An Outline of Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud Essay
The main principles of Freud’s approach explained in An Outline of Psychoanalysis are focused on the “three forces of the psychical apparatus”: the id, the ego, and the superego (Freud, “Stages of Psychosexual Development” 13). Let us talk about each one of them individually. The id is a set of inherited, basic things that are present in our minds since birth. These things respond directly to the instincts.
When we are born, our personalities consist of pure id. It does not contact with the outside world and remains unchanged throughout our lives sitting deep in the unconscious part of our minds. The id is responsible for most basic thinking processes, the most primitive, illogical, irrational ones. It is spontaneous and unreasonable. The ego (or I) is conscious. It controls the id and links it to the external world. The ego constitutes the decision-making component of personality. It is operated by reason and logic.
Both id and ego are directed at seeking tension reduction (i.e. pleasure) and avoiding pain. The difference is that the id needs immediate satisfaction, whereas the ego is more patient and concentrated on planning out the most realistic and plausible scheme to get pleasure. The superego (or above I) limits the satisfaction and represents the morals and values of society taught to its members by parents, teachers, traditions, etc. The superego controls the id’s impulses, especially the forbidden ones like sex and aggression. It includes two concepts: the conscience and the ideal self.
The conscience has the ability to bring out the feeling of guilt in the ego, especially if the ego gives in to the id too much. Every time we feel ashamed of our own thoughts and actions, it is the superego forcing us to feel this way. “If a person’s ideal self is too high a standard, then whatever the person does will represent failure” (McLeod, “Id, Ego and Superego” par. 3). The ideal self and conscience are heavily influenced by parental values during one’s childhood.
According to Freud, the instincts control all of our behavior, the two basic ones being life or sex (Eros) and death or aggression (Thanatos). Eros’s purpose is to set and preserve unity via relationships. Thanatos cancels the connections and unity though destruction (Freud 18). This instinct is also referred to as the Nirvana Principle. Both Eros and Thanatos may either go against each other (repulsion) or unite and function together (attraction). The concepts of the Life Drive and the Death Drive were recognized in Freud’s later years (Colby 47).
Freud claims that sexual life begins soon after birth. The main stages of sexual development are the oral stage (birth to 18 months), the anal stage (18 months to three years), the phallic stage (three to six), latency stage (six to puberty), and the genital stage (from puberty on) (Freud, “Stages of Psychosexual Development” 24). “During the oral stage, the child if focused on oral pleasures (sucking). Too much or too little gratification can result in an Oral Fixation or Oral Personality, which is evidenced by a preoccupation with oral activities” (Heffner par. 2).
People who have oral personality tend to smoke, drink alcohol, eat more than necessary, or bite their nails. They usually have very gullible and naïve personalities and can become overly dependent on others and are generally content with following someone. If they fight these character traits, they might become quite pessimistic and aggressive towards others. During the anal stage, the child’s focus of pleasure is “on eliminating and retaining feces. Through society’s pressure, mainly via parents, the child has to learn to control anal stimulation” (Heffner par. 2).
Personality-wise, people with anal fixation tend to be perfectionists and control freaks (anal retentive). They also often have an obsession with cleanliness and tidiness. The opposite effect is also known when people with anal fixation become disorganized and sloppy (anal expulsive). During the phallic stage boys develop “unconscious sexual desires for their mother” (Heffner par. 4). The rivalry with the father develops; boys become afraid of being punished for their affections. This condition is called Oedipus Complex (Silhol par. 6).
The opposite version of it, when a girl develops feelings for her father and competes for his attention with her mother is called Electra Complex (“Electra Complex” par. 1). The latency stage is characterized by repression of sexual urges. During this time, children usually communicate with the peers of the same sex. The final stage – the genital stage – starts with puberty and the awakening of sexual urges. These urges are directed at the peers of opposite sex. During this stage, an individual implements everything he or she has learned from the previous stages so far.
Psychical process in Freud’s system is always either conscious, preconscious, or unconscious (Rand and Torok 30). We are aware of the conscious ideas, we might become aware of preconscious ideas, and we cannot recognize or explain unconscious ideas.
Freud also had many hypotheses about dreams and their role in the interpretation of human psyche. The process of dreaming, according to him, is simply the id trying to break through into consciousness (Freud, “Stages of Psychosexual Development” 38). To interpret a dream, we must look deeper into what the images that constitute said dream represent.
The sources of dreams “are completely enumerated they fall into the following four categories, which have also been employed in the classification of dreams: (1) external (objective) sensory stimuli; (2) internal (subjective) sensory stimuli; (3) internal (organic) physical stimuli; (4) Purely psychical sources of excitation” (Freud, “Interpretation of Dreams” 9). Dreams can bring up forgotten memories and impressions that “have never yet been offered to us by the real world” (Freud, “Interpretation of Dreams” 22).
Personal and Professional Assessment
Adolf Grünbaum, a German Philosopher and a critic of psychoanalysis, criticized a lot of Freud’s work and approaches, particularly the dream theory and the “free association” method. The latter, implemented quite often by Freud, was deemed ineffective by Grünbaum who said it was “unwarranted to use free association to validate causal inferences” (Grünbaum 224).
He stated that “free association” presented no way for the analyst to determine whether the patients speaks the truth or simply imagine it during sessions. Psychoanalysts like Donald Spence also agreed the “question and answer” format of the sessions did not always warrant an adequate estimation of the patient’s state of mind. The analysts “are particularly sensitized (in the course of their training) to the dangers of suggestion, and schooled in a tradition which places an emphasis on minimal comment and redundant examples” (Spence 259).
Many other critics of Freud’s methods motivated their arguments by the notion that dealing with the unconscious we cannot rely on our common sense and therefore cannot properly draw any proper conclusions. Many psychoanalysts and other professionals working inside of this field think the importance of common sense in psychoanalysis is unquestionable. “Only a few fundamentalist psychoanalysts of an old-fashioned kind think that Freud was a scientist or that psychoanalysis was or could be a scientific enterprise” (Storr 260).
Eventually, this brings us to the debate about the legitimacy of psychoanalysis as a form of science. Professor Karl Popper, for example, never considered psychoanalysis a science in the first place. He claimed that if psychoanalysis supported the idea that every individual having neurotic issues, it was impossible for one neurotic individual to estimate the other’s mental state.
Since the theory cannot be falsified, it is unscientific. Similarly, many scientists concluded that the lack of consistency in the interpretations of patients’ behavior was one of the basic shortcomings of the approach as it stalled the whole system. If one psychoanalyst explains a certain phenomenon one way, and the other one interprets the same phenomenon in a completely different way, it only shows that there is no solid approach to speak of. If analysts cannot say whether a certain result contradicts or confirms a certain theory, the laws of psychoanalysis are faulty and inapplicable.
On the other hand, Hans J. Eysenck called Freud’s theory scientific and claimed that it could be falsified: “I have always taken it for granted that the obvious failure of Freudian therapy to significantly improve on spontaneous remission or placebo treatment is the clearest proof we have of the inadequacy of Freudian theory, closely followed by the success of alternative methods of treatment, such as behavior therapy” (236).
My own personal assessment of the matter is similar to the mentioned above. I do think that Freud’s charisma is much more pivotal to his approach than any of his actual theories. I think the biggest flaw of these theories is the fact that we cannot use psychoanalysis to predict outcomes. Sciences estimate the possibilities and offer predictions while psychoanalysis interprets what has already happened.
It searches for reasons in the past, but it cannot be practical in the prevention of the same reasons in the future. Freud’s methods and interpretations work well for meditation on the nature of the human mind, but they do not fully dig into it. According to Colby, digging deeper means to observe patients in a neurotic state and being able to say right away what kind of past experience has unleashed it (Colby 55). Unfortunately, we cannot do it with absolute precision based on Freud’s approach.
The Overall Effectiveness of the Treatment
The effectiveness of Freud’s treatment mechanics was rather questionable and remains such until this day. Philosophers, medical scientists, and psychoanalysis critics still have varying opinions on the way the approach have influenced the field of psychoanalysis, what methods could be considered operational and be used in psychiatry, etc. The objective of psychoanalysis is to eradicate neuroses and smooth out psychological traumas, or so it is stated in An Outline of Psychoanalysis.
Analysis can take several years during which analysts find out what patients feel and what they consider important enough to discuss. Through discussions, patients get acquainted with their analysts and form a certain bond with them. They put their trust in people they are telling their secrets and subsequently develop feelings of fondness towards them which sometimes get in the way of their judgment. According to Freud himself, when patients treat analysts as friends, mentors, or role models, they try to leave a good impression on them and lose focus on their treatment (Freud, “An Outline of Psychoanalysis” 52).
Collecting the data from patients’ “free association” sessions including dream interpretation leads to hypnotizing about patients’ past and linking these experiences to what is going on with patients in their current daily life. The point of such analysis is to confirm the analyst’s conclusions via allowing the patient to come to the same conclusions on his or her own. The analyst should not reveal the results of his or her observations before this happens, or else the patient falls into a reclusive state and the progress will be impossible.
According to Freud’s theories, overcoming this complication should become the last step towards curing the patient. The effectiveness of this approach is still questioned. Given that psychoanalysis is rarely considered a science, the fact of importance and functional quality of the information Freud gathered during his studies begs confirmation. The effectiveness of psychoanalytic treatment itself depends on whether Freud’s theories can be considered a legitimate medical approach or just a set of curiously looking ideas to muse upon.
The positive sides of Freud’s theory lie in its comprehensiveness and the attractiveness of the idea to comprehend a mental illness using already existing means, i.e. the patient’s past experiences. With Freud’s practices, it has become easy to view everyday phenomena like religion, works of art, and fashion through the prism of psychological concepts. At the time, the theory of psychoanalysis was revolutionary; it set new standards in understanding the human psyche in general. The fact that it is still debated is proof enough that scientists and therapists find some of its notions worthy of attention.
This theory helps analysts and psychologists recognize small nuances that they otherwise would have missed. The fact that psychological treatment is practiced and considered commonplace and usual in the modern society right now is also Freud’s achievement. Psychoanalysis was the first theory to pique interest in human psychological and emotional development and the way childhood memories and traumas, social environment, and individual qualities encoded in the psyche during upbringing affect it.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the conviction that “Only a few fundamentalist psychoanalysts of an old-fashioned kind think that Freud was a scientist or that psychoanalysis was or could be a scientific enterprise” (Storr 260). Indeed, Freud’s theory is not fully confirmed yet despite being widely used and becoming a noticeable part of our lives. This is the biggest drawback that practically puts the theory in the same row with astrology and mystic studies making it look like an attractively looking concept that people practice for the sake of its esthetic. Naturally, such order of events cannot inspire any serious treatment in the scientific community and is often given a skeptical glance. Time and time again, this theory does not receive due respect because of its implied insufficient scientific value.
Overview of Freud’s Major Theories
1. The unconscious mind. Freud developed a layered model of human mind, which includes the following:
- The conscious. It includes the thoughts that occupy a person’s attention right now.
- The preconscious. It includes everything that a person can retrieve from their memory.
- The unconscious. This is “a ‘cauldron’ of primitive wishes and impulse kept at bay and mediated by the preconscious area” (McLeod, “Unconscious Mind” par. 16).
The unconscious was considered the most significant region of the human mind, as well as the cause of most human behavior. Memories and wishes that are too uncomfortable to acknowledge are stored in the unconscious. Repression is a process through which uncomfortable thoughts are kept from becoming conscious and remain tucked into the unconscious to avoid anxiety.
2. The psyche model. According to this model, the human mind consists of three parts. “These are not physical areas within the brain, but rather hypothetical conceptualizations of important mental functions” (McLeod, “Unconscious Mind” par. 18). Id is the part of the mind that operates on the pleasure principle, i.e. satisfaction of basic needs.
Id itself consists of two instincts of drives: Eros, known as life instinct, which is responsible for breathing, eating and sex; and Thanatos, the destructive instinct that results in violence and aggression when released. According to Freud, Eros is stronger than Thanatos, which allows humans to survive. Ego is responsible for satisfying the needs of id in a socially acceptable way; it functions on both conscious and unconscious levels and operates on the reality principle. Superego ensures that a human behaves in a way that conforms to society’s moral standards. Superego operates on the morality principle.
3. Psychosexual stages. A child is born with a libido, i.e. the desire to receive sexual pleasure. During various childhood stages, the child looks for pleasure from different ‘objects’, which signifies corresponding stages of development:
- Oral. The mouth plays the central role; pleasure includes sucking and swallowing. This is the stage at which ego develops.
- Anal. The anus plays the main role; pleasures include withholding and expelling feces.
- Phallic. Penis or clitoris take the center stage; masturbation becomes the source of pleasure. At this stage, superego develops.
- Latent. Sexual motivation is weak or absent.
- Genital. Penis or vagina plays the central role; sexual intercourse is the source of pleasure.
To be psychologically healthy, a person must finish each stage. If, however, a stage is not completed, a person becomes ‘fixated’ at this stage, which results in mental abnormalities later on:
Oral fixation. Results from forceful feeding/deprivation/early weaning. Effects in adult life include oral activities such as smoking; dependency; aggression.
- Anal fixation. Results from toilet training being either too harsh or too lax. Effects include obsessiveness; meanness; untidiness; generosity.
- Phallic fixation. Results from abnormal family, which leads to an unusual relationship with a person’s mother or father. Effects include vanity, feeling of inadequacy, inferiority issues, envy, sexual anxiety, and self-obsession.
Freud insists that “reality will always remain unknowable” and it is virtually impossible to determine what is normal and what is abnormal (Freud “An outline of psychoanalysis” p. 83). If the author of the theory himself doubts it can be universally correct, this poses a lot of questions. Personally, I think that, despite all the inconsistencies, Freud’s approach has a myriad of positive sides; it is a unique experience that helps us better understand the workings of our own minds even if a little suspension of disbelief is in order for the theory to work.
Freud’s ideas are open to interpretation and serve as a starting point for many other analytical approaches. They function well as an inspiration and an engine that drives other sections of the studies of human mind and suggest various directions they might follow. It is no more than a figurehead that implies a vast range of concepts but does not necessarily elaborates on them, leaving it to analysts to assess and utilize the tools it offers.
Colby, Kenneth. An Introduction to Psychoanalytic Research. New York, New York: Basic Books, 1960. Print.
Electra Complex Definition n.d.
Eysenck, Hans J. “Failure of Treatment – Failure of Theory?” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9.2 (1986): 236. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. An Outline of Psychoanalysis, New York, New York: Norton, 1989. Print.
—. The Interpretation Of Dreams. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.
Grünbaum, Adolf. Précis of the Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9.2 (1986): 217-284. Print.
Heffner, Christopher. Freud’s Stages of Psychosexual Development.
McLeod, Saul. Id, Ego and Superego.
—. Unconscious Mind.
Popper, Karl. “Predicting Overt Behavior Versus Predicting Hidden States.”
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9.2 (1986): 254-255. Print.
Rand, Nicholas, and Maria Torok. Questions for Freud: The Secret History of Psychoanalysis, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997. Print
Silhol, Robert. “Structure and subject: what do we know of Oedipus’ desire?”
PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts, 19 (2015): n.p.
Spence, Donald. “Are Free Associations Necessarily Contaminated?” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9.2 (1986): 259. Print.
Storr, Anthony. Freud: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.
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