- 1 Theories
- 2 The psyche
- 3 Structure of the mind (id, ego, superego)
- 4 Defense mechanisms
- 4.1 Main points
- 4.2 Repression
- 4.3 Denial
- 4.4 Displacement
- 4.5 Projection
- 4.6 Reaction formation
- 4.7 Regression
- 4.8 Rationalization
- 4.9 Sublimation
- 5 Psychosexual development
Freud's psychoanalytic system evolved over nearly 60 years of professional work. He himself was constantly revising aspects of his theory to better reflect what he was learning on a continual basis. There are a number of concepts that are essential for understanding psychoanalytic theory.
Freud's theory of the unconscious is the foundation upon which much of his psychoanalytic theory is built. Freud hypothesized that the mind is divided into three main parts: the unconscious, the conscious, and the preconscious. The unconscious is by far the larger and most important part of the mind according to Freud. It includes all the things that are not easily available to awareness. Freud suggested that the unconscious mind acts like a repository for those thoughts, memories, experiences, and feelings that can't or won't easily move into the conscious mind. Items may come to this repository because of trauma or for any number of reasons for which a person might protect him or herself from unpleasant emotion. The unconscious also includes drives or instincts that cause humans to behave the way they do.
The conscious mind also plays a key role. Freud believed that everything we are aware of is stored in our conscious mind. At any given time, a person is only aware of a very small part of what makes up his or her personality; the rest is buried in the unconscious and is inaccessible. Though small in comparison to the unconscious, the conscious mind is still essential and important for adaptive functioning.
The final part is the preconscious or subconscious. This is the part of mind that can be accessed if prompted, but is not in our active conscious. The preconscious exists just below the surface, and is buried until needed. Common information such as one's telephone number, childhood memories, or one's home address is stored in the preconscious.
Conflict between conscious and unconscious impulses are said to give rise to anxiety, which Freud believed to be common to all people. The most common way to counteract anxiety, according to Freud, was to employ the use of what he called defense mechanisms. To tap the unconscious, Freud used a variety of techniques, including hypnosis, free association, and dream interpretation. Carl G. Jung expanded on the Freudian concept, adding the idea of an inherited unconscious, known as the collective unconscious.
Also residing in the unconscious are the instincts or drives. The instincts, for Freud, are the principal motivating forces that "energize" the mind in all of its functions. There are, he held, an indefinite number of such instincts, but these can be reduced to a small number of basic ones, which he grouped into two broad generic categories: Eros (the life instinct), which covers all self-preserving and erotic instincts, and Thanatos (the death instinct), which covers all the instincts towards aggression, self-destruction, and cruelty.
Although Freud didn't invent the idea of the unconscious mind, he certainly was the one who made it popular. Given the work by other theorists in the nineteenth century, it is not surprising that Freud's concept of mind, especially the unconscious, grew to prominence. He took the principles that dominated the thought of those working with the physiology of the body and applied them systematically to the sphere of the mind. Thus Freud's conception of the unconscious explained behavioral patterns set in motion by unconscious instincts and drives, which were previously unexplained.
The unconscious material of a person's life drives behavior in both positive and negative ways. But when unconscious experience or emotion creates maladaptive living, the unconscious material cannot simply be brought into consciousness at will. It must be coaxed out using the proper techniques. Freud created the techniques of psychoanalysis as the means of bringing material from the unconscious into the conscious mind, so that it could be investigated and possibly changed. The analogy of an iceberg has been often used to help visualize the role of the conscious as compared to the unconscious mind. The bulk of the iceberg, the unconscious mind, lies below the surface, exerting a dynamic and determining influence over the direction of the mass. The visible part, the conscious mind, is small in comparison and is subject to the weight of the portion below the surface.
Regarding instincts and drives, Freud is often referenced as having said that all human actions spring from motivations which are sexual in origin. This assertion is not completely accurate. Freud did state that sexual drives play an important and central role in human life, actions, and behavior. This was the subject of much controversy for the sexually repressed time period in which he lived. He went also took it further by saying that sexual drives exist and can be discerned in children from birth, and that sexual energy (libido) is the single most important motivating force in adult life. However, even here a crucial qualification has to be added. Freud effectively redefined the term sexuality to include any form of pleasure that is or can be derived from the body. Thus his theory of the instincts or drives is essentially that the human being is energized or driven from birth by the desire to acquire and enhance bodily pleasure.
One of Freud's patients once described to him a repeating dream that involved her chasing a man she worked with up several flights of stairs. The woman claimed that even though she ran faster and faster, she never caught the man nor reached the top of the stairway, which caused her immense frustration. Freud interpreted such dreams as the unconscious mind representing a desire or drive for sexual contact with the person she was chasing. Freud would say that the dream expressed itself through the unconscious because it might be too threatening, psychologically speaking, for the patient to admit this to herself. It might threaten her self-concept or sense of morality to admit to such lustful urges. So instead, her unconscious mind turned the urges into a non-threatening symbol—running up flights of stairs.
Structure of the mind (id, ego, superego)
Freud further divided the conscious and unconscious mind into three structures or systems that performed different roles. These systems he named the id, ego, and superego. Freud viewed human beings as energy systems, where only one system can be in control at any given time, while the other two systems give themselves over to the psychic energy of the one in control.
The id is the original system of personality and the dominant one at birth. In German, the word was literally translated as the "it." The id is primarily the source of psychic energy and the core of all instincts. It is infantile in the way it manifests and functions on the unconscious level. It lacks organization and is demanding, insistent, and impulsive. The id cannot tolerate tension and works to discharge tension as quickly as possible and return to a balanced state. Therefore the id operates according to the demands of what Freud called the pleasure principle. That is, it wants to satisfy its desires so as to relieve the tension.
The ego, in contrast, works not by the pleasure principle but rather by the reality principle. In other words, there is a real world out there that must be reckoned with. The ego (literally "I") is the personality structure that develops to deal with the real world and solve the problems of life. It acts as the "executive" branch of the personality that governs, controls, and regulates matters of life. The ego functions as part of the conscious mind.
The superego is the judicial branch of the personality. It imposes a moral code, concerning itself with whether a particular action is good or bad; right or wrong. It represents the ideal, rather than a reflection of reality, and strives for perfection instead of pleasure. The superego represents the ideals of society as they are passed from one generation to another. The superego can be represented by both the unconscious and conscious mind depending on the particular function it is serving.
The id never matures, remaining infantile in its impulses and urges while seeking pleasure and avoiding tension at all costs. If it had its way it would forever seek indulgence, the same way a young child seeks only to get his or her selfish needs met. If left to its own appetite, the id would be unable to function in the world.
To temper the id's urges, the ego steps in to acknowledge an objective reality that must be dealt with. Other people, for instance, also have needs that must be considered. While it is the job of the ego to help satisfy the id's inclinations, it also must mediate how serving those needs will affect one's reality. Over time, the ego's efforts create a "dialogue" of sorts with the real world that transforms into actual skills, competencies, and memories. These resources are then internalized into what Freud referred to as the "self," an emerging sense of personhood, instead of a bundle of urges and needs.
The superego works to inhibit the id's impulses while persuading the ego to substitute moralistic goals for realistic ones and to strive for perfection. The superego works off the basis of psychological rewards and punishments. If a person responds in the "right" manner, the reward might be a feeling of pride or self-love. If the individual deems their action as immoral or "wrong," the resulting punishment might be guilt or feelings of inferiority.
Freud conceived the mind as being in constant conflict with itself. He understood this conflict as the primary cause of human anxiety and unhappiness. His classic example is the patient Anna O., who displayed a rash of psychological and physiological symptoms: assorted paralyses, hysterical squints, coughs, and speech disorders, among others. Under hypnosis, Josef Breuer, a fellow physician and close friend of Freud, traced many of these symptoms to memories of a period when she cared for her dying father. One symptom, a nervous cough, they related to a particular event at her father's bedside. Upon hearing dance music that was drifting from a neighbor's house, she felt an urge to be there, gone from her father's bedside. Immediately, she was struck with guilt and self-reproach for having the desire to leave him. She covered this internal conflict with a nervous cough, and from that day on, coughed reflexively at the sound of rhythmic music. Freud's investigations into internal conflicts such as this led him to eventually construct the divisions of the mind now known as id, ego, and superego.
Because the ego is the great equalizer between the id and superego, conflict is inevitable. This conflict, according to Freud, brings anxiety and serves as a signal to the ego that its survival may be in jeopardy. Freud further divided anxiety into three kinds: realistic anxiety (fear of real situations), moral anxiety (fear that stems from the internalized ideal world of the superego), and neurotic anxiety (fear that results from impulses originating in the id). It is the unconscious neurotic anxiety that most intrigued Freud and formed the basis for his research. Psychoanalytic therapy was developed to treat the various neuroses that were largely unconscious. Freud postulated that the ego aids this process of repressing the anxiety through use of what he called defense mechanisms.
The ego deals with the demands of reality, the urges of the id, and the perfectionist tendencies of the superego as best as it can. But when the anxiety becomes overwhelming, the ego must defend itself. It does so by unconsciously blocking the impulses or distorting them into a more acceptable, less threatening form. The techniques for doing this are called the ego defense mechanisms. Freud, his daughter Anna, and other disciples have discovered a number of defense mechanisms that accomplish this purpose.
Repression is one of the most important Freudian processes, and it is the basis for other ego defenses and neurotic disorders. It is a means of defense through which threatening or painful thoughts or feelings are excluded from awareness. Freud explained repression as an involuntary removal of something from consciousness. Anna Freud called it "motivated forgetting."
Victims of war or other trauma sometimes face experiences that are too overwhelming for them to assimilate into their conscious mind. In order to cope, they must protect themselves from letting the painful experience incapacitate them. The result is that they unconsciously repress the emotion. This emotion may resurface unexpectedly if a similar life event such as an accident or other victimization triggers the repressed memories.
Denial involves blocking external events from awareness. For example, if a particular situation is too much for a person to handle, he or she simply refuses to allow the experience to become reality for them, despite the fact that it happened. The use of denial is a primitive and dangerous defense because eventually the individual must face reality. The longer one attempts to deny the objective reality, the greater may be the consequences. Denial can operate by itself or, more commonly, in combination with other, more subtle defense mechanisms that support it.
Denial can be unconscious as when a dying person refuses to admit that their life will soon end or when a person with a heart condition denies that their overeating or smoking is of any consequence. It can also take a semi-conscious state where the individual accepts a portion of the situation but denies another. For instance, a person may acknowledge that they were in an automobile accident but they will not accept the fact that a loved one who was critically injured might die.
Displacement is the redirection of anxiety onto a substitute or "safer" target. The redirected energy, often anger, cannot be discharged in the most logical way, so it must find another way to be released.
The classic example is the frustrated worker who feels victimized by his boss but cannot express his anger directly at his supervisor. Instead, he finds a safer target and yells at his family when he arrives home. According to Freud, the man does not intentionally displace his anger and frustration on his family, but unconsciously does so because he finds the relationships of his family "safer." Venting his frustration at home will minimize consequences arising from his actions, were he to express his anger on the job.
Projection takes one's own anxiety-arousing impulses and attributes them to someone else.
A husband finds himself attracted to a charming and flirtatious woman at work. Instead of acknowledging his attraction, he becomes increasingly jealous of his wife and worried about her faithfulness to the marriage. Freud would say that the jealous husband is simply projecting his own feelings onto his wife in an effort to reduce the anxiety he feels about his own unacceptable feelings.
Reaction formation helps protect against threatening impulses by overemphasizing the opposite of one's actual thoughts and actions.
A pastor who is involved in a secret extramarital affair unconsciously attempts to push away threatening impulses related to his behavior by preaching vehemently against sexual impurity. The pastor, according to psychoanalytic theory, is attempting to reduce his own feelings of guilt and almost atone for his secretive behavior by taking the opposite or morally "right" stance.
Regression involves going back to an earlier phase of development when there were fewer demands. In the face of severe stress, individuals may attempt to cope with anxiety by clinging to immature behaviors.
Children who are frightened in school may indulge in infantile behavior such as weeping, excessive dependency, thumb-sucking, and clinging to the teacher. Again, this is perceived by psychoanalytic theory as an unconscious wish on the part of the child to obtain nurturing, attention, or some type of consolation to cope with stressors they feel unable to handle. So, regression to an earlier, more helpless state can either provide them with the safety they feel they need or exempt them from responsibilities they perceive are beyond their capabilities.
Rationalization helps a person justify specific behaviors or decisions that may not be acceptable to the conscious mind.
A woman interviews for a job that she really wants, but after the interview is over and she is not offered the position, she claims that she really did not want the job anyway. Rather than admitting to herself that she may not have conducted the interview in an appropriate manner or did not have the necessary skills or experience the employer was seeking, she portrays the situation as one where she is the decision-maker. This distortion of the situation helps her minimize potential feelings of failure, inadequacy, or inferiority.
Sublimation, according to a psychoanalytic perspective, involves diverting sexual or aggressive energy into other channels that are often socially acceptable and even admirable.
A male with aggressive impulses becomes an all-state linebacker on the school football team. Were these same aggressive impulses acted out in common social situations, it would be considered inappropriate and possibly abusive to those on the receiving end. But given that "hitting" is inherent in a contact sport, the student can legitimately channel his aggressive tendencies toward a socially acceptable "performance." Not only does this give the student a release for the unconscious aggression, but it may also provide social approval for reinforcing the aggressive behavior in that context.
Freud's theory of psychosexual development had its origins in, and was a generalization of, Josef Breuer's earlier discovery that traumatic childhood events could have devastating negative effects upon the adult. This view assumed that early childhood sexual experiences were the crucial factors in the determination of the adult personality. Freud's believed that from the moment of birth, the infant is driven in his actions by the desire for bodily/sexual pleasure. Initially, infants gain such release, and derive such pleasure, through the act of sucking. Freud termed this period the oral stage of development. This is followed by a stage in which the locus of pleasure or energy release is the anus, particularly in the act of defecation, and this he termed the anal stage. Then the young child develops an interest in its sexual organs as a site of pleasure and an accompanying sexual attraction for the parent of the opposite sex, while developing a subtle hatred for the parent of the same sex. This, Freud called the phallic stage of development. Following this the child then enters what Freud called the latency period, in which sexual motivations become much less pronounced. This lasts until puberty, when the mature genital stage of development begins, and the pleasure drive refocuses around the genital area.
This developmental sequence best described the progression of normal human development, according to Freud. A child at a given stage of development has certain needs and demands, such as the need of the infant to nurse. Frustration occurs when these needs are not met. Freud called these frustrations conflicts, and the child encounters them as part of the developmental process. Successful resolution of the conflict is crucial to adjustment and eventual adult mental health. According to Freud, when a child experiences a significant degree of frustration or overindulgence around these conflicts, the child's sexual urges become stuck to some extent in that stage of development. He called this inability to resolve the conflict a fixation. The child then continues to repeat the maladaptive behaviors that are indicative of that unresolved conflict. In contrast, if the child progresses normally through the stages, resolving each conflict and moving on, then the sexual urges do not become fixated and will progress normally.
In Freud's view, many mental illnesses, particularly hysteria, can be traced back to unresolved conflicts experienced at one of these developmental stages or to events which otherwise disrupt the normal pattern of infant development. For example, homosexuality is seen by some Freudians as resulting from a failure to resolve the conflicts inherent in the phallic stage, particularly a failure to identify with the parent of the same sex. The obsessive concern with washing one's hands and personal hygiene, which characterizes the behavior of some neurotics, is seen as resulting from unresolved conflicts/repressions occurring at the anal stage.
The oral stage of psychosexual development begins at birth when the oral cavity is the primary focus of psychosexual energy (libido). The child, of course, preoccupies himself with nursing and receives the pleasure of sucking and accepting things into the mouth. The child who is frustrated at this stage and unable to get his needs met adequately, because his mother refuses to nurse him on demand or who ends nursing sessions early, is characterized by pessimism, envy, suspicion, and sarcasm. The overindulged infant, whose nursing urges were often excessively satisfied, is optimistic, gullible, and is full of admiration for others around him. This stage culminates in the primary conflict of weaning, which both deprives the child of the sensory pleasures of nursing and of the psychological pleasure of being cared for, mothered, and held. This stage lasts approximately one and one-half years.
A child fixated at the oral stage of development may become very dependent on his or her mother, clinging to her and becoming fearful of being away from her. This, according to Freud, results because the child was unable to adequately resolve the dependency needs in the oral stage of development.
At approximately 18 months of age, the child enters the anal stage of psychosexual development. With the advent of toilet training comes the child's obsession with the anus and with the retention or expulsion of the feces. This represents a classic conflict between the id, which derives pleasure from expulsion of bodily wastes, and the ego and superego, which represent the practical and societal pressures to control the bodily functions. The child meets the conflict between physical desires and the parent's demands in one of two ways: Either he puts up a fight or he simply refuses to go. The child who wants to fight takes pleasure in excreting maliciously, perhaps just before or just after being placed on the toilet. If the parents are too lenient and the child manages to derive pleasure and success from this expulsion, it will result in the formation of what Freud called the "anal expulsive character." This characterizes adults who are generally messy, disorganized, reckless, careless, and defiant. In contrast, a child may opt to retain feces, thereby spiting his parents while enjoying the pleasurable pressure of the built-up feces in his intestine. If this tactic succeeds and the child is overindulged, he will develop into an "anal retentive character." This type of person is stereotypically viewed as neat, precise, orderly, careful, stingy, withholding, obstinate, meticulous, and passive-aggressive. The resolution of the anal stage, which includes proper toilet training, permanently affects the individual's inclinations to possess and their attitudes toward authority. This stage lasts from ages one and one-half to two years.
According to psychoanalytic theory, if a child becomes fixated at the anal stage, it carries over into the rest of the person's life. For instance, an adult who has anal expulsive traits may like crude or inappropriate bathroom humor or exhibit passive-aggressive behavior toward others. Those characterized by the anal retentive trait may be overly concerned with order, cleanliness, or organization. This behavior is sometimes diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive disorder and may pose significant problems for the person as he or she attempts to carry on normal activities of living.
The phallic stage is the setting for the most crucial sexual conflict in Freud's psychosexual model of development. In this stage, the child's genital region becomes the focus. As the child becomes more interested in his or her genitals and in the genitals of others, conflict arises. This conflict, which Freud labeled the "Oedipus complex" for boys and the "Electra complex" for girls, involves the child's unconscious desire to possess the opposite-sexed parent and to eliminate the same-sexed one.
In the young male, the Oedipus conflict stems from his natural love for his mother, a love which becomes sexual as his libidinal energy transfers from the anal region to his genitals. Unfortunately for the boy, his father stands in the way of possessing his mother. The boy therefore feels aggression and envy towards this rival, his father, and also feels fear that the father will strike back at him. The boy, by this time, has undoubtedly noticed that women, his mother in particular, do not have penises. Although he understands that this is a male-only fixture, he fears that his father will do something to take away his penis. Freud called this fear "castration anxiety," which helps the boy to repress his desire for his mother. Moreover, while the boy recognizes now that he cannot possess his mother, because his father does, he can possess her vicariously by identifying with his father and becoming as much like him as possible. This identification indoctrinates the boy into his appropriate sexual role in life.
While the Oedipal conflict was developed in great detail, Freud did not provide as much clarity on the Electra complex. The Electra complex has its roots in a young girl's discovery that she, along with her mother and all other women, lack the penis that her father and other men possess. Her love for her father then becomes both erotic and envious, as she yearns for a penis of her own. She comes to blame her mother for her perceived castration, and is struck by "penis envy," the apparent counterpart to the boy's castration anxiety. The resolution of the Electra complex is far less clear-cut than the resolution of the Oedipus complex is in males. Freud stated that the resolution comes much later and is never truly complete. Just as the boy learned his sexual role by identifying with his father, so the girl learns her role by identifying with her mother in an attempt to possess her father vicariously. At the eventual resolution of the conflict, the girl passes into the latency period, though Freud implies that she always remains slightly fixated at the phallic stage.
Fixation at the phallic stage develops a phallic character who is reckless, resolute, self-assured, and narcissistic. The failure to resolve the conflict can also cause a person to be afraid of or incapable of close love. Freud also postulated that fixation could be a root cause of homosexuality.
Freud believed that adults may unconsciously replay unresolved conflicts from their childhoods if fixated at that stage. Perhaps the best example is young adults who seek the company of the opposite sex, and may eventually marry someone like their own mother or father. Freud would say that this not only represents familiarity, but an unconscious effort to resolve the fixated conflict from the phallic stage of psychosexual development. The young person may try to "win" the affection of the desired one in an effort to finally achieve the maternal or paternal closeness for which they have longed.
The resolution of the phallic stage leads to the latency period, which is not a psychosexual stage of development, but a period in which the sexual drive lies dormant. Freud saw latency as a period of unparalleled repression of sexual desires and impulses. During the latency period, children pour this repressed libidinal energy into asexual pursuits such as school, athletics, and same-sex friendships. But soon puberty strikes, and the genitals once again become a central focus of libidinal energy. The latency stage extends approximately from ages six to 12. Critics claim that Freud's assumption of a latency period of sexual development, especially at this stage of growth, represents a significant weakness in his theory.
Boys and girls in the latency stage, for the most part, have same-sex playmates and show little interest in being in the company of peers of the opposite sex. During this period, boys and girls typically begin evidencing their sex roles through play. Boys gravitate to those activities characterized as masculine, participating in more aggressive play. Girls tend to favor more feminine activities such as playing with dolls or dressing up.
In the genital stage, as the child's energy once again focuses on his or her genitals, interest turns to heterosexual relationships. The less energy the child has fixated in unresolved psychosexual development, the greater the capacity will be to develop normal relationships with the opposite sex. Freud thought that if a person did not get trapped in any of sequential psychosexual stages, then adolescence would mark the beginning of an adult life and normal sexual relations, marriage, and child-rearing. If, however, the person remained fixated, particularly in the phallic stage, development would be troubled as he or she struggled to resolve the points of contention. Unfortunately, the person will often resort to repression and other defense mechanisms because he or she does not know how to truly resolve the unconscious issues. Freud, unlike Erik Erikson who expanded his stages to cover the full span of life, believed that the crucial conflict of the genital stage occurred between the ages of 12 and 18, but left the impression that the genital stage continues indefinitely.
The genital stage primarily comprises adolescents who are intensely interested in the opposite sex, dating, and sexual experimentation. If young people have resolved the previous conflicts in earlier psychosexual stages, they should be able to contain their genital urges in an appropriate manner. If not, they will, according to Freud, act out their unresolved conflicts in aberrant ways. For instance, a male who has not resolved the phallic stage conflict may become possessive and jealous of his girlfriend, attempting to restrict her social life and thereby demanding loyalty to him exclusively.