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Sigmund Freud’s Theory Of Psychoanalysis Explained

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Sigmund Freud’s exploration of human behavior gave rise to a new set of theories and therapeutic techniques. These theories and techniques were grouped together and became known as psychoanalysis. Freud’s contributions to the field of psychology were remarkable; his ideas are still discussed, supported, and criticized to this day.

Let us dive into the vast field of psychoanalysis, particularly from a Freudian point of view. In this article, we will go through the main concepts and theories behind psychoanalysis. We’ll then explore Freud’s ideas concerning psychoanalysis and highlight their influence on modern psychology. Finally, we’ll tell you what some prominent figures in psychology have to say about the Freudian school of psychoanalysis.

 

Overview of Psychoanalysis

The fundamental assumption underlying Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis is that a person’s current state of mind can be understood by bringing their unconscious thoughts to the forefront. According to psychoanalysis, the key to solving psychological problems is to explore a person’s unconscious and repressed trauma, memories, desires, and thoughts. When these are brought to our consciousness, they can effectively be dealt with and resolved.

Psychoanalysis also suggests that a person’s personality is mainly shaped by their early childhood experiences. As a result, childhood memories and trauma are almost always explored by psychoanalysts in therapy. From early childhood onwards, a person develops what is known as ‘defense mechanisms’ as a systematic reaction to traumatic events; trauma is ‘hidden’ in the unconscious mind. The human mind deceives itself by denying, rejecting, and fending off unpleasant thoughts.

This brings us to the main aim of psychoanalysis, which is to release a person’s repressed feelings and memories and bring them to the conscious mind. The end of this process, when this desired state of mind is achieved, is known as ‘catharsis,’ and it’s what the psychoanalytical therapeutic techniques are all about.

 

Key Concepts

It stands to reason that the unconscious mind is one of the most crucial concepts put forth by psychoanalysis. The exploration and understanding of unconsciousness are at the heart of the psychoanalytical approach. A person’s repressed feelings and memories are made inaccessible by the various defense mechanisms, another key concept that had not been talked about until Freud came along.

These defense mechanisms can be ‘broken’ using a range of methods that have been consistently improved upon. Among these are the Freudian slips, Rorschach inkblots, free association, and analysis of dreams. All these constitute essential therapeutic techniques aimed toward better understanding a human being’s unconsciousness. Dreams, in particular, are important in psychoanalysis, providing important insights into the human mind.

Psychoanalysis brought about a novel model of the human mind, comprising of the conscious, pre-conscious or subconscious, and the unconscious. These constitute the basic blocks of the human mind, according to psychoanalysis.

Unconsciousness, defense mechanisms, dream analysis, interpretation, and the ‘iceberg’ model of the mind are some key concepts that revolutionized thanks to Freud’s psychoanalysis. The psychoanalytical efforts to understand the human mind were a remarkable milestone toward the advancement of psychology.

 

Prominent Figures Of Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud is one of the most prominent figures of psychoanalysis. The Austrian neurologist was the founding father of psychoanalysis. His ideas and theories were outstandingly influential and changed psychology as we know it. Freud wrote a number of influential books, such as Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1917), The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), The Ego and the Id (1923), as well as his Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (published in 1905).

Many others contributed significantly to psychoanalysis. One such figure is Freud’s prodigy, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustave Jung. His research into the unconscious mind, collective consciousness, dreams, and archetypes were and are still highly regarded. Some of Jung’s ideas are rooted in Freudian psychoanalysis, although he fiercely opposed some of Freud’s core psychoanalytical ideas.

Other prominent figures include Erik Erikson, Ella Freeman Sharpe, Melanie Klein, Wilhelm Reich, Otto Rank, Anna Freud, and many others. Ever since its early inception, psychoanalysis has been an ever-growing field. Its core ideas have been the topic of continuous research by psychoanalysts.

 

Freud’s Theory of Psychoanalysis

Besides laying the foundations, Sigmund Freud contributed a lifetime’s worth of work and research to the field of psychoanalysis. His approach revolutionized people’s understanding of what goes on in the human mind. Many of his concepts such as defense mechanisms, ego, and superego have found their way into Western culture as a whole.

Below are the main premises of Freudian psychoanalysis.

The Unconscious Mind

While unconsciousness can be traced back to far before Freud came into existence, his insights into the unconscious mind changed psychology forever. The analogy underlying Freud’s mind model, which we’ll see later, suggests that our consciousness is but the tip of the iceberg that is the human mind. The larger part of our mind, which include our repressed feelings, thoughts, desires, memories, and trauma, takes place unconsciously. Although ‘buried’ in our unconscious mind, these hidden elements subtly affect every aspect of our daily lives.

As opposed to unconsciousness, everything we are actively aware of constitutes the conscious mind. The conflict between the two is one of the important issues dealt with by psychoanalysis. Freud suggests exploring the unconscious mind and bringing it to our awareness is the key to overcoming these unresolved issues that disturb our minds.

Defense Mechanisms

The relationship between the conscious and the unconscious is described in psychoanalysis as conflictual. This very conflict is dealt with through the defense mechanisms that take place in the human mind. While these defense mechanisms are somewhat essential, they may cause disturbances and lead to psychological and personality trouble.

Defense mechanisms generally come as natural reactions to various events experienced and perceived by an individual. One of the main defense mechanisms manifested in human psychology is denial, which is the sensation of disbelief exhibited as a response to an overwhelming or traumatic event. These unpleasant experiences are rejected by the human mind and pushed back to the realms of the unconscious.

Human beings tend to project these unwanted experiences, feelings, or personality traits onto other people as a means to divert them away from themselves. Usually, hand in hand with projection is the displacement defense mechanism, in which an individual transfers their negative emotions to another person or thing. Both projection and displacement of thoughts and emotions help the individual cope with unpleasant thoughts or emotions by transferring them to an outer target.

There are various defense mechanisms described in Freud’s theory, but repression is perhaps the most basic of them. It simply pushes back the multitude of unwanted thoughts, emotions, and memories toward the unconscious mind and hides them from one’s conscious awareness. In simple terms, repression deals with unpleasant things by not dealing with them or forgetting they exist.

 

The Model of the Mind

Three of the main Freudian concepts constitute his metaphorical model of the human mind. These components are closely intertwined and shape an individual’s complex personality and behavior.

Freud's Conscious and unconscious mind iceberg model

 

The id

Operating entirely at an unconscious level, the id encompasses a person’s most profound and innermost desires and primitive urges and drives. It is strictly driven by the constant need for pleasure and need satisfaction—failure of which leads to an unpleasant sensation and disrupted behavior. The powerful driving force of the id is manifested from birth. Although the individual eventually learns to control this to some extent, these infantile and primitive urges remain ever-present throughout a person’s life.

The ego

Stemming directly from the id, the ego is what allows a person to control their instincts and impulses. As a result, a person may behave in socially acceptable ways even though they have many needs left unsatisfied. A human being’s perception of what is realistic and socially appropriate helps keep the id in check. Needs and desires have to be met but in a socially appropriate manner. While the id seeks to satisfy these needs at any given point, the ego entails that satisfying them can and should be delayed until it is socially acceptable to do so. As opposed to the id, the ego operates at both the conscious and unconscious levels.

The superego

While the id and ego develop respectively from birth and early childhood, the superego takes about five years to begin developing, according to Freud. The superego is the ethical component of an individual’s personality. It encloses the ideals, values, and morals acquired by a person. It serves as a guideline to the ego’s functioning, making a person behave not only in a realistic manner but also in a moral one. The superego aims to achieve a feeling of accomplishment from doing what is morally right. If a person’s ideals conflict with their desires, the superego often suppresses them.

 

Psychosexual Development Stages

Following his thoughts on pleasure, mainly sexual, as the core driving force of behavior, Sigmund Freud put in place what he thought were the five main stages of psychosexual development. These explain the development of an infant’s pleasure-seeking and the erogenous zones through which sexual energy, or ‘libido,’ is expressed.

  1.   Oral stage. Pleasure is achieved through oral interactions such as sucking and tasting.
  2.   Anal stage. A feeling of pleasure and accomplishment is sensed from controlling bladder and bowel movements and excreting feces.
  3.   Phallic stage. The focus of the libido then shifts to the genitals, and pleasure is sought through the clitoris or penis.
  4.   Latent stage. The sexual urge becomes relatively suppressed and inactive, primarily due to the development of the superego.
  5.   Genital stage. Beginning at puberty and developing onwards, pleasure is sought through sexual intercourse.

 

Dreams

Dreams have intrigued cultures since time immemorial. Throughout history, people have attempted to interpret, analyze, and derive meaning from them. Psychoanalysis also acknowledges the significance of dreams in that they provide valuable insights into the human psyche.

In one of his early works, The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), Freud theorized that dreams offer people a gateway into their most profound and innermost desires, allowing them to break free from the boundaries of their conscious self and its reality. By delving into the subconscious ‘reality’ of dreams, an individual has the opportunity to deal with the repressed thoughts and emotions that they inevitably experience throughout the day.

Freud drew a line between the dream in itself, or the manifest content, and the real meaning behind it, or the latent content. Dreams, Freud believed, are unconscious experiences in which latent content is cyphered and transformed into manifest content. From that, the interpretation of dreams is the reverse process, where a dream’s literal events are decrypted in order to derive meaning from them.

For Freud, they were representations of the unconscious mind. For Jung, it was the psyche trying to communicate meaningful things to a person. The importance of dreams is well recognized by psychoanalysis, which marks a shift from earlier views that dismissed dreams as largely insignificant.

 

Freud and Modern-Day Psychology

Freud’s contributions to the field of psychology are undeniable and universally acknowledged. He established many essential concepts and paved the way for more groundbreaking research on human psychology. Freud completely changed how a psychologist’s role is viewed, thanks to a revolutionary approach to therapy and mental illness treatment. Many of Freud’s theories and techniques are still well-established today.

 

Criticism

Ever since Freud’s ideas became a standard in psychology, there has been an incessant debate over the validity of many of his theories and therapeutic practices.

His renowned disciple, Carl Jung, was among the earliest to voice an elaborate criticism of Freud’s theories. Despite the recurrent similarities, their views differ greatly in the most central concepts, notably dreams, sexuality, and the unconscious mind. Jung mainly criticized Freud’s neglect of the universal and collective aspect of dreams as well as his approach to dream interpretation. Jung did not approve of Freud’s view on dreams as an expression of repressed trauma. Instead, Jung emphasized that dreams are much more meaningful and are often a force of creativity and insight into one’s existence. He strongly disagreed with Freud’s idea that humans are strictly driven by their repressed sexuality, asserting that sexual desires are but a single component of a human’s complex behavior.

Freud’s psychosexual stages were increasingly abandoned over time in favor of more ‘comprehensive’ views. Many psychologists also highlight the lack of empirical evidence on Freud’s claims. Freud is often thought to have relied heavily on case studies, pre-conceived models, and notions that were not well grounded. As a result, his conclusions were questioned by many.

Just as many Freudian concepts made their way into Western culture and have become widely used in our everyday language, others have been almost completely abandoned. Among these are Freud’s views on homosexuality, women’s penis envy, men’s Oedipus complex, and others.

 

Final Thoughts

The significance of Freud’s psychoanalytical theory is important to the field of psychoanalysis. Freud successfully laid the foundations for one of the most significant specialties in psychology. His theories continue to be the subject of research and debate. Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis shaped much of the current views on some of our core psychological concepts. In a time when these concepts were uncharted territories, Freud threw light on them and brought them to the forefront of psychology.

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