Psychodynamic Perspectives to understanding of human behaviour

There are various different approaches in contemporary approaches. An approach is a perspective that involves assumptions about human behaviour, the way they function, which aspects of them are worthy of study and what research methods are appropriate for undertaking this study. There may be several different theories within an approach, but they all share these common assumptions.

You may be wonder why there are so many different psychology perspectives and whether one approach is correct and others wrong. Most psychologists would agree that no one perspective is correct, although in the past, in the early days of psychology, the behaviourist would have said their perspective was the only truly scientific one.

Each perspective has its strengths and weakness and brings something different to our understanding of human behaviour.

For this reason, it is important that psychology does have different perspectives to the understanding and study of human and animal behaviour. There are few clear explanations of common misbehaviour among secondary school students aged 16-19 years of age in terms of psychological theories.

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These explanations from the earlier psychologists able to make us understand more about gang violence that is increasing in amount nowadays.



Psychodynamic referred to as an approach to psychology that emphasises systematic study of the psychological forces that underlie human behaviour, feelings and emotions and how they might relate to early experience. It is especially interested in the dynamic relations between conscious motivation and unconscious motivation.

It is also used by some to refer specifically to the psychoanalytical approach developed by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and his followers, although such use becomes confusing, because some of those followers, in particular, John Bowlby opposed the founding principles of Freud’s theory, forming opposing factions.

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Bowlby’s attachment theory, still described as ‘psychodynamic’ in approach, is widely considered to be the basis of most current research and to have put the field formerly known as psychoanalysis on a more scientifically based, experimentally testable, footing.

The words psychodynamic and psychoanalytic are often confused. Remember that Freud’s theories were psychoanalytic, whereas the term ‘psychodynamic’ refers to both his theories and those of his followers. Freud’s psychoanalysis is both a theory and a therapy. Sigmund Freud developed a collection of theories which have formed the basis of the psychodynamic approach to psychology. His theories are clinically derived for example based on what his patients told him during therapy.

The psychodynamic therapist would usually be treating the patient for depression or anxiety related disorders.

Psychodynamic psychology ignores the trappings of science and instead focuses on trying to get ‘inside the head’ of individuals in order to make sense of their relationships, experiences and how they see the world.

The psychodynamic approach includes all the theories in psychology that see human functioning based upon the interaction of drives and forces within the person, particularly unconscious and between the different structures of the personality. Freud’s psychoanalysis was the original psychodynamic theory, but the psychodynamic approach as a whole includes all theories that were based on his ideas, e.g. Jung (1964), Adler (1927) and Erikson (1950).


Behaviour and feelings are powerfully affected by unconscious motives. Behaviour and feelings as adults (including psychological problems) are rooted in our childhood experiences. All behaviour has a cause (usually unconscious), even slips of the tongue.

Therefore all behaviour is determined. Parts of the unconscious mind (the id and superego) are in constant conflict with the conscious part of the mind (the ego). Personality is shaped as the drives are modified by different conflicts at different times in childhood (during psychosexual development). The unconscious is one of the most powerful effects on behaviour and emotion No behaviour is without cause and is therefore determined.

Childhood experiences greatly affect emotions and behaviour as adults. The id, ego and super-ego make up personality The drives behind behaviour are

a) The lift instinct and sex drive

b) Death instinct and aggressive drive.

Various conflicts throughout childhood development shape overall personality. The psychodynamic perspective asserts that in childhood certain incidents may occur that produce behaviours in adulthood. As children, defence mechanisms are utilized, then as adults behaviours manifest as a result. Examples of defence mechanisms that may be used include:

  • Repression
  • Denial
  • Reaction formation
  • Sublimation
  • Projection
  • Displacement
  • Regression
  • Fantasy

Some examples of behaviours and their explanations using psychodynamic perspective include:

Obsessive hand washing could be linked to a trauma in childhood that now causes this behaviour  Nail-biting may be caused by an anxiety inducing childhood event A childhood event that caused fear in an open space may trigger agoraphobia in an adult Hoarding behaviours could be a result of childhood trauma

Number aversion can be an obsessive behaviour perhaps initiated by an incident in childhood development Rituals of nervousness such as completing a task a certain number of times (such as opening and closing a cabinet) could be linked to a childhood situation Skin picking is a compulsion that would be linked to a developmental trauma Another compulsive behaviour is hair plucking

Compulsively counting footsteps could be linked to an incident in childhood. Any irrational behaviours can be blamed on childhood instances of trauma or development Neurotic behaviours can be linked to childhood development issues or interruptions Sexual compulsions or related sexual behavioural issues are linked at the sexual development stage using the psychodynamic perspective.


Anna O a patient of Dr. Joseph Breuer, who is Freud’s mentor and friend, from 1800 to 1882 suffered from hysteria. In 1895 Breuer and his assistant, Sigmund Freud, wrote a book, Studies on Hysteria. In it they explained their theory that says every hysteria is the result of a traumatic experience, one that cannot be integrated into the person’s understanding of the world.

The publication establishes Freud as “the father of psychoanalysis.” By 1896, Freud had found the key to his own system, naming it psychoanalysis. In it he had replaced hypnosis with “free association.” In 1900, Freud published his first major work, The Interpretation of Dreams, which established the importance of psychoanalytical movement. In 1902, Freud founded the Psychological Wednesday Society, later transformed into the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.

As the organization grew, Freud established an inner circle of devoted followers, the so-called “Committee”. Freud and his colleagues came to Massachusetts in 1909 to lecture on their new methods of understanding mental illness.

Those in attendance included some of the country’s most important intellectual figures, such as William James, Franz Boas, and Adolf Meyer. In the years following the visit to the United States, the International Psychoanalytic Association was founded. Freud designated Carl Jung as his successor to lead the Association, and chapters were created in major cities in Europe and elsewhere.

Regular meetings or congresses were held to discuss the theory, therapy, and cultural applications of the new discipline. Jung’s study on schizophrenia, The Psychology of Dementia Praecox, led him into collaboration with Sigmund Freud. Jung’s close collaboration with Freud lasted until 1913. Jung had become increasingly critical of Freud’s exclusively sexual definition of libido and incest. The publication of Jung’s Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido, known in English as The Psychology of the Unconscious, ted to a final break.

Following his emergence from this period of crisis, Jung developed his own theories systematically under the name of Analytical Psychology. Jung’s concepts of the collective unconscious led him to explore religion in the East and West, myths, alchemy and later flying saucers. Anna Freud, Freud’s daughter, became a major force in British psychology, specializing in the application of psychoanalysis to children. Among her best known work is The Ego and the Mechanism of Defence (1936).




Made the case study method popular in psychology
Defence mechanisms
Free association
Projective Tests (TAT, Rorschach)
Highlighted the importance of childhood

Case studies are subjective and cannot generalize results
Unscientific (lacks empirical support)
Too deterministic (little free-will)
Biased sample
Ignores meditational processes (e.g. thinking, memory)
Rejects free will
Difficult to prove wrong


The greatest criticism of the psychodynamic approach is that it is unscientific in its analysis of human behaviour. Many of the concepts
central to Freud’s theories are subjective and as much impossible to scientifically test. For example, how is it possible to scientifically study concepts like the unconscious mind or the tripartite personality? In this respect, the psychodynamic perspective is difficult to prove wrong as the theories cannot be empirically investigated. Furthermore, most of the evidence for psychodynamic theories is taken from Freud’s case studies, e.g.

Little Hans, Anna O. The main problem here is that the case studies are based on studying one person in detail and with reference to Freud the individuals in question are most often middle aged women from Vienna for instance his patients. This makes generalizations to the wider population difficult. The humanistic approach makes the criticism that the psychodynamic perspective is too deterministic that it is leaving little room for the idea of personal agency.


The psychodynamic theory places its emphasis on the notion that one of the main causes of gang violence is children’s abnormal personalities that were created and developed in earlier life. Since then these “unconscious mental processes” have been controlling the adolescents’ criminal behaviour. The Id is the drive for immediate gratification and can explain gang violence acts.

The ego is the realization of real life and helps control the Id. Superego develops through interactions with parents and other responsible adults and develops the conscience of moral rules. This psychodynamic approach states that traumatic experiences during early childhood can prevent the ego and superego from developing properly, therefore leaving the Id with greater power (Champion, 2004). According to psychodynamic theory, whose basis is the pioneering work of the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud, law violations are a product of an abnormal personality structure formed early in life and which thereafter controls human behaviour choices.

Unconscious motivations for behaviour come from the Id’s action in response to two primal needs-sex and aggression. Human behaviour is often marked by symbolic actions that reflect hidden feelings about these needs. For example, stealing a car may reflect a person’s unconscious need for shelter and mobility to escape from hostile enemies or perhaps an urge to enter a closed, dark, womblike structure that reflects the earliest memories (sex).

All three segments of the personality operate simultaneously. The Id dictates needs and desires, the superego counteracts the Id by fostering the feelings of morality and righteousness and the ego evaluates the reality of a position between these two extremes. If these two components are properly balanced, the individual can lead a normal life. If one aspect of the personality becomes dominant at the expense of the others, the individual exhibits abnormal personality traits.

A number of psychologists and psychiatrists expanded upon Freud’s original model to explain the onset of gang violence among adolescents. Erik Erikson speculated that many adolescents experience a life crisis in which they feel emotional, impulsive and uncertain of their role and purpose. He coined the phrase identity crisis to denote this period of inner turmoil and confusion.

Erikson’s approach might characterize the behaviour of youthful drug abusers as an expansion of confusion over their place in society, their inability to direct behaviour towards useful outlets and perhaps their dependency on others to offer them solutions to their problems. Psychoanalyst, August Aichorn, found in his classic work that social stress alone could not produce such an emotional state. He identify latent delinquencies which means youths whose troubled family leads them to seek immediate gratification without consideration of right and wrong or the feelings of others.

In its most extreme form, gang violence may be viewed as a form of psychosis that prevents delinquent youths from appreciating the feelings of their victims or controlling their own impulsive needs for gratification. Psychodynamic theory holds that youth involvement in gang violence is a result of unresolved mental anguish and internal conflict. Some children, especially those who have been abused or mistreated, might experience unconscious feelings associated with resentment, fear and hatred.

If this conflict cannot be settled, the children may regress to a state in which they become Id dominated. This regression may be considered responsible for a great number of mental diseases, from neuroses to psychoses, and in many cases it may be related to criminal behaviour. Adolescents in gangs are Id-dominated people who suffer from the inability to control impulsive drives. Just because they suffered unhappy experiences in childhood or had families who could not provide proper love and care, causing them to suffer from weak or damaged egos that make them unable to cope with conventional society.

Adolescent antisocial behaviour is a consequence of feeling unable to cope with feelings of oppression. Involvement in gang violence actually allows youths to strive by producing positive psychic results, helping them to feel free and independent, giving them possibility of excitement and the chance to use their skills and imagination; providing the promise of positive gain, allowing them to blame others for their predicament (for example, the police) and giving them a chance to rationalize their own sense of failure.

The psychodynamic approach places a heavy emphasis on the family’s role. Gangs frequently come from families in which parents unable to provide the controls that allow children to develop the personal tools they need to cope with the world. If neglectful parents fail to develop a child’s superego adequately, the child’s Id may become the predominant personality force, the absence of a strong superego results in an inability to distinguish clearly between right and wrong. In fact, some psychodynamic view gangs as motivated by an unconscious urge to be punished.

These children feel unloved, assume the reason must be their own inadequacy, hence they deserve punishment. Later, the youth may demand immediate gratification, lack of compassion and sensitivity for the needs of others, disassociate feelings, act aggressively and impulsively and demonstrate other psychotic symptoms. According to the psychodynamic approach, gang violence is a function of unconscious mental instability and turmoil.

People who have lost control and are dominated by their Id are known as psychotics, thus causing their behaviour be marked by hallucinations and inappropriate responses. Megargee’s ‘overcontrolled’ violent offender Megargee (1966) documented a series of cases of gang violence carried out by people who were regarded as passive and harmless. For instance, an 11 year-old boy who stabbed his brother 34 times with a steak knife was described as polite and softly spoken with no history of aggression. Megargee argued that such cases represent a distinct sub-group of violent offender criminological psychology. Psychodynamic theories of offending Aidan Sammons whose shared characteristic is an apparent inability to express their anger in normal ways and who eventually ‘explode’ and release all their anger and aggression at once, often in response to a seemingly trivial provocation.

Freudian formulations like Megargee’s are unfashionable nowadays and more research attention is given to the majority of violent offenders, whose problem is generally a lack of inhibition of their anger, rather than too much inhibition. Nonetheless, there is evidence that a subset of violent offenders follow the pattern described by Megargee. For example, Blackburn (1971) found that people convicted of extremely violent assaults tended to have fewer previous convictions and scored lower on measures of hostility than those convicted of moderately violent assaults. However, the existence of such a group does not in itself show that Megargee was correct about the underlying mechanisms responsible.

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Psychodynamic Perspectives to understanding of human behaviour. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

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