Sigmund Freud-Founder of Psychoanalysis and his Theories

Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 in Austria, but lived mainly in Vienna. The founder of Psychoanalysis school of thought earned his medical degree in 1881 and became a neurologist. Upon completing his graduation, he started his private practice and treated his patients having psychological problems. The key concepts which were introduced by Sigmund Freud in his research works were his models of mind, defence mechanisms, fixations and sub-division of personality into three types: id, ego and super ego.

Models of the Mind: The models of human mind as described by Sigmund Freud are one of his most notable contributions in the field of psychology. Opposite to the most predominant trend Positivism of Western nations in the 19th century, Freud came up with his groundbreaking research on the role played by unconscious thoughts or repressed feelings in governing our day to day behaviour. He compared the three layers of mind with an iceberg. According to him, only a small portion of the mind which is visible like the tip of the iceberg constitutes the conscious layer of the mind, whereas the major proportion of the ice which remains immersed under water is our unconscious layer of mind. Freud divided the models of the mind into three different regions or layers:

Conscious Mind: The conscious mind covers those current feelings, thoughts or the things about which we are aware of.

Preconscious (also called subconscious): The preconscious layer according to Freud was the layer which existed unconscious and conscious layers, which can be accessed with a little effort, retrieved or recalled from the memory.

Unconscious Mind: Dreams which Freud described as “the royal road to the unconscious”, is one of the apt examples of unconscious life. Freud in his attempt of interpreting the dreams tried gaining an access to the unconscious mind and discovered that the unconscious mind includes those thoughts, behaviours, feelings or urges that remain out of our awareness but continue to influence our behaviour.

Crucial Components of Human Personality as per Freudian Analysis: The Id, Ego and Super Ego

Id: The id can be correlated with the unconscious layer of mind which focuses primarily on the basic instincts or desires and is the major source of libido energy. According to Freud these basic instincts or desires can be of two types: eros or survival instinct and the death instinct or thanatos. The survival instinct drives constructive behaviour whereas death instinct drives violent, aggressive or destructive behaviour.

Ego: The ego exercises a check on the id and deals with the reality. The ego ensures that the desires or the demands of the id are fulfilled in a socially acceptable manner. The ego remains in between the id and super ego for striking a balance between the instinctual needs and ethical or moral beliefs. A balanced or healthy ego will improve a person’s ability to interact with the outside world by balancing both id and super ego.

Super Ego: Super ego is related to our conscious layer of mind and is the repository of morality and guiding principles, which keeps us guided to act or behave in socially acceptable ways or responsible manner (McLeod, 2013).

Defence Mechanisms

According to Freud, the three components of the mind remain in constant conflict because their goals or objectives are different, as a result of which the ego may be engaged in defence mechanisms. These defence mechanisms may take the following forms:

  • Repression: The threatening or disturbing thoughts are pushed out by the ego from one’s conscious mind.
  • Denial: In this kind of defence mechanism, the ego blocks the awareness of overwhelming or negative experiences in such a way that an individual will not agree to accept or believe whatever is happening.
  • Projection: This involves an attempt of the ego to attribute unacceptable thoughts, feelings or behaviours to some another person.
  • Displacement: The tendency of the ego to act on some other person or a substitute thing in a socially unacceptable manner for releasing the negative thoughts or frustration. For example venting out the frustration of the bosses behaviour towards the spouse.
  • Regression: This involves a backward movement for coping with the stressful antecedents.
  • Sublimation: This is quite related to displacement, but conversely it involves acting out on some other person or object in a socially acceptable way by indulging in some constructive work or hobby.

Freud’s Concept of Dream Analysis

According to Freud, dream analysis can provide some crucial insights on the unconscious mind of a person. In his book “The Interpretation of Dream” which was published in 1900, Sigmund Freud tried to highlight that the main purpose of dreams was wish fulfilment or work on those repressed issues or desires which were away from the conscious realms or reality. In his book, he even described the difference between the manifest content or the actual dream and also the latent content or the hidden meanings of the dream which remain latent. The manifest content or the actual dream can be recalled by the dreamer on waking up. The author often used his dream analysis along with his free association technique. He focused on a dream symbol and used his free association technique to analyze what kind of thoughts come next to the client’s mind.

Freud’s Contribution to the Field of Psychology along with limitation and strengths of his theories

Freud’s research works formed the basis for various therapeutic treatments. The goal of Freudian perspective was to bring the repressed thoughts or feelings back to the consciousness for helping a patient develop a strong super ego. This he could achieve by making the patients involve in a talk therapy in free association, when they can discuss about their dreams and repressed desires. Another focus of Freudian theory was on encouraging the patients to project or reflect their feelings or thoughts on the analyst, without the direct involvement of the analyst. He called this process as “Transference” by way of which a patient can resolve the repressed issues or conflicts by re-enacting those sequences. His works were a major revolution in the field of psychotherapy.

Freudian findings have been criticized on the grounds that it lacks scientific evidence or empirical basis by other contemporary psychologists. His findings were considered to be subjective and were based on merely reports prepared during interactions with the clients. His theory was criticized for emphasizing too much on the unconscious mind and ignoring the importance of Conscious mind. The clinical psychologists rejected Freud’s mental models and the experimental psychologists rejected Freud’s theories on the ground that they found it to be highly unrealistic.


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