The basis of Freud’s theory was the conscious mind, the preconscious mind, and the unconscious mind. His study had much to do with many aspects of the conscious and unconscious states; however, the major divisions included the conscious, preconscious, and the unconscious. The conscious and the preconscious are the smallest part of this theory, as well as the easiest to understand. The conscious is what you are aware of at any particular moment, in present perceptions, memories, and thoughts. The conscious is the most influential part of personality; it represents the “here and now.”
The preconscious is what was considered “available memory”; anything that can easily be made conscious; it includes both conscious and unconscious material. Preconscious has been known as “the buffer zone between conscious and unconscious realms.” In other words, the preconscious includes all those memories that you are not thinking of now, but can readily bring to mind easily.
The unconscious is the largest part of this theory and more difficult to understand. The unconscious includes all the things that are not easily available to one’s awareness. The unconscious thoughts are not organized and not logical. This may include many things that have their origins there, such as our drives or instincts, as well as things that are put there because we cannot bear to remember them, such as the memories and emotions associated with trauma. Freud feels that the unconscious is the source of our motivations in life, such as food, sex, neurotic compulsions, or motives toward a career, and the conscious is where we make our decisions to deny or resist these motives. Every desire, every motive, everything that is within us is formed from the unconscious.
Within these stages of consciousness, there is repression, which is the state in which the ideas existed before being made conscious. There is also a force of resistance, which instituted the repression and maintains it during the work of analysis. The repression comes from the unconscious stage, where it cannot become conscious.
Another big part of Freud’s theory included the id, ego, and the superego. The best way to describe this part of Freud’s idea is to compare it to the infant where “it” is the id. The id is associated with the pleasure principle, which is the “feel good” part; this stage has nothing to do with the external world. This is easily understood by using the example of a hungry infant who will scream until it gets his food. The baby screams for food but wants what he wants, not truly knowing what he wants.
The ego on the other hand transforms from “it” to “I” and functions according to the reality principle, which says “take care of a need as soon as an appropriate object is found.” Thinking at this stage is logical, rational, and deals with the external world; behaving defensively is a major act at this point.
The superego is the act of avoiding things and strategies to take; this step is completed around age seven. The superego is partially unconscious. There are two parts of superego: the conscience, which is an internalization of punishments and warnings (the don’ts), and the ego ideal, which derives from rewards and positive models presented to the child (the dos). This is the part of the mind, which deals with society and their traditional values and taboos.
All this ties into the idea of libido, or our desires. Freud saw all human behavior motivated by our libido. The ideas of libido and the stages of development were seen very clearly by Freud. He saw humans as creatures driven by our sexual desires and controlled by our unconscious motivations.
The first organ to emerge as an erogenous zone is the mouth, the oral phase, shown first through a baby’s sucking action. Here the child needs to recognize the external world as necessary for the fulfillment of his needs. The next is the anal stage, which represents the aggressive (including either over-control or under-control), instinctual fusion of purely libidinal and destructive urges. Here aggression and love are fused, so that there is a struggle between love and hate.
The phallic stage then emerges, where the males are fantasizing about their mothers and the threat of castration appears. In this stage, the females realize her lack of penis and clitoral inferiority; she then begins to turn away from her sexual life altogether. This idea then goes onto the Oedipus complex, where the son killed his father and marries his mother. At the same time, the females create envy for the penis, and consequently, begin to become hostile toward her mother. She begins to be driven out of her attachment to her mother, and develops a special relationship toward her father.
This complete process brings children to a stage of adulthood. Freud feels not too many people reach this stage without help. Freud felt that at the adult stage, there are two characteristics: the ability to love and the ability to work.
Freud also had some ideas on anxiety. He divided anxiety into three different categories: realistic, moral, and neurotic. Realistic anxiety is anxiety of the external world; this is what one would consider to be fear. Moral anxiety is a threat from the internalized social world of the superego. Here we see shame, guilt, and a fear of punishment. Neurotic anxiety is the fear of being overwhelmed by impulses from the id; the idea of “losing it.” Freud felt that some degree of anxiety is normal within every individual, because it is an emotion and everyone feels anxious at one point or another within their lives.
The last section of Freud’s theory included the Dream World. He felt that dreams, having much to do with the unconscious, also contained symbols for unconscious thoughts, feelings and desires. He split them into two categories: manifest content and latent content. The manifest content is what we remember and the conscious part. The latent content is the most important dimension; it includes all the thoughts lying behind the dream. All aspects of the dream are included in this (symbols and distortions as well).
Freud felt as though almost all dreams include the remains of a memory or an allusion to something that happened that day. Therefore, most dreams have meaning behind them and reasons why the dream occurred. Freud’s idea of the unconscious being our motivation behind our actions, he also felt that dreams were part of our motivations; the dreams are an individual’s way of fulfilling wishes, desires, and impulses in a safe, imaginary fashion. This is where dream interpretation and translation become prevalent.
Freud had a very wide view of personality and how each person’s personality is viewed. He felt as though the unconscious and the conscious had much to do with each other; through their connection, the ideas of the growth stages, the anxieties, and dream all come together. The unconscious being the basis of all our thoughts, motivations, impulses, and desires allow each individual personality to be formed.