Sigmund Freud

Freud didn’t exactly invent the idea of the conscious versus unconscious mind, but he certainly was responsible for making it popular. The conscious mind is what you are aware of at any particular moment, your present perceptions, memories, thoughts, fantasies, feelings, etc. Working closely with the conscious mind is what Freud called the preconscious, what we might today call “available memory:” anything that can easily be made conscious, the memories you are not at the moment thinking about but can readily bring to mind. Now no one has a problem with these two layers of mind.

But Freud uggested that these are the smallest parts. The largest part by far is the unconscious. It includes all the things that are not easily available to awareness, including many things that have their origins there, such as our drives or instincts, and things that are put there because we can’t bear to look at them, such as the memories and emotions associated with trauma. According to Freud, the unconscious is the source of our motivations, whether they be simple desires for food or sex, neurotic compulsions, or the motives of an artist or scientist.

And yet, we are often driven to deny or resist ecoming conscious of these motives, and they are often available to us only in disguised form. Freudian psychological reality begins with the world, full of objects. Among them is a very special object, the organism. The organism is special in that it acts to survive and reproduce, and it is guided toward those ends by its needs such as hunger, thirst, the avoidance of pain, and sex. A part — a very important part — of the organism is the nervous system, which has as one its characteristics a sensitivity to the organism’s needs.

At birth, that nervous system is little more than that of any other animal, an “it” or id. The nervous system, as id, translates the organism’s needs into motivational forces. Freud also called them wishes. This translation from need to wish is called the primary process. The id works in keeping with the pleasure principle, which can be understood as a demand to take care of needs immediately. Just picture the hungry infant, screaming itself blue. It doesn’t “know” what it wants in any adult sense; it just knows that it wants it and it wants it now.

The infant, in the Freudian view, is pure, or nearly pure id. And the id is nothing if not the psychic representative of biology. Unfortunately, although a wish for food, uch as the image of a juicy steak, might be enough to satisfy the id, it isn’t enough to satisfy the organism. The need only gets stronger, and the wishes just keep coming. Like when you haven’t satisfied some need, such as the need for food, it begins to demand more and more of your attention, until there comes a point where you can’t think of anything else. This is the wish or drive breaking into consciousness.

Luckily for the organism, there is that small portion of the mind, the conscious, that is hooked up to the world through the senses. Around this little bit of consciousness, during the first ear of a child’s life, some of the “it” becomes “I,” some of the id becomes ego. The ego relates the organism to reality by means of its consciousness, and it searches for objects to satisfy the wishes that id creates to represent the organisms needs. This problem solving activity is called the secondary process.

The ego, unlike the id, functions according to the reality principle, which says “take care of a need as soon as an appropriate object is found. It represents reality and, to a considerable extent, reason. However, as the ego struggles to keep the id (and, ultimately, the organism) appy, it meets with obstacles in the world. It occasionally meets with objects that actually assist it in attaining its goals. And it keeps a record of these obstacles and aides. In particular, it keeps track of the rewards and punishments made out by two of the most influential objects in the world of the child (mom and dad). This record of things to avoid and strategies to take becomes the superego.

It is not completed until about seven years of age. In some people, it never is completed. There are two aspects to the superego: One is the conscience, which is an internalization of punishments nd warnings. The other is called the ego ideal. It derives from rewards and positive models presented to the child. The conscience and ego ideal communicate their requirements to the ego with feelings like pride, shame, and guilt. It is as if we acquired, in childhood, a new set of needs and accompanying wishes, this time of social rather than biological origins.

Unfortunately, these new wishes can easily conflict with the ones from the id. Now when the anxiety becomes overwhelming, the ego must defend itself. It does so by unconsciously blocking the impulses or distorting them into a more cceptable, less threatening form. The techniques are called the ego defense mechanisms. Some of which are: *Denial – which involves blocking external events from awareness. If some situation is just too much to handle, the person just refuses to experience it. *Repression, also called “motivated forgetting,” not being able to recall a threatening situation, person, or event.

This is dangerous, and is a part of most other defenses. *Isolation (sometimes called intellectualization) involves stripping the emotion from a difficult memory or threatening impulse. A person may, in away ould acknowledge that they had been abused as a child, or my show a purely intellectual curiosity in their newly discovered sexual orientation. Something that should be a big deal but it is treated as if it were not. *Turning against the self -is a very special form of displacement, where the person becomes their own substitute target.

It is normally used in reference to hatred, anger, and aggression, rather than more positive impulses, and it is the Freudian explanation for many of our feelings of inferiority, guilt, and depression. The idea that depression is often the result of the anger we efuse to acknowledge is accepted by many people, Freudians and non-Freudians alike. *Projection- also called displacement outward, is almost the complete opposite of turning against the self. It involves the tendency to see your own unacceptable desires in other people.

In other words, the desires are still there, but they’re not your desires anymore. *Introjection, sometimes called identification, involves taking into your own personality characteristics of someone else, because doing so solves some emotional difficulty. For example, a child who is left alone frequently, may n some way try to become “mom” in order to lessen his or her fears. *Regression is a movement back in psychological time when one is faced with stress. When we are troubled or frightened, our behaviors often become more childish or primitive.

A child may begin to suck their thumb again or wet the bed when they need o spend some time in the hospital. These are some of the many defense mechanisms that Freud discussed. For Freud, the sex drive was the most important motivating force. In fact, Freud felt it was the primary motivating force not only for adults but for children and even infants. When he introduced his ideas about infantile exuality to the Viennese public of his day, they were hardly prepared to talk about sexuality in adults, much less in infants.

Only later, in our sexual maturity, do we find our greatest pleasure in sexual intercourse. In these observations, Freud had the makings of a psycho sexual stage theory. *The oral stage lasts from birth to about 18 months. The focus of pleasure is, of course, the mouth. Sucking and biting are favorite activities. *The anal stage lasts from about 18 months to three or four years old. The focus of pleasure is the anus. Holding it in and letting it go are greatly enjoyed. The phallic stage lasts from three or four to five, six, or seven years old.

The focus of pleasure is the genitalia. Masturbation is common. *The latent stage lasts from five, six, or seven to puberty, that is, somewhere around 12 years old. During this stage, Freud believed that the sexual impulse was suppressed in the service of learning. *The genital stage begins at puberty, and represents the resurgence of the sex drive in adolescence, and the more specific focusing of pleasure in sexual intercourse. Freud felt that masturbation, oral sex, homosexuality, and many other things we find acceptable in adulthood today, were immature.

This is a true stage theory, meaning that Freudians believe that we all go through these stages, in this order, and pretty close to these ages. Some of Freud’s ideas are clearly tied to his culture and era. Other ideas are not easily testable. Some may even be a matter of Freud’s own personality and experiences. But Freud was an excellent observer of the human condition, and enough of what he said has relevance today that he will be a part of personality textbooks for years to come. Even when theorists come up with dramatically different ideas about how we work, they compare their ideas with Freud’s.

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