Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What, is any, has been Freud's important contributions to contemporary psychology?

By Sudipa Sarkar

Sigmund Freud, being the father of psychoanalysis and death psychology, put in a new facet to the concept of mind in relation to the physical development through highlighting the unconscious. In developing his theories of mind, Freud emphasized on the role played by unconscious drives, particularly sexual drive. In his attempt, he tried to decode the meaning of hysterical symptoms and other maladaptive phenomenon that looked as if beyond conscious activities all the way through unconscious process. This paper analyses the professional expansion of his theories and critical effect of this expansion in contemporary psychology.

Freud and His Works

Sigmund Schlomo Freud abbreviated to Sigmund Freud in 1877 by himself, primarily focused on his self-analysis and evaluation of his own unconscious psychic life in the course to design his theories on unconscious mind and behaviour influenced by unconscious conflict. His major works include Studies on Hysteria (1893-1895) with Josef Breuer, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900-1901), Totem and Taboo (1913), Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1915-1917), Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), The Ego and the Id (1923) and Moses and Monotheism (1937). In his Studies on Hysteria, Sigmund Freud stressed on the traumas developed as a result of client’s past experience be the cause of hysteria. The Interpretation of Dreams deals with the concept and theory of unconscious mind in relation to dream interpretation. In this book, Freud introduced the concept of Ego. In the book Beyonf the Pleasure Principle, Freud implemented two concepts, viz., Eros and Thanatos. Eros deals with harmonious activities, creativity, sexual reproduction and self-protection. On the other hand, thanatos stands for aggression, destruction, compulsion, anxiety. While working with Moses and Monotheism, Freud portrayed the dangerous wishes, hidden conflicts and desires. His own style of retelling the event, Freud explained that the murder of Moses is inherited throughout the generation and eventually leads the Jews to form the religion to neutralize the hidden conflicts. The book Totem and Taboo comprises of four essays - The Horror of Incest, Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence, Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts, and The Return of Totemism in Childhood. In his essay The Horror of Incest, Freud illustrated the different possibilities in which the exogamy of the totem system averts incest which is not only amongst the nuclear family, but within the extended families as well. In Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence, Freud discussed the relation between Taboo and Totemism. The essay Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts reviews the relation between the animism and naricissistic stage with a concept of the universe and early libidinal development. In The Return of Totemism in Childhood, Freud initiated his concept of Oedipus Complex in accordance with the theory of Charles Darwin and William Robertson Smith by depicting pre-historic event of the murder of a father by his expelled sons. In his psychoanalysis, Freud mainly employed the technique of establishing connection among the unconscious components by the method of analysis transference and resistance by the virtue of free association and dream analysis. Throughout his vast works, Freud primarily coined some controversial issues that is still considered as most debatable.

Freud and Culture & Philosophy

Freud’s theories embedded in the invention of the function of the unconscious in growth and development as well as psychopathology, have not only put an impact on psychology and psychotherapy, but it also has a great influence in art, literature, philosophy, culture, and religion. According to James J. Dicenso, Freud’s most important writing on culture and religion depicts the intersection of psychologal conflict with societal culture, predominantly in Totem and Taboo, Moses and Monotheism and Future of Illusion in particular, focusing his psychoanalytic view on the origin of religion and underlying factors influencing it. Freud’s one of the best works among the wide ranges is Moses and Monotheism, where Freud speculated cultural history and focused on the origin of Jews Religion. The Moses and Monotheism carries a great influence of his adult life and his relation to others. This paper mainly focuses on how history is written and imprinted in the hearts of men and influenced their mind; with dangerous wishes suppressed in defensive pattern. According to Freud, the cultural distinctiveness may be experienced as an historical burden which restricts the creative thoughts and promotes 'baseless fanaticism'. Thus the essence of his endeavour actually deals with the freedom from cultural distinctiveness. In his book The Other Freud: Religion, Culture, and Psychoanalysis, James J. Dicenso

Freud and Unconscious

Being a high-quality original thinker, Freud depicted the interconnection between various factors in shaping the human development primarily keeping a great emphasize on sexual impulse and sexual drive. In reference to his interpretation of dreams, he mentioned his mixed feelings about his father’s existence and his own contrasting feelings of shame and hate about his father, which he named as ambivalence. Being the first theorist Freud held the view of initial deterministic systematic principles in mental sphere in considering the hidden mental processes. This postulated Freud to come into conclusion that it is the unconscious process that causes neurotic or other maladaptive behaviour. Moreover, according to Freud, it is the psychological activities which are not only hidden, but these are beyond our control or access, and can only be brought into the forefront by employing psychoanalysis method. In defining the unconscious processes, he accounted two factors – which he called instincts or drives, and defined as primary motivating forces in mental sphere. These two factors are – Eros or life instinct, responsible for self-defensive and sexual-satisfaction factors and Thanatos or death instinct, responsible for self-destructive factors.

Thus it is not always true to explain all of the Freud’s works originated from such type of motivation influenced by sexual urges, as because the thanatos, is itself an instinct responsible for cruelty and aggression and not related to any kind of sex-pleasing activities. Rather, thanatos is an irrational urge to diminish all the sexual energy in the extermination of the self. However, it is unquestionably true that Freud put much emphasize on sexual urge and sexual instinct in the course of his explanation of human life, growth and development, human actions, and human behaviours but this is also true that Freud effectively derived the term ‘sexual pleasure’ to associate with any type of pleasures which can be derived from the body itself.

Freud and Infantile Sexuality

In theorizing childhood influence on adult behaviour, Freud stressed on how early childhood sexual experience affects an adult’s personality. From his account, since the moment of birth an infant is almost mechanically driven through the way of gratifying sexual urges by fulfilling the desire of bodily or sexual pleasure. According to Freud, a human action is constantly influenced by five stages of psycho-sexual development (Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latency and Genital) by the virtue of shifting locus of pleasure to different objects. This is a progressive developmental phase of individual attempts for pleasure seeking action, which is greatly influenced by parental involvement and societal interaction. This in due course develops conflicts in the process of development of an infant, and, according to Freud, if resolved, can lead to positive mental health, and, for the opposite case, vice-versa.

According to Freud, many disorders, especially in the case of Hysteria is an outcome of this unresolved infantile crisis experienced in developmental stages. On the other hand, Freud believed that homosexuality derives from a failure to resolve the issue of the conflict arise by Oedipus complex and certain neurosis is resulted from unresolved crisis of repression in anal stage.

Freud and Neurosis

In his analysis of mind, Freud differentiated between three elements of mind – the id, the ego and the superego responsible for attributing different functionality governing the human action and working at different levels of mind. Thus, in this sense, mind is basically observed and defined as a dynamic energy-system promoting the interaction between instant pleasure-seeking gratification by Id to socially-acquired control mechanism by Superego and mediated by self-imposed dynamic tension by ego itself. The establishment of harmonious relationship between these three components constitute the development of positive mental health. In case, the Id gets no scope to satisfy its pleasure seeking mechanism suppressed or if even in some case, there is a transgression by refusing the moral authorization employed by Superego gives birth of inner conflict in the process of mind resulting neurosis in later life. In attempt to prevent this conflict in mind process Freud coined a the term ‘defence mechanism’ including repression (pushing conflicts back into unconscious), sublimation (channelling socially unacceptable sexual desires into social acceptable activities), regression (moving back in psychological time of stress), introjections (exchanging the role of other’s personality characteristics), rationalization (cognitive distortion of actual fact), projection (displacement towards almost opposite self). Among all these defence mechanisms, repression is considered the most important in account to develop neurosis in adult life, as repression is such a strong mechanism by which ego seeks to refrain internal conflict and pain and to settle down with the demand of superego and ego. Hence the task of psychoanalysis is to discover the instances of this defence mechanism causing neurotic symptoms by analysing the mind of the client and by bringing it into conscious realm, to allow the ego to deal with with them and accordingly absolve them.

Freud and Psychoanalysis

In his attempt to develop the clinical treatment for maladaptive behaviours, Freud developed the method of psychoanalysis which aims at re-establishing a harmonious relationship between the three essentials which comprise the mind by exhuming and determining unconscious repressed conflicts. This method generally included two aspects – free association and dream analysis, where patients are encouraged to be in a relax position and associate freely their thoughts and dream elements to whichever objects they prefer without any inhibition. In this method, the patients become able to recognize and overcome their natural resistance originated in their unconscious state of mind with the assistance of the analyst. Freud emphasized a great interest in analyzing the dream, as it is believed to be functioned less effectively with the influence of superego, rather the unconscious motivation and conflict with the account of unconscious desires, pain, violent motives, irrational wishes, immoral urges, selfish needs, shameful experiences come in the forefront at the time of dreaming. The right explanation of the patient's dreams, free-associations, and reactions to cautiously chosen queries shows the way to the psycho-analyst to a point where it can be located whether the unconscious repressions fabricating the neurotic symptoms, by means of the patient's journey through the progression in psycho-sexual development, the mode in which the conflicts inherent throughout this process were handled, and the libidinal forces of his family bond and relationships. In order to achieve an effective cure, the psycho-analyst must help the patient himself to turn out to be conscious in order to resolve the hidden conflicts underlying in the deep level of the unconscious mind, and to deal with and associate with them directly.

Freud and Controversy

Freud and his vast works including both theory and its application have put forth a real strong but controversial impact upon the Western World over the past century or so. The truth is that the controversy existing in relation to Freud to his contemporary and even any other modern thinker is more impassioned and comprehensive. Originally, the precise nature of his achievement is still the source of amazing debate. In discussing the claim to scientific status of his theory, it can be said that Freud himself declared that his theory is a scientific one, incorporating a new scientific method based on analysis of unconscious mind and how it influences human behaviour with the capacity to explain and put up every possible form of human motivation and resulting action. The hypothesis that neuroses are caused by unconscious conflicts suppressed deep in the unconscious level of the mind in the shape of repressed libidinal force would emerge to us an insight in the fundamental mechanism underlying these maladaptive psychological state of affairs as they are articulated in human behaviour, and further it implies how they are associated to the psychology of the 'normal' individual. In addition to the above-mentioned aspects, even more controversial connotation in modern years in the attempt of some contemporary Freudians to coalesce the theory of repression to the prevalent social problem of child sexual abuse. The effect has been that, especially in US and Britain, several numbers of people have appeared from 'recovered memories' analysis of their childhood sexual abuse by their parents, memories which were previously repressed. On the basis of these finding, parents have been accused and disclaimed, and whole families divided or destroyed.

On the other hand, it is also true that apart from the analysis of the unconscious mind Freud put too much emphasis than necessary on sexual drive and its interaction in influencing the human behaviour and action, which leads his theory in stake to authenticate. As for example, Freud considered schizophrenia and depression are not brain disorders, rather they are narcissistic disorders. At the same time, he declared that autism actually derived as a consequence of ineffective mothering problems. And also till date there is not ample evidence that supports the unconscious mind’s role as reservoir of repressed sexual or distressing memories originated through childhood interaction. Freud’s theory allied to psychoanalysis is basically lacking its evidence in relation to scientific proof and experimentation. This is true that parental influence is an important aspect in human, but it is still beyond any scientific proof that whether the impairment childhood incidence, especially the sexual development as mentioned by Freud and its fixation, if any, indeed affects an individual throughout the life in all cases.


Freud in his development of psychoanalytic approach did much emphasis on sexual urges in the course of development. He became controversial by employing the idea of penis envy and dysfunctional nature of family as the root of maladaptive pattern of behaviour. In that sense, it really imprints a very little importance in contemporary psychology. But while discussing the relaxation technique and ventilation through free association it is proved that some of the patients in Freudian time did get the benefit from this technique. And also his understanding of the structure of mind and the interaction between components helped to understand the convention set by religion and cultures. In conclusion it can be added that Freud's technique of analysing people who are suffering over long periods rather than giving them instructions or opinion has shaped the groundwork of most contemporary structure of psychotherapy, which has a positive impact to both patients and practitioners.
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