Psychoanalysis (or Freudian psychology) is a body of ideas developed by Austrian
neurologist Sigmund Freud and continued by others. It is primarily devoted to
the study of human psychological functioning and behavior, although it can
also be applied to societies. Psychoanalysis has three main components:
• a method of investigation of the mind and the way one thinks;
• a systematized set of theories about human behavior;
• a method of treatment of psychological or emotional illness.
Under the broad umbrella of psychoanalysis, there are at least 22 theoretical
orientations regarding human mentation and development. The various
approaches in treatment called “psychoanalysis” vary as much as the theories
do. The term also refers to a method of studying child development.
The predominant psychoanalytic theories can be grouped into several theoretical
“schools.” Although these theoretical “schools” differ, most of them continue to
stress the strong influence of unconscious elements affecting people’s mental
lives. There has also been considerable work done on consolidating elements of
conflicting theory. As in all fields of healthcare, there are some persistent conflicts
regarding specific causes of some syndromes, and disputes regarding the best
treatment techniques. Some of the most influential theories are described below
Basic Human Drives
According to Sigmund Freud, there are only two basic drives that serve to motivate
all thoughts, emotions, and behavior. These two drives are (i) sex and (ii)
aggression. Also called Eros and Thanatos, or life and death, respectively, they
underlie every motivation that humans experience.
Freud’s theory emphasized sex as a major driving force in human nature. While
this seems overdone at times, sexual activity is a means to procreation, to bringing
about life and therefore assuring the continuation of human bloodline. Even in
other animals, sex is a primary force to assure the survival of the species.
Aggression, or the death instinct, on the other hand serves just the opposite goal.
Aggression is a way to protect us from those attempting harm. The aggression
drive is a means to allow us to survive while at the same time eliminating our
enemies who may try to prevent us from doing so.
While it sounds very primitive, it must not be looked at merely as sexual activity
and aggressive acts. These drives entail the whole survival instinct and could,
perhaps, be combined into this one drive:
The drive to stay alive, procreate, and prevent others from stopping or
reducing these needs.
Looking at the animal kingdom it is easy to see these forces driving most, if not
all, of their behaviour.
Let us look at a few examples. Why would an adult decide to get a college
degree? According to Freud, we are driven to improve ourselves so that we may
be more attractive to the opposite sex and therefore attract a better mate. With a
better mate, we are more likely to produce offspring and therefore continue our
bloodline. Furthermore, a college degree is likely to bring a higher income,
permitting advantages over others who may be seen as our adversaries.
Structural and Topographical Models of Personality
Sigmund Freud’s Theory is quite complex and although his writings on
psychosexual development set the groundwork for how our personalities
developed, it was only one of five parts to his overall theory of personality. He
also believed that different driving forces develop during these stages which
play an important role in how we interact with the world.
Structural Model (id, ego, superego)
According to Freud, we are born with our Id. The Id is an important part of our
personality because as newborns, it allows us to get our basic needs met. Freud
believed that the Id is based on pleasure principle. In other words, the Id wants
whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the
situation. When a child is hungry, the Id wants food, and therefore the child
cries. When the child needs to be changed, the child cries and the Id wants that
the change is done immediately. When the child is uncomfortable, in pain, too
hot, too cold, or just wants attention, the Id speaks up until his or her needs are
met. The Id does not care about reality, about the needs of anyone else, only its
own satisfaction. If you think about it, babies are not real considerate of their
parents’ wishes. They have no care for time, whether their parents are sleeping,
relaxing, eating dinner, or bathing. When the Id wants something, nothing else
Within the next three years, as the child interacts more and more with the world,
the second part of the personality begins to develop. Freud called this part as the
Ego. The Ego is based on the reality principle. The ego understands that other
people have needs and desires and that sometimes being impulsive or selfish can
hurt us in the long run. It’s the Ego’s job to meet the needs of the id, while
taking into consideration the reality of the situation.
By the age of five, or the end of the phallic stage of development, the Superego
develops. The Superego is the moral part of the personality and develops in
response to the moral and ethical restraints placed on the individual by the
caregivers. Many equate the Superego with the conscience as it dictates our
belief of right and wrong.
In a healthy person, according to Freud, the Ego is the strongest so that it can
satisfy the needs of the id, not upset the Superego, and still take into consideration
the reality of every situation. If the Id gets too strong, the impulses and self
gratification take over the person’s life. If the Superego becomes too strong, the
person would be driven by rigid morals, would be judgmental and unbending in
his or her interactions with the world.
Ego Defense Mechanisms
We stated earlier that the Ego’s job was to satisfy the Id’s impulses, not offend
the moralistic character of the Superego, while still taking into consideration the
reality of the situation. We also stated that this was not an easy job. Think of the
Id as the ‘devil on your shoulder’ and the Superego as the ‘angel of your shoulder.’
We don’t want either one to get too strong so we talk to both of them, hear their
perspective and then make a decision. This decision is the Ego talking, the one
looking for that healthy balance.
Before we can talk more about this, we need to understand what drives the Id,
Ego, and Superego. According to Freud, we only have two drives; sex and
aggression. In other words, everything we do is motivated by one of these two
drives. Sex, also called Eros or the Life force, represents our drive to live, prosper,
and produce offspring. Aggression, also called Thanatos or our Death force,
represents our need to stay alive and stave off threats to our existence, our power,
and our prosperity.
Now the Ego has a difficult time satisfying both the id and the superego, but it
doesn’t have to do so without help. The ego has some tools it can use in its job
as the mediator; tools that help defend the ego. These are called Ego Defense
Mechanisms or Defenses. When the ego has a difficult time making both the Id
and the Superego happy, it will employ one or more of these defenses mentioned
in the table given below. Ego defenses are not necessarily unhealthy as you can see by the examples above.
In face, the lack of these defenses or the inability to use them effectively can
often lead to problems in life. However, we sometimes employ the defenses at
the wrong time or overuse them, which can be equally destructive.
Some of the limitations typically raised in response to Freudian theory are:
Freud’s hypotheses are neither verifiable nor falsifiable. It is not clear what would
count as evidence sufficient to confirm or refute theoretical claims.
The theory is based on an inadequate conceptualization of the experience of
Lacanian psychoanalysis, which integrates psychoanalysis with semiotics and
Hegelian philosophy, is especially popular in France and parts of Latin America.
Lacanian psychoanalysis is a departure from the traditional British and American
psychoanalysis, which is predominantly Ego psychology. Jacques Lacan
frequently used the phrase “returner à Freud” (“return to Freud”) in his seminars
and writings, as he claimed that his theories were an extension of Freud’s own,
contrary to those of Anna Freud, the Ego Psychology, Object relations and “self”
theories and also claims the necessity of reading Freud’s complete works, not
only a part of them. Lacan’s concepts concern the “mirror image”, the “Real”,
the “Imaginary” and the “Symbolic”, and the claim that “the unconscious is
structured as a language”.
Though a major influence on psychoanalysis in France and parts of Latin America,
Lacan and his ideas have had little to no impact on psychoanalysis or
psychotherapy in the English speaking world, where his ideas are most widely
used to analyses texts in literary theory. Due to his unorthodox methods and
theories, Lacan was expelled by the International Psychoanalytic Association,
and many of Lacan’s psychoanalytic concepts have been described as nonsensical,
inconsistent or pseudoscientific.
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