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Discuss Some Of The Main Ideas Put

Forward By Freud Essay, Research Paper

Sigmund Freud considered himself a scientist whose intention was to find a physiological and materialist basis for his theories of the psyche. Freud revolutionised the way in which we think about ourselves. From its beginnings as a theory of neurosis, Freud founded and developed psychoanalysis into a general psychology, which became widely accepted as the predominant mode of discussing personality, behaviour and interpersonal relationships.

Freud, who had been studying neuropathology, left Vienna in 1885 to continue his studies in Paris under the guidance of Jean Martin Charcot. This proved to be the turning point in his career, for Charcot s work with patients classified as hysterics introduced Freud to the possibility that psychological disorders might have their source in the mind rather than the brain. Charcot s hypnotic experiments demonstrated the link between hysterical symptoms such as paralysis of a limb and hypnotic suggestions to cure the paralysis. Although Freud later abandoned his faith in hypnosis, hypnotic experiments taught Freud that mental processes that took place unconsciously could have a powerful effect on behaviour.

It was Freud who drew our attention to the unconscious mind. If we liken the mind to an iceberg, the nine tenths below the surface is the unconscious in which there are many mental processes going on that we have little control of. Our conscious mind is above the surface; it is what we are fully aware of and contains our perception, thought and memory. Freud also spoke of the preconscious which might include material put out of our conscious mind but which may be retrievable.

Freudian psychoanalytical theory states that there are three agencies of the human personality. Below the surface is our id , these are our social and biological instincts such as hunger, thirst and self-preservation. The id seeks outlet in the pleasure principal with no regard to reality. It is our awareness of the outside world, our memory, perception and learning. The Ego develops to harmonise the impulses of the id with the demands of reality. It is our awareness of the outside world, our memory, perception and learning. The super ego develops later in varying degrees. It is like a conscience and brings in values and morals from parents and society and enables us to feel guilt.

Freud grouped together ego and sexual instincts calling them EROS or the life drives. In opposition to Eros he proposed the death instinct (sometimes called Thanatos). By the death instinct, Freud meant an urge to self-destruction and ultimately a universal impulse to return to an earlier state. The death instinct may express itself in potentially self-destructive behaviour such as taking increasing risks, drug or alcohol addiction and attempts at suicide. The death instinct might also be directed outwards in the form of aggression against others.

Freud believed that every child is born with a variety of drives and instincts that require nourishment or stimulation. When there is conflict or deprivation of needs, anxiety and insecurity develop. Defensive manoeuvres are adopted to handle the stress, ultimately leading to maladaptive behaviour. These defences operate at an unconscious level and continue into adulthood. So according to Freud the main causes of behaviour disorders are childhood anxieties and the defences erected against them.

Freud came to the conclusion based on his clinical experience with female hysterics, that the most instant source of resisted material was sexual in nature. His patients seemed to recall actual experiences of early seductions, often incestuous in nature. Freud s initial impulse was to accept these as having happened but later concluded that rather than being memories of actual events, these recollections were the remains of infantile impulses and desires to be seduced by an adult, and it was this that was at the root of later conflict.

Most human beings can recall very little of their earliest childhood. Freud attributed infantile amnesia to repression. When experiences are painful they are buried in the unconscious. Research shows that this is improbable, as growth of memory is a gradual process and that before language is fairly well developed, memories are not well retained.

One of Freud s first findings as a therapist was that the real motivation for an act may be disguised and may not even be apparent to the person who performs it. This is illustrated by the case of Bertha Pappenheim, the patient of his colleague Breuer where Bertha is referred to as Anna O .

When suffering badly from thirst, Anna O found it impossible to drink. One day during hypnosis she described how her lady companion whom she did not care for allowed her dog to drink out of a glass which disgusted her. When she awoke from hypnosis, the patient was able to drink water from a glass without difficulty. So her phobia about drinking seemed to operate at an unconscious level. The release of feeling, which came when she expressed the original episode during therapy, was used as a method called catharsis – the purging effects of pent up emotions and repressed thoughts by bringing them to the surface of consciousness.

Freud went on to develop a technique known as free association. Patients were encouraged to talk freely about whatever came to mind and to avoid structuring their thought or to check or filter what they said aloud. This technique has had a lasting influence, not only upon psychoanalysis, but also upon most subsequent forms of psychotherapy. Psychoanalysts believe that free association can often open up avenues to the unconscious problems of a patient. Today free association is used in psychoanalytic therapy with other techniques such as dream interpretation.

Sigmund Freud had a lot to say about dreams. He drew attention to their symbolic nature by distinguishing what the dreamer sees from the meaning and maintaining that dreams are expressions of unconscious wish fulfilment dating from early childhood and therefore must be concerned with infantile sexuality. He regarded dreams as neurotic symptoms. Freud identified the mechanisms that prevent the unconscious wishes from becoming conscious. Condensation is the expression of a large number of ideas into a small number of images. Dramatisation in which ideas are expressed as visual images. Displacement of emotion from one image to another and secondary elaboration; changes which take place between the initial recall of a dream and its later recall in therapy. Freud claimed that these changes are not simply lapses in memory.

Freud s theory of dreams, although still influential, has not stood the test of time and even he had to admit that certain types of dream did not fit his theory. Freud also later rejected his seduction theory but still believed that neurosis was connected with disturbances of the sexual function and originated during early childhood. So Freud began studying the sexual and emotional development of children.

Freud based his stages of infantile sexual development in terms of parts of the body. During the first year of life, the child s capacity for physical gratification is centred upon the mouth; this is the oral stage. Freud assumed that fixation at this stage, as a result of deprivation or overgratification may result in an adult who is overly concerned with oral gratification. This may take the form of sucking or chewing sweets, over eating, smoking, drinking or even excessive talking. Next comes the anal stage where pleasure comes through retention and elimination of faeces. Anal character traits may produce a preoccupation with orderliness or cleanliness. Severe methods of toilet training may make a rebellious child hold onto his faeces for as long as possible and miserliness may result in adulthood.

In the phallic stage, the child of four or five turns his attention to the genitals and contact with children of the opposite sex may arouse curiosity. The young child is likely to enjoy masturbation. The small boy may become sexually interested in his Mother. He may become possessive of her, which arouses feelings of rivalry towards his Father. Freud called this conflict the Oedipus complex and can help to determine the sexual and emotional patterns of later life.

The female version of the Oedipus complex is known as the Electra complex. Freud concluded that although a little girl is emotionally involved with her Mother, the discovery that she lacks a penis and is therefore inferior, leads her to become disillusioned with her Mother who she blames for her condition and turns her attentions towards her Father as a love object. Freud believed the Oedipus complex to be universal and to be succeeded by a latency period lasting until puberty where the focus is on genital stimulation. Research does not support Freud s view of the latency period and states that in many cultures sex play is common and increases throughout the years of middle childhood.

Freud spent many of his later years working as a therapist. A notable consequence of this was his discovery of transference. Transference was originally defined as the process by which a patient attributes to his analyst attitudes and ideas that derive from previous figures in his life. The term has now been extended to include the patient s total emotional attitude towards the analyst. When Freud found that he became emotionally important to his patients, he strove to convert this repetition of emotion into recollection, hence reducing the intensity of the patient s present emotions by affirming that they really belonged to the past.

In 1904 Freud published The Psychopathology of Everyday Life in which he explored such seemingly insignificant errors as slips of the tongue or pen (later called Freudian Slips!). These errors Freud understood to have interpretable importance. This concept is still familiar to most of us today.

Psychoanalysis is a term that Freud coined in 1896. As a therapist he used mental rather than physical means to achieve behavioural or attitudinal change. One of Freud s greatest achievements was his capacity to stimulate the creativity of others and his ideas have been developed by his many followers. Where Freud was perhaps wrong was in making psychosexual development so central that all other forms of social and emotional development were conceived as being derived from it.

However, despite repeated criticism and attempted refutations of Freud s work, his ideas remained powerful well after his death and the general way in which psychoanalysis and other forms of psychotherapy are conducted is still based on Freud s procedure, and remains one of his most enduring legacies.


Storr A 1996 Freud Oxford University Press

Stevens R 1994 Freud and Psychoanalysis Open University Press