Explain the Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory.

During the 1890s-I930s, Sigmund Freud developed his theories which became the basis of the psychodynamic theory. While treating patients with emotional problems, Freud used a number of newly developed techniques like hypnosis, dream analysis and free association. Freud and Viennese physician, Joseph Breuer, talked about the problems of their patients. Freud found that physician’s talks with patient often help in curing certain symptoms. For example, a young boy got rid of his irrational fears and a woman with a paralyzed arm could use it again.

Freud provided a cure for a series of patients with mental problems and sought to know about the cause of the symptoms. Freud realized that behaviour was determined by some identifiable cause. A person’s feelings and thinking were not a matter of chance. He also found that individuals were not often aware of the cause for particular behaviour. Freud tried to find out the cause to bring it into the conscious. He also developed a theory of personality to explain the working of human mind.

Freud’s theory can be described under three heads:

  1. Structure of personality,
  2. Dynamics of personality, and
  3. Development of personality.

Structure of Personality

Freud developed two models, topographical model and dynamic or structural model, to describe the structure of personality:

Topographical Model (State of Consciousness).

Freud’s configuration of the mind is covered under the topographical model. He found that the three states of consciousness can be used to describe mental functioning.

First is the conscious state. It is a person’s thinking at the moment. For example, an individual is consciously reading a book. Conscious state provides immediate experiences to a person. Conscious state thus is short and limited.

Second is the subconscious or preconscious state. It is the stored memories which can be brought into consciousness. These are not conscious at the moment but could be recalled. For example, what did you do in the morning today? Now this is not in your consciousness, but you can recall what you had done in the morning.

Third is unconscious state. It includes elements of which we are unaware. Freud found that some materials which were not conscious caused anxiety and it was repressed and thrust out of consciousness.

We presumably repress hostile feelings, desperate fears and sexual craving as they are so threatening. All these elements however remain in the unconscious state. Freud believed that human awareness is not directly accessible to this part of the mind.

These repressed urges, feelings and ideas get tied to pain, anxiety and conflict. According to Freud, they exert influence on our actions and conscious awareness. Repressed materials can slip into the unconscious and they are not be made available voluntarily.

A psychoanalyst can bring out these elements from the unconscious to the conscious state. According to Freud’s topographical model, only 10% of an iceberg is visible (conscious) whereas the other 90% is under the water (preconscious and unconscious). Out of 90%, about 10% -15% is the preconscious state and about 75% – 80% is unconscious.

Dynamic or Structural Model.

Freud described mental functioning on the basis of the three states of consciousness. He talked about three types of mental activity or three regions. He termed them as id, ego and superego. These regions clash because of our desire, whether we can realistically obtain them and which is right or wrong.

Id is the primary region. It is present at birth and totally unconscious. Id is ruled by the pleasure principle. It is concerned with immediate fulfillment of primitive needs, sexual desires and aggressive impulses. It does not lock at the probable results of the action for the gratification of desires.

Ego is the second region. It develops out of id. Ego tries to minimize the pain and maximize pleasure. It is concerned with the demand’s of reality or logic. Without this we could not survive. It helps us learn about the limitations in the real world. We know all of our desires cannot be fulfilled. It involves perception, learning, reasoning and other activities required to interact effectively with the world around us.

Superego is the third region in our mental functioning. It develops as we are exposed to the moral values by parents, teachers and elders. We accept and internalize views about ideal behaviour and moral values as to what is right and wrong. These aspects of superego are called ego-ideal and conscience respectively. The superego pervades over three levels of consciousness. The superego deals with the ideals. It creates the feeling of guilt. It also punishes us if we fall short of the societal values and ideals. It represents the societal demands.

Development of Personality.

According to Freud, human development goes through a series of stages. Freud’s Stages of Psychosexual Development has a predetermined sequence. It leads to either successful development of healthy personality or leads to a failure, development of an unhealthy personality. Freud’s theory is controversial as he felt that human personality develops through stages on the basis of a particular erogenous zone.

An individual gets fixated on that particular erogenous zone in each stage and either over indulges or under indulges once he becomes an adult. The characteristics of an adult person are determined by what happens to him in each stage, and how successful he is in getting through that period.

An individual may get stuck at a particular stage and do not develop beyond that stage. Freud termed this condition as fixation. An individual may also retreat to an earlier stage of development which Freud called regression. Given below is a brief discussion of theses psychosexual stages:

Oral Stage (Birth to 18 months): This is the first stage in psychosexual development. In this stage, the child’s focus on, oral pleasures, mainly sucking. Excessive or lower gratification can lead to an Oral Fixation or Oral Personality. It is evidenced if a person is preoccupied with oral activities. Such individuals have a stronger tendency to drink alcohol, over eat and smoke. These people also get overly dependent on others. They are also gullible and perpetual followers. They also become pessimistic and aggressive toward others.

Anal Stage (18 months to three years): This stage happens in toddlers. It can be divided into two phases: the expelling period and the retentive period. In the expelling period, the child gets pleasure in expelling feces. In the retentive period, the child gets pleasure from storing it. In this stage, the child gets toilet training. It is marked by conflicts with parents about defiance and compliance. In this stage, the child gets pleasure on eliminating and retaining feces. The child learns to control anal stimulation through society’s pressure, mainly via parents. The after effects of an anal fixation can lead to an obsession with cleanliness, perfection, and control. In the opposite, people become messy and disorganized.

Phallic Stage (Aged three to six): This is the most significant in the Freudian theory. In this stage, the child gets pleasure from stimulating his genital and starts discriminating between the sex roles of their parents. A child identifies with the parent of the opposite sex which is Oedipus complex. The child seeks an external object and the mother becomes the inevitable object for the child.

In the phallic stage, identification with the same-sex parent happens in the Oedipal phase. The child forms perception about gender roles and personality. According to Freud, in this stage boys may develop unconscious sexual desires for their mother.

The boys may consider their father as a competitor to their mother’s affection. Girls also go through a similar situation and develop unconscious sexual attraction to their father. Freud however strongly disagreed about the girls which some psychoanalysts call the Electra complex.

Freud believed that because of the strong competition of his father, boys identify with their father instead of fighting him. By identifying with the father, the boys develop masculine characteristics and identify themselves as a male and repress their sexual urges toward their mother. A fixation at this stage may result in sexual deviancies and weak or confused sexual identity.

Latency Stage (Age six to puberty): This stage happens before the start of puberty. In this stage, the sexual urges of the children remain repressed. They interact and play mainly with same sex peers. This stage is thus marked by the dormancy of the libido. Sexual and aggressive drives are used in other socially acceptable options.

Genital Stage (Puberty on): This is the final stage in psychosexual development. It starts When the puberty starts. The genital is the primary focus of pleasure. Adolescents direct their sexual desires onto opposite sex peers through the lessons learned in the previous stages.

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