Sigmund Freud: Biography and Contributions to Psychology

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist born on the 6th of May in 1856. Freud is best known for his works in the field of psychology and sociology where he deduced a method which would change the study of psychology. He named the method psychoanalysis, which was a clinically proven method for treating psychopathology through efficient dialogues between a patient and a psychoanalyst. Freud qualified for his doctorate in medicine in 1881 from the University of Vienna and spent most of his life in Vienna until the Nazis attacked after which he spent his last years in exile in the United Kingdom.

Sigmund Freud psychology

The process of creating psychoanalysis leads to the development of therapeutic techniques such as the usage of free association and discovered the usage of extracting the earliest memories of a person, namely transference. These became the central idea for the research of the analytical process. Freud also tried to explore the infantile forms of the Oedipus complex. There are basically two forms of the Oedipus complex, namely positive and negative. The positive Oedipus complex refers to the child’s unconscious sexual desire for the opposite sex parent and hatred for the same sex-parent, whereas negative Oedipus complex is the opposite of the positive one. He introduced this subject in his writings and explored it with keeping an infant as his basis of research.

Freud’s analysis of dreams as wish fulfilment provided a structure to for the clinical analysis of symptom formation and underlying mechanisms for repression, which is the desire of a person to direct their impulses towards pleasure and ignore their instincts of negative emotions; this often leads to mental illnesses. He took this theory a step forward and elaborated on the topic of the unconscious to develop a model on a physic structure comprising of id, ego, and superego. Freud also gave the concept of the sexual energy which through mental processes and structure generates attachment in the females, it was known as the existence of libido.

The theory and study of psychoanalysis remain influential within the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy. There are many debates following the same, its contributions have been significant but the critics of this theory still remains as its relevance to some subjects still remain questionable.

The Development of Psychoanalysis

The idea of hypnosis was presumed to be the base of practice like psychoanalysis, Freud learned this when he was working with Jean-Martin Charcot in France. Freud terms this experience as the one that provoked him to pursue the study of hypnosis as it looked financially beneficial. Freud learned some of the techniques from Charcot as he saw him practising the science on his patients or the people who came to watch him on stage.

Freud started to practice hypnotism on his own once his private practice was set up. He and his friend Josef Breuer developed a type of hypnosis different from the French and the treatment of patients began with that hypnosis. There was one particular patient through which the study became more credible, Anna O. was invited to talk about her symptoms while being hypnotized. As she talked through the course of her time with the doctors, she started to recover; the severity of her symptoms was reduced as she had retrieved the memories of her past which were troubling. With this study, Freud’s clinical practice had indeed been transformed.

However, soon Freud realized that the results were uneven which eventually lead him to abandon the idea of hypnosis. This all did not go in vain as Freud realized that encouraging patients to talk freely would help them open up to the doctor, this would lead to a better analysis of the problem and in turn a  better treatment could be advised, he termed this procedure as “free association”. Freud also made the conclusive observation that studying the dreams of a person could help find out the causes of repression which would enable a fruitful analysis to figure out a treatment. By 1896, Freud was using the term “psychoanalysis” to refer to the new clinical method that he had formulated.

The development of these theories came at a point of time where Freud was also suffering through episodes of depression, sleep deprivation, etc. So, he had gone into a phase of self-analysis, where he linked all these symptoms to “not being able to cope with the death of his father”. He also traced some symptoms back to the incidents of his traumatizing childhood when he was molested; these incidents gave rise of the theories of seduction and relating the Oedipus complex to the infantile memories.

The psychoanalytic movement took place throughout Europe, societies were set up in different countries of Europe and they were all researching more about this theory that Freud had developed. He was given the Goethe Prize for extraordinary contributions to psychology and German literature.

The Seduction Theory

In the early 1890s, Freud used some “pressure techniques” to help diagnose some of his patients who showed severe symptoms of repression. Through his analysis of the repressed memories of these patients, he linked these symptoms of depression with childhood sexual abuses. He carefully researched more on this and made it the basis of his “Seduction Theory”. There came a time during the analysis where he came to believe that these episodes of sexual abuse as a child were merely fantasies and they had originated from the fending off of these memories. He concluded that these memories were not due to seduction but due to something termed as the Oedipus complex. The Oedipus complex was a term coined by Freud in his book “Interpretation of Dreams”; it is positive and negative in nature. The positive Oedipus complex deals with the unconscious sexual desire of a child for the opposite-sex parent and hatred for the same-sex parent, whereas the negative Oedipus complex is the sexual desire of a child for the same-sex parent and hatred for the opposite sex parent.

The problem lied with the fact that Freud’s patients did not have reason to believe that they had been sexually abused in their childhood; they did not believe Freud when he told them that. Freud concluded with a dilemma and arguably lost confidence in his own “Seduction Theory”.

The Unconscious

The concept was the central idea in the Freud’s mind, he knew that the existence of the unconscious was known to the likes of the poets and artists, but he believed that it needed scientific recognition. Freud based the unconscious on the basis of repression, he postulated a whole cycle and concluded that events of the past never leave the mind; they merely are set in the subconscious state. These ideas are removed they still remain very operative and they have a tendency to reappear in a specific set of circumstances. These theories were based on the idea that patients who experienced traumatic hysteria had changed in behavior patterns which were really hard to explain. They were reacting to situations in such ways as to which was never expected of them. This lead to the idea of the unconscious describing how all the memories are still operative inside the consciousness of a human.

The Essence of Dreams

Freud believed that dreams were a sort of cushioning mechanism; they were made for the functioning of preserving sleep. Dreams are instigated by the daily occurrences and thoughts of everyday life. Freud believed in something called the “dream-work”, which indicated to the fact that there were two processes in the setup, i.e. primary and secondary. The primary thoughts of the mind were the one which was honest and reciprocated what a person had experienced throughout their life, which would often be disturbing. The secondary process was the one functioning to make the dreams work as it would suppress the primary process of dreams and replace with thoughts more sensitive to the mind which would ensure a peaceful sleep.

The Theory of Personality Development

Freud believed that basic biological instincts combine with the societal factors to shape the personalities of individuals. He strongly believed that there were three parts to a human mind which should function properly and interact with each other for an individual to function well in society. These three parts need to be well balanced as even if one part becomes dominant, it could lead to personal and social problems.

They are as follows:

  1. Id: This is the first development in a human brain; a newborn’s mind only consists of the id. It is responsible for the most primitive desires, such as the satisfaction of physical desires. A person whose brain only comprises of the id will do anything for strictly following their personal pleasures, even by breaking societal rules.
  2. Superego: The development of the superego comes as the infant becomes a child; they develop somewhat of a conscience which encourages them to follow societal norms and regulations. A person with a hyperactive superego will give to the desire of following the rules and regulations to the book which would hurt his desire to live freely in the society.
  3. Ego: The ego is the sign of a healthy mind as it solves the conflicts between the id and the superego. It manages to create a balance in the human mind through which rational decisions are made to live freely and under societal rules. If the ego is imbalanced a person may lose the ability to make rational decisions and hence a change in behavioral patterns may be observed.

The Criticism

Freud’s theory was criticized on the basis of it being the shortcomings of Freud’s own mental shortcomings. Freud does describe in his books that he had been suffering through episodes of depression himself and he wouldn’t be a credible source within that phase. There have been speculations regarding him projecting his own feelings onto the patient to look for a diagnosis for his own mental problems. Despite these arguments, the theories of Freud are without much scientific backing as the technology back then wasn’t so advanced. Hence, these theories have a huge probability of being very subjective and opinion-oriented in nature.

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Kartik is studying BA in International Relations at Amity and Dropped out of engineering from NIT Hamirpur and he lived in over 5 different countries.