Freuds Theories which Made it to the 21st Century

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Sigmund Freud is both relevant and non relevant.  His theory of consciousness is very important as a foundation for understanding human thought and behavior.  However, his total lack of noting that human beings are animals inter-dependent upon air, water, food and shelter to thrive mentally and physically, is nothing short of astonishing.  Modern science, and especially evolutionary psychology, has since introduced the idea that both nature and nurture together shape all organisms.  Such things as mood, contentment, calmness or stress are greatly impacted by an organisms’ relationship with their surroundings.  But in Freud’s time, there was no nature.  This can be explained.

In Victorian times, people were in something of a frenzy to prove that science, industry and knowledge were gifts of that age, and that humanity was supreme ruler in a person dominated world.   Freud gave the world the Ego, ID and Super-ego, which, in his time mapped the parts of the mind into compartments which can likewise be understood in relative order, as civilized mind, animal-istic mind and ideal mind.

When Freud brought up nature, it was usually in the context of dark, forbidden, untamed drives and dream metaphors for “animal instincts.” Whereas now, people are educated to know that only one animal, humans, create trash, war and toxins, in Freud’s time, the human animal was considered superior, above all others.

The human animal, in other words, was not even considered to be an animal.  This was magnified by a general societal backlash against Charles Darwin, whose great theory proved that humans are related to all other living beings.  Denial, the most common of defense mechanisms given us by Freud, was already hard at work relieving anxiety people had at their horrified thought of not being the only creatures made in the image of God.

And it was Freud’s other useful and very relevant work,  that gave the world the idea of defense mechanisms.  Now, at use everyday in the modern world is the recognition of denial, the first and foremost defense mechanism.  To understand everything from denial of addictions to substances, gambling, shopping, and even the world’s addiction to oil depends upon people realizing their denial exists.  Freud also identified projection, that common thought process that allows people the inclination to find responsibility and blame in scapegoats and others, but not within themselves.

Like most people, Freud recognized denial and projection, in others, but like most human beings Freud could not see the ones at work in himself.  Even today, there are people who believe that exploitation of others, and systems is normal, and excusable.  Freud did not know that women, for example, could be equal to men.

His concentration on female sexuality - which he believed he knew more about than most women - appeared overly fixated on childhood repression and guilt. Freud comes across as obsessed about sex, phallic symbols and penis envy which he saw everywhere, in almost everyone.  It might be said, that in those days, the sky was clean and sex was dirty.  His was a very sexually repressive age, so it is little wonder that something so natural would be thought of as foundation for mental disturbance.  Hysteria, the common term in those days for most neurosis and anxieties comes from the same root as the Greek word, hystera, meaning uterus.  Female sexuality was considered dark and dangerous territory, best mapped by men of the “scientific age.”

Today, evolutionary psychology also shows that sexuality in humans is part of our animal kinship, but also unique in humans because of ever-changing moral codes that affect everyone living who has a religion, or governance.

How could Freud be so spot on about consciousness, and defense mechanisms, and yet not recognize the importance of nature and environment to human behavior and thought?   It must be realized, that the most common mental disturbances caused by stress and lifestyle now, were almost non-existent in the 19th century and early 20th.  Although some industrial horrors and pollution certainly existed, people did not live indoors twenty four hours a day, as now.  They did not have seven billion people competing for resources.  They suffered little or no light and noise pollution drowning out the vastness of  stars and sky. They did not know road rage, environmental nuclear or chemical explosions, oil spills and the general angst of never being connected to the living world that sustains life.  They knew more about an apple tree than an Apple I-pad.  They lived in proximity to that which provided food, water, as well as animal and even forestry products.  They did not realize nature, and what mental health it sustained, because like fish living in the ocean, they did not know they were in an ocean.  It was taken for granted.

The entire context of the mind, explored and mapped by Freud and others later, followed the same trajectory that the entire field of psychology followed.  At first, it was thought the brain and internal angst was all that mattered. Later, the body was investigated, then behavior, then other interactive relationships.  Finally, at the dawn of the 21st century psychologists added the crucial piece of inter-active relationships and inter-dependent systems linked to all mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.  Earth matters to mental health, and without a sustainable earth, humanity suffers catastrophic damage on global scale due to disconnection and dissociation from their own belonging.

Had the great founder seen an ovum (round egg) rather than a phallus at every turn, one presumes the importance of the whole inter-connected sphere may have been more apparent from the beginning. 

More about this author: Christyl Rivers

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