The Psychoanalytic theory is a coherent and comprehensive explanation of the acquisitation of the personality. Dr Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was a Jewish man who was brought up in Vienna. Freud, who was worshiped by his family and nicknamed ‘Golden Siggy’, is now often referred to as “The godfather of psychoanalysis”. It was Sigmund Freud who developed the Psychoanalytic approach, which is a radically different theory. The term psychoanalysis can be used to relate to both treatment and therapy. This theory analyses human behaviour and personality and offers methods of treating those with psychological problems (therapy).
There are many therapies, which Freud used to investigate the unconscious mind and they are the main ways in which modern day psychoanalysis is used. These therapies include Free association where patients lie on a couch and are encouraged to speak out load every thought that comes into their mind, however shocking, strange, meaningless or minor those thoughts may appear. Believing that dreams are significant and if analysed appropriately they could give massive clues and insight into the patient unconscious mind, Freud therefore used this approach.
He called this Dream analysis. Freud also believed that many apparent ‘accidents’ indicated unconscious wishes, therefore he analysed these slips of tongues, which are also now known as Freudian slips or parapraxes. The psychoanalytic approach is centred around the entire human personality which Freud specified the basic structures. Freud became convinced that many of the nervous symptoms, which his patients displayed over the many years he was treating psychiatric patients, could not be explained purely from a psychological/biological point of view.
He also believed that rational and systematic laws of science could not be applied to irrational behaviours such as phobias (excessive fears) and hysterias (physical complaints that have no apparent cause). Freud compares the mind to that of an iceberg, suggesting that the tip of the iceberg is the conscious, which is only a small part, bellow the surface lies the pre-conscious but most the memories lie deep in the unconscious, hence, the larger part of the mind which is underneath and unable to reach.
Freud suggested that the many variety of problems that his patients were experiencing had roots, these roots were then pushed down into the unconscious mind where they could be buried and forgotten. Freud though devised ways of tapping into the unconscious mind, using which included various aspects of his therapy, these include; free association, where the patient lies down on a couch and speaks any words that come into their head. Analysis of slip of tongue was also one of his therapies.
This is where Freud believes that if one said something accidentally he believed that they secretly wanted it to be true. He also used Dream analysis, as he believed hat dreams are very significant and if they were analysed properly they would give massive clues and insight into the unconscious mind. Slips of tongue and dream analysis are not scientifically acceptable therapies that could be used today because of the standards of science that is expected. Freud based his work around his own personal experiences and on the development of case studies with his patients, for example ‘little hans’ and ‘Anna o’.
As large number of Freud’s patients were middle class and often Jewish women living in Vienna between the 1880’s and 1920’s, they were not representative of the people he was generalising his findings. Freud proposed that all humans have two basic instincts, which control the personality. The first instinct is that which he named the Eros, this is the life instinct. The Eros comprises of two parts – self-preservation and sex. The second instinct is the Thanatos this is the death instinct.
The Thanatos focuses on either aggression or death. It drives the individual towards death, but Eros is much more powerful which results in the Thanatos channelling towards other activities such as sports, so that the energies can be released through other means such as aggression. Under Freud, human beings are born with a variety of instinctual drives, which regulate and motivate behaviour, even in childhood. The source of these drives is psychic energy and the most powerful, the libido, is sexual in nature.
Freud suggests that personality changes and develops through stages according to age, with this he constructed a theory of development, which shows how early experiences in life can affect the adult personality. As individuals progress through these important developmental stages, stimulation of different areas of the body is important. In Freudian terms this is referred to as psychosexual development. At the first stage of this developmental theory, the ‘oral stage’, which is approximately between the ages of new born to two years, the focus of the libido is the mouth.
The child obtains pleasure through oral stimulation, such as biting and sucking etc. Freud proposes that the child needs to obtain a certain amount of stimulation. Too much or too little stimulation can lead to fixation. If this happens and the child does not successfully move on from one stage to the next this will affect the individual’s adult personality. Too much stimulation at this stage will lead to an adult personality, which is gullible, optimistic, mean and excessively self-controlled.
Too little stimulation at this stage can lead to an adult personality, which is uncaring, self centred, inclined to treat others as objects and is over dependant on oral habits such as smoking, drinking, excessive eating and nail biting. However, Scodel, 1957, predicted, based on Freud’s theories, that highly dependable men would prefer big-breasted women. (Dependency is an oral trait and the breast can be regarded as a state of dependency). Scodel in fact found the opposite to be true – dependant men tended to prefer small-breasted women, so Freud’s theory, in this respect, seems to have falsified.
At the next stage, the anal stage, which is approximately between the ages of two years and four years, the focus of the libido, is now centred on the anus. Here pleasure may or may not be experienced by the child when passing pheces. Freud implies that too much stimulation which can be caused through over strict toilet training, can lead too an anally retentive personality, that is obsessive about cleanliness and tidiness. A generally pessimistic, mean and excessively self-controlled personality would emerge here.
Too little stimulation can lead too what Freud named the anally repulsive personality. This type of personality would be over generous, untidy, messy, disorganised and sometimes even sadistic. Both of these stages can be criticised here because individuals may include traits from both the area that suggests too little stimulation and too much stimulation. Therefore we cannot say an adults personality is either or, as it may be in the middle. In between the ages of four and six years approximately, the child reaches the Phallic Stage.
At this stage the focus of the libido is on the genitals. The pattern of development, which has hitherto been the same for both sexes, takes a different course for boys than for girls. It is here that Freud suggests that the child begins to have sexual feeling for the opposite sex parent and see’s the same sex parent as the rival. Freud named this the Oedipus complex. For boys during this stage, it is suggested that he has intense sexual feelings toward his mother. The young boy considers his father to be a rival for his mother’s affections.
Therefore he feels hostile towards his father. At the same time discouragement from both parents is reinforced as his interest in his genitals develops. The young boy acknowledges his fathers discouragement of his interest and interprets this as proof of his desires towards his mother. He now begins to fear that his father will punish him through castration. Everything about his father id bigger and more powerful and the boy becomes confused and very frightened. In order to overcome this situation the boy identifies with his father. I. e. he becomes as much like his father as he can because he believes that this way he can ‘possess’ his mother. Under Freud, it is through this process of identification that children learn sex appropriate behaviour and their moral code of conduct. All sexual desires are now repressed. The Oedipus complex in girls is often referred to as the Electra complex. At this stage girls realise that they do not have a penis and believe that they have been castrated. They believe that this has happed because of their desires towards their fathers.
This causes them to experience penis envy and then regard their mother as the rival. However, they also have a fear of loosing their mother, resulting in them taking on se appropriate behaviour which is morally demonstrated by their mother. A variety of problems including obsession with power, authoritarianism, a lack of feelings for others, an inflated opinion of oneself and a variety of sexual problems would result if either child develops a fixation in the phallic stage. Freud’s claim here that a child’s personality is just formed at five years of age is incredible.
Our characteristic responses to stimuli continue to change well beyond this age. Freud also claimed that boys have a stronger moral sense (including common sense) than girls because of the immense pressure on them to identify through fear of castration. There is no evidence to support this idea, infact; the opposite might actually be true. In between approximately six years to puberty the child will reach the Latency stage. Here personality does not change very much. Energies are channelled into different areas of development and all sexual desires are repressed.
It is in between the ages of twelve and eighteen years (approx) when one will reach the Genital stage. This is where the organs mature and hormone levels change. If children have successfully resolved the Oedipus complex, they now begin to take an interest in the opposite sex. This is the beginning of adult sexuality. Freud then suggests that the adult personality comprises of three parts, the Id, which is present at birth. This part of the personality is the most primitive part. It is the egocentric part of the personality, which is in control of the instincts.
The id operates on the pleasure principle and it has a basic desire and drive to satisfy all needs and desires immediately. It has no concern with reality. We never loose this aspect of personality, but as wee grow older we do learn to control it. The Ego, which comes into play at the anal stage and it deals with the demands of the outside world. As we get older we realise that all of our needs and desires cannot be met immediately and we learn that we have to wait for things, especially when toilet training begins.
The ego is therefore concerned with reality unlike the id; therefore it keeps the id in check by finding it in a socially acceptable manner. The ego also has three unconscious defence mechanisms that help reduce the number of inevitably experienced anxieties, which are caused by the dynamics between the id the ego and the next part of the personality that will be discussed later, the superego. These defence mechanisms include repression, which involves thoughts and memories which provoke anxiety being excluded from the conscious mind. For example, forgetting to turn up for a doctor’s appointment.
Evidence to support Freud’s concept has be found in different studies, for example, Levinger and Clark 1961, study of repression in the labatory. Then there is the displacement mechanism that transfers ideas from one object to another. For example, you might shout at the cat because your neighbours are making too much noise. Then there is the regression mechanism, which involves a return to a type of behaviour characteristic of an earlier stage of development. For example, an individual might suck their thumb when they are under stress.
The third part of the personality is the Superego. The differentials between what is right and wrong are distinguished here, and we are also told how we ought to behave. The superego represents the internalisation of the parents’ morality and develops out of the resolution of the Oedipus complex when the child identifies with the same sex parent. It operates on the morality principle and is often likened to the conscience. Freud saw the personality as a dynamic balance between the three aspects of personality – hence the term psychodynamic theory.
Suggesting that it is a difficult job of the ego to find a middle route between the selfish demands of the id and the often unrealistically high moral standards of the super ego. It is impossible to find evidence to support the existence of the id, the ego or the libido or death instincts that Freud hypothesised – despite his claims to have made a scientific breakthrough. Psychoanalytic theory has practical applications such as Psychoanalytic therapy for example when applied to adults and children, for example, eating disorders and in other areas of child development, such as explaining gender roles and aggression.
Sigmund Freud has contributed massively to the knowledge psychology, the enormous body of work, which he produced, including that which identifies and acknowledges the importance of early childhood on later behaviour, is a theme that has been taken up by many other researchers including the famous John Bowlby. Despite the many criticisms which have been made about Freud’s theories, people still find them and his explanations a source of inspiration, and, at least in parts, temptingly believable.