Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Freud - In the Beginning...

In the beginning there was Freud. While mental processes had been tweaked throughout the years in philosophy, it was Freud who really began to systematize and bring together psychological thought into a coherent framework. Regardless of Freud’s current status in the psychological and therapeutic community, his work is nonetheless foundational and important (all quotes in this essay are from Gleitman, Psychology (3rd ed.), W.W. Norton and Company, 1991).

Freud’s psychoanalytic tradition began with an attempt to "understand the forces of human irrationality through reason and science" (p. 426). Freud’s method of therapy included free association which allowed room for "clients" to tell whatever came to mind. This was precipitated by the notion that everything in the mind was connected and that whatever was mentioned would lead to the problems that hindered an individual. Instead of willing participants, Freud found that people opted to resist instead of comply with his requests. Resistance became one of the things Freud and his clients would look for in the stories they told, believing that revealing whatever repressed memory was resisted would help in the healing process.

For Freud, repression became known as a defense mechanism used to push uncomfortable thoughts out of our consciousness. Furthermore, these thoughts most often dealt with sexual drives and instinctual urges. Unconscious conflict became a source of study for Freud. He used three terms to describe the never-ending internal sources of power and conflict.

The Id became synonymous with the instinctual and primal portions of our personalities. It was governed by the pleasure principle which sought to relieve one’s biological urges with utmost haste. The id is reflexive rather than thoughtful. This idea also gives rise to the second of Freud’s concepts, The Ego. The ego is governed by the reality principle which seeks to alleviate the urges of the id through socially acceptable means. The ego serves the id, but works in some ways as an opposite of the id’s urges. Finally, Freud constructed the Superego as the watchdog of the ego. The superego’s function is to praise or punish the actions of an individual based on the constructed social reality that they have internalized.

The interplay of these three dynamics often results in unconscious conflict, leading a person to incorporate defense strategies and mechanisms. As the conflict plays out our anxiety rises, resulting in the need for strong defenses (repression is the primary defense) against the unsettled nature of the conflict.

Several other defense mechanisms were posited by Freud through his work. These included: displacement or the transferring of repressed urges from one situation to another, reaction formation or the transfer of feelings from one emotional pole to the other (ie – turning hate into a smothering love), rationalization or the attempt to re-interpret a situation into something more acceptable, projection or the attribution of one’s feelings to another person, and isolation or the separation of emotions from memories. For Freud, these many of the conflicts of adults can be traced back to developmental memories that have been repressed.

Psychosexual Development
This is one of Freud’s best known and longest lasting contributions to the psychological realm. Every time someone says, “He’s so anal,” about a neat-freak they pay tribute to Freud.

Freud’s model of psychosexual development takes shape through five stages. If a child’s development is arrested in a particular stage, then that child will manifest certain behaviors in adulthood.

The first stage is the oral stage which is marked by a fixation with the mouth. This stage lasts from birth through about the first year and a half and arrested development here results in passivity or excessive eating or smoking.

The second stage is the anal stage which is concerned with the elimination of bladder and bowel functions; lasting from ages 18 months through about 3 years old, those whose development have stopped here often exhibit obsessions with neatness (anal-retentive) or are excessively reckless and disorganized (anal-expulsive).

The third stage is the phallic stage which focuses on the genitals and lasts from ages 3 to 6. It is in this stage the boys deal with the Oedipus Conflict or girls deal with the Electra Complex (that is, identification or love for the opposite parent (sexual love) and hatred of the same sex parent who dominates the attention).

The fourth stage, latency, lasts from 6 to puberty and everyone gets a break from fixations.

The final stage is the genital stage which begins in puberty and lasts through adulthood and our sexual interests are thought to mature. However, given Freud’s fixation with fixations it is a wonder that any of us ever really reach this stage where our libidinal energy can focus on the tasks at hand.

This has been a brief review of Freudian thought; feel free to add anything I might have missed…

For further review: The Freud Reader, Freud: A Very Short Introduction

1 comment:

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