Sigmund Freud

A Historical Perspective
Sigismund Scholomo Freud was born in 1856 to a middle-class Jewish family in Moravia. His father had two adult children from his first marriage, making Freud an uncle at his birth. Freud was the oldest of eight children born to his parents, Jacob and Amalia Freud. Most of Freud’s life was spent in Vienna, where he earned a seat in the Gymnasium at age nine, and year after year was at the top of his class. In 1873, at the age of seventeen, Freud enrolled at the University to study biology and physiology. Although he was content conducting research –specifically, he worked in comparative anatomy on a project involving the physiology of eels – he could not support himself and decided to study medicine.
In 1882, Freud became engaged to Martha Bernays. He continued his study, focusing more heavily on neuroanatomy and neuropathology and was eventually appointed as a university lecturer. Freud developed interest in hysteria, and in 1885 spent several months studying with Charcot at Salpetriere (a hospital for nervous diseases) in Paris. This experience provided Sigmund Freud, whose training in biology was the basis for his treatments, an opportunity to consider the psychological sources of hysteria. When Freud returned to Vienna in 1882, he married his fiancée and opened a private practice. He soon became a leading expert on cerebral palsy in children. However, he continued to work with cases of nervous disorders and developed a theory, called psychoanalysis, based on the premise that hysteria resulted from psychological trauma. From 1895 until the end of his life, Freud’s career was devoted to developing psychoanalytic theory.
The political climate of the times slowed Freud’s progress. Anti-semitism permeated academia and Freud’s professorship was repeatedly denied. He found little support for his theories until 1906 when Swiss psychiatrists adopted his views. Bleuler, Jung and Adler, along with others, began incorporating psychoanalysis into their treatment and psychoanalytic theory spread. In 1909, Freud was invited to the United States to speak, and the unconscious and dream analysis became the center of household discussions.
The latter half of Freud’s life was filled with professional successes and personal tragedies. The First World War interrupted the spread of psychoanalysis briefly, however by his seventies Freud had completed 23 volumes of discussion on psychoanalytic theory. In 1920, Freud’s daughter and favorite grandchild died leaving a large hole in his life. Regarding the tragedy he stated, “Everything has lost its meaning for me.” Other significant losses during Freud’s life included the death of his brother, Julius, during childhood, as well as that of his father when Freud was age 40. These tragedies were compounded by the physical ailments Freud suffered. Still in his 30’s, Freud suffered multiple painful heart attacks. Further, for many years before his death, Freud battled a painful cancer of the mouth and jaw, thought to stem from his smoking habits. These events led Freud to become fascinated with death, and became intrinsically tied to his concept of psychic energy and destructive instincts.
Freud, by the time he reached his 80th birthday, was well known throughout the world. Although his original followers, Adler and Jung, had broken off and developed theories of their own, psychoanalysis had accumulated a great number of prominent followers. This fame is likely the reason that the Freud family successfully escaped Hitler’s invasion of Austria in 1938. However, his publications were seized and destroyed. The family found refuge in England, and on September 23, 1939 Sigmund Freud died.

For additional (optional) information on the historical significance of Sigmund Freud, see the attached documentary:
Documentary Part I
Documentary Part II
Documentary Part III

Views of Human Nature
Sigmund Freud’s theory of human development is deeply rooted in biology. He views humans as an organism with an innate desire to achieve pleasure. Known as the pleasure principle, this conception of human motivation asserts that humans are driven to release energy immediately in order to reduce tension and experience pleasure. Pleasure seeking does not always align with proper social conduct, and so the human will instead discharge energy in small amounts directly or indirectly toward the reduction of tension. The reality principle contends that, with time, the human instead scans reality, considers consequences of behavior, and then directs energy with the goal of producing pleasure.

‍‍Freud described the forces that are innate within human beings at length. The Eros is described as the instinct toward self-preservation, sex, love, unity, and life. The Destructive Instinct pulls a person toward aggression, hatred, undoing connections, and ultimately death

The Id.freud1.jpg
The id is the seat of innate desires and is the main source of psychic energy (Miller, 2002).” It drives humans to seek pleasure and reduce tension. The id is impulsive and selfish.
“dark, inaccessible part of our personality. A chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations.” Sigmund Freud

The Ego.
The ego is a mediator that appears between the human and the external world. In determining what action to take, the ego must evaluate the situation using information about previous decisions/consequences and make predictions based on the past and present about the future. Decisions evoke anxiety, which helps physically signal which options may be threatening.
“experimental action carried out with small amounts of energy, in the same way as a general shifts small figures about on a map before setting his large bodies of troops in motion.” Sigmund Freud

The Superego.
The superego consists of the ego ideal and the conscience. One force elicits behavior, while the other exerts vetoing power. The ego ideal provides a standard and frame of reference for positive behaviors. The child is rewarded for engaging in these behaviors with pride and self-esteem. The conscience, however, warns the child that she should not engage in certain thoughts or behaviors through feelings of anxiety and guilt.

The Psychosexual Stages of Development
Oral Stage
(Birth – 1 Year)
The oral stage focuses on the mouth, lips, and tongue as an erogenous zone. For the first year of life, the world is experienced, needs are met, tensions arise, and pleasure is gained through the mouth. Additionally, relationships are forged through the mouth. The infant’s attachment with the mother is the most important event that occurs during this stage of life. For Freud, a child’s bond with her mother is the first and strongest love relationship, and provides a prototype for all subsequent relationships. It is, therefore, important that the mother is appropriately empathic while meeting the needs of the child, while avoiding overindulgence. Healthy attachment allows the child to development a secure sense of self, and as the oral stage concludes the child has begun to develop personality that will carry through into adulthood.

Anal Stage
(1 Year – 3 Years)
Thpotty-train.jpge anal stage focuses on the child’s interaction with the outside world. One milestone children meet at this time in life is potty training. The need to defecate causes tension, while the release provides pleasure. Potty training restricts the immediate gratificationthe child experienced when their release was not confined to specific, socially appropriate places. Generally, this learning process is the child’s first interaction with authority. Parents’ reactions influence the way the child exerts control over impulses.

Phallic Stage
(3 Years – 5 Years)
In the phallic stage, both frustration and pleasure stem from the genitals. Sexual energy is directed toward the parent of the opposite sex. The process of competing with a same-sex parent for the attention of the opposite-sex parent results in the child establishing a stronger identity.

The Oedipus Complex
According to Freud, a male child experiences sexual desire for his mother. The boy resents his father for the role he plays in the mother’s life. At the same time, he fears his father will recognize his desire and castrate him. Castration anxiety, as Freud terms this emotional state, causes the boy to repress the feelings of hostility and desire. Resolution of this complex leads to identification with the same-sex parent. The boy internalizes his father’s characteristics and develops his self-concept. It is then that the superego develops.

The Electra Complex
Freud posits that a similar process occurs for girls. A female child experiences penis envy when she realizes that she lacks this object and desires her father sexually. In addition to hostility that arises from the competition with her mother, the child resents her mother for depriving her of this valuable possession and feels that she has been castrated. This sense of loss evokes anxiety. However, Freud believes that because castration is not a realistic fear, girls experience less anxiety. Lower levels of anxiety lead to a less developed sense of self and weaker conscience in girls than in boys.

Period of Latency
(5 Years – Beginning of Puberty)children_playing.jpg
During latency, children repress the sexual urges of their childhood. Energy is directed toward developing friendships and improving civilization. The social nature of this stage allows for continued development of the ego and superego. Freud describes this as a time when sexual instinct is humanized.

Genital Stage
Puberty forces the child to move into a realm of adult sexuality in the genital stage. Relationships established are more mature and love is more teenagelovealtruistic than indulgent. People choose partners based on previous relationship patterns established with love objects in previous stages. Further, the individual channels sexual energy into the act of production. Those things produced might be a child, theory, or career. One significant goal during this stage is finding a balance in life between work and love.

What Develops According to Psychoanalytic Theory?
According to Freud, development consists of the id, ego, and superego being expressed by an individual in response to biological changes. However, as Freud’s beginnings in psychopathology might suggest, he is also interested in the development of personality and emotional expression. A person essentially is a collection of conscious, preconscious, and unconscious motives, interacting with the world based on the interplay between the id, ego, and superego, which has developed from their relationships with their love-objects.

Development as Qualitative
Change, according to Freud, is qualitative. Physical maturation occurs in phases, and humans acquire abilities based on their developmental state. The stage-like change within the human body cause fundamental changes in how the child experiences the world.

Nature v Nurture Debate According to Freud
Like most modern psychologists, Freud seems to acknowledge the influence of both nature and environment. On one hand, he claims that the stages of psychosexual development occur in response to physical maturation and is, therefore, strictly biological. However, navigation of those stages is largely dependent upon environment and experience. A person will move through the stages whether or not they have found optimal levels of frustration. However, unresolved tension or excessive pleasure in a specific stage may result in fixation. The relationship of the person to their environment is, therefore, integral to the actual development of personality. It was in response to adult personality that began Freud’s investigation of childhood development.

Connecting Early and Late Development
The goal of each stage of psychosexual development is to find balance in the amount of anxiety experienced. A person who experiences too little gratification in one stage may become fixated and resist movement to the next stage. As the stages are determined by biology, movement is not optional. However, fixation may play a role in later life. Similarly, if one does not receive appropriately empathic treatment or conditions evoke excessive anxiety in a specific stage, the individual might experience unresolved conflict at a later point.

If a person experiences too little or excessive anxiety in a particular stage in childhood, the individual will be likely to employ a defense mechanism in response to anxiety in adulthood. Let us briefly review the defense mechanisms identified by Freud:

  • Repression: Denying or forgetting that which is likely to evoke excessive anxiety. The threat is buried from conscious awareness. Individuals who rely of this type of defense mechanism may develop a “withdrawn, inaccessible, nonspontaneous, and rigid (p. 115)” personality.
  • Reaction Formation: Acting in a manner that is opposite of the way one feels – often with an exaggerated emotive display.
  • Projection: “The attribution of anxiety-arousing thoughts to people and objects in the external world, rather than to the self (p. 115).”
  • Fixation: An aspect of personality development becomes halted. This can occur because there is excessive pleasure in one stage, or the next is too threatening. Fixation at one point increases risk of regression.
  • Regression: Reverting to an earlier stage of development.

Freud identified adult personality traits commonly associated with fixation and regression. An individual, whose mother lacks empathy during breastfeeding or overindulges the iperson_smoking.jpgnfant, might fixate and regress in the face of anxiety. Oral fixation can produce Oral Receptive or Oral Aggressive personality.

Oral Receptive – reduce tension orally. Habits of these individuals include binge-eating, biting nails, drinking, smoking. They tend to be passive, needy, sensitive to rejection, and gullible.
Oral Aggressiveuse harsh, hostile language in the face of anxiety. Considered verbally abusive.

If a child faces harsh attitudes toward potty training, the act of control is overemphasized, or the process is begun prematurely, he or she may fixate in response to anxiety. Similar fixation may result from overly indulgent parenting that lack appropriate boundaries regarding potty training.

Anal Retentive – stingy, extreme concern over order and tidiness. Individuals tend to be stubborn and perfectionists.
Anal Expulsive – messy, careless, lack self-control.

Freud contended that unresolved conflict in the phallic stage had a significant impact on relationship patterns. Interaction with same- and opposite-sexed individuals in adulthood can be affected, depending on the nature of this unresolved conflict. For example, a woman with unresolved conflict during this stage may maintain desire toward her father and seek “father-figures” as romantic partners. Further, because Freud identifies the end of the phallic stage as the point where personality becomes fixed, he believes that neuroses can be traced back to unresolved conflict in this stage.


Freud investigated child development based on adult models. The theory was based on exploration of childhood experiences of his adult patients. These individuals represented, in some ways, abnormal development, as they were being seen for psychopathology. Freud believed that the “study of abnormal heightens our understanding of the normal (p. 122).”

“Pathology, by making things larger and coarser, can draw our attention to normal conditions which would otherwise have escaped us. Where it points to a breach or a rent, there may normally be an articulation present. If we throw a crystal to the floor, it breaks; but not into haphazard pieces. It comes apart along its lines of cleavage into fragments whose boundaries, though they were invisible, were predetermined by the crystal’s structure. Mental patients are split and broken structures of this same kind. They have turned away from external reality, but for that very reason they know more about internal, psychical reality and can reveal a number of things to us that would otherwise be inaccessible to us.” Sigmund Freud

Specific methodology Freud used was as follows:
  • Free Association – Patients lie on a couch with the psychoanalyst out of sight, verbalizing every thought that comes to mind. The goal is to release the unconscious thought from control of the ego.
  • Dream Analysis – Interpreting a person’s dreams in order to uncover the fears, motivations, and desires that lie within. In some instances the dream would provide a literal representation of these thought, and in others unconscious thoughts would be masked due to their threatening nature.
  • Transference – Exploring individuals’ relationship prototype based on the relationship dynamics that exist between patient and analyst.

Psychoanalysis and Diversity:
A Critique
Freud has been hailed as one of the most influential scientists of the modern era, and also heavily criticized for lack of sensitivity to diversity issues. Two topics particularly affected by the influence of psychoanalytic thought are gender and sexual orientation.

Gender Issues
Feminism stresses the importance of equality between and among sexes, and differentiates between sex and gender. Freud’s assertion that women are of weaker character than men because of reduced anxiety during the Oedipal complex threatens both of these social constructionist views. More than one feminist camp responds to Freud, although this controversial aspect of his developmental theory is never accepted as a literal model for feminists. One camp responds that feminism is threatened by the assumptions of psychoanalytic theory, and the influence has had a profound, negative impact on social equality. The consensus from this camp is that psychoanalytic philosophy should be avoided.

The second feminist camp suggests that “penis envy” is really “a symbolic expression of women’s culturally devalued and underprivileged position in our patriarchal society; that possession of a penis symbolizes the possession of power and privilege (p. 193).” According to this stance, the developmental process proposed by Freud is not flawed, but instead it is the interpretation that is flawed.

To explore whether psychoanalytic theory accounts for and predicts women’s behavior as well as men’s, Masling, Bornstein, Fishman &Davila (2002) conducted a meta-analysis of psychoanalytic research conducted from 1950 onward published in a 10 volume series. The studies were limited by a number of factors (see document), but specifically required that the research differentiated between male and female participants. They concluded that, in studies that included both genders, psychoanalytic theory predicted male behavior more effectively than women’s behavior. This occurred even when controlling for author gender, date of publication, and outcome measure (projective test, objective test, observational method, interview). However, psychoanalytic theory predicted outcome for men and women equally when measuring only one gender at a time (all male or all female studies). The authors speculated that studies exploring gender differences may investigate different kinds of questions compared to single sex studies. They also consider the influence of expectancy effects in mixed-, but not single-sex studies.

Sexual Orientation Issues
Although Freud’s discussion of homosexuality exceeded the scope of this review of psychosexual stages of development, critics generally focus on the phallic stage as taking a heterosexually biased view . The assumption that seems inherent in the argument is that “normal” development is based on heterosexual relationships. Further, it assumes that in every case it is the same-sex parent with whom the child should identify.

Individuals who hold psychoanalytic perspectives respond to these criticisms in a number of ways. Some contend that Freud’s theory holds true in society today, others suggest that perhaps changes in social structure force the theory to be revisited. Despite the criticism, however, Sigmund Freud actively advocated for equality during his lifetime.

Freud on Diversity
Sigmund Freud sought women to be trained in psychoanalysis. He taught, collaborated with and referenced women analysts regularly. Further, fought for the rights of women to be included in scientific societies. Similarly, Freud endorsed gay rights in an era of prudish and sexually repressed views. Find below and example:

"Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too....” Sigmund Freud in a letter to an American mother seeking “treatment” for her son.

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