In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Introduction to Freud’s Theory of Personality 2. Research Related to Freud’s Theory- Probing the Unconscious 3. Freud’s Theory- An Overall Evaluation 4. Other Psychoanalytic Views- Freud’s Disciples … and Defectors.
Introduction to Freud’s Theory of Personality:
Freud entered private medical practice soon after graduating from medical school. A turning point in his early career came when he won a research grant to travel to Paris to observe the work of Jean-Martin Charcot, who was then using hypnosis to treat several types of mental disorders.
When Freud returned to Vienna, he worked with Joseph Breuer, a colleague who was using hypnosis in the treatment of hysteria a condition in which individuals experienced physical symptoms such as blindness, deafness, or paralysis of arms or legs for which there seemed to be no underlying physical cause.
Out of these experiences and his growing clinical practice, Freud gradually developed his theories of human personality and mental illness. His ideas were complex and touched on many different issues. With respect to personality, however, four topics are most central- levels of consciousness, the structure of personality, anxiety and defense mechanisms, and psychosexual stages of development.
Freud viewed himself as a scientist, and he applied to the task of understanding the human mind some of the then emerging ideas about sensory thresholds and the possibility of responding to stimuli we can’t report perceiving. He soon reached the startling conclusion that most of the mind lies below the surface below the threshold of conscious experience. Above this boundary is the realm of the conscious.
This includes our current thoughts: whatever we are thinking about or experiencing at a given moment. Beneath this conscious realm is the much larger preconscious. This contains memories that are not part of current thought but can readily be brought to mind if the need arises. Finally, beneath the preconscious, and forming the bulk of the human mind, is the unconscious, thoughts, desires, and impulses of which we remain largely unaware.
Although some of this material has always been unconscious, Freud believed that much of it was once conscious but has been actively repressed driven from consciousness because it was too anxiety-provoking. For example, Freud contended that shameful experiences or unacceptable sexual or aggressive urges are often driven deep within the unconscious. The fact that we are not aware of them, however, in no way prevents them from affecting our behavior.
Indeed, Freud believed that many of the symptoms experienced by his patients were disguised and indirect reflections of repressed thoughts and desires. This is why one major goal of psychoanalysis the method of treating psychological disorders devised by Freud is to bring repressed material back into consciousness. Presumably, once such material is made conscious and patients gain insight into the early life experiences that caused them to repress it in the first place, important causes of mental illness are removed.
Freud believed that one way of probing the unconscious was through the interpretation of dreams. In dreams, Freud believed, we can give expression to impulses and desires we find unacceptable during our waking hours. Unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence for this view.
Freud suggested that personality consists largely of three parts- the id, the ego, and the superego. The id consists of all our primitive, innate urges. These include various bodily needs, sexual desire, and aggressive impulses. According to Freud, the id is totally unconscious and operates in accordance with what he termed the pleasure principle: It demands immediate, total gratification and is not capable of considering the potential costs of seeking this goal.
Unfortunately, the world offers few opportunities for instant pleasure. Moreover, attempting to gratify many of our innate urges would soon get us into serious trouble. It is in response to these facts that the second structure of personality, the ego, develops. The ego’s task is to hold the id in check until conditions allow for satisfaction of its impulses.
Thus, the ego operates in accordance with the reality principle- It takes into account external conditions and the consequences of various actions and directs behavior so as to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. The ego is partly conscious but not entirely so; thus, some of its actions for example, its eternal struggle with the id are outside our conscious knowledge or understanding.
The final aspect of personality described by Freud is the superego. It too seeks to control satisfaction of id impulses; but, in contrast to the ego, it is concerned with morality with whether various ways that could potentially satisfy id impulses are right or wrong. The superego permits us to gratify such impulses only when it is morally correct to do so not simply when it is safe or feasible, as required by the ego.
The superego is acquired from our parents and through experience and represents our internalization of the moral teachings and norms of our society. Unfortunately, such teachings are often quite inflexible and leave little room for gratification of our basic desires they require us to be good all the time.
Because of this fact, the ego faces another difficult task: It must strike a balance between our primitive urges (the id) and our learned moral constraints (the superego). Freud felt that this constant struggle among id, ego, and superego plays a key role in personality and in many psychological disorders.
Moreover, he suggested that the struggle was often visible in everyday behavior in what have come to be known as Freudian slips—errors in speech that actually reflect unconscious impulses that have “gotten by” the ego or superego. An example- “She was tempting … I mean attempting to….” According to Freud, the word tempting reveals an unacceptable sexual impulse.
In its constant struggle to prevent the eruption of dangerous id impulses, the ego faces a difficult task. Yet for most people, most of the time, the ego succeeds. Sometimes, though, id impulses grow so strong that they threaten to get out of control. For example, consider the case of a middle-aged widow who finds herself strongly attracted to her daughter’s boyfriend.
She hasn’t had a romantic attachment in years, so her sexual desire quickly rises to high levels. What happens next? According to Freud, when her ego senses that unacceptable impulses are about to get out of hand, it experiences anxiety intense feelings of nervousness, tension, or worry. These feelings occur because the unacceptable impulses are getting closer and closer to consciousness, as well as closer and closer to the limits of the ego to hold them in check.
At this point, Freud contended, the ego may resort to one of several different defense mechanisms. These are all designed to keep unacceptable impulses from the id out of consciousness and to prevent their open expression. Defense mechanisms take many different forms. For example, in sublimation, the unacceptable impulse is channeled into some socially acceptable action.
Instead of trying to seduce the young man, as Freud would say the widow’s id wants to do, she might “adopt” him as a son and provide financial support to further his education. Other defense mechanisms are described in Table 12.1. While they differ in form, all serve the function of reducing anxiety by keeping unacceptable urges and impulses from breaking into consciousness.
4. Psychosexual Stages of Development:
The most controversial aspect of Freud’s theory of personality; his ideas about its formation or development. Freud’s views in this respect can be grouped under the heading psychosexual stages of development, innately determined stages of sexual development through which, presumably, we all pass, and which strongly shape the nature of our personality. Before turning to the stages themselves, however, we must first consider two important concepts relating to them: libido and fixation.
Libido refers to the instinctual life force that energizes the id. Release of libido is closely related to pleasure, but the focus of such pleasure and the expression of libido—changes as we develop. In each stage of development, we obtain different kinds of pleasure and leave behind a small amount of our libido this is the normal course of events. If an excessive amount of libido energy is tied to a particular stage, however, fixation results.
This can stem from either too little or too much gratification during this stage, and in either case the result is harmful. Because the individual has left too much “psychic energy” behind, less is available for full adult development. The outcome may be an adult personality reflecting the stage or stages at which fixation has occurred.
To put it another way, if too much energy is drained away by fixation at earlier stages of development, the amount remaining may be insufficient to power movement to full adult development. Then an individual may show an immature personality and several psychological disorders.
Now back to the actual stages themselves. According to Freud, as we grow and develop, different parts of the body serve as the focus of our quest for pleasure. In the initial oral stage, lasting until we are about eighteen months old, we seek pleasure mainly through the mouth.
If too much or too little gratification occurs during this stage, an individual may become fixated at it. Too little gratification results in a personality that is overly dependent on others; too much, especially after the child has developed some teeth, results in a personality that is excessively hostile, especially through verbal sarcasm.
The next stage occurs in response to efforts by parents to toilet train their children. During the anal stage, the process of elimination becomes the primary focus of pleasure. Fixation at this stage, stemming from overly harsh toilet-training experiences, may result in individuals who are excessively orderly or compulsive they can’t leave any job unfinished and strive for perfection and neatness in everything they do.
In contrast, fixation stemming from very relaxed toilet training may result in people who are undisciplined, impulsive, and excessively generous. Freud himself might well be described as compulsive; even when he was seriously ill, he personally answered dozens of letters every day even letters from total strangers asking his advice.
At about age four, the genitals become the primary source of pleasure, and children enter the phallic stage. Freud speculated that at this time we fantasize about sex with our opposite-sex parent a phenomenon he termed the Oedipus complex, after Oedipus, a character in ancient Greek literature who unknowingly killed his father and then married his mother. Fear of punishment for such desires then enters the picture.
Among boys the feared punishment is castration, leading to castration anxiety. Among girls the feared punishment is loss of love. In both cases, these fears bring about resolution of the Oedipus complex and identification with the same-sex parent. In other words, little boys give up sexual desires for their mothers and come to see their fathers as models rather than as rivals; little girls give up their sexual desires for their father and come to see their mothers as models.
Perhaps one of Freud’s most controversial suggestions is the idea that little girls experience penis envy stemming from their own lack of a male organ. Freud suggested that because of such envy, girls experience strong feelings of inferiority and envy feelings they carry with them in disguised form even in adult life. As you can readily imagine, many psychologists object strongly to these ideas, and there is virtually no evidence for them.
After resolution of the Oedipus conflict, children enter the latency stage, during which sexual urges are, according to Freud, at a minimum. Finally, during puberty adolescents enter the genital stage. During this stage pleasure is again focused on the genitals.
Now, however, lust is blended with affection, and people become capable of adult love. Remember- According to Freud, progression to this final stage is possible only if serious fixation has not occurred at earlier stages. If such fixation exists, development is blocked and various disorders result.
Freud’s theories contain many intriguing ideas; and, as you probably know, several of these have entered into world culture people everywhere talk about the unconscious, repressed impulses, the id and ego, and so on. It’s not surprising, therefore, that psychologists have investigated several of these ideas at least, the ones that can be studied through scientific means.
Freud contended that our feelings and behavior can be strongly affected by information we can’t bring to mind and can’t describe verbally. Research in many fields of psychology suggests that to some extent this is true, although psychologists refer to such information as non-conscious rather than as “unconscious” in order to avoid assuming that such information has been repressed. (It may be non-conscious for other reasons for instance, because it was presented so quickly that it couldn’t be recognized.)
This kind of memory allows you to perform many skilled physical actions, such as tying your shoelaces, playing a musical instrument, or doing the complex steps of swing dancing. Although such information is obviously present in memory, you can’t readily describe it or put it into words. Thus, when someone asks you to explain how you do a certain dance step, you may say, “Just watch, I’ll show you.” So the existence of procedural memory suggests that often we do possess information we can’t describe verbally.
Additional evidence for the impact of non- conscious thoughts or feelings on our behavior is provided by recent research on the nature of prejudice. Several studies show that persons who describe themselves as totally unprejudiced still sometimes demonstrate signs of negative feelings or emotions about members of minority groups, feelings of which they appear to be largely unaware. For instance, consider an ingenious study by Vanman and his colleagues.
In this investigation, white participants of both genders were asked to imagine working on several cooperative tasks (e.g., a team running race, a debate team competition, a team research project) with a partner who was either white or African American.
They were further told to imagine that their outcomes in each situation would be determined either by their joint efforts or by their own individual performance. While participants were imagining these situations, the researchers made recordings of electrical activity in participants’ facial muscles related to smiling and to frowning.
The researchers predicted that although participants would not report more negative attitudes toward black than toward white partners, their facial muscles would show more activity indicative of negative emotional reactions when their imagined partner was black than when this person was white. Moreover, they reasoned that that this would occur under both the independent and joint reward conditions.
Participants did indeed show greater signs of negative emotional reactions to the thought of an African American partner. Moreover, this was true despite the fact that participants actually reported more positive attitudes toward their partners when these persons were supposedly black than when they were supposedly white.
Were they simply concealing their prejudiced views? Additional evidence suggests that they were not. The research participants truly believed that they were unprejudiced, and at a purely verbal level, they were. Yet underneath they seemed to harbor residual negative feelings toward African Americans.
Additional support for the existence of non-conscious information is provided by subliminal perception. Claims for subliminal perception have been overstated, especially with respect to its supposed value as a learning aid or marketing technique. Yet there is no doubt that sometimes we can be influenced by stimuli of which we are unaware.
So, once again, there is some support in research findings for Freud’s suggestion that we can be influenced by information or feelings we can’t describe although there is little or no support for his suggestion that repression is responsible for driving such thoughts out of consciousness in the first place.
Freud’s place in history is assured. His ideas and writings have exerted a profound impact on society. But what about his theory of personality? Is it currently accepted by most psychologists? As you can probably guess from my earlier comments, the answer is definitely not. The reasons are clear.
First, many critics have pointed out that Freud’s theory is not really a scientific theory at all. True, as we just saw, some of his ideas, or hypotheses derived from them, can be tested. But many concepts in his theory cannot be measured or studied systematically. How, for instance can one go about observing an id, a fixation, or the psychic energy contained in the libido? A theory that cannot be tested is largely useless, and this criticism does apply to many of Freud’s ideas.
Second, several of Freud’s proposals are not consistent with the findings of modern research for instance, his ideas about the meaning of dreams. Third, in constructing his theory, Freud relied heavily on a small number of case studies no more than a dozen at most. Almost all of these persons came from wealthy backgrounds and lived in a large and sophisticated city within a single culture. Thus, they were not representative of human beings generally.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, Freud’s theories contain so many different concepts that they can explain virtually any pattern of behavior in an after-the-fact manner. If a theory can’t be disconfirmed shown to be false then, once again, it is largely useless; and this does seem to be the case with Freud’s views.
For these and other reasons, Freud’s theory of personality is not currently accepted by most psychologists. Yet several of his insights especially his ideas about levels of consciousness and about the importance of anxiety in psychological disorders have contributed to our understanding of human behavior and personality. So although his theories don’t measure up to the rigorous standards of science required by modern psychology, there is no doubt that Freud has a profound and lasting impact on modern thought.
Whatever else Freud was, he was certainly an intellectual magnet. Over the course of several decades, he attracted as students or colleagues many brilliant people. Most of them began by accepting Freud’s views. Later, however, they often disagreed with some of his major assumptions. Let’s see why these individuals, often termed neo-Freudians, broke with Freud, and what they had to say about the nature of personality.
Perhaps the most bitter of all the defections Freud experienced was that of Carl Jung—the follower Freud viewed as his heir apparent. Jung shared Freud’s views concerning the importance of the unconscious, but contended that there is another part to this aspect of personality that Freud overlooked; the collective unconscious. According to Jung, the collective unconscious holds experiences shared by all human beings—experiences that are, in a sense, part of our biological heritage.
The contents of the collective unconscious, in short, reflect the experiences our species has had since it originated on earth. The collective unconscious finds expression in our minds in several ways, but among these, archetypes are the most central to Jung’s theory. These are manifestations of the collective unconscious that express themselves when our conscious mind is distracted or inactive; for example, during sleep, in dreams, or in fantasies.
The specific expression of archetypes depends in part on our unique experience as individuals, but in all cases such images are representations of key aspects of the human experience mother, father, wise old man, the sun, the moon, God, death, and the hero. It is because of these shared innate images, Jung contended, that the folklore of many different cultures contains similar figures and themes.
Two especially important archetypes in Jung’s theory are known as animus and anima. The animus is the masculine side of females, while the anima is the feminine side of males. Jung believed that in looking for a mate, we search for the person onto whom we can best project these hidden sides of our personality. When there is a good match between such projections and another person, attraction occurs.
Another aspect of Jung’s theory was his suggestion that we are all born with innate tendencies to be concerned primarily either with our inner selves or with the outside world. Jung labeled persons in the first category introverts and described them as being hesitant and cautious; introverts do not make friends easily and prefer to observe the world rather than become involved in it. He labeled persons in the second category extroverts.
Such persons are open and confident, make friends readily, and enjoy high levels of stimulation and a wide range of activities. Although many aspects of Jung’s theory have been rejected by psychologists especially the idea of the collective unconscious the dimension of introversion extroversion appears to be a basic one of major importance.
Two other important neo-Freudians are Karen Horney and Alfred Adler. Horney was one of the few females in the early psychoanalytic movement, and she disagreed with Freud strongly over his view that differences between men and women stemmed largely from innate factors for example, from anatomical differences resulting in penis envy among females.
Horney contended that although women often do feel inferior to men (remember, she was writing in Germany in the 1920s), this is a result not of penis envy but of how women are treated by society. She argued that if women were raised in a different type of environment, they would see themselves more favorably. In other words, it was not the male penis women envied, but rather the power and autonomy associated with maleness.
In addition, she maintained that psychological disorders stem not from fixation of psychic energy, as Freud contended, but rather from disturbed interpersonal relationships during childhood and what she termed basic anxiety children’s fear of being left alone, helpless, and insecure.
She suggested that in reaction to excessive levels of such anxiety, which stem from poor relations with their parents, children adopt one of three styles: a passive style, in which they try to cope by being agreeable and compliant; an aggressive style, in which they fight to get attention; or a withdrawn style, in which they repress their emotions.
All three patterns can lead to serious psychological disorders. By emphasizing the importance of children’s relationships with their parents, then, Horney called attention to the importance of social factors in shaping personality a view echoed by modern psychology.
Alfred Adler also disagreed with Freud very strongly, but over somewhat different issues. In particular, he emphasized the importance of feelings of inferiority, which he believed we experience as children because of our small size and physical weakness. He viewed personality development as stemming primarily from our efforts to overcome such feelings through what he termed striving for superiority.
If these efforts go too far, we may develop a superiority complex and become a braggart or a bully. Under the surface, however, persons who show this pattern still feel inferior: They are merely covering up with an outward show of strength. Like Horney and other neo-Freudians, Adler also emphasized the importance of social factors in personality; for instance, he called attention to the importance of birth order. Only children, he suggested, are spoiled by too much parental attention, while firstborns are “dethroned” by a second child. Second-borns, in contrast, are competitive because they have to struggle to catch up with an older sibling.
Neo-Freudians, while accepting many of Freud’s basic ideas, rejected his emphasis on innate patterns of development. On the contrary, they perceived personality as stemming from a complex interplay between social factors and the experiences we have during childhood, primarily in our own families.
The theories proposed by neo-Freudians are not widely accepted by psychologists, but they did serve as a kind of bridge between the provocative views offered by Freud and more modern conceptions of personality. In this respect, at least, they made an important lasting contribution.