to another one in a less intimidating manner. Fantasy or daydreaming is the next type of defense mechanism. During this mechanism, an individual avoids thinking about or accepting and instead focuses on thinking about a scenario where they are happy with the situation. Another example of a defense mechanism is called projection. During this a person will put all angry, aggressive, and threatening feelings onto others. A common saying would be ‘taking it out’ on others. These examples are not all of the types of defense mechanisms. Freud also included the following; Identification, Intellectualization, Introjection, Rationalization, Reaction formation, Regression, Repression, Sublimation, and Undoing (Ewen, 2010).
Freud’s work has a lot to do with human sexuality. The psychosexual stages of development are probably Freud’s most famous theory. According to Freud, S., Kistner, U., Haute, P. V., & Westerink, H. (2017), sexuality was studied in a Darwinian approach. Freud explained why this was wrong and used stages to help out with this (Freud, S., Kistner, U., Haute, P. V., & Westerink, H., 2017). Robert Ewen (2010) stated that each of Freud’s stages are categorized by age. It shows that as a human develops and grows, the desires transform into new ones. Freud believed that this is what helps shape individual personalities. It is said that if a person shows signs of stages past the age that Freud set, that individual never worked through that stage and is still partially stuck (Ewen, 2010). The following stages are believed to be what the individual gets pleasure from at that stage or age of life.
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Robert Ewen (2010) lists the psychosexual stages created by Freud and includes an overview of what the stages mean. The first stage of this theory is called the oral stage. Believed to be from birth to 18 months of age, this stage is where the baby is fixated on sucking, gnawing, biting, or chewing on things (Ewen, 2010). Examples of this would be feeding and sucking on a thumb. If an individual is seen as stuck in this stage, it might show through in other ways such as biting nails or chewing the skin around the fingers. Ewen (2010) also included Freud said that not only do the infants gain pleasure from the oral fixation, but frustration may also happen if the infant does not receive food when it is hungry. The second stage that is listed is the anal stage. This stage is primarily seen from 18 to 36 months. This stage is focused on how when an individual gains control over bowel movements, pleasure stems. It is described that when exerted, the child sees it as giving a gift and withholding it is a sign of disobedience (Ewen, 2010). This is around the time a normal child potty trains and is weaned off of using diapers.
The third stage of the psychosexual stages of development as described by Ewen (2010) is the phallic stage. From ages three to six years this stage is based on an individual gaining pleasure from genitalia. In boys, this is when the Oedipus Complex comes to play. The Oedipus Complex is where a boy has sexual desires for his mother and jealousy towards his father. Stage four of the psychosexual stages is the latency period. This stage is usually seen from 6 years of age until the individual hits puberty. The focus of this stage is the fact that by this age, a personality has formed and is pretty set. The sexual desires and need for pleasure have died down and are dormant. This is the stage where an individual shows feelings in other forms. The final stage of psychosexual development is the genital stage. This stage is said to be what an individual should strive for because it shows maturity psychologically (Ewen, 2010).
Significance in the End
As a result of Freud’s theories and ways of looking at why humans think or act in certain ways, Freud has had an impact on the way psychology is today. Freud prompted future psychologists to look deeper and expand on his theories. Erich Fromm (1978) stated that the one thing Freud was truly passionate about was truth and reason. Freud strived to figure out why people think or did things based completely on reason. The drive for this was based on Freud’s childhood and upbringing. He saw first hand that money and business cannot be counted on entirely, therefore Freud put all of his trust and faith into not only reasoning but himself as well. Fromm suggests that because Freud was not the only boy in Vienna that came from this kind of upbringing, the others did not have Freud’s personality and that is why the psychologist accomplished and came up with the Freudian theories (Fromm, 1978).
Overall, Sigmund Freud’s theories were a major starting point in the psychology field and more specifically in the way humans develop and act. Freud founded psychoanalysis and also came up with personality structures, psychosexual stages of development, and defense mechanisms. Even though when most people hear Freud’s name, sex comes up, most of the work was focused on why individuals act certain ways and think certain things. Freud’s theories were focused on what impacts the personalities of humans. It is relevant because some say Freud’s theories were shaped from experiences the theorist had as a child and throughout his earlier life. That is why it is important to not only study the theories of Freud, but also life leading up to the creation of the theories. The theories and creations of Freud were some of the building blocks and have heavily influences the field of psychology today.
- Cramer, P. (2012). The Development of defense mechanisms: Theory, research, and assessment New-York: Springer.
- Ewen, R. (2010). An Introduction to the Theories of Personality. Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Freud, S. (1920). A general introduction to psychoanalysis ; authorized translation with a preface. New York: Boni and Liveright.
- Freud, S., Kistner, U., Haute, P. V., & Westerink, H. (2017). Three essays on the theory of sexuality: The 1905 edition. London: Verso.
- Fromm, E. (1978). Sigmund Freuds mission: An analysis of his personality and influence. Gloucester: Peter Smith.
- Thurschwell, P. (2009). Sigmund Freud. London: Routledge.
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