Sigmund Freud (1856- 1939) made a profound contribution to the understanding of human personality. Freud’s psychoanalytic system is a model of personality development, a philosophy of human nature, and a method of psychotherapy.
View of human nature
Freud’s view of human nature is very deterministic. According to Freud, people’s behaviour is determined by irrational forces, unconscious motivations, biological and instinctual drives, and certain psychosexual events during the first six years of life. Instincts are central to the Freudian approach.
According to Freud, sexual desire is the primary motivational energy of human life.
The term libido was first used to refer to sexual energy, but later broadened to include the energy of all the life instincts. Libido, then, should be understood as a source of motivation that encompasses, but goes beyond sexual energy. Freud included all pleasurable acts in his concept of life instincts. He saw the goal of life as gaining pleasure and avoiding pain.
Freud also postulated the concept of death instincts which account for the aggressive drive. At times people manifest their unconscious wish to die or hurt themselves or others. Both sexual and aggressive drives are powerful determinants of human behaviour.
Structure of personality
According to Freud, the personality consists of three systems: the id (biological), the ego (psychological), and the superego (social). Humans are viewed as energy systems, and the way in which psychic energy is distributed to the id, ego, and superego determines the dynamics of personality. Because the amount of energy is limited, one system gains control over the available energy at the expense of the other two systems. This psychic energy determines behaviour.
The id is the original system of personality, at birth a person is all id. The id is ruled by the pleasure principle which is reducing tension, avoiding pain and gaining pleasure. It is illogical, amoral and driven by one consideration: to satisfy instinctual needs in accordance with the pleasure principle. The id is mostly unconscious, and out of awareness.
The ego controls and regulates the personality. It has contact with the external world and acts as a mediator between the blind instincts and impulses of the id and the surrounding environment. Ruled by the reality principle, the ego does realistic and logical thinking and formulates plans of action for satisfying needs. The id knows only subjective reality, whereas the ego distinguishes between mental images and external reality.
The superego is a person’s moral code, the main concern being whether the action is good or bad, right or wrong. It represents the ideal and strives for perfection. It signifies the traditional values and ideals.
Consciousness and unconsciousness
Freud is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind and the defense mechanism of repression.
By Freud, consciousness is only a thin slice of the human mind. Like with the iceberg, the larger part of the mind exists below the surface of awareness. The unconscious stores up all experiences, memories, and repressed material. Needs and motivations that are inaccessible are also outside the conscious mind. The role of the unconscious is essential in human behaviour. It is the basis of all forms of neurotic symptoms.
The goal of Freudian therapy is to bring to consciousness repressed feelings and thoughts, because only when one becomes conscious of motivations can one exercise choice.
This is done by encouraging the patient to talk in free association and to talk about dreams. Free association is when one idea triggers off another. By allowing the client to talk freely, free association would occur and the client would inevitably reveal thoughts that were suppressed into the unconscious. Dreams are seen as valuable source of insight into the unconscious desires.
Another important element of psychoanalysis is a relative lack of direct involvement on the part of the analyst, which is meant to encourage the patient to project thoughts and feelings onto the analyst. Through this process, transference, the patient can reenact and resolve conflicts, especially childhood conflicts with or about parents.
These help the individual cope with anxiety and prevent the ego from being overwhelmed. Defense mechanisms have two characteristics: they either distort or deny reality, and they operate on an unconscious level.
Repression - an involuntary removal of painful thoughts and feelings from consciousness.
Denial – similar to repression, but operates at preconscious and conscious level.
Projection– attributing to others one’s own unacceptable desires and impulses.
Displacement – discharging impulses by shifting from a threatening object to a “safer target”.
Rationalization – explaining away failures and losses.
Regression – Seeking to return to a secure time in earlier stage of development.
Introjection – taking in and “swallowing” the values and standards of other’s.
Identification– identifying with successful causes or organizations to protect one from a sense of being a failure.
Compensation – masking perceived weaknesses or developing certain positive traits to make up for limitations.
What do you think?
His work is still recognised today! What a brilliant start to the study of psychology.