Sigmund Freud His Life And His Work

Sigmund Freud: His Life And His Work Essay, Research Paper

Sigmund Freud was born on May 6th 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia, which is now in Czech Republic. He is the eldest of eight children born to Jacob and Amalie Freud. Because of the anti-semetic riots who were ragging in Freiberg , Freud?s father, who was a wool merchant, lost his business and the whole family had to move to Leipzig (1859) and shortly after to Vienna where Freud spend most of his life. When he lived in Vienna, Freud had, once more, to come accross anti-semetism : jewish people had been persecuted in Europe for hundreds of years and they would often be attacked on the streets or called names.

Freud was a very intelligent and hard working student, but when he left school, he was not sure of what he wanted to do. At first, he decided to become a lawyer. Then, he decided to study medicine and to become a doctor, for this reason, he enrolled in the medical school of the University of Vienna (1873) and he often came top of the class. To the eyes of Freud, working hard and wanting to find out about things were the two most important qualities in life. In his 3rd year at the University, he started a reasearch work on the central nervous system in a phisiological laboratory under the direction of Ernst Wilhelm von Brucke. During this period of reasearch, Freud neglected his courses and as a result, he remained in medical school 3 years longer than it was normally required to qualify a physician. He received his medical degree in 1881 .

He spend three years working at the General Hospital of Vienna – working successively to psychatry, dermatology and to nervous diseases -. In the year 1885, he is given a government grant enabling him to spent 19 weeks in Paris to work with French neurologist Jean Charcot – director of the mental hospital, The Salpetriere – who tried to understand and treat nervous disorders, and most especially hysteria. Charcot used hypnosis to prove that the real problem of his patients was a mental one. From this demonstration, Freud realised the power that the mind had on the body, and he came back from Paris, determined to make a name for himself in this new field of study. When he came back from Paris, Freud immediately married his sister?s friend Martha Bernays. At first, the other doctors laughed at him and noboby baught his books. He was therefore very poor and in addition, he had a growing family to support. His only friend, Wilhelm Fliess, lived far away in Berlin. Freud called that time his ?period of splendid isolation?. Like many others at that time, the Freud family had to suffer many hardships, firstly during World War I, and then during the economic depression, when Austrian money became worthless. Often, Freud had to analyse people wearing his overcoat because he could not afford to heat the consulting room. Gradually, more and more people came to see Freud and with each patient he tried to learn something new about his work. He also tried to analyse himself !!! During the period from 1895 to 1900, Freud developed many of the concepts that were later incorporated into the psychoanalytic practice and doctrine (free association…) and he abandonned the use of hypnosis. After many years of existence, the increasing recognition of the psychoanalytic movement made possible the creation of a worldwide organisation called ?The International psychoanalytic Assotiation? (1910).

In 1923, Freud was told he had a cancer of the jaw and that he only had a short time to live. The cancer was brought up by Freud?s abussive smoking. He did not really care and he said that he was addicted to smoking like he was addicted to the collection of thousand of antiquities. But meanwhile, an even great threat was on the horizon, the anti-semetism, which civilized countries thought they had put behind them, was coming back in Germany. Hitler came to power in 1933 and in this same year, Freud?s books were burned on the streets, along with other books written by jewish authors. When the Germans occupied Austria in 1938, Freud was persuated by a friend to leave his native country. He escaped to England with his family on June 6th of this same year. He moved in his famous house in Maresfield Gardens. Late in life, Freud knew what it was like to be famous. He died on September 23rd 1939.

As said previously, Freud was a medical doctor who was interested in charting how the human mind affected the body, particularly in forms of mental illnesses, such as neurosis (1) and hysteria (2) , and in finding ways to cure those mental illnesses. For his purpose, Freud created a new form of therapy which was called ?psychoanalysis?. It is based on the observation of many of the factors which determine the emotion and behaviour of an individual. These factors are unconscious and they are the basis of a certain unhappiness, sometimes in the form of recognizable symptoms and at other times as troubling personnality traits, difficuties in work or in love relationships, or disturbances in mood and self-esteem. A psychoanalytic treatment demonstrates how these unconscious factors affect current relationships and patterns of behaviour, traces them back to their historical origins, shows how they have changed over time and helps the individual to deal better with the reality of adult life. Psychoanalysis is an intimate partnership between the patient and the analyst, in the course of which the patient becomes aware of the underlying sources of his or her difficulties not only intellectually, but emotionally, by re-experiencing them with the analyst. Freud explains his theories, about how the human mind works, in many books. He believed, and many people after him also believed, that his theories about the mind uncovered some basic truths about how an individual is formed, and how culture and civilization operate on this particular person. We will now look at Freud?s theories on the formation of a ?normal? heterosexual adult from the beginnig .

When Freud looks at civilization ( in his book Civilization and its Discontents ), he sees two fundamental principles at work. He calls them the ?reality principal? and the ?pleasure principal? and according to him, the pleasure principle tells us to do whatever we like to do, and the reality principle tells us to surbordinate pleasure to what really needs to be done. To subordinate the pleasure principle to the reality principle, the individual has to go through a psychological process which Freud calls ?sublimation?, where you take desires that can not be fulfilled, or should not be fulfilled, and turn their energy into something usefull and productive (eg: work, play sports…). But the desire for pleasure never truely disappears, even when it is sublimated into something else. The desires that can not be fulfilled are repressed into a particular place in the mind , which Freud labels ?the unconscious?. Because it contains repressed desires, things that our conscious mind is not supposed to want, and is not even supposed to know about, nobody can get to his or her unconscious just by thinking about it directly. Indirect routes can therefore be taken to get to the content of one?s unconscious .

The first one is dreams, and according to Freud, they are symbolic fulfillement of wishes that can?t be fulfilled in real life because they have been repressed into the unconscious ( The Interpretation of Dreams ). These forbidden wishes are disguised by various images, this is why dreams are, most of the time, very strange. Dreams use two processes to hide the unconscious wishes : ?condensation? and ?displacement?. Condensation is when a whole set of images is packed into a single image or statement, when a complex meaning is condensed into a simpler one. Displacement is when the meaning of one image or symbol gets pushed onto something associated with it, which then displaces the original image .

The second way into the unconscious besides dreams, are slips of the tongue, also called ?parapraxes? by Freud ( he discusses these in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life ). He says that errors in speech, reading and writting are not accidents or coincidences : they reveal something that has been packed into the unconscious .

A third way into the unconscious is jokes, which Freud says that are always indicative of repressed wishes ( he discusses this route into the unconscious in his book Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious ). Whatever route is taken to get to the unconscious, what you find there is almost always about sex .The content of the unconscious consists primarily of sexual desires which have been repressed. Freud says that sexual desires are instinctual, and that they appear in the most fundamental acts in the process of nurturing, like in a mother nursing an infant. The instincts for food, warmth and comfort, which are survival values for a child, also produce pleasure which is also, according to Freud, sexual pleasure. The discovery of our body is organized through our first experiences of sexual pleasure. Freud symbolicaly divides the body in ?erotogenic zones? to explain the development of the experience of a child?s discovery of his or her body. These zones are the ?oral?, the ?anal?, and the ?phallic?. They correspond to three major stages of childhood development which take place between the ages of 2 and 5 years old. The oral stage is associated with incorporation, with taking in things, with knowing no boundaries between self and others and between the inside and the outside. The anal stage is associated with expelling things, with learning boundaries between inside and outside. The phallic stage leads a child to the gateway of adult sexuality ( genital masturbation ). Freud emphasizes the fact that, during the phallic stage, there is no distinction of any kind between the penis and the clitoris as this stage is common to boys and girls. The child experiences a pleasurable instant each time that one of these erotogenic zone is stimulated, and these pleasures persist untill the adult life .

Freud describes the child as ?polymorphously perverse?. In other words, he describes a child who?s only drives are sexual. Indeed, these drives are directed towards any object that might provide pleasure. In this polymorphously perverse stage of development ( which includes the anal, the oral and the phallic stages ), the child does not yet have a central identity, he has no sense of ?I?. For this reason, the polymorphously perverse child is not considering the reality principle, and at this stage, he has no unconscious, therefore, the child has no gender. Because this child will go after anything pleasurable, and because its first experience of pleasure have come through the contact with his mother, the child is, in a way, incestuous. Indeed, the mother?s body becomes pleasurable through oral contact, in nursing, through the mother?s making the child aware of its anal region, in toilet training, and through the mother?s making the child aware of the pleasure in its genitals, usually through bathing.

When this stage ends, the child enters in the ?latency? period where its instinctual drives are put on hold, the child does not seek for sexual pleasure anymore. the search for sexual pleasure is revived at ?puberty?. At this third and last stage of sexual development, the sexual drives turn from being ?autoerotic? to being directed to a new object or person. At this stage, there is not only a search for stimulation, the search is orientated towards a new feeling : orgasm. If the two previous stages of sexual development have worked out well, at puberty, all the polymorphously perverse drives of the infancy get channeled into reproductive heterosexual intercourse. The project of psychoanalytictheory is to describe how the gendered subject is formed. The project of Freud?s psychoanalytic practice was to cure those who had gone astray in this process, those who had not correctly developed these notions of gender, sexuality, and repression of libidinal drives. Therefore, he adresses the question of where do perversions come from and he interesses himself more in the problem of neurosis, that is the negative form of perversion. Perversions are sexual drives that may be illegal or socially inappropriate which are expressed and acted on. On the other side, the sexual drives which are repressed into the unconscious require, in some cases, so much energy to prevent them from coming back into consciousness can cause hysteria, paranoia, obsession-compulsion and many other neurotic disorders.

The main vehicle for the construction of properly gendered and sexual subjects is the ?Oedipus Complex?. This complex is what ends the phallic stage and it forces the child into the latency phase. As Freud describes it, going through the Oedipus Complex as a developmental stage in childhood turns us from incestuous sexual desire to exogamous (3) sexual desire, hence from a state of nature to one of civilization. The Oedipus Complex explains how desires get repressed, how these repressed desires form the unconscious, how boys and girls lear to desire objects out of their families, how each sex learns to desire someone of the opposite sex, and how the superego (4) gets formed.

At puberty, the woman has the task of switching primary erotogenic zones, from the clitoris ( focus of her pleasure in the phallic stage ), to the vagina (focus of her pleasure in adult heterosexual reproductive intercourse ), in order to become a ?normal? adult. Meanwhile, the boy gets to stick to his phallic zone, and focus his adult sexuality, like his infantile sexuality, on the penis .

Both the girl and the boy take their mother as their first sexual object and in the transformation from polymorphously perverse infant to sexually proper adult, the boys keep the female body as their love object while the girls have to shift their erotic feelings to a male body in order to to achieve normal non-incestuous heterosexuality.

The way in which girls and boys make these shifts in erotogenic zones and erotic objects is through the Oedipus Complex. At some point, usually during the phallic phase, children notice that there is an anatonomical distinction between the sexes : boys have penises and girls do not. ( Freud wrote an essay on this particular subject : Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes ). The boys reaction to the discovery that girls have no penises is to support that they have one. When boys finally accept the fact that girls have not got a penis, they decide to believe that girl?s penises have been cut off. At this point in the phallic phase, the boy has discovered phallic masturbation and he wants to direct his phallic activity towards his mother, whom he profoundly lves and desires. Because of this sexual love for his mother, the boy wishes to get rid of his father who is considered as a rival. This is the Oedipus Complex in boys : the envy to kill the father in order to be able to fulfill the desire for the mother. After this, the boy develops a castration complex, he is affraid that, angry at his desire to kill him, the father will cut off his penis in revenge. This ends the Oedipus Complex and creates the unconscious. The desire for the mother goes into the unconscious and the fear of the father creates the superego, that is where the sense of morality will come from later on in his life .

For the girls, the trajestory is much more complicated. First of all, the girl notices that she has no penis and that boys do. Freud says that girls instantly recognize penises as the superior couterpart of the clitoris, and fall victim to penis envy. From that point, the girl can go in many directions. She may deny the fact that she has no penis, she may fixate on the idea of one day getting a penis ( These two routes will lead to psychological problems in the future ). Otherwise, the girl can accept her castration and develop a sense of inferiority to the male. She gets furious at her mother for not giving her a penis and for not having one herself. Also, she thinks that her clitoris is so inferior to the penis that she entirely gives up masturbation. On the discovery of her and her mother?s lack of penis, the girl takes the sexual desire she had for her mother and turns it into anger and hatred for not giving her a penis. This moves her towards the necessary shift to taking her father as a libidinal object. The girl then decides that, if she can not have a penis, she will have a baby instead, and she takes her father as her love object with the express purpose of having a child with him. At this stage, the mother becomes the object of rivalry and jealousy. For the girls, the castration complex comes first ( in opposition to the boys case ) and then they desire to kill the mother and marry the father and have a baby.

If for the boys the castration complex ends the Oedipus complex, and creates the unconscious and the superego, what happens with the girls ? Freud says that the oedipal cathexis in girls may be repressed or abandonned. The result is that women never really create a very strong superego. He is also not quite sure of how women?s unconscious is formed, since they do not have the castration anxiety as the motive to repress their incestuous wishes, some sort of repression might happen but Freud is not entirely clear on how it happens.

Freud succeeded in finding clear solutions for many human problems with the help of psychoanalysis : he demonstrated the existence of the unconscious and created a totally new approach to the understanding of a person?s personality. Although he was never accorded full recognition during his lifetime, today, Freud is acknowledged as one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century.


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