The Theory of Psychoanalysis Essay

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The Theory of Psychoanalysis

            This paper focuses on the highly acclaimed Psychoanalytic Theory that was formulated by Sigmund Freud.  To begin, the paper discusses the life Sigmund Freud and how he came about with the Theory of Psychoanalysis.  His childhood up to his professional involvement with Ernst Bürke, J. C. Charcot and Josef Breuer was presented along with how they were instrumental in Freud’s venture of discovering the theory behind the human mind and behavior.

His management of psychoanalysis, and how he has made it acceptable to almost everyone up to the point that it managed to gather followers.  The principles underlying the Psychoanalytic Theory – including the concepts of the id, ego and superego, instincts, sexual development, and the conscious, preconscious and the unconscious were discussed. Dream interpretation and defense mechanisms were also covered.  Lastly, the paper provided insights on how the theory influenced other theories like feminism, and eventually led to the formulation of Psychoanalytic Feminism.

If there is one individual who may be credited in contemporary times for his contribution to the human mind, it is highly probably that Sigmund Freud would be among the popular choices.  A neurologist, physiologist and a medical doctor from Vienna, Austria who was born from 1856 at Freiberg, Moravia (presently Pribor, Czechoslovakia), Freud has changed the world’s views about treating both physical and psychological illness and disease.  The main focus of this paper a discussion of one of the most talked about theories formulated by Freud, the psychoanalytic theory.  To begin with, the paper provides a brief background about Freud in order to carefully trace how he was able to come up with the theory; a more in-depth look into the theory follows

            At four years old, Freud and his family moved to Vienna for a better life.  Instead of playing outside with other kids like he used to in Freiberg, he developed a passion for reading and studying (Bowman 469).  He became a top student, and was said to eat his dinner at his room just so he could study.  There have been stories asserting that he was in fact the favorite son of his mother, among a brood of seven. So much so that he has his own room and is the only child allowed to stay up late at night to encourage his passion for reading.

He was even the only one for whom the parents have spent a fortune to allow his pursuit of higher studies (Heffner).  This could possibly be true due to the fact that he and his family were impoverished, and yet he was able to study for eight years. He even worked as a teacher and translator and apparently, he was capable of speaking eight languages. Their poverty compelled him to borrow money from friends and teachers so that he could go on to study medicine in University of Vienna (Bowman 46

            During his years in the University of Vienna, he did not only focus on studying medicine but also researched on life sciences, mainly Biology and Physiology under Ernst Bürke, before he finally specialized on neurology. After earning his degree in medicine at 1881, he went back to his research about nerve cells.  He became engaged with Martha Bernays and decided to earn money by becoming a doctor in order to support his family. However, before his marriage in 1886, he went to Paris, France with the help of Bürke to study nerve and brain diseases under J.C. Charcot, a psychiatrist who treats people suffering paralysis and uses hypnotism to treat hysteria and other psychological dysfunctions (Thorton sec 4; Boeree online; Bowman 469).

When Freud came back to Vienna to treat nerve and brain diseases, he began experimenting with hypnotism and found that its benefits do not last (Boeree sec. 2).  Freud then started to believe that paralysis is not brought about by any illness from the body but is due to a mental state. His new patients were like those who are in Vienna; the more he studied them, the more he could not find any bodily factors that could have caused the paralysis, thus, he concluded that the main cause of the disease is mental in nature (Bowman 469).

At that point, he adopted the method mentioned by Josef Breuer – encouraging a patient to talk about the beginning of the symptoms. Because Freud realized that, perhaps, the patients are just looking someone they can talk to about the problems they have in their daily lives.  He then assumed that mental illness is connected to childhood fears. Then, with Breuer, they concluded that most neuroses are caused by traumatic experiences of the patients in early life that was put to away from consciousness. These repressed experiences may be cured by making them recall these incidents in order to deal with the experience both “intellectually and emotionally”. In effect, this will make possible the elimination of core psychological causes of the neurotic symptoms (Thorton sec 4).  These were the beginnings of psychoanalysis.

Freud and Breuer, however, parted ways when the latter could not get himself to agree with Freud about stressing the importance of “sexual origins and content of neuroses”. This caused Freud to go on his own, improving the theory and the practice of psychoanalysis (Thorton sec 4).  Other medical experts criticized Freud’s psychoanalytic theory especially due to its emphasis on sexuality.  They doubted and rejected Freud’s idea that any illness can be caused by mental factors, and they even claimed that their older methods in curing neuroses are better than Freud’s psychoanalysis.

Moreover, Freud continued to publish books, scientific methods and reports until some of medical experts were convinced that his teachings were logical. By 1908, his importance was greatly recognized at the International Congress of Psychoanalysis where his followers decided to meet to discuss and exchange ideas about psychoanalysis.  He was grateful as he was able to attract intellectual followers like Alfred Adler and Carl Jung; however, he remained disappointed as they left him to branch out on their own with developing rival psychoanalytic schools (Thorton online).

At 1923, he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent 30 surgeries for the next sixteen years and at 1939, he died in England due to emotional, physical and financial problems associated with the disease. He was forced to flee from Austria with his family at 1938 when the Nazi party invaded the country (Heffner par. 6).  His books were burned by the Nazi at 1933, but his theories are still being studied by students of different disciplines. Whilst, even new thinkers still argue and attempt to debunk his theories in contemporary times. .

Critics back then point out that the birth of psychoanalysis must be credited to Breuer instead of Freud. However, Freud’s friends and colleagues mentioned that Breuer’s “cathartic procedure” as the prelude of the psychoanalytic movement. This is also what he has asserted when he was invited to speak in an American University at 1909. He, however, he claimed that psychoanalysis was his creation and that nobody else knows more about it than him in his paper entitled “The History of Psychoanalytic Movement” on 1914 (Freud sec. 1).

In explaining the psychoanalytic theory, Freud began with the three structural elements of the human mind, namely: id, ego and superego. The id pertains to the unconscious and it possesses the instincts, inherited characteristics and features from birth. The ego characteristically is the conscious part which takes care of the needs of the id, and it is also the element that connects the id with reality. Finally, the superego is involved with limiting satisfactions and represents outside influences of people, norms and culture (Freud 14).

Ego defense mechanisms are used when the ego finds it hard to satisfy the needs of the id and of the superego as well (Heffner chap. 4 sec. 4).  These defenses are denial (arguing that something does not exists), displacement (pouring out impulse on something less threatening), intellectualization (avoiding emotions that cannot be accepted by focusing on the more logical aspects), projection (putting impulses that is one does not want by putting onto someone else), rationalization (giving rational causes against the real grounds), reaction formation (accepting a belief that is more tolerable other than the true belief that can cause unease), regression (going back to early periods of development), repression (putting traumatic experiences to the unconscious), sublimation (doing objectionable desires into something acceptable), and suppression (forcing to forget something by pushing it to the unconscious).

The fundamental bases of behavior which are the instincts are discussed in the succeeding portion. These re classified into two – Eros (life instincts) which institutes and maintains unity in relationships, and Thanatos (death instincts) which destroy relationships. According to Freud, these instincts can go and work together by “attraction” or go against each other through “repulsion” (Freud 18).

Another principle is sexual development which is the most controversial. It is the very aspect which “scandalized” other medical experts during Freud’s time.  According to Freud, there are four major phases of sexual development, as follows: oral stage, anal stage, phallic stage, latent stage and genital stage.  In the oral stage (first eighteen months after birth), the focus of pleasure is the mouth; thus, sucking and biting are common. When a person reaches the anal stage (eighteen months to three or four years old), the focus of pleasure is in the excretory function.

In the phallic stage (three or four to six or seven years old), boys and girls go through different situations – a boy will enter the Oedipus stage where he will feel jealous of his father and will fantasize on having an intimate relationship with his mother. Whereas, a girl will undergo the Electra phase where she experiences penis envy. When the child steps into the latent stage (six or seven years old up to puberty age), Freud believes that sexual development will hold back. Finally, it is in the genital stage (after puberty onwards) where a person’s sexual development is completed and where the focus of pleasure is towards sexual intercourse (Freud, 23).

The last principle concerns the psychical process which he categorized as conscious, preconscious and unconscious.  The conscious mind is when one is aware for a short period of time of ideas, thoughts, emotions and views; closely behind is the preconscious which consists of ideas and aspects that will come to one’s conscious. These are the thoughts that might surface in one’s mind. Lastly, is the unconscious which represents the largest chunk, and which consists of ideas, instincts, memories and emotions which were repressed in the unconscious due to trauma.  It is also in this psychical process that our motivations are kept (Freud 31).

Dream interpretations are also a distinguishing feature of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. Sleep is when the unconscious thoughts force their way out to the conscious (Freud 38).  He believes that dreams are the memories which the dreamer have forgotten especially from their childhood years; however, he also accepts that the parts which are recalled do not represent exact memories. These are simply facades to be interpreted, hence, Freud also believed that dreams used symbolisms (Freud 40).

Psychoanalysis has been criticized ever since its rise to popularity during Freud’s time until the present.  Some say that it lacks concrete evidence, that its techniques are not reliable, and the theory itself is not science. Or that it represents bad science.  However, despite these criticisms, it had endured time and has even been adapted by other theories.  One theory which incorporates psychoanalytic theory is feminism. The latter aims to lend an understanding of gender oppression, thus, the birth of psychoanalytic feminism (Ritzer & Goodman 320).

Psychoanalytic feminism was devised by modern feminists by recreating Freud’s ideas to understand patriarchy. This theory highlights the emotions that were hidden deeply in the unconscious as well as the significance of infancy and early childhood in understanding these emotions (Ritzer & Goodman 320).  Psychoanalytic theorists regarded patriarchy as an arrangement where women are being overpowered by men and this structure is being maintained to this day.

However, in psychoanalytic feminism, patriarchy is something that is being sustained everyday through routine actions. Thus, the question that psychoanalytic feminists wanted to answer is why men have so much vigor in upholding patriarchy wherever they go and why women do not have as much drive to go against it.  By using the psychoanalytic theory as basis, psychoanalytic feminists have formulated two explanations to understand male domination (Ritzer & Goodman 320).

The first explanation is the fear of death, men are said to be afraid of their individual annihilation, unlike women who are less frightened due to their involvement with giving birth.  They envy women’s ability to give birth because men want to impose their immortality through offspring. These are similar to producing something that can live beyond them such as art, wealth and science, so men try to control the reproductive process by making women their possession. In addition, men want to separate themselves from the factors that make them remember their own mortality like sexuality and birth; since women are associated with those factors, they see women as someone or something to be avoided and controlled (Ritzer & Goodman 321).

The second explanation involves the socio-emotional environment where personality is being formed. As a man grows from childhood, there are unstable emotions that come from his younger years that drive his desire to look for a woman that could fulfill those emotions.  However, he wants a woman who will be dependent on him and one that he could control – this is due to the remains of the childhood experience that has something to do with emotions he feels for a woman or to his own mother. These emotions include need, dependence, love, selfishness, and also fear and anger that they have towards women (Ritzer & Goodman 321).  Since this is the case, a man finds it overcome by his desire to dominate.

            Truly, Sigmund Freud has contributed substantially to the world of psychology through the theory of psychoanalysis. The theory’s validity remains to be questioned to this day, and yet it remains to be among the most popular psychological theories of all time. Psychoanalysis though still doubted by many, undeniably has a strong contemporary following.

Though they have modified it in some ways in order to fit into other theories such as the case of psychoanalytic feminism, the original psychoanalytic theory of Freud still serves as the backbone of this and other modern day psychological theories. Psychoanalytic theory is a very broad and cohesive theory and psychoanalysis attempts to explain the human mind and behavior through various means: including process, treatment, and methods.  Its presence and contribution in treating mental illness and understanding human personality and mentality could not go denied; ironically, we owe much to one of the forefathers of psychology – Sigmund Freud.

Works Cited

Bowman, John S. “Sigmund Freud”. The New Book of Knowledge. 1987 ed.

Broeree, C. George. “Sigmund Freud”. Shippenburg University. 2006. 3 April 2008.

Heffner, Christopher L. “Personality Synopsis”. AllPsych Online. 2003. 3 April 2008.

Heffner, Christopher L. “Sigmund Freud”. AllPsych Online. 2003. April 2008

Freud, Sigmund. The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement. Trans. A. A. Brill. New York:

Nervous and Mental Disease, 1917. Classics in the History of Psychology. 3 April 2008

Freud, Sigmund. The Outline of Psychoanalysis. New York: Norton, 1949.

Ritzer, George & Goodman, Douglas J. Modern Sociological Theory. New York: McGraw-Hill,


Thorton, Stephen P. “Sigmund Freud”. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2006.

            3 April 2008.

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