Biography Sigmund Freud

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Sigmund Freud ( full name Sigismus Schlomo Freud; 1856 - 1939 ) was an Austrian psychiatrist and founder of psychoanalysis. He was the most influential psychological theorist of 20th-century. Freud's theories, including the concept of the Oedipus complex, have had an enormous influence on art, literature, and social thinking.

Biography and Fundamental Idea

He was born of Jewish parentage in Freiburg, Moravia, Austria-Hungary (now the Czech Republic), in 1856, the first of seven children.

The family moved in 1860 to Vienna, where discriminating laws against the Jews had been canceled during 1850s and 1860s. Freud studied medicine at the University of Vienna under Josef Breuer, a Viennese physician.

From 1882 to 1886 Freud worked at the General Hospital, and experimented among others with cocaine, also using it himself. He went to Paris in 1885 to study under Jean Martin Charcot at the Salpetrire Hospital. There the hypnotic treatment of women, who suffered from a medical state called "hysteria", led Freud to take an interest in psychiatry. After returning to Vienna Freud married Martha Bernays; they had six children. In 1886 Freud opened his private practice.

His former tutor, Breuer had with some success treated patients by encouraging them to "talk out" their past under hypnosis. In 1895, Breuer and Freud, coauthored Studies in Hysteria. It was an account of the treatment of "Anna O.", a hysterical patient, whom Freud himself never treated.

In 1902 Freud was appointed Ausserordentlicher Professor, and in 1905 appeared Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. At the suggestion of a disciple, Freud founded in 1902 the Psychological Wednesday Society, later transformed into the Viennna Psychoanalytic Society.

After the Third International Psychoanalytic Congress in Weimar in 1911, Freud met Lou Andreas-Salom, the Russian intellectual, who had been beloved by Nietzsche, whom she rejected, and was the traveling companion and lover of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. "Frau Lou" was also close to Freud's daughter Anna Freud (1895-1982). Andreas-Salom never questioned Anna's adoration of her famous father.

Freud's Fundamental Idea: All humans are endowed with an unconscious in which potent sexual and aggressive drives, and defenses against them, struggle for supremacy. Freud once stated: ".The only unnatural sexual behavior is none at all" It is often asserted that Freud "discovered" the unconscious mind. However, the idea is found in the work of many thinkers and authors from the times of Homer.

"..The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind..." (from The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900)
In 1909 Freud travelled with Carl Jung in the United States, lecturing and meeting among others American philosopher and psychologist William James, whose collaboration with Freud lasted until 1913. Jung had become increasingly critical of Freud's exclusively sexual definition of libido and incest. The publication of Jung's Symbols of Transformation (1912) led to a final break.
"..I always recognized Freud's greatness and genius, but he was extremely headstrong. He came out of nowhere and the world was hostile towards him. He had to be obstinate to gain acceptance. Had he not been obstinate, his theory would have remained unknown... Once he said to me: we have to turn the theory of the unconscious into a dogma, to make it immovable. Why a dogma, I replied, since sooner or later truth will have to win out? Freud explained: We need a dam against the black tide of mud of occultism.." (from C.G. Jung Speaking, ed. by William McGuire, and R.F.C. Hull, 1978)

By the beginning of the 1920s, Freud's writing had given rise to several associates of psychoanalysis. In his own life he was nearly muted: a series of operations for mouth cancer, beginning in 1923, made him unable to perform in public. He published Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), The Future of an Illusion (1927), and Civilization and Its Discontents (1929), all dealing with large cultural issues. In spite of the recognition of his work Freud was never awarded with the Nobel Prize, but in 1928 an attempt was made for his nomination. This was supported by Alfred Dblin, Jacob Wassermann, Bertrand Russell, A.S. Neill, Lytton Strachey, Julian Huxley, Knut Hamsun, Thomas Mann. Albert Einstein didn't join the campaign, although he had been in correspondence with Freud.

"..Thomas Mann points out that Freud is deeply involved in the irrationalism of the beginning of the new century because of the nature of the material of his enquiry, the unconscious, passions, instincts and dreams. But Freud is really connected not only with this neo-romantic movement, in which the subterranean regions of the life of the mind are the central point of interest, but at the same time with the beginning and origins of the whole aspect of romantic thought which goes back to the pre-civilized and the pre-rational. There is still an abundant share of Rousseauism in the pleasure with which he describes the freedom of the uncivilized man of instinct.."( Arnold Hauser in The Social History of Art, 1951.)

After Hitler's seizure of power, psychoanalytic work came to an end in Germany, and Freud's books were burnt in Berlin. His views also were condemned in the USSR . At the request of the league of Nations, Freud collaborated with Albert Einstein in writing Why War? (1933) When Nazis invaded Austria, Freud was permitted to move to London after paying a large ransom. He died of throat cancer three weeks after the outbreak of WW II in 1939. His death on September 23, 1939 was eased by euthanasia - Freud asked his physician to give him a lethal dose of morphine. His last book, Moses and Monotheism (1939), was completed in England. In it Freud dismissed Jung's concept of a "collective unconscious" and offered instead his own idea of "archaic inheritance".

Freud's Main Theories: The Id, the Ego, and Superego.

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 - 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 called, in German, Triebe, which has been translated as instincts or drives. 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.

However, 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 year 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) happy, 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 meted 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 and 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. You see, the superego represents society, and society often wants nothing better than to have you never satisfy your needs at all!

The defense mechanisms

The ego deals with the demands of reality, the id, and the superego as best as it can. But when the anxiety becomes overwhelming, the ego must defend itself. It does so by unconsciously blocking the impulses or distorting them into a more acceptable, less threatening form.
( 1 ) "Denial" involves blocking external events from awareness. If some situation is just too much to handle, the person just refuses to experience it. This is, however, a primitive and dangerous defense - no one disregards reality and gets away with it for long! It can operate by itself or, more commonly, in combination with other, more subtle mechanisms that support it.
It is known when people are confronted by things they'd rather not be confronted by. That's denial.
Anna Freud also mentions denial in fantasy: This is when children, in their imaginations, transform an "evil" father into a loving teddy bear, or a helpless child into a powerful superhero.

( 2 ) "Repression", which Anna Freud also called "motivated forgetting," is just that: not being able to recall a threatening situation, person, or event. This, too, is dangerous, and is a part of most other defenses.
The Freudian understanding of this phobia is pretty simple: I repressed a traumatic event - the shed incident - but seeing spiders aroused the anxiety of the event without arousing the memory.
Other examples abound: Anna Freud provides one that now strikes us as quaint; a young girl, guilty about her rather strong sexual desires, tends to forget her boy-friend's name, even when trying to introduce him to her relations! Or an alcoholic can't remember his suicide attempt, claiming he must have "blacked out." Or a someone almost drowns as a child, but can't remember the event even when people try to remind him - but he does have this fear of open water!
Note that, to be a true example of a defense, it should function unconsciously. My brother had a fear of dogs as a child, but there was no defense involved: He had been bitten by one, and wanted very badly never to repeat the experience! Usually, it is the irrational fears we call phobias that derive from repression of traumas.

( 3 ) "Asceticism", or the renunciation of needs, is one most people haven't heard of, but it has become relevant again today with the emergence of the disorder called anorexia. Preadolescents, when they feel threatened by their emerging sexual desires, may unconsciously try to protect themselves by denying, not only their sexual desires, but all desires. They get involved in some kind of ascetic (monk-like) lifestyle wherein they renounce their interest in what other people enjoy.
In boys nowadays, there is a great deal of interest in the self-discipline of the martial arts. Fortunately, the martial arts not only don't hurt you (much), they may actually help you. Unfortunately, girls in our society often develop a great deal of interest in attaining an excessively and artificially thin standard of beauty. In Freudian theory, their denial of their need for food is actually a cover for their denial of their sexual development. Our society conspires with them: After all, what most societies consider a normal figure for a mature woman is in ours considered 20 pounds overweight!
Anna Freud also discusses a milder version of this called "restriction of ego". Here, a person loses interest in some aspect of life and focuses it elsewhere, in order to avoid facing reality. A young girl who has been rejected by the object of her affections may turn away from feminine things and become a "sex-less intellectual," or a boy who is afraid that he may be humiliated on the football team may unaccountably become deeply interested in poetry.

( 4 ) "Isolation" (sometimes called "intellectualization") involves stripping the emotion from a difficult memory or threatening impulse. A person may, in a very cavalier manner, acknowledge that they had been abused as a child, or may show a purely intellectual curiosity in their newly discovered sexual orientation. Something that should be a big deal is treated as if it were not.

( 5 ) "Displacement" is the redirection of an impulse onto a substitute target. If the impulse, the desire, is okay with you, but the person you direct that desire towards is too threatening, you can displace to someone or something that can serve as a symbolic substitute.
Someone who hates his or her mother may repress that hatred, but direct it instead towards, say, women in general. Someone who has not had the chance to love someone may substitute cats or dogs for human beings. Someone who feels uncomfortable with their sexual desire for a real person may substitute a fetish. Someone who is frustrated by his or her superiors may go home and kick the dog, beat up a family member, or engage in cross-burnings.

( 6 ) "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 refuse to acknowledge is accepted by many people, Freudians and non-Freudians alike.

Projection, which Anna Freud 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. I confess that whenever I hear someone going on and on about how aggressive everybody is, or how perverted they all are, I tend to wonder if this person doesn't have an aggressive or sexual streak in themselves that they'd rather not acknowledge.

( 7 ) "Altruistic surrender" is a form of projection that at first glance looks like its opposite: Here, the person attempts to fulfill his or her own needs vicariously, through other people.

A common example of this is the friend (we've all had one) who, while not seeking any relationship himself, is constantly pushing other people into them, and is particularly curious as to "what happened last night" and "how are things going?" The extreme example of altruistic surrender is the person who lives their whole life for and through another.

( 8 ) "Reaction formation", which Anna Freud called "believing the opposite," is changing an unacceptable impulse into its opposite. So a child, angry at his or her mother, may become overly concerned with her and rather dramatically shower her with affection. An abused child may run to the abusing parent. Or someone who can't accept a homosexual impulse may claim to despise homosexuals.
Perhaps the most common and clearest example of reaction formation is found in children between seven and eleven or so: Most boys will tell you in no uncertain terms how disgusting girls are, and girls will tell you with equal vigor how gross boys are. Adults watching their interactions, however, can tell quite easily what their true feelings are!
( 9 ) "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 in some way try to become "mom" in order to lessen his or her fears. You can sometimes catch them telling their dolls or animals not to be afraid. And we find the older child or teenager imitating his or her favorite star, musician, or sports hero in an effort to establish an identity.
A more unusual example is a woman who lived next to my grandparents. Her husband had died and she began to dress in his clothes, albeit neatly tailored to her figure. She began to take up various of his habits, such as smoking a pipe. Although the neighbors found it strange and referred to her as "the man-woman," she was not suffering from any confusion about her sexual identity. In fact, she later remarried, retaining to the end her men's suits and pipe!
I must add here that identification is very important to Freudian theory as the mechanism by which we develop our superegos.

Identification with the aggressor is a version of introjection that focuses on the adoption, not of general or positive traits, but of negative or feared traits. If you are afraid of someone, you can partially conquer that fear by becoming more like them. Two of my daughters, growing up with a particularly moody cat, could often be seen meowing, hissing, spitting, and arching their backs in an effort to keep that cat from springing out of a closet or dark corner and trying to eat their ankles.

A more dramatic example is one called the Stockholm Syndrome. After a hostage crisis in Stockholm, psychologists were surprised to find that the hostages were not only not terribly angry at their captors, but often downright sympathetic. A more recent case involved a young woman named Patty Hearst, of the wealthy and influential Hearst family. She was captured by a very small group of self-proclaimed revolutionaries called the Symbionese Liberation Army. She was kept in closets, raped, and otherwise mistreated. Yet she apparently decided to join them, making little propaganda videos for them and even waving a machine gun around during a bank robbery. When she was later tried, psychologists strongly suggested she was a victim, not a criminal. She was nevertheless convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 7 years in prison. Her sentence was commuted by President Carter after 2 years.

( 10 ) "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 to spend some time in the hospital. Teenagers may giggle uncontrollably when introduced into a social situation involving the opposite sex. A freshman college student may need to bring an old toy from home. A gathering of civilized people may become a violent mob when they are led to believe their livelihoods are at stake. Or an older man, after spending twenty years at a company and now finding himself laid off, may retire to his recliner and become childishly dependent on his wife.

Where do we retreat when faced with stress? To the last time in life when we felt safe and secure, according to Freudian theory.


Freud's therapy has been more influential than any other, and more influential than any other part of his theory. Here are some of the major points:

(a) Relaxed atmosphere. The client must feel free to express anything. The therapy situation is in fact a unique social situation, one where you do not have to be afraid of social judgment or ostracism. In fact, in Freudian therapy, the therapist practically disappears. Add to that the physically relaxing couch, dim lights, sound-proof walls, and the stage is set.

(b) Free association. The client may talk about anything at all. The theory is that, with relaxation, the unconscious conflicts will inevitably drift to the fore. It isn't far off to see a similarity between Freudian therapy and dreaming! However, in therapy, there is the therapist, who is trained to recognize certain clues to problems and their solutions that the client would overlook.

(c) Resistance. One of these clues is resistance. When a client tries to change the topic, draws a complete blank, falls asleep, comes in late, or skips an appointment altogether, the therapist says "aha!" These resistances suggest that the client is nearing something in his free associations that he - unconsciously, of course - finds threatening.
Dream analysis. In sleep, we are somewhat less resistant to our unconscious and we will allow a few things, in symbolic form, of course, to come to awareness. These wishes from the id provide the therapist and client with more clues. Many forms of therapy make use of the client's dreams, but Freudian interpretation is distinct in the tendency to find sexual meanings.

(d) Parapraxes. A parapraxis is a slip of the tongue, often called a Freudian slip. Freud felt that they were also clues to unconscious conflicts. Freud was also interested in the jokes his clients told. In fact, Freud felt that almost everything meant something almost all the time - dialing a wrong number, making a wrong turn, misspelling a word, were serious objects of study for Freud. However, he himself noted, in response to a student who asked what his cigar might be a symbol for, that "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Or is it?
Other Freudians became interested in projective tests, such as the famous Rorschach or inkblot tests. The theory behind these test is that, when the stimulus is vague, the client fills it with his or her own unconscious themes. Again, these could provide the therapist with clues.


First, Freud made us aware of two powerful forces and their demands on us. Back when everyone believed people were basically rational, he showed how much of our behavior was based on biology. When everyone conceived of people as individually responsible for their actions, he showed the impact of society. When everyone thought of male and female as roles determined by nature or God, he showed how much they depended on family dynamics. The id and the superego -the psychic manifestations of biology and society - will always be with us in some form or another.

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