Sigmund Freud is one of most influential authors on the subject of psychoanalysis. His theory of psychoanalysis explains various aspects of human development. The study was carried out with an objective of finding the relationship between human development and childhood; the role played by the unconscious in determining human actions; the conflicts between the conscious and the unconscious and the criticism that has been discussed about the theory. Through an analysis of various pieces of literature, the effects of childhood on development are described in the sexual stages. Similarly, the role of the unconscious is best explained via the concepts of id and ego while the conflict between the conscious and the unconscious is described as being due to differential statuses. Although the study has been conclusive in achieving the research objectives, it is still limited in scope. It is therefore recommended that future studies be focused on explaining the phenomenon of the conscious and on finding the link between psychoanalytical interventions and the Freudian theory.
Keywords: Psychoanalysis, Freudian theory, Id, Ego, Super Ego, Eros, Thanatos
Sigmund Freud and his Theory of Psychoanalysis
The consideration of psychoanalysis as a scientific method for the treatment of psychological disorders is founded on the psychoanalytic theory developed by Freud Sigmund in his works published from 1949. In an Outline of Psychoanalysis, Freud Sigmund clearly highlights some of the characteristics related to human development and how they translate to adult behaviors and personality traits. The Psychoanalysis theory is founded on the Freudian belief that human actions are guided by an unconscious mind which is under the control of the humans themselves. As such there is no supernatural power that gives moral or behavioral guidelines for humans (Freud, 1949). Contrary to the religious belief that God created man in His likeness and image, Freudian theory is founded on the belief that man created God to satisfy his own beliefs and intrinsic desires. As a result of this, religions developed by man do not entirely offer guidelines for human behavior based on religious teachings from a divine power, but humans create behavior codes within social groups which guide the behaviors of members in those groups.
Because of the claimed irrelevance of religious authorities in human life, Freud opines that some of the observed behaviors in humans are results of childhood occurrences or developmental stages. In addition to this, Freud Sigmund also highlights how human actions are controlled by the unconscious. Although the author agrees that humans also have a conscious part of their mind, he claims that his findings indicate that the unconscious takes control of most of human actions such as the development of instinctive reactions to stimuli. Based on the argument that humans have the ability to be unconsciously aware of interior changes, he claims that most of the actions driven by the unconscious occur in precedence to the awareness of the conscious (Freud, 2005).
Despite the efforts made by Freud to explain his theory, there has been criticism from various authors on different grounds. Because of this, agreeing with the Freudian theory of psychoanalysis requires an in-depth understanding of the theory, devoid of all ambiguity and misrepresentations. It is only through this that the exact foundations of the theory can be comprehended. The present research study was carried out to highlight key aspects of the Freudian theory. Through a review of existing literature, the paper aims at understanding key concepts of the theory such as the relationship between a person’s development and their childhood; how human actions are controlled by the unconscious; conflicts between the unconscious and the conscious as represented by Freud Sigmund and the criticism of the theory by various authors.
Relationship between Development and Childhood
According to the work done by Freud (1949), the development of any person is linked intricately to the childhood experiences held by that person. By understanding the developmental stages in childhood, it is possible to explain certain behaviors as they occur in adults. The development of humans can be said to be a process that continues from birth and which involves emotional, physical and mental development. Spiritual development may or may not occur based on the guidance received by the person. From Freud’s perspective, the development of humans can best be explained through the sexual development stages that occur in children. Consequently, failure to understand or to develop through any of these stages results in life long implications in human development. While physical growth occurs somewhat automatically, the associated development of personality traits is linked to the process of sexual development during childhood (Freud, 1949). At any stage of the sexual development process, one can become fixated resulting in the development of certain traits that are inexplicable otherwise.
The sexual development process in children is described to be composed of five key stages. The first of these stages is the oral stage which occurs when a child is 0 to 18 months old and which involves the excessive interest in finding satisfaction through oral processes such as sucking. Fixation in the oral stage can result in the development of traits such as nail biting, thumb sucking or smoking. This implies that despite the argument that a trait such as smoking is in most cases caused due to peer influence, it is important to understand, particularly during rehabilitative intervention that childhood and sexual development both have a role to play in initiating smoking. Furthermore, Freud suggests that individuals fixated in the oral stage of sexual development can also develop key character traits such as independence and optimism (Freud, 1949). On the other hand, individuals who become negatively attached to the oral stage engage in a lot of pessimism and hostility.
Other stages of sexual development also result in various changes in the human person. For instance, in the anal phase which occurs between 18 months and 3 years of age, fixation can result in either anal repulsion or anal retention. Individuals who are fixated on the anal stage through retention are more likely to adopt traits such as orderliness, precision excessive neatness while those who are fixated through repulsion develop into messiness, disorganization and destructiveness. In the third phase of sexual development, fixation of males can result in intense pride in masculinity while for females, fixation results in promiscuity and flirtatiousness. These traits result in low self -worth and low self -esteem and can escalate into the development of Oedipus complex among men and women. The Latency phase results in the development of social skills and improved interactions with family members and peers while the genital stage results in the development of interest in others, particularly of opposite sex. Behaviors such as homosexuality result from being fixated on the anal phase through repulsion. From the explanation provided by Freud, it cannot be concluded effectively that the childhood affects all aspects of development since the focus is mainly on the social aspects of life. Traits such as organization, independence, optimism, enhanced social skills and improved interactions all relate to social life aspects. The emotional aspect of human development is thus still divorced from Freud’s theory on how childhood affects the overall human development.
Erikson (1959) elevated the Freudian theory of development through an explanation of how the stages in sexual development can be linked to emotional development. Based on Freud’s argument alone, it would be impossible to connect childhood to emotional growth. However, Erikson asserts that fixation on various sexual stages results in key effects that can be linked to the emotional state of the human being. According to Erikson’s report, fixation on the oral stage results in the development of virtues such as trust and hope; fixation on the anal phase results in virtues such as strength of will and autonomy; the phallic phase fixation results in the development of purpose and issue while the latency phase gives an individual a sense of skill and industry. The concentration of this description by Erikson brings out the need to highlight the connection between emotional development and childhood from Freud’s perspective. Other authors have also proposed ways in which the relationship between childhood and development can be explained although some dispute Freud’s argument that development is linked to childhood (Grunbaum, 1986).
The Role of the Unconscious in Human actions
Freud (2005) highlighted the key concepts relating to how the unconscious drives human actions. From the previous work on psychoanalysis, Freud had explained the existence of three parts which contribute to human actions. The Id, the ego and the superego have different roles with regards to controlling how people react. Based on the arguments and explanations provided in this initial work, it is possible to link the characteristics associated with each of the parts to human actions and thus find the connection between the unconscious and human actions. The first part described by Freud’s book in 1949 is identified as the Id, which is defined as the part of the unconscious which aims at finding pleasure. From this definition alone, it can be deduced that the id being a part of the unconscious, pleasure seeking in humans can thus be described as a function of the unconscious. Similarly, when the Id is said to hold the most basic and primal instincts in humans, the link can be connected to the actions of man since most of human actions are based on the primary instincts, consequently, any part of the body, mind or spirit that contains these instincts is also capable of controlling the actions that draw from the instincts.
Furthermore, Freud (2005) also mentions that the Id is the part that makes people behave in a way that is likely to bring them pleasure while disregarding the effect their pursuit has on others. The only rational explanation that can be provided for this is the lack of an effective way of linking the reality observed through other people’s experiences to the decisive factor for their actions. According to Freud, the Id, being unconscious is capable of detecting only changes in the interior and not those without. Consequently, the decision to seek pleasure in disregard for the impacts of one’s actions can be directly connected to the lack of connectivity between the unconscious id and the outside world. The failure of the ID to make a connection between reality and its demands is because of the lack of comprehension of the concepts of reality and consequence for any actions (Freud, 1949). The principle of inexorable pleasure which is applied constantly by the unconscious id becomes the underlying principle for its drive towards certain actions which may be indifferent to the reality. This can therefore be taken as an explanation for actions that sometimes go beyond what is expected from the ego and the super ego or even from the conscious in general. To make the impacts of the unconscious on human actions even more pronounced due to the argument proposed by Bargh and Morsella (2008) that the actions driven by the unconscious come faster, manifesting in precedence to conscious imagination. This implies that for any action that cannot be linked to the super ego or the ego, it can be linked to the unconscious through the precedence factor.
While the key focus of the unconscious comes through the effects of the Id, it would be possible to also link the push of the ego to the unconscious and to human actions. From the perspective of Freud (1949), the ego is also a part of the unconscious yet is aware of the conscious and is connected to it. The ego thus provides a link between the unconscious and reality. One of the key roles associated with the ego in controlling human behavior is that of regulating the demands of the id. As the id functions without regard for the external environment and/ or connection to reality, the ego has to compare the reality to the demands of the ID for pleasure and thereafter balance between the two. Although the ego works independently, its functioning in directing human actions can still be linked to the control of the unconscious for two reasons. First, the ego itself is a part of the unconscious hence any actions pushed by the ego are the work of the unconscious. Secondly, through receiving the demands of the Id and balancing them with the reality, the ego is somehow subject to the Id hence still a part of the unconscious. Through the perceptual system, the ego has contact with the external environment and as such performs the self- preservation role of the unconscious (Freud, 2005). Although Freud does not exactly explain that the unconscious as a whole controls human actions, the explanation of the roles played by the ego and the Id is sufficient to create a deduction. Although the ego also controls human actions as part of the unconscious, it is important to note that the ego as presented by Freud has the capability of considering the cultural and ethical implications of actions. Thus, any action of humans, whether ethical or not; pleasure seeking or hurtful; culturally inclined or not, derives from the push of the unconscious since the unconscious acts with regard to the surrounding through the ego as well as in disregard for consequences and reality through the Id.
Intentional as well as unintentional actions are also described as being the result of the unconscious. For instance, while offering support to Freud’s arguments, Bargh and Morsella argue that the acts described by the conscious as unintentional can be linked directly to the thoughts of the unconscious which are hidden from the conscious (2008). Acts such as verbal slips and dreams all occur unconsciously. Moreover, the unconscious also controls the defense mechanisms that arise from instincts derived from the id. Mechanisms such as flight, denial, displacement and regression can all be explained to be the result of the actions of the ego in balance between the reality and the ids desire for pleasure.
Conflict between the Unconscious and the Conscious
Although Freud focuses much on explaining the roles associated with the unconscious, the link between the conscious and the unconscious is not clear enough. The superego is identified as the conscious part of the human person, which connects to external factors such as friends, relatives and others close to us. The discourse on the conflict between the conscious and the subconscious is thus independent of the status of the two parts of the mind. On the contrary, the conflict only arises due to the contents of the unconscious mind and the roles played by this content in creating repression, which opposes the strategies of consciousness. According to a study by Wollheim (1973), conscious and unconscious parts of the mind are not inimical in property and thus there is no way in which antagonism can exist between them. The consideration of such conflict is thus limited to the observed characteristics of each and the roles played by each. The distinctions between the unconscious and the conscious are such that while the conscious tolerates no gaps, the unconscious provides information full of gaps even in situations where a self- explanatory psychological phenomenon would be expected as a reason for a particular happening.
The key conflicts between the conscious and the unconscious are therefore based on the availability of psychological gaps such as the lack of explanations for dreams and verbal slips and the inability to explain sexual instincts. This is due to the basis of the unconscious which form the sexual instincts away from the exposure of the conscious. In addition to this, distinguishing between the aspects of ‘Eros’ which constitutes survival for the conscious and ‘thanatos’, which drives the death of sexual instincts does not effectively cover the existing gaps in the connection between the conscious and the unconscious. De Sousa (2011) describes this difficulty to describe the conflict between the conscious and the unconscious through the conclusion that the two parts are states rather than physical aspects that can be understood.
Criticism of the Freudian Theory
Despite the many works that Freud did with the aim of expressing his theory more succinctly, there have been some criticisms on the capabilities of the theories. The key concern raised by several critics is the difficulty of applying the psychoanalysis theory developed by Freud to the scientific context. For example, De Sousa explains that despite the efforts towards clarification, the phenomenon of the unconscious mind is still a puzzle that needs to be understood. Given that the unconscious form the core of the theory, any misrepresentations can result in immense misunderstanding and misuse of the theory in a clinical intervention set up. Apart from this, Grunbaum (1986) offers an in-depth criticism of Freud’s theory by asserting that the theory lacks scientific grounding. This claim is however unfounded since the theory provides a strong enough foundation for the solution of psychosocial problems through intervention and is widely applied. The presence or absence of scientific principles underlying the theory is thus inconsequential. Another common basis for criticism of this theory is the argument that the theory is overly sexual and sexist too. One of these arguments is presented by Jung (1959). According to Jung’s report, the Freudian theory is devoid of spiritual foundations hence the representation of ideas using a sexual approach. Jung subsequently purports another derivative theory that includes the religious aspect in its presentation.
Despite the criticism from many authors, very few authors have managed to provide an alternative theory to the Freudian theory. This has made the theory of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud to be the most widely identified and most widely applied theory of psychoanalysis. As a result, psychoanalytic interventions commonly adopt an approach based on the Freudian theory.
From the research carried out on the Freudian theory of psychoanalysis, it has been established that the experiences of childhood as described by the various sexual stages impact development into adulthood due to the possibility of developing certain traits that are linked to fixation. In determining the role of the unconscious in controlling human actions, both Id and Ego as described by Freud are found to operate within the confines of the unconscious mind of which they are parts. In the Freudian context, the unconscious and its roles are clearly defined contrary to the representations made for the conscious. As a matter of fact, there have been claims that the Freudian representation of the conscious is ambiguous and that further elucidations are needed on the same (De Sousa, 2011). Although the Freudian theory is the most widely applied psychoanalysis theory, it has been criticized for being sexist, as well as for sexual representation of the information therein.
Although the study has been effective in answering the key questions and fulfilling the key objectives that were initially outlined, there is still a limitation in terms of the scope of the study. Sigmund Freud did a lot of work spanning several decades to effectively provide information that can help in understanding the theory as developed together with its implications and limitations. It is not possible to incorporate all the concepts developed over the decades in a single term paper with a limited number of pages. This implies that the information provided herein demands even further explanations than in provides answers. The complete description of this theory requires not only in-depth analysis of Freud’s works, but also the consideration of works done by his critics, which is not provided herein.
Implications for study
The Freudian theory proves to be the most widespread psychoanalytical theory. This implies that information regarding its relevance and application is widely available. However, one key area that requires addressing through more intensive research is the clarification of the difference between conscious and unconscious mind. Through this explanation, it may be possible to effectively apply the theory of Sigmund Freud to all varieties of psychoanalytic problems that are to be addressed. Identification of the role played by consciousness in human life can help to draw a line between psychoanalysis and cognitive psychology. While Freud has had struggles with the use of the word conscious both substantively and as an adjective, this word has been quoted numerously in the cognitive psychology concept (De Sousa, 2011). It is therefore necessary that this word be explained from Freud’s perspective to achieve only the most optimum application of the theory. This calls for further studies on the subject.
Apart from this, Freudian theory also exerts a certain level of incompleteness since it fails to provide a connection between the described sexual development stages, aspects such as id, ego and super ego and the behavioral factors that require psychoanalytical treatment. Consequently the application of this theory to the psychoanalysis intervention context requires remote abstraction which may not be possible for armatures in psychoanalysis. It is therefore important for additional studies to be carried out to find the links between the theory and the treatment contexts of application and to subsequently formulate intervention practices that draw directly from the theory. Besides making psychoanalysis easier, this will also enhance the continuity of professional practice from inexperience to greater levels of experience.
Bargh, J. & Morsella, E. (2008). ‘The Unconscious Mind.’ Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 1, 73-79.
De Sousa, A. (2011). Freudian Theory and Consciousness: A Conceptual Analysis. Brain, Mind and Consciousness: An International, Interdisciplinary Perspective (A.R. Singh and S.A. Singh eds.), 9(1), 210 -217.
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