An Introduction to Sigmund Freuds Theories

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Sigmund Freud, the founder of the psychoanalytic theory, had many theories on how the mind works. These ranged from defense mechanisms to psychosexual stages of development and the unconscious mind (the id, the ego, and the superego.) He believed that all people are controlled by the subconscious with its sexual and aggressive urges. Born in 1856, Freud's theories may sound a little odd, but in that time period, these theories seemed to be the only way to explain human behavior. 

Freud believed in the psychosexual stages of development; the oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital stages. The oral stage starts at birth when s/he begins nursing and gains pleasure from sucking or putting items in their mouth. If the child experienced frustration through nursing, this person would be pessimistic, envious, sarcastic and suspicious of others. If the child was overindulged, this person would be excessively satisfied, optimistic, gullible, and full of admiration for others. The anal stage starts around one and a half years of age when toilet training begins. The child will become obsessed with the anus and the retention or expulsion of feces. The child who had a tough time during this stage was told his character would be messy, disorganized, reckless, careless, and defiant. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the child would be overindulged, s/he will be neat, precise, orderly, careful, withholding, and passive-aggressive. The most crucial sexual conflict is the phallic stage. This is where the Oedipus or Electra complex will begin. In the Oedipus conflict, a young boy spends much time with his father, seeing him as a rival and wants to steal his mother away. The same goes for the Electra complex, except with the daughter seeing the mother as her rival. The fixation at this stage will form a person who is reckless, resolute, self-assured and narcissistic. Though not considered a psychosexual stage, the latency stage is where the sex drive is dormant. Freud saw latency as repressive sexual desire and impulses. Children will put this unused energy into productive activities, like school and friendships. The last stage, the genital stage, is where the child focuses on his genitals, but turns his or her interest into heterosexual relationships. If s/he has trouble in this stage, s/he will struggle with repression and defenses. 

The structural model consists of the id, ego and superego. According to Freud, each of us is born with our id, based on the pleasure principle. The id helps newborns get its basic needs met because a newborn needs to be fed to feel good, for example, going off of the pleasure principle. The id does not care about other people’s needs; the id’s needs just need to meet. During childhood, the child will develop the ego based on the reality principle, seeing that other people also have needs and desires. During the phallic stage of development, the superego develops, giving the moral and ethical principles to keep people in line, helping them decide between right and wrong. It is up to the ego to keep equality between the id and the superego.

Freud found ten common defense mechanisms that he saw in people when doing his case studies. The first is repression, an unconscious purpose so the person can forget a threatening situation. Next is denial where the person may be conscious at some level, but s/he denies the reality of a bad experience. Third is rationalization where a person can rationalize or try to defend their behavior using excuses. Projection is when a person may criticize others for their actions when they are behaving the same way. Reaction formation, like projection, is when a person may not even acknowledge thoughts or feelings, and tells him/herself that s/he is not a part of a group that behaves in a certain way. For example, a closeted gay man who participates in heterosexual affairs to hide his homosexuality is an example of this. Intellectualization is like rationalization, but instead of using excuses, a person can turn a problem into a thought instead of getting emotions involved. Displacement is when a person will find other people to blame their problems on instead of taking the blame for them. The last one, sublimation, is behind Freud’s main idea of aggression. Without sublimation, humans are never aggressive. For example, if a boxer has a lot of pent up anger, s/he can use that anger in a match and win. 

Freud believed that all of these behaviors are controlled completely by the subconscious, meaning a person cannot control him/herself or his/her subconscious. He believed that humans should give into these urges instead of fighting them, because fighting against something natural would affect the personality, as seen in the psychosexual stages of development. 

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