Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) is the founder of psychoanalysis and he developed the psychoanalytical theory during the years 1885 to 1939 when he died in England a refugee from the Nazi regime prior to World War Two.
Freud’s theory of the mind was not a psychological school of thought but came out of his work in medicine, particularly the problems of the nervous system. Freud dissatisfied with the way psychiatry treated the mentally ill by classifying, that all abnormal activity arose from the explanation of disease, but he proposed that some forms of abnormality arose from an imbalance of the mind due to the stresses and strains of everyday life. Freud could not experiment with the techniques of today but relied on observation of his patients in the course of treatment, which lead to his insight of a theory of the mind.
Freud’s case studies led him to believe that many of his patients reported disturbances in their daily lives through hysterical reactions to life events that they could not cope with. Freud discovered that through analysis of their childhood experiences and current problems he could see a link (association) between their current behaviour and that of childhood trauma. After much thought and discovery Freud developed his theory of personality based on the idea of conflict in the mind as a basis for a splitting of the personality into three areas of competing self interests that struggled for dominance within the person’s mind.
Freud saw personality split into three areas that of the Super-Ego, which was developed through parental guidance initially and refined by schooling and peer group pressures. The second and more dynamic was the Id, that part of the mind that controlled biological needs and wants. The Id sought pleasure and avoided negative consequences. The last part was the Ego in which the persons present reality decided on the best course of action between the controlling aspects of the Super-Ego and the Id. For example the Id may require satisfying the need for hunger, this
Freud saw as a drive that was biologically motivated. However the Super-Ego may be in conflict with this request through the modern idea of diet and thinness and so put pressure of the mind to prevent the need being satisfied. The Ego must then step in and referee this conflict by testing reality. Is the required hunger the result of a length of time without food or is it the desire of seeing desirable food such as chocolate and wanting this even though there is no beneficial requirement for its consumption? The conflict in normal people would be resolved by the Ego insight of the current state of weight or need of the individual. The Id could be suppressed by the Ego from satisfying its desire and so the Super-ego would triumph over its rival. On the other hand if the Ego allows the consumption of the chocolate the Id has triumphed and the need satisfied.
Freud believed that these processes where mainly unconscious in the respect of satisfying biological needs and the mind only brings these to the surface during a conflict of interests. In this case the desire for chocolate would become conscious only for the time of debate. However Freud was much more interested in his day of the underlying reasons for hysteria involved in the frustration of the Id by social convention particularly involving sexual frustration amongst women clients who during this era would have been subject to many taboos about their sexuality and the role they were expected to play in society. Dominance by a male society led many of Freud’s clients to suffer guilt at inappropriate feelings that they would need to suppress in order to fulfil their role of subordinate females. Many of Freud’s patience deflected these conflicts between desire (Id) and social expectations (Super-ego) by building defences against mental anguish. These defences Freud became to list as the mind’s way of protecting itself from dissonence (Festinger 68).
Defence mechanisms came in several forms. Repression pushes unacceptable thoughts into unconscious; an example would be child abuse. A young woman whose stepfather has touched her genital area during her formative years may feel guilty that she found this touching pleasurable but later learned that it was morally wrong. Having pushed these thoughts and memory into unconsciousness she later transfers these feelings to others by projecting her guilt. When she eventually marries she may find that her husbands sexual advances unconsciously remind her of the abuse and she rejects her husband and becomes frigid in her approach to lovemaking. Her husband may become abusive through frustration and merely reconfirm her inner-feelings that men are naturally abusers. Freud believed that through therapy the woman could be given insight into her childhood trauma and through catharsis would relive the trauma and be able to put it into perspective and so relieve her defensive attitude towards her current situation.
Other defence mechanisms that Freud explained were Reaction Formation, in which the opposite of an unacceptable impulse is expressed, Rationalisation where socially acceptable reasons are given for unacceptable motives, Displacement, an emotional response is redirected towards a safe object and Projection where unacceptable motives/impulses are transferred to others.
Freud believed that his theory was heavily rooted in the childhood experiences of his patients and that the process of being raised within a family has lasting effects on the personality of the individual. From this idea he developed a stage theory of childhood emotional growth based on sexual maturation of the child from baby to adult. In the first of these stages the pleasure for the child is derived from the mouth as the instrument of exploration. Babies pick up objects and put them into their mouths to explore their shape and texture. Pleasing textures would match the feel of the breast in which the child already associates with the satisfaction of the Id’s need for nourishment. After the first year the child moves to the Anal stage in which Freud believed that pleasure was derived from anal excretions and the holding or releasing of faeces. If a mother fusses over the baby when potty training the child realises that he can have approval and attention from its mother by giving its expulsion to her in the form of faeces. The mother’s pleasure in receiving this is expressed as attention giving behaviour. For other babies withholding faeces forces the mother to continually attend to the child and showing concern at the lack of production.
Caution here should be noted that Freud was giving an example here of behaviour and not emphasising this one and only example. The same effect can be witnessed in the child that throws its spoon onto the floor and witnesses its mother retrieving it. The child will throw the spoon several times to the floor having realised that attention can be won by repeated behaviour. The next stage after the age of three Freud saw as the Phallic where pleasure was achieved through the manipulation of the genitals. Children learn that touching themselves can create a pleasant feeling. Parents often discourage this behaviour though censure. Often by telling the little girl that that is dirty or not nice. Boys on the other hand may be encouraged by a Father’s pride at his boy discovering his manhood. Girls may be brought to a belief that that area is dirty which Freud believed led in later life to equate with uneasiness at being touched by a man sexually. By the age of six years Freud believed that a period of Latency began in which sexual motivation losses its importance up until the age of puberty in which the Genital stage begins through the discovery of pleasure through heterosexual relationships. Freud felt that it was important that each stage was progressed through normally for the adult to function within society without perversions coming to the fore.
Freud was particularly interested in the conflict early on in childhood between the emotional battles for attention seeking. In boys he called this the Oedipus complex after the legend of a son killing his father to marry his mother. Freud saw that boys would often compete for theirs mother’s affection with their father who seemed to dominate her time. At first this would be seen in the form of tantrums but later the boy would try to emulate his father by copying his way of behaving to eventually replace him in the mother’s affection. Much of this is unconscious in character and usually resolves itself through maturation. In girls a weaker version was the Electra complex in which they emulated their mothers to impress the father and this could take the form of sexual flirting with the father to encourage his attentions. In today’s society with such a taboo on incestuous relations many modern fathers aware of sexual abuse have been made to feel uneasy in their relations with their daughters as being misinterprated by others as not natural.
Once Freud had formulated his theory he believed that it was universal in nature, meaning it could apply to all cultures and that through these insights patients could be understood in the light of their emotional conflicts, rather than a medical model of abnormality that strived for biological explanations of disturbed minds resulting in maladaptive behaviour.
Much of today’s treatments in which Neo-Freudians work is still based in his belief in childhood development and adult conflict between the opposing areas of the Id, Super-Ego and Ego. Eric Berne (64) developed a popular version of Freud’s ideas in the replacement of the Id, Ego and Super-Ego by the model of people acting as Child, Adult and Parent. This form of analysis was called Transactional Analysis in which the communications between adults where routed in choosing behaviour that brought about a desired outcome. His famous book “Games People Play” shows that Freud’s ideas can be interpreted in many forms. Other theorists such as Karen Horney believed the Freud did not consider the complex feelings of women and that his theory is heavily based on Victorian attitudes to the dominance of a patriarchal society. Despite all these criticisms Freud’s ideas have become part of the western cultural, identity and language. The most popular form of psychoanalysis is Freud’s original version, which looks at the dynamics of the patient’s history and its effects on their current behaviour. Using such techniques as Dream analysis to uncover unconscious symbolism to Free Association in which the patient expresses deep emotional thoughts and desires, later to be known as the “talking cure”. Freud felt that other areas such as transference and counter-transference in which the patient would project the father role onto the therapist and that the therapist would project their mind-set onto the patient all gave insightful material in which to help the patient regain control over their mind and behaviour.
References: Gross, R. (1999) Psychology a New Introduction, Pgs. 10/11, 101/103 507/510.
Berne, E (1964) Games People Play, Pgs. 1/37.
Feldman, R (1993) Understanding Psychology, Pgs. 588/9.