Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality is both relevant and non-relevant in today’s society. His theory of consciousness is very important as a foundation for understanding human thought and behavior. Freud looked beyond the effects of behavior and explored the unconscious. He significantly changed the way the world views behavior by explaining certain levels of consciousness, the components of the unconscious mind, and different developmental phases. Freud believed that many of our conscious thoughts and actions are motivated by unconscious fears and desires.
Sigmund Freud is best known for his development and use of psychoanalysis. The theory of psychoanalysis focuses on the concept of how our unconscious thoughts, feelings, and emotions play an active role in our daily lives. The id, ego, and superego are the three mental zones and each has a specific function. The id functions on the pleasure principle; the ego on the protection of the individual; and the superego on protection of society. Every individual is composed of different amounts of each mental zone. The ultimate goal is to achieve the perfect balance of the three areas by understanding how each works alone and contributes to make the whole. The basis of psychoanalysis is that the unconscious mind determines behavior.
One of the biggest concerns in Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is the inability to explain behavior in our modern culture. Freud lived in an era where women were believed to be inferior to men. Freud based his theories on his case studies and direct observations. These observations had limitations because his subjects were Viennese upper-class women; a small portion of society. He focused mainly on the male development; as he was part of a male dominated era which led to half of the population’s development being insufficiently accounted for. Freud lacked an understanding of women which suggests that his theories involving women are not accurate. The prevalence of same-sex parents raising children in homosexual homes or single-parent households raises questions that psychoanalysis fails to answer and is not relevant in today’s society.
Freudian theory suggests that as children develop they progress through a series of psychosexual stages. Each stage has a pleasure-seeking energy that is focused on a different part of the body. The successful completion of each stage leads to a healthy personality as an adult. However, if a conflict remains unresolved at any particular stage, the individual might remain fixated or “stuck” at that particular point of development. A fixation can involve an obsession with something related to that phase of development. Signs of an oral fixation might include an excessive reliance on oral behaviors such as smoking, biting fingernails or eating.
In these modern times, there are over 45 million Americans who smoke and based on Freud’s theory it is a direct result of the way a child went through the teething phase. The idea that a parent who let their child teeth for too long could somehow lead to an individual developing an oral fixation is something that has lost credibility and not relevant today. There are millions of smokers in the United States and very rarely does the blame rest upon the parents who left their kids with a pacifier for too long.
Defense mechanisms are a major aspect of psychoanalysis and are relevant in today’s society. When someone seems unwilling to face a painful truth, you might accuse them of being “in denial.” When a person tries to look for a logical explanation for unacceptable behavior, you might suggest that they are “rationalizing.” These things represent different types of defense mechanisms, or tactics that the ego uses to protect itself from anxiety. Today we recognize denial as the first and foremost defense mechanism which helps professionals understand an individual’s denial of addictions; such as drugs/alcohol, gambling, and shopping.
In conclusion, the profession of psychology would not be where it is today without Sigmund Freud. His contributions to psychology are perhaps some of the most important. Freud’s early work on psychoanalysis as a treatment for a “sick” mind paved the way for modern-day psychologists, psychiatrists, theorists, and analysts who are developing this treatment even further. However, he based his theories on events that were exclusive to his time period. In today’s society we have different stressors and live different lifestyles than those living in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They did not know road rage, chemical explosions, pollution, etc. Some changes to consider are focusing on the development of women, study of homosexual and single-parent households, variety of ethnicities/cultures, and environmental concerns just to name a few.
Feist, J., Feist, G., & Roberts, T. (2013). Theories of personality. (8ed., p.19). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies. Lothane, Z. (2006). Freud’s legacy–is it still with us? Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23(2), 285-301. doi:10.1037/0736-97184.108.40.2065 Psychoanalysis. (2013). Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 1-2.