Essay, Research Paper
The Life & Works of
Sigmund Freud; Probably the most influential activist in the realm of the study of the mind, Psychology; An influence so great that his works, ideologies and theories alike have imposed themselves upon the minds of many in this, the twentieth century, regardless of our acceptance or futile resistance. He was responsible for the articulation of theories and concepts of which everyday individuals do not even know he is the originator of. Ideologies such as the Unconscious, the relevance Sexual and Aggressive Drives under which Infantile Sexuality falls, and the “tri-partite” mind frame, consisting of the Id, Ego and Super-Ego. Since then, there are multiple manifestations of psychoanalysis in a variety of fields which may be traced directly back to Freud’s Original work.
The Life of Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud was born on May 6th, 1856, in Freiberg, Austria (although it is disputed that he may have been born on March 6th instead). He was the first of eight children born to his mother. At age four, Freud and his family moved to Vienna, where he would live and work until he died. His impact and mark would remain there forever, as he was renown for founding the first Viennese school of psychoanalysis from which all aspects and development in this field then flowed. Freud’s interest and professional training and experience were very broad. Although he was not particularly interested in becoming a physician, Freud saw medicine as a vehicle for engaging in scientific research. After being enrolled at the University of Vienna for eight years (from 1873), Freud graduated and was then engaged in 1882 later to be married in 1886. Many of his theories were based on clinical material documented while he operated a private practice to treat psychological disorders.
Two individuals who played a significant role in his life were Jean Charcot and Josef Breuer. Charcot was a French neurologist who used hypnotism to treat psychologically ill patients. Freud attempted Charcot’s methods but were unsuccessful. Breuer was an older Viennese colleague whose methods for treating neuroses, though unique, caught the interest of Freud. Breuer discovered that when he encouraged patients to talk freely without restrictions that he was able to get to the source of the problem causing the symptoms. Freud worked with Breuer and developed the idea that the source of a patient’s problems was some hidden or unresolved conflict which occurred in their past life, and the “cure” was achieved by bringing that conflict to the client’s “consciousness” in a manner in which he/she might intellectually and emotionally confront it.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Freud, after a period of self-analysis, published works such as; “The Interpretation of Dreams” (1900), “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life” (1901), Three essays on the Theory of sexuality (1905) and “Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis” (1916). Freud’s theories on Sexuality received the most resistance and caused many of his partnerships with other philosophers to deteriorate. The final and yet not any less significant of his works was his model of the mind, consisting of the Id, Ego and Super-Ego. After a life of remarkable vigour and creative productivity, he died of cancer while exiled in England in 1939. It is interesting to note that although he carried out many self-analytic tests, that he was unable to resolve his addiction to cigarette smoking; the very habit that eventually killed him.
Although Freud was an original thinker, there were still influences which shaped the development of his thought. For instance, his relationship with Charcot and Breuer definitely impacted upon his thoughts but rather differently, Freud’s self-analysis was probably the greatest impact of all on his life. In this period, several repulsive and yet real facts about Freud character and past were revealed to him. These “truths” were related to his emotions towards members of his family in the aspects of sexuality and hatred and the results thereof. This was to become the basis of his theory of the Oedipus complex.
The Scientific climate in which Freud existed in also had great influence on his thought. For instance, Charles Darwin’s perception of man, was a life shaking event for people of that time, now making it possible to treat humans as objects of Scientific investigation. Freud with his enormous esteem for science, accepted this implicitly.
Another important aspect of Science that impacted on his thoughts was the principle of the conservation of energy – Helmholz stating that energy can neither be created or destroyed but only change in form. Freud then concluded that in parallel with this principle, humans consisted of psychic energy. Repression and Suppression are two examples of how Freud believed that this Psychic energy may be represented.
Freud’s works and ideas are vast, but among these there are some which the basis of many of his theories are grounded.
A). The Theory of the Unconscious
This is based on Freud’s idea that all human actions are a manifestation or a representation of some hidden desire or impulse. Events become conscious when “unconscious” matter arises into a level of awareness for an individual and then may sink into a state of unconsciousness again. This theory follows that whenever we make a decision, we are governed by a hidden mental process of which we are unaware and have no control. The question arises therefore, do people truly have free will? Freud deeply associated the unconscious with instincts and drives, categorizing those drives into Eros (the life instinct) and Thanatos (the death instinct). Sexuality (any pleasure which can be derived out of the body) is derived out of Eros while Thanatos is the opposite, the urge to destroy any source of sexuality.
B). Infantile Sexuality
Freud determined that through satisfaction, or lack thereof, of sexual satisfaction through childhood stages, the individual would develop into a correspondingly appropriate adult. These stages are; “The Oral Stage” – satisfaction from sucking, “The Anal Stage” – satisfaction from releasing excrete or urine, “The Phallic Stage”- interest in genital region (Oedipus Complex may also develop here – hatred of a parent of the same sex), “Latency” – less pronounced sexual motivation and “The Genital stage”- genital region becomes focus of stimulation and satisfaction. Freud believed that (in)appropriate treatment is responsible for forming the resulting image of the individual’s character and personality.
C). The Structure of the Mind
Freud distinguished three structural elements which framed the mind. They are the Id, Ego and Super-Ego. The Id represents the instinctual sexual drives which acquire satisfaction. The Super-Ego represents the conscience which restricts us from satisfying the desires of the Id. The Super-Ego however is shaped by social influence, such as parents. The Ego is the “conscious” self-created as a balance between the ever struggling fight between the Id and Super-Ego for dominance. The Id and Super-Ego reside in the unconscious. Failure of the Id and Super-Ego to resolve conflict may later form neurosis resulting in the activation of “defense mechanisms” such as repression, sublimation, fixation and regression.
D). Psychoanalysis as a Therapy
The main purpose of this treatment was to bring harmony within the frame or structure of the human mind by resolving “unconscious repressed & unresolved conflicts”. Freud allowed clients to lay on a sofa and encouraged them to express themselves freely (through “free association”), hence to some degree disarming the Super-Ego. By analyzing slips of the tongue dreams and other means of expression Freud believed that one can discern the underlying/unconscious forces lying behind the expression. The next step was to bring the client to a point of self-understanding and assist them in dealing with their past and find a way curing themselves of some neuroses by suppressing it.
Of this, I would now like to make special points in conclusion to all the materials which I have researched. Firstly, can these theories be proven to be strongly coherent? This issue has been one of great controversy but the truth is, there is no direct significant or proving link of any of Freud theories other than the “variable” behaviour patterns of individuals of which any other theories may be attributed. For instance, in science where a cause ‘Y’ is unobservable (radio waves) there are still clear corresponding rules connecting the unobservable cause to an observable phenomenon. However, this is not the case with Freud’s theories, and in truth the theories are exactly what I earlier declared them as, Ideologies, having absolutely no factual evidence to support them.
More importantly however, is the impact of his ideologies on the world today. As Psychoanalytic therapy is in use today, the use of free association and revealing repressed conflicts for intellectual assistance and management seems to be further detrimental to certain relationships in the United States instead of positively influential. Many people have recovered memories of sexual abuse by parents and others which were actually untrue and were some form of a fantasy. Children and adults alike have sued their parents and the parents in turn sued their children and the conflicts continue to develop. Even when patients are “cured successfully”, statistics prove that these methods of therapy do not outperform other methods. So then is it really that efficient? Doesn’t it seem fair also to say that their cure is non-existent and that they can only direct that Psychic energy to a different form? Why also is not possible for that form of energy to be reverted to it’s previous state? It then appears that even if this form of therapy was plausible, it really cannot be proven to be steadfast or efficient. Regardless however, one cannot deny Freud’s innovative and creative perceptions and thoughts and should in fact seek to see how we can abstract good and gain a greater understanding of behaviour; not only of others but most importantly, ourselves.
Dr. Shurland Kellman, Class Lectures & notes, Barbados Community College, 1999.
B. R. Hergenhahn, An Introduction to Theories of Personality, Prentice Hall Inc.,1994
Whyte, L.L. The Unconscious Before Freud. Basic Books, 1960.
Dr. Stephen P. Thornton, Sigmund Freud, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,1999.