Sigmund Freud, born 6 May 1856 in Freiburg, Moravia and raised in Vienna, Austria, has been subject to the

criticism and acclaims of people worldwide. Some say that he pioneered the field of psychoanalysis (or depth-psychology, as it was known in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), but others argue that his completely unscientific “discoveries” set studies in the field of psychology back by many years, as psychiatrists and psychoanalysts tried to pry deeper into studies that Freud began; studies that we now know are both unfounded and inaccurate to a high degree. But despite the controversies, and the fact that much of it was drivel, Freud’s theories still serve as an excellent metaphor for the human mind. Freud had major theories concerning three things: The setup of the human mind, mental defense mechanisms, and psychosexual development. He based much of his third and fourth theories off of the ideas of the first and second, so those will be the first to be discussed. The most important, and most basic, of Freud’s theories is that of the mind’s construction. Freud theorized that the mind is composed of three main pieces: The Id, the Superego, and the Ego. The Id, Freud said, is the basic survival instinct that kept the human race alive before we became more civilized, and it is present from the minute a child is born. The Id craves sex, seeks to hurt others who get in the way, and acts out of self-preservation only. The Superego, on the other hand, develops due to interactions with others (Freud’s original theory was that the Superego was imprinted on the children solely by their parents, but there was too much evidence on the contrary for that to be confirmed) that instill a working list of social rules inside a person’s head. Now the Id and Superego regularly oppose, for the Id’s violent or sexual cravings usually oppose with the norms of society. Because of this mental conflict, a mediator is necessary, which presents itself as the Ego. Unlike the Superego and Id, the Ego is geared towards conscious decisions and bases itself off of interactions with its environment. When the Id and Superego clash, the Ego decides which mental force is stronger and manifests the desire

into an action. The Ego also uses logic and common sense to help distinguish which actions are more viable in comparison to others. Another part of Freud’s theory was what he identified as the three levels of the psyche: The conscious, preconscious, and subconscious minds. The conscious mind is the place of current thinking processes and objects that have our attention. A person’s mental self-awareness is most concentrated here, and this acts as the Ego’s main residence. The deeper stage of the mind, the preconscious, is the location of all the subjects that the mind is aware of, but not directly observing. This is also the part of the mind one might use in blocking out a distracted noise or movement. These things can be brought to and from the conscious mind at will, and a person can expand his or her awareness of the preconscious mind by not focusing on a specific object. Of course, there is something even deeper than the preconscious mind. Subconscious thoughts, which are out of the direct reach of the conscious mind and act independently, process much more than the conscious and preconscious. At the subconscious level there reside stereotypes, fears, memories blocked out by the conscious and preconscious, and the Id and Superego. Part of the Ego is here as well, though it has much less strength than in the other areas of the mind. One of Freud’s most important observations was that the subconscious affects much of human behavior, bringing up the point that a lot of how a person acts is out of their control in the heat of the moment. Freud had one more theory on the composition of the mind, though the idea is more centrally focused on mental actions as opposed to mental constituents. This mental action, called cathexis, is the expenditure of focus on a subject. First is object-cathexis, which occurs in the Id and focuses on a certain idea or object. This generates a mental image, which then moves into the preconscious and possibly the conscious mind. Before that image reaches the Ego, however, the subconscious may make an attempt to resist, by means on Anti-cathexis, which is simply the

expenditure of focus to block the cathexes of the Id. Repression, which will be later defined, happens when anti-cathexes and object-cathexes clash. If this clash ends with the object-cathexis moving into the Ego, the conscious mind will spend focus to create and ego-cathexis, to which the Ego applies logic to figure out whether to repress or express the cathexis. Another of Freud’s theories was the cause and application of the mind’s (primarily the Ego’s) defense mechanisms. According to Freud, most people are drive to reduce mental tension, and all mental tension comes from anxiety. Freud splits anxiety up into two categories of reality and moral-based. Reality anxiety is the fear of something happening, such as breaking a bone or getting hit by a ball, while moral anxiety is the fear of retribution from a person, such as being lectured by a parent for stealing. Usually, moral anxiety comes from interpersonal exchanges, while reality anxiety springs from non-interpersonal contacts. A subset of moral anxiety that Freud noted was Neurotic anxiety, where the subject is afraid that he or she will be controlled by his or her basic impulses (Id) and do something that will lead to eventual punishment. Now, once the mind is faced with anxiety, it begins by trying to deal with the problem critically. In the case of a person who fears getting hit by a ball, the solution is to walk away from it or not to play whatever game that the ball is involved in. For someone with moral anxiety about stealing something, the solution is simply not to steal. However, when escape from the situation does not work, the mind develops a variety of defensive methods that prevent a person from entering the same situation again. Freud said that this was the Ego’s way of stopping influences from the Superego and Id, so as not to get the person back into a similar situation. The most important of these is repression, the blocking of memories from the conscious mind. Repressed memories are usually those of extreme stress, and though they do not disappear from the subject’s mind, they become buried deep within the subconscious. Freud also said that the subconscious will sometimes manifest these thoughts in less recognizable forms, such as

symbolic dreams or what we call “Freudian Slips”. The other forms of the ego’s Defense mechanisms are the following: • Denial – Vehemently disagreeing with an assertion that would cause pain if acknowledged. Some victims of trauma act as though nothing happened. • • Intellectualization – Focusing on statistics and complex terminology to tune out stress. Projection – Either perceiving others in a way that a person finds disagreeable with his or herself, or assuming that another person can think, act, and feel exactly as he or she does. This allows a person to consider the problems with their behavior without acknowledging that the qualities that they criticize are their own.

Displacement – Divert emotions that would be directed from one target onto another, usually because of the implications or impossibilities of reflecting the emotion onto its necessary target.

Sublimation – Transferring unwanted emotions or impulses to an activity that is less injurious, ranging from simple distractions to constructive actions.

Reaction Formation – Acting opposite to inner feelings, usually in exaggeration, to prove to the mind that the disturbance isn’t real.

Rationalization – Reasoning out why he or she did something, or why something happened.

Regression – Reverting back to a childhood state. This is triggered by memories of childhood, when current stresses didn’t exist or weren’t potent, or when there was a higher power (a parent or guardian) to take the stressed person away. Now, with knowledge of the mind’s constituents, and an overall view of the human

mental defense system, it is possible to delve deeper in Freud’s ideas about human development. Freud was a strong advocate of psychosexual development, a theory that is discounted today for

its lack of merit and inapplicability. Freud believed in five stages of development: Oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital periods. In the beginning, from ages 0-2, children use their mouths constantly; biting, swallowing, and using their tongue to identify both texture and shape. From ages 2-4, the anal stage begins, where – according to Freud – children derive pleasure by retaining or removing waste from their bodies. Freud argued that some children desired to control the times when their feces came out, which could lead to anal sadism and cause problems later on, but also said that other children would find pleasure in defecating, for the children were creating something of their own (later, he said, this would connect to child-birthing for females). Freud then discussed what is known as his most preposterous idea – the phallic phase, from ages 4 to 7 years. The penis and clitoris (Freud’s terminology for the phantasmal penis that girls imagine on themselves) become of great importance in these years, and a fascination develops over urinating. Children find both the retention and release of urine pleasurable, and the most dangerous psychological complexes arrive in this area. At the end of this period, a child is ready to identify either with mother or father, which will decide which gender the child will emulate in later years. After this period, comes the latency period, between ages 7 and 12. During these years, children repress and sublimate the sexual desires of their Id and try to act according to the norms of society. They also begin to achieve more independence, and start to sacrifice their own childhood self-obsession in exchange for a love of others. From the beginning of puberty and onwards, the genital phase predominates. After these years, sublimation and repression are still things which happen to the Id’s desires, but more of the sexual object-cathexes of the mind are physically expressed. From here, people’s minds learn to desire members of the opposite sex and strive to procreate. Of course, throughout each stage, there is a major conflict. In the oral stage, weaning from a mother’s breast conflicts with the pleasures of the stage. Too many problems with this

lead to oral fixation, which either causes oral receptive or oral aggressive personalities. Oral receptiveness is when the subject finds preoccupation in things such as eating, drinking, chewing gum, or nail-biting. Oral receptive people are usually needy, sensitive, and easy to push around. Oral aggressiveness, on the other hand, is a person who is verbally cruel and demeaning, focusing on their mouths to vent aggression. If one moves past the oral stage, next follows anal problems. Here, toilet training causes anal fixation, which manifests itself in anal retentive or expulsive personalities. Anal retentive people are stubborn and neat perfectionists who require order and cleanliness. Anal expulsive individuals, by the opposite trend, are comfortable in disordered situations, passive, and lacking in self-control. Now, the third area where problems develop is the phallic stage, where phallic fixation occurs. Late in the phallic stage, boys go through the Oedipus complex and girls the Electra Conflict. In the phallic stage, boys are attracted to their mother, but in not being able to identify with her gender, seek comfort and maternal attention from the father instead. Also during this state, boys experience castration anxiety, which is the fear that they will be castrated by their father over competition for the mother’s love. This anxiety causes the boy to bring up a mental defense, such as repression or reaction formation, as an exercise in mental defense. He then moves closer and identifies with his father more strongly. For a girl, however, the subject is not an anxiety. Girls suffer from what Freud notes as penis envy. The daughter begins as attached to her mother, but notices that neither she nor her maternal parent has a penis. In the desire to obtain one, she desires her father, but represses that desire and strengthens her connections with her mother. Freud notes this as the daughter accepting her inferiority as compared to men. During the latency and genital phases, humans do not fall into categories of fixations. When I read this, I was intrigued, yet confused. Of the many things I’ve heard from Freud-quoters, most of them are about Id and the Superego. And every time I’ve had Freud

summed up in a paragraph or two, I’ve agreed with all I’ve heard or read. It was only when I sat down to actually read the information on Freud did I learn what he was really all about. Some of the information made sense, though my sources pointed out that modern psychoanalysis had gone much farther than Freud (which makes sense), yet other theories of his were insane. For example, all his work on psychosexual desires in children seemed like nonsense to me. After all, I don’t remember being afraid of my father castrating me. I don’t think I had even considered the prospect of losing my genitalia at the time. Of course, in Freud’s time, his ideas were strongly considered and some of his psychosexual theories even accepted for a time, which makes me wonder what psychoanalysts today are citing as fact without solid proof. Keep in mind that what is discussed here is not all of Freud’s work and theories. Freud had reports on libido, psychic energy, the reality and pleasure principles, repetition-compulsion, and all manner of other things; an essay on all of what he has theorized would be as long as a book. I’ve tried to put most of the terms here into plain English, instead of Freudisms and complex language, so not all the examples of his work are present here. I apologize, but one can only go so far before a book becomes a novel. Bibliography

Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Freud." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. 23 November 2003. Purdue U. 1 January 2009. <>.

"Freud." n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2010. <>.

Robertson, Ritchie, ed. Die Traumdeutung. Trans. Crick Joyce. By Sigmund Freud. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. 222-30. Web. 18 Dec. 2009.

Sigmund Freud - Life and Work. Romanian Association for Psychoanalysis Promotion, 25 Oct. 2009. Web. 23 Dec. 2009. <>.

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