Essay on Sigmund Freud and the Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality
Number of words: 1678
Sigmund Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in the Czech Republic. His family moved to Leipzig and settled in Vienna, Austria, where Freud will be educated. His family is Jewish, but Freud himself does not practice the religion (Sigmund Freud, n.d.). Freud began his study of medicine in 1873 at the University of Vienna. Freud collaborated with a physician named Josef Breuer in treating patients with hysteria by recalling painful experiences (Sigmund Freud, n.d.). Freud would also draw inspiration from Jean Charcot, a French neurologist that tutored Freud. Freud would then return to Vienne and set up a clinic for his private practice. This series of events led Freud to develop his theory of psychoanalysis. Honestly, Freud was not drawn to medicine because he desired to engage in medical practice, but because he was intensely curious and passionate about human nature (Ellenberger, 1970). Meeting Both Breuer and Charcot influenced Freud’s eventual pursuit of developing a psychological theory.
A combination of his experiences heavily influenced Freud’s understanding of personality with patients, his self-analyzation of his dreams, and the readings from various sciences and humanities (Feist, Feist, & Roberts, 2018). All these culminated in Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality.
Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is a grand theory. This premise denotes that the theory he created covers a vast scope of the human personality and mind. Freud’s theory can be divided into several facets for a clearer understanding of the entire picture. First, there are the provinces of the mind: the conscious and the unconscious (Feist, Feist, & Roberts, 2018). Next, come the dynamics of personality. This premise refers to the sex and aggression impulse in everyone. Supplementary to this are the defense mechanisms. Last, Freud delves into the development of the individual. His theory posits the psychosexual stages of development.
To further understand the provinces of the mind, Freud introduced the conscious and the unconscious. The conscious is the mental awareness that a person has. The conscious plays a very minimal role in his theory. Freud focused on the unconscious in building his theory. The unconscious can be further divided into two other regions: the preconscious and the true unconscious. The difference between these two is that the preconscious contains thoughts that an individual is not conscious of but is readily available when needed. The unconscious contains an individual’s drives, urges, or instincts, not in a person’s awareness (Feist, Feist, & Roberts, 2018). The central theme of Freud’s theory lies within the unconscious. Freud claimed that a person’s unconscious motivates most of an individual’s words, feelings, and actions. He also stated that some parts of a person’s unconscious may have originated from their ancestors; he called this phylogenic endowment (Feist, Feist & Roberts, 2018). As the provinces of the mind have been established, Freud also hypothesized the id, ego, and superego. These elements interact with the outside world. The id, or the pleasure principle, lies entirely in the unconscious. The id is responsible for our desires, and its only function is to seek pleasure. The ego, or the reality principle, has all conscious, unconscious, preconscious elements (Feist, Feist, & Roberts, 2018). The ego is an individual’s method of communicating with the outside world. As the only region of the mind that has contact with the outside world, the ego is also considered the decision-making personality of a person (Feist, Feist, & Roberts, 2018). Last, the superego is the part of the mind that tackles the moral and ideal principles of the person. The superego resides in the unconscious and preconscious. The superego acts as a person’s moral conscience, informing the person on what is right and what is wrong. These three forces of the mind constantly struggle against each other and determine which force rules over a person. An example would be an individual with an overgrown id who may actively seek pleasurable stimuli.
Freud also tackles personality in his theory. Freud claimed that personality in man is our innate drive. The personality theory revolves around two significant drives: eros or sex and Thanatos or aggression (Feist, Feist, & Roberts, 2018). These drives originate from the id but are constantly checked by the ego. The eros, or libido, drive in a person pertains not only to genitalia satisfaction. Freud expresses that eros pertains to all pleasurable acts; this includes love. Thanatos, on the other hand, pertains to an individual’s aggression. The aim of the destructive drive, according to Freud, is to return the organism to an inorganic state. The inorganic condition that Freud is referring to is death. The ultimate aim of the aggressive drive is self-destruction (Feist, Feist, & Roberts, 2018). This premise may take on many forms, such as teasing, anger, or enjoying other people’s suffering.
Freud also included defense mechanisms in his theory. Defense mechanisms help the conscious avoid dealing with sexual and aggressive urges and defend itself from the anxiety that it brings (Feist, Feist, & Roberts, 2018). Examples of this are repression, denial, and projection.
Freud’s theory also included the stages of development in an individual. These stages function like different stages in a person’s life. If one stage is not fulfilled or “satisfied,” the result would be a fixation in that stage that would reflect certain unwanted behaviors later in life. The stages are oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital. There is a specific erogenous zone or parts of the body that require satisfaction to proceed generally in life in each stage. In the oral stage, this is the mouth. The mouth is where an infant gains nourishment. This stage must be satisfied by providing the mouth with objects to suck on. Failure in satisfaction eventually leads a child to develop pleasure-seeking of the mouth in adulthood. Examples are smoking or chewing gum. Next is the anal stage, wherein pleasure is derived from the anus. Specifically, the pleasure is centered on defecating. Failure to satisfy this stage leads to a fixation of having excessive controlling tendencies later in life. In the phallic stage, the child gains awareness of anatomical differences. This awareness creates the conflict between attraction, resentment, and jealousy, which Freud called the Oedipus complex (for boys) and the Electra complex (for girls) (Mcleod, 2019). Next is the latency period, wherein the libido becomes dormant, and no psychosexual development occurs. Much of a child’s energy is devoted to acquiring new skills and engaging in social activities with other children. Lastly is the genital stage, wherein the libido is once again awakened and simultaneously occurs during puberty. In this stage, individuals direct sexual instinct toward heterosexual intercourse. Fixations from the past stages may prevent the healthy development of relationships.
The application of Freud’s grand theory is shown primarily in psychoanalytic therapy. The goal of psychoanalytic theory is to uncover unconscious memories through free association and dream analysis. Psychoanalysis aims to strengthen the ego by forcing unconscious thoughts to the conscious mind, ultimately making the ego face such thoughts. Free association pertains to a patient free saying what is on his or her mind. From these thoughts, the therapist will slow derive patterns and ideas from the words or stories spoken by the patient. In dream analysis, Freud believed that our dreams contain our unfulfilled, unconscious wishes. Freud’s goal was to use a person’s dreams as a gateway into the unconscious, thus retrieving those thoughts and ultimately understanding the person’s desires.
In reading Freud’s theory, I have realized that Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality is deterministic. I say this because Freud’s theory emphasizes the control of the unconscious in a person’s life. I also believe that Freud’s theory is not verifiable, nor is it falsifiable. I believe that his theory is grand because it covers the entirety of a person’s mind and personality. What I did not appreciate in his theory is that it cannot be proven scientifically. There is no way to prove the existence of the id, ego, and superego. His theory cannot be falsifiable. A theory is seldom free from questioning and falsification—Freud’s bias and opinion spill over in his creation. Many of his methods and conclusions have been denied, even to a point where some of his theories have even become viewed as damaging (Alliant International University, n.d.). An example of this is his view of both women and homosexuality. There are many questionable aspects of Freud’s theory, so I believe that it must not be used as the fundamental theory in dealing with people. Freud’s theory is outdated and must only be a reference for contemporary theories or research.
Alliant International University. (n.d.). Are Freud and psychoanalysis still relevant? https://www.alliant.edu/blog/are-freud-and-psychoanalysis-still-relevant
Ellenberger, H. F. (1970). The discovery of the unconscious. New York: Basic Books.
Feist, J., Feist, G. J., & Roberts, T. (2018). Theories of personality (9th ed.). McGrew Hill.
McLeod, S. (2019). Freud’s psychosexual stages of development. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/psychosexual.html#:~:text=Freud%20proposed%20that%20p
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). (2014). BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/freud_sigmund.shtml#:~:text=Sigmund%20Freud%20(1856%2D1939)&text=