Posts Tagged ‘Sigmund Freud’

A Psychological Perspective on the President of the United States


Donald Trump is a Russian troll in the White House; he is also the worst president in U.S. History. And, he is unbelievably dangerous to the security of our nation. He represents a clear and present danger to us all.

As a result prosecutors are beginning to close in on President Donald Trump as a threat to the democracy of the United States. While all of this seems rather bizarre and unusual for a United States President to be accused of such serious crimes against the people of this country (namely treason and a host of other criminal acts), it is what it is and now must be dealt with.

The people (through their representatives) have no other option than to impeach the President and remove him from office. Whether some of his administration underlings should also be charged with treason and sent to prison remains to be seen. Only time will tell.

In addition, some members of Congress should be looked as well as to their personal relationship to a president who has strong ties to the Kremlin, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Devin Nunes of California come to mind. Directly or indirectly they are giving aid and comfort to a known enemy of the United States. Here are the federal laws dealing with treason: “Treason is a crime under federal and some state laws. Treason is made a high crime, punishable by death, under federal law by Article III, section 3 of the U.S. Constitution: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” It is the latter part on giving aid and comfort that worries me the most.

This incredible strain and stain on America political democracy begs the question. Why? Why did this political nightmare ever come about? What I’m about to say is not to be construed as an apology for Trump’s behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth—far from it! But like all psychologists and sociologists will explain—all behavior has causes. It is these causes that need to be examined.

Context for a Psychological Explanation

Every human has strengths and weaknesses. This is no less true for Donald Trump than it is for anyone else. Whenever someone displays extreme lying and extremely illogical behavior (always contrary to the facts) the mental state of that individual may be called into question. This is what the American people are now slowly beginning to realize, that Donald Trump may be mentally ill, perhaps even a sociopath..

Specifically, where Donald Trump is concerned his paranoid egotistically driven personality raises questions about his mental fitness for the job of president of the United States. When combined with a history of predatory sexual behavior, vicious personal attacks on everyday citizens and racial groups, his unhealthy appetite for foreign dictators, and his uncontrollable constant need for excessive lying, lapses in memory (CRS—can’t remember what he says from one day to the next), then the question goes far beyond fitness for office. The question then becomes is he suffering from mental illness and/or dementia?

     So what all this means is that Donald Trump’s fitness and mental state needs to be addressed very soon, In a President with perhaps dementia and a psychologically damaged personality in the first place, you have a recipe for disaster of immense proportions, Besides these alarm bells going off, the real key to understanding why Donald Trump acts as he does—–is psychology. What is the psychology of Donald Trump?

Since one cannot depend on the White House Doctor to provide an explanation of the psychology of this President, then we must look to other sources.

There are many influences on a person throughout his or her life but one’s early life growing up remains to this day a very good reliable way to view one’s present behavior based on one’s early development in life. While space in this Blog does not permit one to give a thorough review of Donald Trump’s relationship with his mother, father, or siblings, there is psychological information on Donald Trump in the here and now.

In this regard a very interesting article appeared in a publication [Shrink Tank] titled as “A Psychological Analysis of Donald Trump” by Dr. Bilal Ghandour dated January 20, 2017.

The Psychology of Donald Trump

The following is the article:

“Love him or hate him, but can you feel sorry for him?

Ask anyone what they think of Donald Trump and you are almost guaranteed one of two instantaneous – almost reflexive – reactions: “He is great” (read: I admire his guts, love his strength and honesty) or “he is awful” (read: he is a disgusting, self-serving bigot and demagogue). Many a political figure has been controversial but none in recent history has polarized opinions as much as Mr. Trump.

One obvious question is to ask why he triggers such opposing emotional reactions from folks. A less obvious – but more interesting query – is to wonder: Is there any way one can take on a nuanced position and say something like, ‘This man repulses me but I also feel sorry for him.’ Is bizarre as it may initially appear, I would like to suggest it is perfectly tenable to hold such apparently contradicting positions about Mr. Trump. In order to do so, we must understand how personalities are formed and organized.

‘More specifically, we need to analyze how particular patterns of character development lead to a personality one can feel both compassion for and be deeply disturbed by.’

It all depends on which aspect of self that one chooses to focus on.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

One of the words most commonly thrown around to define Donald Trump’s personality is that he is a narcissist.

A narcissist is someone who is intensely focused on themselves – often to the point of self-adoration – and belittles others. They spend an inordinate amount of time listing their accomplishments (as proof of their greatness) and it is impossible to have a balanced conversation with them as they invariably pay cursory or no attention to what you say. On the rare occasions, they actually listen; it is because they are planning a strategy to redirect conversations back to them.

There is no doubt about it: Mr. Trump is a textbook example of a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychologists will have no trouble diagnosing him with that condition.

But saying someone has a personality disorder (narcissism or otherwise) tells us nothing about the cause for such development and the mechanism people use to maintain such traits. And this where it gets interesting.

It has been widely accepted that many psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are conditions with a strong biological component. This means the genetic makeup of such individuals plays a critical role in the development of the disorder.

This contrasts with personality disorders, characterized by traits that have been learned.

In other words, personality disorders develop as a result of life experiences, not because of genetic vulnerability. It is of course very difficult to claim with certitude where those (negative) experiences originate from but we do know the nature of the relationship we have with important people in our lives dramatically shape our perception of the world and ourselves.

If we have felt deep pain from improper or insufficient parenting, despair from romantic breakups or friendship betrayals, bitter disappointment from various life outcomes, there is little doubt that personality development will be significantly affected. Some of us may address issues successfully, adjust well, and be psychologically healthy. Others may have more trouble handling such pains and develop, as a result, a personality that goes around difficulties rather than face them.

In other words, some personalities are structured and organized to avoid remembering – at all costs – troublesome feelings and emotional pain. If a person uses this strategy consistently and across the board, they are using a defense mechanism strategy. Let me explain further.

Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are the mind’s powerful ability to protect itself by avoiding feelings of discomfort and anxiety and negative perceptions of self. You may recognize at least one of them: repression. This defense tactic is used to banish from conscious memory something too painful to remember. We hide uncomfortable and hurtful feelings from awareness; they still exist…but we can’t ‘see’ them. Think of it as clothes and belongings (memories, experiences) accumulated over years of life in a large suitcase.

At the bottom of the suitcase lies old memories and experiences. If you keep accumulating stuff and pile them up in that suitcase, what lies at the top will begin hiding what is underneath. If you don’t shake the suitcase (i.e., discuss and address difficult memories) they can be forgotten. It is this motivation to bar from conscious awareness that is the defense mechanism.

Sigmund Freud may have had some outlandish ideas about sexuality but his genius was his ability to notice defense mechanisms. He identified many, including repression, which he considered most fundamental. There is also regression (going back to an infantile or younger stage in life to feel safer) and projection (blaming others for our own faults).

With regards to Mr. Trump, there is one defense mechanism that fits him like a glove: reaction formation.

His comments, behaviors, and reactions are remarkably consistent with folks who use this strategy to defend themselves from uncomfortable feelings. So what is reaction formation and what is The Donald trying to defend himself from?

Reaction Formation

Reaction formation is a fascinating strategy because it flies in the face of logic. It is the expression of feelings towards an event, a situation or something about ourselves that is the opposite of what we truly feel.

It is the person who condemns the drama on a reality TV shows when they secretly revel in it, it is the person who thinks drug addicts should face the harshest punishment when they are addicted themselves, it is the person vehemently defending heterosexual values because they are afraid of their own homosexuality (think Chris Cooper playing Colonel Frank Fitts in American Beauty and the many priests who used religion as a cover for sexually abusing children).

While it is hard to know for certain if one is defending a position sincerely or because of anxiety from expressing the opposite view, there is one characteristic of reaction formation that often gives it away: the excessive need to prove one’s point and the inflexibility of the position. In Mr. Trump’s case, any attack on him results in an immediate reaction from his part to remind everyone how great he is. He is quick to deny his failures, never admits wrongdoings and attacks anyone who criticizes his business record and his….hands.

Yes, his hands.

And if someone says he has small hands (as presidential candidate Marco Rubio commented and insinuating he has a small ‘something else’) then you are attacking his physical greatness or prowess. Now think about it: what political candidate, what person who runs for the highest office in the US feels the need to justify the size of his hands at the very beginning of a political debate? Donald Trump.

What person needs to exhibit his steaks, water, magazines and discuss how great they all are at a press conference following a primary win? Donald Trump. What man denies having been bankrupt four times and say ‘he just used what the law allowed him to do?”

Donald Trump.

‘His painstaking and excessive need to justify he is an amazing man leads us to wonder: does he really think he is or is he hiding deep insecurities about his competence?”

To answer this question, we get to the most interesting part of Trump’s personality. It is one thing to explain why you think you are ‘the greatest’ and it is another to lie to prove it. Faking reality, unconsciously or otherwise, is the glue of a defense mechanism. Lying is a powerful method to deny personal feelings of weakness, fraudulence or incompetence. In two separate public appearances (once following a primary victory and another at a recent debate) Trump lied.

  • Lie #1: He displayed steaks he claimed were his – as you would display a product for an infomercial – to prove his business was thriving. In reality, the steaks he displayed were not his (they belonged to another meat company – Bush Brothers) as Trump Steaks are no longer produced. And when reporters tried to verify the packaging brand Trump’s team quickly put them away.
  • Lie #2: He states never having heard anyone say anything negative about the size of his hands. Quoting him: “I never heard this one before…everyone says ‘Donald, you have beautiful hands’.” In reality, Donald’s hands have been ridiculed before. In fact, they have been ridiculed for decades. Here is the story behind lie # 2 and how his attempts to prove he has ‘beautiful hands’ lies at the heart of Mr. Trump’s personality insecurities.

In 1988, a New York-based satirical magazine began publishing a series of articles to poke fun at Mr. Trump. The authors of the articles called him the ‘short-fingered vulgarian.’ Over the course of eight years, they published a dozen articles on the short-fingered vulgarian. How do we know Trump knew of them? Over and over again, he sent them pictures of his hands as evidence they were not small. In other words, he was excessive and relentless in proving they were not short – behavior in line with reaction formation. What is remarkable is he has not stopped trying to prove his point, almost 30 years later.

The founder of the Magazine Spy, Graydon Carter, is quoted from the website vox.com, commenting on how he continues, to this day, to receive correspondence from Trump: “There is always a photo of him – generally a tear sheet from a magazine. On all of them, he has circled his hand in gold Sharpie in a valiant effort to highlight the length of his fingers.”

Power and Dominance

Nothing disturbs Mr. Trump more than someone questioning his power and dominance. This is because there is a deeply hidden part of Trump that doesn’t think he is great. And if we were to imagine, just for the sake of the argument, that he agrees to therapy and receives psychological treatment then we may be able to reach into to the bottom of that suitcase. And based on the arguments set forth in this article, I argue we will find a very insecure child hiding somewhere.

“It is that Trump you can feel sorry for.”

But that part is so hidden from his own and anyone’s awareness that it is almost impossible for anyone to see. And when his comments continue to be demeaning, have a disturbing flavor of cruelty, racism, and misogyny; it is no surprise that many despise the man. After all, that is the part he has chosen to expose to the world and himself.”

Final Comments

A reasonable question arises when looking at the psychology of Donald Trump. That is, if Donald Trump is lost in a maze of defense mechanisms that have mentally crippled him for many decades, then what explains the existence of a hard core Trump supporter?

Why would any potential Trump voter not be able to recognize the obvious deficit in the moral character of Donald Trump? Even a modicum amount of research will demonstrate Donald Trump’s disqualification for public office. This would include as a minimum his degenerate misogyny, excessive lying, his evil intent to separate immigrant children from their parents, later putting immigrant children into cages, and criminal behavior; he is his alleged to have raped and beat a 13-year old prostitute in 1994 with his buddy, a New York wealthy registered sex offender named Epstein.

If this wasn’t enough to consider Trump as a wrong choice for the highest office in the land, just consider his false accusations of the Central Park Five or his failure to condemn KKK, Nazi and Alt Right rioters in the 2017 attacks on Jews and racial minorities in Charlottesville, North Carolina.

Could it be that defense mechanisms also play a serious role in why hard core Trump supporters prefer to bury their heads in the sand? What defense mechanisms are these hard core Trump supporters using? In this authors opinion I see three predominant defense mechanisms always present in the Trump supporter. They include rationalization, denial and idealization. So what are these mechanisms?


Rationalization occurs when a person attempts to explain or create excuses for an event or action in rational terms. In doing so, they are able to avoid accepting the true cause or reason resulting in the present situation.

Examples of rationalization include a shoplifter blaming the high price of sweets to justify their theft of a chocolate bar, when in reality they simply enjoyed the act of shoplifting. If a person fails an exam, they may excuse themselves from blame by rationalizing that they were too busy to revise during the revision period.


The self-denial of one’s feelings or previous actions is one defense mechanism to avoid damage to the ego caused by the anxiety or guilt of accepting them. A married woman might deny to herself that she hold affections for her husband’s friend, rather than accepting her true feelings. A person might also deny to their physical behavior, such as theft, preferring to think that someone forced them into committing the crime; in order to avoid dealing with the guilt should they accept their actions. Denial is an undesirable defense mechanism as it contravenes the reality principle that the id adheres to, delving into an imaginary world that is separate from our actual environment.


Idealization involves creating an ideal impression of a person, place or object by emphasizing their positive qualities and neglecting those that are negative. Idealization adjusts the way in which we perceive the world around us and can lead us to make judgement that supports our idealized concepts. People often idealize their recollections of being on holiday or memories from childhood, seeing them as ‘happier times’, but fail to recollect arguments or stresses during those periods. We often idealize the image we hold of people we admire – relatives, partners or celebrities, making excuses for their failures and emphasizing their more admirable qualities.

When the president is eventually charged by Mueller with criminal acts and violations of the United States Constitution, it will be interesting to see how many Trump supporters finally come back to their senses and realize the painful reality they created and the shame that they had elected and supported the worst President this country has ever known. Above all, Donald Trump has dishonored this country and all it stands for by taking all of us on a 20 month political journey through Dante’s nine concentric circles of hell!

To the Trump supporters I make this prediction: Your impact in supporting Donald Trump as a president is about to come to an end following the mid-term election in November, 2018. Why? Because the vast majority of Americans already knows what it really takes to make America great!!!



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The Mind/Brain or Mind/Body Dichotomy in Psychology



The purpose of this Blog is to review one of the longest standing issues in psychology— known as the mind/brain or mind/body dichotomy. It is a critical long-standing issue in psychology because various assumptions about the mind/brain connection affect so many different sub-fields within psychology. In turn, it’s important to be up front about this issue because of its significance in developing any kind of theory in psychology today.

The Mind/Brain Dichotomy

The following is an article by Saul McLeod published in 2007.

“The mind is about mental processes, thought and consciousness. The body is about the physical aspects of the brain-neurons and how the brain is structured. The mind-body problem is about how these two interact.

One of the central questions in psychology (and philosophy) concerns the mind/body problem: is the mind part of the body, or the body part of the mind? If they are distinct, then how do they interact? And which of the two is in charge?

Many theories have been put forward to explain the relationship between what we call your mind (defined as the conscious thinking ‘you’ which experiences your thoughts) and your brain (i.e. part of your body).

However, the most common explanation concerns the question of whether the mind and body are separate or the same thing.

Dualism vs Monism

Human beings are material objects. We have weight, solidity and consist of a variety of solids, liquids and gases. However, unlike other material objects (e.g. rocks) humans also have the ability to form judgments and reason their existence. In short we have ‘minds’.

Typically, humans are characterized as having both a mind and body.  This is known as dualism.  Dualism is the view that the mind and body both exist.

There are two basic types of dualism:

o Descartes dualism: The view that the mind and body function separately, without interchange.

o Cartesian dualism argues that there is a two-way interaction between mental and physical substances.

Dualism is in contrast to Monism that states the mind and body is the same thing.

There are two basic types of Monism:

o Materialism is the belief that nothing exists apart from the material world (i.e. physical matter like the brain); materialist psychologists generally agree that consciousness (the mind) is the function of the brain. Mental processes can be identified with purely physical processes in the central nervous system, and that human beings are just complicated physiological organisms, no more than that.

o Phenomenalism (also called Subjective Idealism) believes that physical objects and events are reducible to mental objects, properties, events. Ultimately, only mental objects (i.e. the mind) exist. Bishop Berkeley claimed that what we think of as our body is merely the perception of mind. Before you reject this too rapidly consider the results of a recent study.

Scientists asked three hemiplegic (i.e. loss of movement from one side of the body) stroke victims with damage to the right hemispheres of their brains about their abilities to move their arms. All three claimed, despite evidence to the contrary in the mirror in front of them, that they could move their right and left hands equally well. Further, two of the three stroke victims claimed that an experimental stooge who faked paralysis (i.e. lack of movement) of his left arm was able to move his arm satisfactorily.

Psychology & the Mind Body Debate

There are different approaches to psychology contrasting views as to whether the mind and body are separate or related. Thinking (having freedom of choice) is a mental event, yet can cause behavior to occur (muscles move in response to a thought).  Thinking can therefore be said to make things happen, ‘mind moves matter’.

Behaviorists believe that psychology should only be concerned with “observable actions,” namely stimulus and response.  They believe that thought processes such as the mind cannot be studied scientifically and objectively and should therefore be ignored. Radical behaviorists believe that the mind does not even exist.

The biologists who argue that the mind does not exist because there is no physical structure called the mind also follow this approach. Biologists argue that the brain will ultimately be found to be the mind. The brain with its structures, cells and neural connections will, with scientific research, eventually identify the mind.

Since both behaviorists and biologists believe that only one type of reality exists, those that we can see, feel and touch; their approach is known as Monism. Monism is the belief that ultimately the mind and the brain are the same thing. The behaviorist and biological approaches believe in materialism monism.

However biologists and behaviorists cannot account for the phenomenon hypnosis. Hilgard and Orne have studied this. They placed participants in a hypnotic trance and through unconscious hypnotic suggestion told the participants they would be touched with a “red hot” piece of metal when they were actually touched with a pencil.

The participants in a deep trance had a skin reaction (water blisters) just as if they had been touched with burning metal. This is an example of the mind controlling the body’s reaction. Similar results have been found on patients given hypnosis to control pain. This contradicts the monism approach, as the body should not react to unconscious suggestions in this way. This study supports the idea of dualism, the view that the mind and body function separately.

In the same way humanists like Carl Rogers would also dispute materialism monism. Humanists believe that subjective experiences are the only way to study human behavior. Humanists are not denying the real world exists, rather they believe it is each person’s unique subjective approach to defining reality that is important. In the area of mental illness a Schizophrenic might not define their actions as ill, rather they would believe they had insight into some occurrence that no one else had. This is why humanists believe the study of how each person views themselves is essential.

However, the problem of the relationship between consciousness and reality from a subjective view has problems. The paranoid schizophrenic who believes the postal service “are agents for the government and trying to kill him” is still mentally ill and needs treatment if they are not to be a danger to themselves or the public.

Recent research from cognitive psychologists has placed a new emphasis on this debate. They have taken the computer analogy of Artificial Intelligence and applied it to this debate. They argue that the brain can be compared to computer hardware that is “wired” or connected to the human body.

The mind is therefore like software, allowing a variety of different software programs to run. This can account for the different reactions people have to the same stimulus. This idea ties in with cognitive mediational (thinking) processes. In computer analogies we have a new version of dualism which allows us to incorporate modern terms such as computers and software instead of Descartes ‘I think therefore I am.’”

 The following was also written by Saul McLeod in 2007.

“The term cognitive psychology came into use with the publication of the book Cognitive Psychology by Ulric Neisser in 1967.

Cognitive Psychology revolves around the notion that if we want to know what makes people tick then we need to understand the internal processes of their mind.

Cognition literally means “knowing.”  In other words, psychologists from this approach study cognition which is ‘the mental act or process by which knowledge is acquired.’

Cognitive psychology focuses on the way humans process information, looking at how we treat information that comes in to the person (what behaviorists would call stimuli), and how this treatment leads to responses.  In other words, they are interested in the variables that mediate between stimulus/input and response/output.  Cognitive psychologists study internal processes including perception, attention, language, memory and thinking.”

My Evaluation of the Mind/Brain Dichotomy

     My own personal take on the Mind/Brain or Mind/Body dichotomy goes something like this: You destroy the body with its brain, and the mind goes away too. However, the concept of a subjective reality that can be studied separately as a social construct is correct.

This debate over the mind/brain has created a kind of “false dichotomy.” That is, it occurs to me that aspects of Dualism and Monism may be both right and wrong. Descartes’s Dualism is not correct because the mind and brain do interact.However, Cartesian dualism is more precise. It argues that there is a two-way interaction between mental and physical substances. I interpret this to mean that neurons and special parts of the physical brain communicate with one another. I do not interpret this to mean a separate mind/body dichotomy by introducing the term, “interaction.”

The problem of dualism is that it fails to see the mind as an invented useful social construct for understanding and describing human behavior. The mind is not a separate physical entity.

Monism, however, is correct for promoting the general idea that the brain and the mind are one and the same. Carl Rogers, although disputing material Monism, was correct in pointing out the subjective reality of the mind and that subjective insights can be studied in their own right.

Just consider Harry Stack Sullivan’s Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry, Carl Rogers own Client Centered Therapy, or the brilliant concepts of Sigmund Freud. All of these psychiatrists/psychologists built careers on the basis of the highly subjective nature of mental processes such as thoughts, feelings, and subjective perceptions.  Using a social construct, these scientists were simply studying how the mind works within the brain.

One needs to stand back and marvel at how the human brain works. Unlike a robot, the mind has such incredible capability to set the conditions for “freewill,” free thought and determination all within the fantastic realm of consciousness (and perhaps the subconscious and unconscious as well). It will take time, however, before scientists can grasp all the intricacies of the interactions of the various parts of the brain. The prefrontal cortex and prefrontal lobes are intimately involved in decision-making once all information sources within the brain create the need for mind-generated action in the external world.

Freud however didn’t necessarily concern himself with activities of the prefrontal cortex or lobes, or the belief that the unconscious mind might be located in a primitive brain stem. He didn’t have too. The subjective realm of human behavior and what causes it was all he needed where his powers of observation were concerned.

Just as Freud invented his own unique social constructs (Ego, Id, Super-ego), he readily made use (whether he realized it or not) of the social construct nature of the “mind.”  What I’m saying is, the mind is not some metaphysical reality that somehow transcends the physical brain. We simply don’t yet know enough to actually explain all “brain activity.”

I think the mind concept, rather than a separate entity within the brain, is really a primarily individualized social construct that should be useful to scientific inquiry. What is a construct? A construct in psychology is basically “a social mechanism, phenomenon, or category created and developed by society; a perception of an individual, group, or idea that is ‘constructed’ through culture or social practice.” Likewise, the concept of mind is very much a social construct. Here is a definition of mind: “the element of a person that enables him/her to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought.”

As a social construct, the mind relates to the concept of a subjective reality. This viewpoint is also nonetheless correct. That is, every mental thought, image, perception, sensation, beliefs or values, are important variables influencing human behavior.

Our consciousness allows all sorts of sensory input, as it relates to both objective reality and subjective interpretation of those sensations or perceptions. The internal interactive nature of thoughts, sensations, perceptions all interact and relate to memory, language, awareness and thinking. Computer circuitry operates at an exceptionally high speed; but it pales by comparison to the human brain that operates at “warp speed.”


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A Psychoanalytic Understanding of Your Life Cycle Stages

The Pioneer Work of Sigmund Freud

Part III


Freud defines religion as an illusion, consisting of “certain dogmas, assertions about facts and conditions of external and internal reality which tell one something that one has not oneself discovered, and which claim that one should give them credence.” Religious concepts are transmitted in three ways and thereby claim our belief. “Firstly because our primal ancestors already believed them; secondly, because we possess proofs which have been handed down to us from antiquity, and thirdly because it is forbidden to raise the question of their authenticity at all.”Psychologically speaking, these beliefs present the phenomena of wish fulfillment. Wishes that are the “fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.” Among these are the necessity to cling to the existence of the father, the prolongation of earthly existence by a future life, and the immortality of the human soul. To differentiate between an illusion and an error, Freud lists scientific beliefs such as “Aristotle’s belief that vermin are developed out of dung” as errors, but “the assertion made by certain nationalists that the Indo-Germanic race is the only one capable of civilization” is an illusion, simply because of the wishing involved. Put forth more explicitly, “what is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes.” He adds, however, that, “Illusions need not necessarily be false.” He gives the example of a middle-class girl having the illusion that a prince will marry her. While this is unlikely, it is not impossible. The fact that it is grounded in her wishes is what makes it an illusion.

[Summarized Excerpt] The Future of an Illusion—Sigmund Freud, 1927



This Blog is the third in a series of articles on the pioneer work of Sigmund Freud. It needed three parts in order to do justice to the remarkable work of this theoretical giant of the 20th Century. In Part III I review several of Freud’s written works. For those unfamiliar with Freud’s written contributions to the study of human behavior, Sigmund Freud was a prolific writer.

Combined with all his other psychoanalytic theoretical work, and considered to be the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud was indeed an extraordinary human being. Although he passed away in 1939 his contribution lives by being unparalleled in its significance to the field of human behavior.

Planned Reviews

I had originally planned to review eleven of Freud’s most important books. If I posted all of these as summarized reviews—my Blog would be 32 pages long. In deference to just how much information most people can digest at any one time, I’ve elected to review just four (and I’ll be honest—they are my favorite Freud books) out of the eleven books originally planned for review. Most of the nitty-gritty of Freud’s psychoanalytic work was covered in Part’s I and II anyway. Consequently, I’ve elected to review those books that had a larger world view of society in general, as I think most readers would be quite interested in the intellectual and sociological impact of Freud’s writings.

Consequently, I will review for the reader: The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Civilization and Its Discontents, Future of an Illusion, and Totem and Taboo.


The Psychopathology of Everyday Life


Psychopathology of everyday life (1901) is one of the key texts of Sigmund Freud, who laid the basis for the theory of psychoanalysis, along with The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1910) and Ego and the Id (1923). This little book became one of the scientific classics of the 20th century and it is very important not only for psychopathology, but also for modern linguistics, semantics and philosophy.

Studying the various deviations from the stereotypes of everyday behavior, strange defects and malfunctions, as well as seemingly random errors, the author concludes that they indicate the underlying pathology of the psyche, the symptoms of psychoneurosis.

This is how Freud introduces his book:

During the year 1898 I published a short essay On the Psychic Mechanism of Forgetfulness. I shall now repeat its contents and take it as a starting-point for further discussion. I have there undertaken a psychologic analysis of a common case of temporary forgetfulness of proper names, and from a pregnant example of my own observation I have reached the conclusion that this frequent and practically unimportant occurrence of a failure of a psychic function — of memory — admits an explanation which goes beyond the customary utilization of this phenomenon.

If an average psychologist should be asked to explain how it happens that we often fail to recall a name which we are sure we know, he would probably contend himself with the answer that proper names are more apt to be forgotten than any other content of memory. He might give plausible reasons for this “forgetting preference” for proper names, but he would not assume any deep determinant for the process.

Freud believed that various deviations from the stereotypes of everyday conduct – seemingly unintended reservation, forgetting words, random movements and actions – are a manifestation of unconscious thoughts and impulses. Explaining “wrong actions” with the help of psychoanalysis, just as the interpretation of dreams, can be effectively used for diagnosis and therapy.

Considering the numerous cases of such deviations, he concludes that the boundary between the normal and abnormal human psyche is unstable and that we are all a bit neurotic. Such symptoms are able to disrupt eating, sexual relations, regular work, and communication with others.

This is the conclusion Freud makes at the end of the book:

The unconscious, at all events, knows no time limit. The most important as well as the most peculiar character of psychic fixation consists in the fact that all impressions are on the one hand retained in the same form as they were received, and also in the forms that they have assumed in their further development. This state of affairs cannot be elucidated by any comparison from any other sphere. By virtue of this theory every former state of the memory content may thus be restored, even though all original relations have long been replaced by newer ones.



Civilization and its Discontents

Civilization and Its Discontents Summary

In the introductory paragraphs, Freud attempts to understand the spiritual phenomenon of a so-called “oceanic” feeling – ‹the sense of boundlessness and oneness felt between the ego and the outside world. This feeling is “a purely subjective fact, not an article of faith.” It does not betoken an allegiance to a specific religion, but instead points to the source of religious sentiment in human beings. Churches and religious institutions are adept at channeling this sentiment into particular belief systems, but they do not themselves create it.

In general, the ego perceives itself as maintaining “sharp and clear lines of demarcation” with the outside world. This distinction between inside and outside is a crucial part of the process of psychological development, allowing the ego to recognize a “reality” separate from itself. After summarizing his previous research, Freud returns to the question of “oceanic” feeling, finding it unconvincing as an explanation of the source of religious sentiment in human beings. Instead, according to Freud, it is a longing for paternal protection in childhood that continues into adult life as a sustained “fear of the superior power of Fate.”

In Future of an Illusion, Freud lamented the common man’s preoccupation with the “enormously exalted father” embodied by God. The idea of placating a supposedly higher being for future recompense seems utterly infantile and absurd. The reality is, however, that masses of men persist in this illusion for the duration of their lives. According to Freud, men exhibit three main coping mechanisms to counter their experience of suffering in the world: 1) deflection of pain and disappointment (through planned distractions); 2) substitutive satisfactions (mainly through the replacement of reality by art); 3) intoxicating substances. Freud concludes that religion cannot be clearly categorized within this schema.

What does man wish for and aim to achieve in life? Religious belief hinges on this central question. Most immediately, men strive to be happy, and their behavior in the outside world is determined by this “pleasure principle.” But the possibilities for happiness and pleasure are limited, and more often we experience unhappiness from the following three sources: 1) our body; 2) the external world; and 3) our relations to other men. We employ various strategies to avoid displeasure: by isolating ourselves voluntarily, becoming a member of the human community (i.e. contributing to a common endeavor), or influencing our own organism. Religion dictates a simple path to happiness. It thereby spares the masses of their individual neuroses, but Freud sees few other benefits in religion. (For those of you who are curious, see how Freud’s ideas here compare to Eric Hoffer’s work in his seminal book—The True Believer.)

After looking specifically at religion, Freud broadens his inquiry into the relationship between civilization and misery. One of his main contentions is that civilization is responsible for our misery: we organize ourselves into civilized society to escape suffering, only to inflict it back upon ourselves.

Freud identifies three key historical events that produced this disillusionment with human civilization: 1) the victory of Christendom over pagan religions (and consequently the low value placed on earthly life in Christian doctrine); 2) the discovery and conquest of primitive tribes and peoples, who appeared to Europeans to be living more happily in a state of nature; and 3) scientific identification of the mechanism of neuroses, which are caused by the frustrating demands put on the individual by modern society. An antagonism toward civilization developed when people concluded that only a reduction of those demands – ‹in other words, withdrawal from the society that imposed them‹ – would lead to greater happiness [Think about the Hippie movement of the 1960’s].

Freud defines civilization as the whole sum of human achievements and regulations intended to protect men against nature and “adjust their mutual relations.” A “decisive step” toward civilization lies in the replacement of the individual’s power by that of the community. This substitution henceforth restricts the possibilities of individual satisfaction in the collective interests of law and order. Here Freud draws an analogy between the evolution of civilization and the libidinal development of the individual, identifying three parallel stages in which each occurs: 1) character-formation (acquisition of an identity); 2) sublimation (channeling of primal energy into other physical or psychological activities); 3) non-satisfaction/renunciation of instincts (burying of aggressive impulses in the individual; imposition of the rule of law in society).

Even if one of the main purposes of civilization is to bind each man’s libidinal impulses to those of others, love and civilization eventually come into conflict with one another. Freud identifies several different reasons for this later antagonism. For one, family units tend to isolate themselves and prevent individuals from detaching and maturing on their own. Civilization also saps sexual energy by diverting it into cultural endeavors. It also restricts love object choices and mutilates our erotic lives. Taboos (namely, against incest), laws, and customs impose further restrictions. Freud reasons that civilization’s antagonism toward sexuality arises from the necessity to build a communal bond based on relations of friendship. If the activity of the libido were allowed to run rampant, it would likely destroy the monogamous love-relationship of the couple that society has endorsed as the most stable.

Freud next objects to the commandment “Love thy neighbor” because, contrary to Biblical teaching, he has come to see human beings as primarily aggressive rather than loving. He first identified this instinctual aggressiveness in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and though his proposed “death drive” was initially met with skepticism, he maintains and develops the thesis here. Civilization is continually threatened with disintegration because of this inclination to aggression. It invests great energy in restraining these death instincts, and achieves this goal by installing within the individual a sort of watchdog agency, which Freud calls the super-ego, to master our desire for aggression. For Freud, the entire evolution of civilization can be summed up as a struggle between Eros and the death drive, overseen by the super-ego.

With the establishment of the super-ego comes a sense of bad conscience. Because it is internalized, the super-ego omnisciently regulates both our thoughts and deeds, whereas prior to its installation, individuals only had to submit themselves to a higher authority for punishment (such as parents) in the case of fully accomplished acts. There are two sources of guilt: 1) fear of authority and 2) fear of the super-ego. In the latter case, instinct renunciation no longer liberates the individual from the sense of internal guilt that the super-ego continues to perpetuate. By extension, civilization reinforces the sense of guilt to regulate and accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of relationships between men. It becomes a more repressive force that individuals find increasingly difficult to tolerate. Freud considers this increasing sense of guilt to be “most important problem in the development of civilization,” since it takes an enormous toll on the happiness of individuals.

In the last chapter, Freud clarifies his usage of seemingly interchangeable terms: the “super-ego” is an internal agency whose existence has been inferred; “conscience” is one of the functions ascribed to the super-ego, to keep watch over the intentions and actions of the ego; “sense of guilt” designates the perception that the ego has of being surveyed and arises from the tension between its own strivings and the (often overly severe) demands of the super-ego. It can be felt prior to the execution of the guilty act, whereas “remorse” refers exclusively to the reaction after the act of aggression has been carried out. Finally, Freud re-emphasizes the instinct of aggression and self-destruction as the single greatest problem facing civilization, as manifested in “the present time.” He ends by asking which force‹ – “eternal Eros” or his potent adversary‹ – will prevail.

The Future of an Illusion

The Future of an Illusion (Die Zukunft einer Illusion) is a book written by Sigmund Freud in 1927. It describes his interpretation of religion’s origins, development, psychoanalysis, and its future. Freud viewed religion as a false belief system.

Religion as an Instinct Restrainer

Freud attempts to turn our attention to the future that awaits human culture. In the process of developing his thought, he finds it necessary to deal with the origin and purpose of human culture as such. By human culture Freud means all those respects in which human life has lifted itself above the animal condition and in which it differs from the life of the beast.

Human culture includes, on the one hand, all the knowledge and power that men have accumulated in order to master the forces of nature, and on the other all the necessary arrangements whereby men’s relations to each other may be regulated. These two conditions for culture are not separable from one another because the existing resources and the measure by which they satisfy the desires of our instincts, are deeply intertwined. Although man forms culture, he is, at the same time, subject to it because it tames his raw instincts and makes him behave in a socially acceptable way. Thus Freud writes: “It seems more probable that every culture must be built upon . . coercion and instinct renunciation.”

Freud maintains that the essence of culture does not lie in man’s conquest of nature for the means of supporting life, but in the psychological realm, in every man’s curbing his predatory instincts. One of the instinct restrainers that man has devised to perpetuate his culture is religion. The unique aspect of religion as reflecting moral conscience was recognized by Freud as he writes of one of its functions is attempting, “. . . to correct the so painfully felt imperfections of culture.”

Religion as an Illusion

Freud defines religion as an illusion, consisting of “certain dogmas, assertions about facts and conditions of external and internal reality which tell one something that one has not oneself discovered, and which claim that one should give them credence.”

Religious concepts are transmitted in three ways and thereby claim our belief. “Firstly because our primal ancestors already believed them; secondly, because we possess proofs which have been handed down to us from antiquity, and thirdly because it is forbidden to raise the question of their authenticity at all.”

Psychologically speaking, these beliefs present the phenomena of wish fulfillment. Wishes that are the “fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.” Among these are the necessity to cling to the existence of the father, the prolongation of earthly existence by a future life, and the immortality of the human soul.

To differentiate between an illusion and an error, Freud lists scientific beliefs such as “Aristotle’s belief that vermin are developed out of dung” as errors, but “the assertion made by certain nationalists that the Indo-Germanic race is the only one capable of civilization” is an illusion, simply because of the wishing involved. Put forth more explicitly, “what is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes.” He adds, however, that, “Illusions need not necessarily be false.” He gives the example of a middle-class girl having the illusion that a prince will marry her. While this is unlikely, it is not impossible. The fact that it is grounded in her wishes is what makes it an illusion.

Origins and Development of Religion

Freud begins by explaining religion in a similar term to that of totemism. The individual is essentially an enemy of society and has instinctual urges that must be restrained to help society function. “Among these instinctual wishes are those of incest, cannibalism, and lust for killing.” His view of human nature is that it is anti-social, rebellious, and has high sexual and destructive tendencies. The destructive nature of humans sets a pre-inclination for disaster when humans must interact with others in society. “For masses are lazy and unintelligent; they have no love for instinctual renunciation, and they are not to be convinced by argument of its inevitability; and the individuals composing them support one another in giving free rein to their indiscipline.” So destructive is human nature, he claims, that “it is only through the influence of individuals who can set an example and whom masses recognize as their leaders that they can be induced to perform the work and undergo the renunciations on which the existence of civilization depends.” All this sets a terribly hostile society that could implode if it were not for civilizing forces and developing government.

He elaborates further on the development of religion, as the emphasis on acquisition of wealth and the satisfaction of instinctual drives (sex, wealth, glory, happiness, immortality) moves from “the material to the mental.” As compensation for good behaviors, religion promises a reward.

The topic is resumed in the beginning of Freud’s subsequent book, Civilization and Its Discontents:

“One of these exceptional few calls himself my friend in his letters to me. I had sent him my small book that treats religion as an illusion, and he answered that he entirely agreed with my judgement upon religion, but that he was sorry I had not properly appreciated the true source of religious sentiments. This, he says, consists in a peculiar feeling, which he himself is never without, which he finds confirmed by many others, and which he may suppose is present in millions of people. It is a feeling which he would like to call a sensation of ‘eternity’, a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded–as it were, ‘oceanic’. This feeling, he adds is a purely subjective fact, not an article of faith; it brings with it no assurance of personal immortality, but it is the source of the religious energy which is seized upon by the various Churches and religious systems, directed by them into particular channels, and doubtless also exhausted by them. One may, he thinks, rightly call oneself religious on the ground of this oceanic feeling alone, even if one rejects every belief and every illusion.

The views expressed by the friend whom I so much honour, and who himself once praised the magic of illusion in a poem caused me no small difficulty…. From my own experience I could not convince myself of the primary nature of such a feeling. But this gives me no right to deny that it does in fact occur in other people. The only question is whether it is being correctly interpreted and whether it ought to be regarded as the fons et origo of the whole need for religion.”

Today, some scholars see the arguments set forth in The Future of an Illusion as a manifestation of the genetic fallacy, in which a belief is considered false or inverifiable based on its origin. Scholars still dispute this claim.

Psychoanalysis of Religion

Religion is an outshoot of the Oedipus complex, and represents man’s helplessness in the world, having to face the ultimate fate of death, the struggle of civilization, and the forces of nature.

He views god as a manifestation of a child-like “longing for [a] father.”  In his words “The gods retain the threefold task: they must exorcize the terrors of nature, they must reconcile men to the cruelty of Fate [parenthetically, it is akin to the religious expression—“God works in mysterious ways], particularly as it is shown in death, and they must compensate them for the sufferings and privations which a civilized life in common has imposed on them.”


Totem and Taboo

Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics is a book by Sigmund Freud published in German in 1913 under the title Totem und Tabu: Einige Übereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und der Neurotiker.

It is a collection of four essays first published in the journal Imago (1912–13) employing the application of psychoanalysis to the fields of archaeology, anthropology, and the study of religion. The four essays are entitled: The Horror of Incest; Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence; Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts; and The Return of Totemism in Childhood.

The Horror of Incest

The first and shortest of the four essays concerns incest taboos adopted by societies believing in totemism.

Freud uses examples mostly from the Australian Aborigines, gathered and discussed by anthropologist James George Frazer. He points out, with some surprise, that although the Aborigines do not seem to have any sexual restrictions, there’s an elaborate social organization whose sole purpose is to prevent incestuous sexual relations.

Freud discusses various ways in which the exogamy of the totem system prevents incest not only among the nuclear family, but among extended families as well. In addition, the totem system prevents ‘incest’ among members of the same totem clan who are not related by blood and considers as incest relations between clan members which could not produce children. He explains that the existence of marriage restrictions between the members of the same tribes probably goes back to when group marriages were allowed (but not ‘incest’ within a group family).

He concludes the essay with a discussion of the mother-in-law taboo, and concludes that the incestuous wishes which are repressed to the unconscious among civilized peoples are still a conscious peril to the uncivilized people in Frazer’s studies.

Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence

In this essay, Freud considers the relationship of taboos to totemism. Freud uses his concepts ‘projection’ and ‘ambivalence’ he developed during his work with neurotic patients in Vienna to discuss the relationship between taboo and totemism.

Like neurotics, ‘primitive’ peoples feel ambivalent about most people in their lives, but will not admit this consciously to themselves. They will not admit that as much as they love their mother, there are things about her they hate. The suppressed part of this ambivalence (the hate parts) are projected onto others. In the case of natives, the hateful parts are projected onto the totem. As in: ‘I did not want my mother to die, the totem wanted her to die.’

Freud expands this idea of ambivalence to include the relationship of citizens to their ruler. In ceremonies surrounding kings, which are often quite violent, – such as the king starving himself in the woods for a few weeks – he considers two levels that are functioning to be the “ostensible” (i.e., the king is being honored) and the “actual” (i.e., the king is being tortured).

Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thought

The third essay examines the animism and narcissistic phase associated with a primitive understanding of the universe and early libidinal development. A belief in magic and sorcery derives from an overvaluation of psychical acts whereby the structural conditions of mind are transposed onto the world: this overvaluation survives in both primitive men and neurotics. The animistic mode of thinking is governed by an “omnipotence of thoughts”, a projection of inner mental life onto the external world. This imaginary construction of reality is also discernible in obsessive thinking, delusional disorders and phobias.

Freud comments that the omnipotence of thoughts has been retained in the magical realm of art. The last part of the essay concludes the relationship between magic,paranormal, superstition and taboo, arguing that the practices of animistic system are scree behind which lies instinctual repression.

The Return of Totemism in Childhood

In the final essay, Freud argues that combining one of Charles Darwin’s more speculative theories about the arrangements of early human societies (a single alpha-male surrounded by a harem of females, similar to the arrangement of gorilla groupings) with the theory of the sacrifice ritual taken from William Robertson Smith located the origins of totemism in a singular event, whereby a band of prehistoric brothers expelled from the alpha-male group returned to kill their father, whom they both feared and respected. In this respect, Freud located the beginnings of the Oedipus complex at the origins of human society, and postulated that all religion was in effect an extended and collective form of guilt and ambivalence to cope with the killing of the father figure (which he saw as the true original sin).



This concludes the three-part series on Sigmund Freud. In Part III I reviewed some of the written works of this giant of the 20th Century.

I believe his work relating psychoanalysis to the larger characteristics of society to have been rather brilliant. If I remember in the years ahead very few details of Freud’s written works, I have nevertheless come away with a deeper understanding of human behavior. That is, I now realize (from his essay on Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence) that we are always ambivalent in our feelings toward other people—including those we love and are closest with.

We all project our own feelings onto others. In the modern era perhaps seeing the world in shades of gray [rather than black or white] allows us a kind of freedom not normally found among the true believers in society. It takes courage to see the world as complex, devoid of simplistic, sometimes delusional thinking patterns.

Ambivalence may be one of the prices we pay for being couragious. The reward however, in having such courage in the way we see the world in shades of gray— is mental maturity. And, mental maturity just might allow us the freedom to maintain healthy relationships for a lifetime with other people. And, as Detective Sergeant Rick Hunter used to say in the TV series Hunter (1984-1991), “It Works for Me.”



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A Psychoanalytic Understanding of Your Life Cycle Stages

The Pioneer Work of Sigmund Freud

Part II

Freud’s Theory of the Conscious and Unconscious Mind

Psychoanalytic theory of the conscious and unconscious mind is often explained using an iceberg metaphor. Conscious awareness is the tip of the iceberg, while the unconscious is represented by the ice hidden below the surface of the water. Many of us have experienced what is commonly referred to as a Freudian slip. These misstatements are believed to reveal underlying, unconscious thoughts or feelings. Freudian slips can also apply to conscious thoughts and feelings as well. Quite often these feelings, whether conscious or unconscious, are ambivalent feelings. Consider the following example:

James has just started a new relationship with a woman he met at school. While talking to her one afternoon, he accidentally calls her by his ex-girlfriend’s name.

If you were in this situation, how would you explain this mistake? Many of us might blame the slip on distraction or describe it as a simple accident. However, a psychoanalytic theorist might tell you that this is much more than a random accident. The psychoanalytic view holds that there are inner forces outside of your awareness that are directing your behavior. For example, a psychoanalyst might say that James misspoke due to unresolved feelings for his ex or perhaps because of misgivings about his new relationship.

The founder of psychoanalytic theory was Sigmund Freud. While his theories were considered shocking at the time and continue to create debate and controversy, his work had a profound influence on a number of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, literature, and art.

The term psychoanalysis is used to refer to many aspects of Freud’s work and research, including Freudian therapy and the research methodology he used to develop his theories. Freud relied heavily upon his observations and case studies of his patients when he formed his theory of personality development.

Before we can understand Freud’s theory of personality, we must first understand his view of how the mind is organized.

According to Freud, the mind can be divided into two main parts:

  1. The conscious mind includes everything that we are aware of. This is the aspect of our mental processing that we can think and talk about rationally. A part of this includes our memory, which is not always part of consciousness but can be retrieved easily at any time and brought into our awareness. Freud called this ordinary memory the preconscious.
  2. The unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges [including fantasies], and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict that is yet to be revealed to those around us. According to Freud, the unconscious continues to influence our behavior and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences. Parenthetically, we may be consciously aware of our fantasies; however, many of these consciously circulating thoughts and feelings may not necessarily generate conflict that would create anxiety. Fantasies in the conscious reahlm can indeed be very pleasant experiences. However, the superego [see concept below] still keeps a close check on those who want to act out their fantasies.

Personality Development

According to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, personality is composed of three elements. These three elements of personality are known as the id, the ego and the superego. They work together to create complex human behaviors.

The Id

The id is the only component of personality that is present from birth. This aspect of personality is entirely unconscious and includes all of the instinctive and primitive behaviors. According to Freud, the id is the source of all psychic energy, making it the primary component of personality.

The id is driven by the pleasure principle, which strives for immediate gratification of all desires, wants, and needs. If these needs are not satisfied immediately, the result is a state of anxiety or tension. The Id doesn’t necessarily try to resolve the tension.

For example, an increase in hunger or thirst should produce an immediate attempt to eat or drink. The id is very important early in life, because it ensures that an infant’s needs are met. If the infant is hungry or uncomfortable, he or she will cry until the demands of the id are met. By age 3 or 4 a child will begin to delay gratification, i.e., the demands are seen as not having to achieve immediate satisfaction. Immediately satisfying these needs is not always realistic or even possible. If we were ruled entirely by the pleasure principle, we might find ourselves grabbing things we want out of other people’s hands to satisfy our own cravings. This sort of behavior would be both disruptive and socially unacceptable. According to Freud, the id tries to resolve the tension created by the pleasure principle through the primary process which involves forming a mental image of the desired object as a way of satisfying the need.

The Ego

The ego is the component of personality that is responsible for dealing with reality. According to Freud, the ego develops from the id and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world. The ego functions in all aspects of the mind: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind.

The ego operates based on the reality principle, which strives to satisfy the id’s desires in realistic and socially appropriate ways. The reality principle weighs the costs and benefits of an action before deciding to act upon or abandon impulses. In many cases, the id’s impulses can be satisfied through a process of delayed gratification–the ego will eventually allow the behavior, but only in the appropriate time and place. Or, the ego allows for the behavior of the id in a disguised or sublimated form in addition to delay.

The ego also discharges tension created by unmet impulses through the secondary process, in which the ego tries to find an object in the real world that matches the mental image created by the id’s primary process.

The Superego

The last component of personality to develop is the superego. The superego is the aspect of personality that holds all of our internalized moral standards and ideals that we acquire from parent(s) as well as society–our sense of right and wrong. The superego provides guidelines for making judgments. According to Freud, the superego begins to emerge at around age five.

There are two parts of the superego:

  1. The ego ideal includes the rules and standards for good behaviors. These behaviors include those which are approved of by parental and other authority figures. Obeying these rules leads to feelings of pride, value and accomplishment.
  2. The conscience includes information about things that are viewed as bad by parents and society. These behaviors are often forbidden and lead to bad consequences, punishments or feelings of guilt and remorse.

The superego acts to perfect and civilize our behavior. It works to suppress all unacceptable urges of the id and struggles to make the ego act upon idealistic standards rather that upon realistic principles. The superego is present at many levels of the mind including the conscious, preconscious and unconscious.

The Interaction of the Id, Ego and Superego

With so many competing forces, it is easy to see how conflict might arise between the id, ego and superego. Freud used the term ego strength to refer to the ego’s ability to function despite these dueling forces. A person with good ego strength is able to effectively manage these pressures, while those with too much or too little ego strength can become too unyielding or too disrupting.

According to Freud, the key to a healthy personality is a balance between the id, the ego, and the superego.

Freud’s Concept of Defense Mechanisms

The concept of defense mechanisms can be attributed to Sigmund Freud. Later, Anna Freud also made great use of these concepts in her work in child psychiatry and child psychology. What is a defense mechanism? A defense mechanism is a strategy used to cover up or change unconscious desires and wishes that may be inappropriate or difficult to express.

In psychodynamic psychotherapy for PTSD, bringing about change in symptoms or behavior requires getting in touch with and “working through” those painful unconscious feelings. To do this, a therapist will assist the patient in recognizing the defense mechanisms being used, what they are being used for (to avoid painful feelings in the unconscious mind often stemming from a traumatic experience) and connecting with and appropriately releasing those feelings and thoughts that were previously being avoided.

Because of anxiety provoking demands created by the id, superego and reality, the ego has developed a number of defense mechanisms to cope with anxiety. Although we may knowingly use these mechanisms, in many cases these defenses work unconsciously to distort reality.

While all defense mechanisms can be unhealthy, they can also be adaptive and allow us to function normally. The greatest problems arise when defense mechanisms are overused in order to avoid dealing with problems. In psychoanalytic therapy, the goal may be to help the client uncover these unconscious defense mechanisms and find better, more healthy ways of coping with anxiety and distress.

Researchers have described a wide variety of different defense mechanisms. Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud described ten different defense mechanisms used by the ego.

Defense Mechanisms and Ego Anxiety

Most notably used by Sigmund Freud in his psychoanalytic theory, a defense mechanism is a tactic developed by the ego to protect against anxiety. Defense mechanisms are thought to safeguard the mind against feelings and thoughts that are too difficult for the conscious mind to cope with. In some instances, defense mechanisms are thought to keep inappropriate or unwanted thoughts and impulses from entering the conscious mind.

In this blogger’s opinion, the concept of defense mechanisms demonstrated the absolute creative insights of Sigmund Freud. Why do I feel this way? Because I see them operate on a daily basis in myself and everyone I come in contact with. Where people with low or non-existent ego strength is concerned [unable at all to deal with ego anxiety], they often become victims of suicide, or have a complete mental breakdown where they must be institutionalized.

For example, at a less extreme level, if you are faced with a particularly unpleasant task, your mind may choose to forget your responsibility in order to avoid the dreaded assignment. In addition to forgetting, some other defense mechanisms include rationalization, denial, repression, projection, rejection and reaction formation.

The term “defense mechanisms,” or ways that we protect ourselves from things that we don’t want to think about or deal with, got its start in psychoanalytic therapy, but it has slowly worked its way into everyday language. Think of the last time you referred to someone as being “in denial” or accused someone of “rationalizing.” Both of these examples refer to a type of defense mechanism.

In Sigmund Freud’s topographical model of personality [if you recall earlier], the ego is the aspect of personality that deals with reality. While doing this, the ego also has to cope with the conflicting demands of the id and the superego The id seeks to fulfill all wants, needs and impulses while the superego tries to get the ego to act in an idealistic and moral manner.

What happens when the ego cannot deal with the demands of our desires, the constraints of reality and our own moral standards? According to Freud, anxiety is an unpleasant inner state that people seek to avoid. Anxiety acts as a signal to the ego that things are not going right.

Freud identified three types of anxiety:

  1. Neurotic anxiety is the unconscious worry that we will lose control of the id’s urges, resulting in punishment for inappropriate behavior.
  2. Reality anxiety is fear of real-world events. The cause of this anxiety is usually easily identified. For example, a person might fear receiving a dog bite when they are near a menacing dog. The most common way of reducing this anxiety is to avoid the threatening object.
  3. Moral anxiety involves a fear of violating our own moral principles.

In order to deal with this anxiety, Freud believed that defense mechanisms helped shield the ego from the conflicts created by the id, superego and reality.

Defense Mechanisms in General


Denial is probably one of the best known defense mechanisms, used often to avoid conscious fears and describe situations in which people seem unable to face reality or admit an obvious truth (i.e. “He’s in denial.”). Denial is an outright refusal to admit or recognize that something has occurred or is currently occurring. Drug addicts or alcoholics often deny that they have a problem, while victims of traumatic events may deny that the event ever occurred.

Denial functions to protect the ego from things that the individual cannot cope with. While this may save us from anxiety or pain, denial also requires a substantial investment of energy. Because of this, other defenses are also used to keep these unacceptable feelings from consciousness.


Repression is another well-known defense mechanism. Repression acts to keep information out of conscious awareness. However, these memories don’t just disappear; they continue to influence our behavior. For example, a person who has repressed memories of abuse suffered as a child may later have difficulty forming relationships.

Sometimes we do this consciously by forcing the unwanted information out of our awareness, which is known as suppression. In most cases, however, this removal of anxiety-provoking memories from our awareness is believed to occur unconsciously.


Have you ever had a really bad day at work and then gone home and taken out your frustration on family and friends? Then you have experienced the ego defense mechanism of displacement. Displacement involves taking out our frustrations, feelings and impulses on people or objects that are less threatening. Displaced aggression is a common example of this defense mechanism. Rather than express our anger in ways that could lead to negative consequences (like arguing with our boss), we instead express our anger towards a person or object that poses no threat (such as our spouse, children or pets).



Sublimation is a defense mechanism that allows us to act out unacceptable impulses by converting these behaviors into a more acceptable form. For example, a person experiencing extreme anger might take up kick-boxing as a means of venting frustration. Freud believed that sublimation was a sign of maturity that allows people to function normally in socially acceptable ways.




Projection is a defense mechanism that involves taking our own unacceptable qualities or feelings and ascribing them to other people. For example, if you have a strong dislike for someone, you might instead believe that he or she does not like you. Projection works by allowing the expression of the desire or impulse, but in a way that the ego cannot recognize, therefore reducing anxiety.


Intellectualization works to reduce anxiety by thinking about events in a cold, clinical way. This defense mechanism allows us to avoid thinking about the stressful, emotional aspect of the situation and instead focus only on the intellectual component. For example, a person who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness might focus on learning everything about the disease in order to avoid distress and remain distant from the reality of the situation.


Rationalization is a defense mechanism that involves explaining an unacceptable behavior or feeling in a rational or logical manner, avoiding the true reasons for the behavior. For example, a person who is turned down for a date might rationalize the situation by saying they were not attracted to the other person anyway, or a student might blame a poor exam score on the instructor rather than his or her lack of preparation.

Rationalization not only prevents anxiety, it may also protect self-esteem and self-concept. When confronted by success or failure, people tend to attribute achievement to their own qualities and skills while failures are blamed on other people or outside forces.


When confronted by stressful events, people sometimes abandon coping strategies and revert to patterns of behavior used earlier in development. Anna Freud called this defense mechanism regression, suggesting that people act out behaviors from the stage of psychosexual development in which they are fixated. For example, an individual fixated at an earlier developmental stage might cry or sulk upon hearing unpleasant news.

Behaviors associated with regression can vary greatly depending upon which stage the person is fixated at:

  1. An individual fixated at the oral might begin      eating or smoking excessively, or might become very verbally aggressive.
  2. A fixation at the anal stage might      result in excessive tidiness or messiness.


Reaction formation

Reaction formation reduces anxiety by taking up the opposite feeling, impulse or behavior. An example of reaction formation would be treating someone you strongly dislike in an excessively friendly manner in order to hide your true feelings. Why do people behave this way? According to Freud, they are using reaction formation as a defense mechanism to hide their true feelings by behaving in the exact opposite manner.

Other Defense Mechanisms

Since Freud first described the original defense mechanisms, other researchers have continued to describe other methods of reducing anxiety. Some of these defense mechanisms include:

  • Acting out – The individual copes with stress by engaging in actions rather than reflecting upon internal feelings.
  • Affiliation – Involves turning to other people for support.
  • Aim inhibition – The individual accepts a modified form of their original goal (i.e. becoming a high school basketball coach rather than a professional athlete.)
  • Altruism – Satisfying internal needs through helping others.
  • Avoidance – Refusing to deal with or encounter unpleasant objects or situations.
  • Compensation – Overachieving in one area to compensate for failures or inadequacy in another. Control freak.
  • Humor – Pointing out the funny or ironic aspects of a situation.
  • Passive-aggression – Indirectly expressing anger or just opposition.

While defense mechanisms are often thought of as negative reactions, some of these defenses can be helpful. For example, utilizing humor to overcome a stressful, anxiety-provoking situation can actually be an adaptive defense mechanism.



I spent a great deal of time in one of my undergraduate psychology classes several decades ago studying Sigmund Freud. Freud was a practitioner of psychoanalysis, theoretical scientist, and an author producing many books. I suggested before that Sigmund Freud was one of the greatest theoretical minds of the 20th Century; it’s absolutely true.

Criticizing Freud for lack of hypothesis testing is a mistake and it misses what science as a concept is really all about. Science is composed of four major components, although they may differ somewhat as to their relative importance to the scientific process of discovery. These components include: theory development (explanations with or without confirmation by testing) formal hypothesis testing, and the most important aspect of all science—observation. Observation is the cornerstone of all science. Part of observation is a fourth component, i.e. accidental or fortuitous findings (Think of Flemming’s discovery of penicillin, or Alexander Graham Bell’s experiments). All four components comprise the enterprise of science. All four components contribute to scientific discovery.

As most people know, Albert Einstein is regarded as the greatest scientist of the 20th century with his theories of special and general relativity. Yet, he left mostly to others to confirm his theories. Steven Hawking has never experimentally tested his ideas (except conceptually through mathematics) about Black Holes. Yet, some think he is the greatest living scientist alive today. Earlier in this blog I reported on an important quote from Freud himself on these notions of accepting tested probability statements as “truth.” Probability statements are not truth. What they consist of are stepping stones necessary for reaching agreement in theory development. Truth is what we agree it is—nothing more and nothing less. Once the testing is done someone must still put together the findings within a theoretical framework, meaning the scientific process is never ending. All science is conditional and all theories are subject to revision.

The greatest scientists however have never been those who simply test other’s hypotheses, but rather those who invent explanations for the behavior in question before the confirmations. The exception to what I’ve just said is Edward Hubble who used the telescope to confirm his own hypothesis that the universe is not static, but has been expanding since the “Big Bang.”

All I’m saying is that for an activity to be scientific it will involve one or more of these major components described above. Once again, there is hypothesis development (theories) and hypothesis testing (like in a laboratory or with statistics) or observation of raw data before theories or testing, and there are also accidental, serendipitous, or fortuitous discoveries as part of observation.

For example, digging up a brand new ancestor in the evolutionary line would require re-evaluation of existing theories on human evolution. That is, how does the new information fit with existing knowledge or theories on evolution? This might be followed by laboratory testing of the human remains. Presumably new theories would need to be generated that might alter our current understanding of human evolution based on the new find.

Often times those who develop explanations of human behavior (or the cosmos) leave such testing to others. Freud approached his work without statistical testing of large groups. He did conduct case studies and came away, through astute observation and insight, development and refinement of original concepts (or hypotheses to be tested) about human behavior.

Not everything Freud proposed (his later ideas about the death drive or instinct) has curried favor with the public or those in the scientific community. Freud believed very strongly in man’s contradictory tendency toward self-destruction as well as self-preservation. For Freud, it manifested itself outwardly at society in terms of aggression. There is great complexity in many of Freud’s concepts.

Given society’s collective aggression toward others (international conflict and the potential for human annihilation with a nuclear war) there is pause to wonder if man might not harbor a self-destructive instinct. Perhaps one day someone will find a way to empirically find such an instinct, or perhaps not. Perhaps the drive toward self-destruction doesn’t arise in the human psyche, but is the sociological nature or consequence of group interaction, cultural values, and sometimes unpredictable historical events. Only time will tell if Freud was on to something few of us really understand.

In this author’s opinion there are other reasons Freud’s work had obstacles to acceptance besides lack of extensive empirical research. I believe people often hated or despised Freud because his ideas conflicted with their puritanical social ideas of what is appropriate or moral behavior, for example the Oedipus complex or childhood sexuality. Our Victorian roots as a society are still with us, although often disguised as something else.

I think that Freud’s work is also rejected because it might have gotten close to the truth of why collectivities, such as groups, behave, particularly with reference to use of defense mechanisms. That is, groups use defense mechanisms as well as individuals [denial, rationalization, etc]. For example, some groups collectively use the sugar-coated notions of religion to deal with their internalized fear of the finality of death.  And governments engage in defense mechanisms, all the time, by denying their own culpability in generating armed conflict with other nations.

Final Thoughts


Ironically, as said before in Connections, it was a movie about Freud I saw in 1962 (with Montgomery Cliff as Freud) that motivated me to consider psychology as a major in college. In many ways I have Sigmund Freud to thank for my career. From my standpoint, his legacy is definitely assured in the scientific literature on human behavior.

Next time in Part III—I will describe eleven written works of Sigmund Freud including: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Civilization and Its Discontents, The Ego and the Id, The Future of an Illusion, The Interpretation of Dreams, Introduction to Psychoanalysis, On Narcissism, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Studies of Hysteria, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, and Totem and Taboo.

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A Psychoanalytic Understanding of Your Life Cycle

The Pioneer Work of Sigmund Freud


Part I



This Blog has an erudite, lofty title but it really is just a review of basic concepts and basic approaches taken by one of the greatest theoretical giants of the 20th Century—Sigmund Freud.


This Blog is written in three parts because Freud’s contributions to psychoanalysis were so many including: Psychosexual Stages of
human development, the conceptual framework for understanding conscious and unconscious behavior, and the importance of understanding defense mechanisms as a way of averting or avoiding problems of anxiety or conscious feelings of guilt. Freud was a prolific writer.

Part I will emphasize the pioneer work of Sigmund Freud, who is the father of psychoanalysis, as it relates to his theory of life cycle stages. Part II will present his discoveries on conscious and unconscious behavior and the defense mechanisms we all share in common, although their use may differ from individual to individual. Part III will present a detailed synopsis of Freud’s major works.


Indirectly, I have to say that when I was young, Sigmund Freud had an impact on my future academic career. How did this occur? During my
freshmen year of high school, I began reading books on psychology. I knew about the work of Abraham Maslow, Sigmund Freud, B. F. Skinner and, what psychology was all about long before I entered college. This opened up a new world to me. The pioneer work and importance of Sigmund Freud’s theories were described in great detail in many of the books I read. And, I was impressed by what I read; I
was intrigued by the field of psychology.

Later, when I was a sophomore in college (age 19) I was beginning to have to make decisions about my career one day. I knew back then,
as did every other college student, the major I chose would be extremely important as to what career would likely unfold. During college I liked to go to the movies. Back then I was dating my pretty and highly intelligent 18 year old girlfriend who also had a similar interest in outstanding movies of an intellectual or socially relevant nature. I took her to see Lawrence of Arabia and David and Lisa, the latter being a psychiatric-oriented movie—but that’s another story. One night early in our relationship I took her on a date to see (this was 1962) a movie, titled Freud. It starred Montgomery Cliff. This was, of course, a dramatic interpretation of Freud’s life, but nonetheless it was a turning point for me. My decision was made—I’d major in psychology.

Based on that decision I went on to earn 24 undergraduate units in psychology and an additional 12 units in sociology. In graduate school I
would later go in the direction of public administration and criminal justice, but I built my foundation of knowledge from that early decision to study psychology; I have never regretted that decision. In terms of career choices, I ended up being a social scientist, criminologist, and criminal justice administrator, collectively for 32 years. Amazing how small decisions early in life can later influence making bigger ones.


The Theories of Sigmund Freud

The Scientific Process

The work of Sigmund Freud, the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis, marked the beginning of a modern, dynamic psychology by providing the first well-organized explanation of the inner mental forces determining human behavior. While Freud brought us concepts like the Id,
Ego and Superego, the importance of the unconscious mind in human behavior, and a terminology of significant “defense mechanisms,” Freud also created a theory of human and personality development, with an emphasis on the psychosexual nature of human behavior. Part I explains what some of these concepts are all about. Sigmund Freud wasn’t just a very bright man—Freud was a conceptual genius who used the cornerstone of all science to help him in that conceptual process; that cornerstone of science is known as observation. Observation has led to more discoveries in science than any other process. However, the process of scientific discovery and validation is more complex
than observation alone. That is, there is an interrelationship between four major elements of science.

Interrelationships form in the process of science between observation, theory development and a third element known as hypothesis testing. Hypothesis testing, of course, does not occur in a scientific vacuum, because someone already has a theory or observation in the first place. This creates the context in which someone formulates a hypothesis later to test. Hypothesis development itself might precede observation or theory, but the more likely scenario is the other way around. But, as we all know, scientific discovery is more than the orderly process of three major elements. There is an added feature to the business of science that also contributes to scientific discovery. Scientific discovery sometimes occur through rather fortuitous or serendipitous events [we call them accidental discoveries]. In this author’s opinion Freud used primarily observation as his basic method of scientific inquiry. This in turn often led to his theoretical development or explanations for human behavior. And, it may be that accidental discovery may have played a role in some of his discoveries (I mean by this he likely saw or observed something unexpectedly in his patients that helped him formulate a particular theory).

However, Freud left to others the business of hypothesis testing. I surmise this would have been very difficult for him to perform given the small number of patients he saw. However, lack of quantitative hypothesis testing in his work in no way diminishes the important work of this theoretical genius. This is because valuable empirical evidence can result from case studies in producing very valid qualitative data on the nature of human behavior. Both qualitative and quantitative measures are important to scientific discovery. Truth is often talked about in many circles as something that is absolute in nature. Problem is there is no such thing as “absolute truth.” Truth in reality is what we agree it is, nothing more and nothing less. All scientific knowledge is conditional and always subject to change. Results in science based on degree of outcome probability is not truth; probability statements and statistical significance are best understood as stepping stones in the process of  building a consensus of agreement regarding the meaning of findings. Also, creating operational definitions for variables from complex concepts is always difficult work.

One way (although perhaps debatable) of going about the business of testing Freud’s concepts (however complex) is to develop proxy
measures for some of his supposedly un-measurable variables. Case in point: the Libido. If one defines Libido as sexual interest, sexual drive, or sexual energy one can create measures to tap into this variable. If I were trying to assess Libido I would use a combination of physical and psychological measures to tap into creating a proxy measure for Libido. In men, it might be testosterone level and a “pencil and paper” test of attitudes about their sexual life. Time and space does permit me the luxury of a full explanation of this. Therefore, I will continue to describe Freud’s contributions and what I believe his legacy to be. But rest assured some of the criticisms of Freud’s work may be unfounded based on a lack of understanding as to what the scientific process is really all about.

Sigmund Freud’s Legacy

Sigmund Freud, born Sigismund Schlomo Freud (6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939), was an Austrian neurologist who founded the
discipline of psychoanalysis. Freud is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind and the mechanism of repression, and for creating the clinical method of psychoanalysis for investigating the mind and treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient  and a psychoanalyst. Freud postulated that sexual drives were the primary motivational forces of human life, developed therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association, discovered the phenomenon of transference in the therapeutic relationship and established its
central role in the analytic process; he interpreted dreams as sources of insight into unconscious desires. He was an early neurological researcher into cerebral palsy, aphasia and microscopic neuroanatomy, and a prolific essayist, drawing on psychoanalysis to contribute to the history, interpretation and critique of culture. 

The Growth of Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud was the very first psychoanalyst. Many of his insights into the human mind, which seemed so revolutionary at the turn of the 20th century, are now widely accepted by most schools of psychological thought. Although others before and during his time had begun to recognize the role of unconscious mental activity, Freud was the preeminent pioneer in understanding its importance. Through his extensive work with patients and through his theory building, he showed that factors which influence thought and action exist outside of awareness, that unconscious conflict plays a part in determining both normal and abnormal behavior, and that the past shapes the present.

Although his ideas met with antagonism and resistance, Freud believed deeply in the value of his discoveries and rarely simplified or exaggerated them for the sake of popular acceptance. He saw that those who sought to change themselves or others must face realistic difficulties. But he also showed us that, while the dark and blind forces in human nature sometimes seem overwhelming, psychological understanding, by enlarging the realm of reason and responsibility can make a substantial difference to troubled individuals and even to civilization as a whole.

Like any other field of inquiry, the ideas of psychoanalysis did not “freeze” with the work of the field’s founder a century ago. Building
on the foundational ideas and ideals of Freud and his contemporaries, psychoanalysis has continued to grow and develop as a general theory of human mental functioning, while always maintaining a profound respect for the uniqueness of each individual life. Ferment, change, and new ideas have enriched the field, and psychoanalytic practice has adapted and expanded. But psychoanalysts today still appreciate the persistent power of the irrational in shaping or limiting human lives, and they therefore remain skeptical of the quick cure, the deceptively easy answer, the trendy or sensationalistic. Like Freud, they believe that psychoanalysis is the strongest and most sophisticated tool for obtaining further knowledge of the mind, and that by using this knowledge for greater self-awareness, patients can become free from incapacitating suffering, and improve and deepen human relationships.

Psychoanalysis it is said may have a double identity. It is a comprehensive theory about human nature, motivation, behavior, development and experience. And, it is a method of treatment for psychological problems and difficulties in living a successful life.As a general theory of individual human behavior and experience, psychoanalytic ideas enrich and are enriched by the study of the biological and social sciences, group behavior, history, philosophy, art, and literature. As a developmental theory, psychoanalysis contributes to child psychology, education, law, and family studies. Through its examination of the complex relationship between body and mind, psychoanalysis also furthers our understanding of the role of emotions in health as well as in medical illness.

APsaA’s publication, “About Psychoanalysis,” is a valuable reference tool. The psychoanalytic framework stresses the importance of understanding: (1)   that each individual is unique, (2)   that there are factors outside of a person’s awareness (unconscious thoughts, feelings and experiences) which influence his or her thoughts and actions, (3)   that the past shapes the present, and (4) human beings are always engaged in the process of development throughout their lives.

Personality basically established by Age Five

According to Sigmund Freud, the main features of personality are mostly established by the age of five. Early experiences play a large role
in personality development but personality is not static; Many factors, mostly of a social nature, continue to influence human behavior later in life.



Freud’s theory of psychosexual development is one of the best known, but also one of the most controversial. Freud believed that personality develops through a series of childhood stages during which the pleasure-seeking energies of the id become focused on certain erogenous areas. This psychosexual energy, or libido, was described as the driving force behind behavior. If these psychosexual stages are completed successfully, the result is a healthy personality. If certain issues are not resolved at the appropriate stage, fixation can occur. A fixation is a persistent focus on an earlier psychosexual stage. Until this conflict is resolved, the individual will remain “stuck” in this stage. For example, a person who is fixated at the oral stage may be over-dependent on others and may seek oral stimulation through smoking, drinking, or eating.

It’s important to let the reader know that Freud was assisted in his theory of psychosexual theory development by Karl Abraham and
Saxhfa Ferenz, two other Freudian psychoanalysts. They developed “character types” of individuals at the oral, anal, and phallic stages of development. I need to make clear that the following psychosexual stages outlined in Freud’s theory, although delineated within a certain time frame, often overlap. For example, the oral stage often goes beyond the first year of life. How long this developmental stage will last depends on the weaning process itself. Because of this, a longer oral stage would most likely impact the onset of other stages. Below I describe what happens if fixation occurs at any of the stages of psychosexual development.

The Oral

Age Range: Birth to 1 Year

Erogenous Zone: Mouth

During the oral stage, the infant’s primary source of interaction occurs through the mouth, so the rooting and sucking reflex is especially important. The mouth is vital for eating, and the infant derives pleasure from oral stimulation through gratifying activities such as tasting
and sucking. Because the infant is entirely dependent upon caretakers (who are responsible for feeding the child), the infant also develops a sense of trust and comfort through this oral stimulation. The primary conflict at this stage is the weaning process–the child must become less dependent upon caretakers. If fixation occurs at this stage, Freud believed the individual would have issues with dependency or aggression. Oral fixation can result in problems with drinking, eating, smoking or nail biting.

The Anal

Age Range: 1 to 3 years

Erogenous Zone: Bowel and Bladder Control

During the anal stage, Freud believed that the primary focus of the libido was on controlling bladder and bowel movements. The major conflict at this stage is toilet training–the child has to learn to control his or her bodily needs. Developing this control leads to a sense of
accomplishment and independence. According to Freud, success at this stage is dependent upon the way in which parents approach toilet training. Parents who utilize praise and rewards for using the toilet at the appropriate time encourage positive outcomes and help children feel capable and productive. Freud believed that positive experiences during this stage served as the basis for people to become competent, productive and creative adults. However, not all parents provide the support and encouragement that children need during this stage. Some parents’ instead punish, ridicule or shame a child for accidents. According to Freud, inappropriate parental responses can result in negative outcomes. If parents take an approach that is too lenient, Freud suggested that an anal-expulsive personality could develop in which the individual has a messy, wasteful or destructive personality. If parents are too strict or begin toilet training too early, Freud believed that an anal-retentive personality develops in which the individual is stringent, orderly, rigid and obsessive.

The Phallic Stage

Age Range: 3 to 6 Years

Erogenous Zone: Genitals

During the phallic stage, the primary focus of the libido is on the genitals. At this age, children also begin to discover the differences between males and females. Freud also believed that boys begin to view their fathers as a rival for the mother’s affections. The Oedipus complex describes these feelings of wanting to possess the mother and the desire to replace the father. However, the child also fears that he will be punished by the father for these feelings, a fear Freud termed castration anxiety. The term Electra complex has been used to describe a
similar set of feelings experienced by young girls. Freud, however, believed that girls instead experience penis envy. Eventually, the child begins to identify with the same-sex parent as a means of vicariously possessing the other parent. For girls, however, Freud believed that penis envy was never fully resolved and that all women remain somewhat fixated on this stage. Psychologists such as Karen Horney disputed this theory, calling it both inaccurate and demeaning to women. Instead, Horney proposed that men experience feelings of inferiority because they cannot give birth to children. Of course, in the case of both Freud and Karen Horney, where is the empirical evidence?

Speaking only as a man I have to say that most men don’t feel inferiority because they cannot give birth. Quite the contrary. What they do feel is relief and appreciation of the fact they were born as a male. What most men really feel is relief that they don’t have to go through the trials and tribulations of both pregnancy and the extreme pain of giving birth. Karen Horney may simply have been over-reacting to the rather bold statements coming from Sigmund Freud. If Karen Horney truly believed what she was saying, then would she have also hypothesized that women who couldn’t conceive or experience motherhood would also feel inferior to women who could? This is where researchers might start to generate empirical research into the assumptions that have been made regarding this aspect of psychosexual development. Perhaps some enterprizing researcher can send me a comment that outlines the currrent status of research on this topic. Those who frequent my blog would also appreciate being so informed.

The Latent

Age Range: 6 to Puberty

Erogenous Zone: Sexual Feelings Are Inactive

During the latent period, the libido interests are suppressed. The development of the ego and superego contribute to this period of calm. The stage begins around the time that children enter into school and become more concerned with peer relationships, hobbies and other interests.

The latent period is a time of exploration in which the sexual energy is still present, but it is directed into other areas such as intellectual pursuits and social interactions. This stage is important in the development of social and communication skills and self-confidence.

The Genital Stage

Age Range: Puberty to Death

Erogenous Zone: Maturing Sexual Interests

During the final stage of psychosexual development, the individual develops a strong sexual interest in the opposite sex. This stage begins during puberty but last throughout the rest of a person’s life. Where in earlier stages the focus was solely on individual needs, interest in the welfare of others grows during this stage. If the other stages have been completed successfully, the individual should now be well-balanced, warm and caring. The goal of this stage is to establish a balance between the various life areas.


of Freud’s Psychosexual Stage Theory

There have been several criticisms of Freud’s Psychosexual Stage Theory. In many cases such criticisms have been unwarranted. Freud himself offered an explanation why empirical research is not the “all-end-all” of scientific inquiry. But first here are some criticisms:

  • The theory is focused almost entirely on male development
    with little mention of female psychosexual development.
  • His theories are difficult to test scientifically.
    Concepts such as the libido are impossible to measure, and therefore cannot be
    tested. The research that has been conducted tends to discredit Freud’s theory.
  • Future predictions are too vague. How can we know that a
    current behavior was caused specifically by a childhood experience? The length
    of time between the cause and the effect is too long to assume that there is a
    relationship between the two variables.
  • Freud’s theory is based upon case studies and not
    empirical research. Also, Freud based his theory on the recollections of his
    adult patients, not on actual observation and study of children.

Freud’s quote follows that addresses some of these criticisms:

It is a mistake to believe that a science consists in nothing but conclusively proved propositions, and it is unjust to demand that it should. It is a demand only made by those who feel a craving for authority in some form and a need to replace the religious catechism by something else, even if it be a scientific one. Science in its catechism has but few apodictic precepts; it consists mainly of statements which it has developed to varying degrees of probability. The capacity to be content with these approximations to certainty and the ability to carry on constructive work despite the lack of final confirmation are actually a mark of the scientific habit of mind.


 — Freud

In another month Part II of this three part series will be presented. At that time I will report my conclusions on the work of Sigmund Freud. Although I’m not a psychoanalyst I do have something to say about the scientific process and how Sigmund Freud’s work fits into that process. All I can say now in that regard is that Sigmund Freud, although relying heavily on observation of a limited number of patients, was
nonetheless a theoretical genius, whose legacy is assured in the canons of scientific literature. Looking outward to the universe, theoretical scientists like Hubble, Albert Einstein and Steven Hawking come to mind. However, Freud’s work was mostly about looking inward to the human mind and behavior.

Looking the other way, inside the mind of man, there is no one who has ever surpassed Freud’s scientific theoretical achievements where human behavior is concerned.

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