I. Overview of Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory
Freud’s psychoanalysis is the best known of all personality theories because it (1) postulated the primacy of sex and aggression—two universally popular themes; (2) attracted a group of followers who were dedicated to spreading psychoanalytic doctrine; and (3) advanced the notion of unconscious motives, which permit varying explanations for the same observations.
II. Biography of Sigmund Freud
Although he was born in the Czech Republic in 1856 and died in London in 1939, Sigmund Freud spent nearly 80 years of his life in Vienna. A physician who never intended to practice general medicine, Freud was intensely curious about human nature, and in his practice of psychiatry he was perhaps more interested in learning about the unconscious motives of his patients than in curing neuroses. Early in his professional career, Freud believed that hysteria was a result of being seduced during childhood by a sexually mature person, often a parent or other relative. However, in 1897, he abandoned his seduction theory and replaced it with his notion of the Oedipus complex. Some recent scholars have contended that Freud’s decision to abandon the seduction theory in favor of the Oedipus complex was a major error and influenced a generation of psychotherapists to interpret patients’ reports of early sexual abuse as merely childhood fantasies.
III. Levels of Mental Life
Freud saw mental functioning as operating on three levels: the unconscious, the preconscious, and the conscious.
The unconscious consists of drives and instincts that are beyond awareness but that motivate many of our behaviors. Unconscious drives can become conscious only in disguised or distorted form, such as dream images, slips of the tongue, or neurotic symptoms. Unconscious processes originate from two sources: (1) repression, or the blocking out of anxiety-filled experiences and (2) phylogenetic endowment, or inherited experiences that lie beyond an individual’s personal experience.
The preconscious contains images that are not in awareness but that can become conscious either quite easily or with some level of difficulty.
Consciousness is the only level of mental life directly available to us, but it plays a relatively minor role in Freudian theory. Conscious ideas stem from either the perception of external stimuli (perceptual conscious system) or from unconscious and preconscious images after they have evaded censorship.
IV. Provinces of the Mind
Freud conceptualized three regions of the mind: the id, the ego, and the superego.
A. The Id
The id, which is completely unconscious, serves the pleasure principle and seeks constant and immediate satisfaction of instinctual needs. As the region of the mind that contains the basic instincts, the id operates through the primary process.
B. The Ego
The ego, or secondary process, is governed by the reality principle; that is, it is responsible for reconciling the unrealistic demands of both the id and the superego with the demands of the real world.
C. The Superego
The superego, which serves the idealistic principle, has two subsystems: the conscience and the ego-ideal. The conscience results from punishment for improper behavior whereas the ego-ideal stems from rewards for socially acceptable behavior.
V. Dynamics of Personality
The term dynamics of personality refers to those forces that motivate people. The concept includes both instincts and anxiety.
Freud grouped all human drives or urges under two primary instincts: sex (Eros or the life instinct) and aggression (the destructive or death instinct).
1. The Sexual Instinct
The aim of the sexual instinct is pleasure, which can be gained through the erogenous zones, especially the mouth, anus, and genitals. The object of the sexual instinct is any person or thing that brings sexual pleasure. Both the aim and the object are flexible, so that many sexually motivated behaviors may seem to be unrelated to sex. For example, narcissism, love, sadism, and masochism all possess large components of the sexual drive even though they may appear to be nonsexual. All infants possess primary narcissism, or self-centeredness, but the secondary narcissism of adolescence and adulthood is not universal. Sadism, which is the reception of sexual pleasure from inflicting pain on another, and masochism, which is the reception of sexual pleasure from painful experiences, satisfy both sexual and aggressive drives.
2. The Destructive Instinct
The destructive instinct aims to return a person to an inorganic state, but it is ordinarily directed against other people and is called aggression.
Only the ego feels anxiety, but the id, superego, and outside world can each be a source of anxiety. Neurotic anxiety is apprehension about an unknown danger and stems from the ego’s relation with the id; moral anxiety is similar to guilt and results from the ego’s relation with the superego; and realistic anxiety, which is similar to fear, is produced by the ego’s relation with the real world.
VI. Defense Mechanisms
Defense mechanisms operate unconsciously to protect the ego against the
Repression involves forcing unwanted, anxiety-loaded experiences into the unconscious. It is the most basic of all defense mechanisms because it is an active process in each of the others. Many repressed experiences remain unconscious for a lifetime, but others become conscious in a disguised form.
B. Undoing and Isolation
Undoing is the ego’s attempt to do away with unpleasant experiences and their consequences, usually by means of ceremonial repetitious actions. Isolation is marked by obsessive thoughts. It is the ego’s attempt to isolate an experience by surrounding it with a blacked-out region of insensibility.
C. Reaction Formation
A reaction formation is marked by the repression of one impulse and the ostentatious expression of its exact opposite.
Displacement is the redirecting of unacceptable urges and feelings onto people and objects in order to disguise or conceal their true nature.
Fixations develop when psychic energy is blocked at one stage of development, making psychological change difficult.
Regressions take place when a person reverts to earlier, more infantile
Projection is seeing in others those unacceptable feelings or behaviors that actually reside in one’s own unconscious. When carried to extremes, projection can become paranoia, which is characterized by delusions of persecution.
Introjection involves the incorporation of positive qualities of another person in order to reduce feelings of inadequacy.
Whereas other defense mechanisms are of dubious social value, sublimations contribute to the welfare of society. They involve elevating the aim of the sexual instinct to a higher level and are manifested in social and cultural accomplishments.
VII. Stages of Development
Freud saw psychosexual development as proceeding from birth to maturity through four overlapping stages: the infantile stage, the latency stage, the genital stage, and the psychologically mature stage.
A. Infantile Period
The infantile stage encompasses the first 4 to 5 years of life and is divided into three subphases.
1. Oral Phase
During the oral phase, an infant is primarily motivated to receive pleasure through the mouth. Weaning is the principal source of frustration during this stage.
2. Anal Phase
At about the second year of life, a child goes through an anal phase when toilet training is the chief frustration. If parents use punitive training methods, a child may develop the anal triad of orderliness, stinginess, and obstinacy, all of which mark the anal character.
3. Phallic Phase
Boys and girls begin to have differing psychosexual development during the phallic phase, which occurs around 3 or 4 years of age. For both genders, suppression of masturbation is the principle source of frustration. At this time, young children experience the Oedipus complex in which they have sexual feelings for one parent and hostile feelings for the other. The male castration complex, which takes the form of castration anxiety, or fear of losing the penis, breaks up the male Oedipus complex and results in a well-formed male superego. For girls, however, the castration complex, in the form of penis envy, precedes the female Oedipus complex, a situation that leads to only a gradual and incomplete shattering of the female Oedipus complex and a weaker, more flexible female superego.
B. Latency Period
Freud believed that psychosexual development goes through a latency stage—from about age 5 until puberty—in which the sexual instinct is partially suppressed.
C. Genital Period
The genital period begins with puberty, when adolescents experience a reawakening of the genital aim of Eros, and it continues throughout adulthood.
Freud hinted at a stage of psychological maturity in which the ego would be in control of the id and superego and in which consciousness would play a more important role in behavior.
VIII. Applications of Psychoanalytic Theory
Freud built his theory on observations from history, art, and literature, but his primary source of data came from his clinical experiences with neurotic patients whose dreams and slips of the tongue he analyzed as part of his psychotherapy. His psychoanalytic theory has been applied to psychotherapy, dream interpretation, and Freudian slips.
A. Freud’s Early Therapeutic Technique
During his early years as a therapist, Freud used a very aggressive technique whereby he strongly suggested to patients that they had been sexually seduced as children. He later abandoned this technique, along with his belief that most patients had been seduced during childhood. The current frequency with which therapy patients accuse their parents or other adults of criminal sexual acts has prompted some investigators to look at the validity of these claims.
B. Freud’s Later Therapeutic Technique
Beginning in the late 1890s, Freud adopted a much more passive type of psychotherapy, one that relied heavily on free association, dream interpretation, and transference. The goal of Freud’s later psychotherapy was to uncover repressed memories, and the therapist uses dream analysis and free association to do so. With free association, patients are required to say whatever comes to mind, no matter how irrelevant or distasteful. Successful therapy rests on the patient’s transference of childhood sexual or aggressive feelings onto the therapist and away from symptom formation. Patients’ resistance to change is seen as progress because it indicates that therapy has advanced beyond superficial conversation.
C. Dream Analysis
In interpreting dreams, Freud differentiated the manifest content (conscious description) from the latent content (the unconscious meaning of the dream that lies hidden from the dreamer). Nearly all dreams are wish-fulfillments, although the wish is usually unconscious and can be known only through dream interpretation. Dreams that are not wish-fulfillments follow the principle of repetition compulsion and often occur after people have had a traumatic experience. To interpret dreams, Freud used both dream symbols and the dreamer’s associations to the dream content.
D. Freudian Slips
Freud believed that parapraxes—that is, slips of the tongue or pen, misreadings, incorrect hearings, misplacing of objects, and temporary forgetting of names or intentions—are not chance accidents but reveal a person’s unconscious intentions.
IX. Related Research
Although Freudian theory has generated much related research, it rates low on falsifiability because most research findings can be explained by other theories. Throughout the years, however, many researchers have investigated hypotheses inspired by psychoanalytic theory.
A. Defense Mechanisms
George Valliant has added to the list of Freudian defense mechanisms and has found evidence that some of them are neurotic (reaction formation idealization, and undoing), some are immature and maladaptive (projection, isolation, denial, displacement, and dissociation), and some are mature and adaptive (sublimation, suppression, humor, and altruism). Valliant found that neurotic defense mechanisms are successful over the short term; immature defenses are unsuccessful and have the highest degree of distortion; whereas mature and adaptive defenses are successful over the long term, maximize gratification, and have the least amount of distortion
B. Oral Fixation
Some recent research has found that aggression is higher in people who bite their finger nails than it is in non-nail biters, especially in women. Other research found that people who are orally fixated tend to see their parents more negatively than do people who are less orally fixated.
X. Critique of Freud
Freud regarded himself as a scientist, but many present-day critics consider his methods to be outdated, unscientific, and permeated with sexual bias. On the six criteria of a useful theory, we rated psychoanalysis high on its ability to generate research, very low on its falsifiability, and average on organizing knowledge, guiding action, and being parsimonious. Because it lacks operational definitions, we rated psychoanalysis low on internal consistency.
XI. Concept of Humanity
Freud’s view of humanity was deterministic and pessimistic. He also emphasized causality over teleology, unconscious determinants over conscious processes, and biology over culture, but he took a middle position on the dimension of uniqueness versus similarities among people.