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Who was Freud? and What did he get Right?

Updated: Oct 9, 2022

Sigmund Freud, Otherwise known as the father of psychoanalysis has been an influential figure in the field of psychology. Psychoanalysis is a clinical method for evaluating and treating pathologies in the psyche through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. It's all about the Human conversation—embracing complexity- and claims to have an understanding of even what's below our consciousness, discovering below the iceberg. It has been more or less than 100 years since Freud wrote many of his groundbreaking books and papers on the human mind -- exploring and theorising about dreams, culture, childhood development, sexuality and mental health. And while many of his theories have been discredited, some of his theories have highlighted noteworthy concepts in psychology that are still relevant. This is a review of those ideas in psychology that Freud developed and shared with us, and which are still scientifically relevant to dat

Sigmund Freud was born in Freiberg, Moravia in 1856. His family moved to Vienna when Freud was four years old. He studied at a preparatory school in Leopoldstadt where he excelled in school. His academic superiority gained him entry into the University of Vienna at the age of seventeen. Upon completion, he went on to pursue his medical degree and PhD in neurology.

Further on, Freud married Martha Bernays in 1886, and the couple had six children. The youngest of Freud's children, Anna Freud, became an influential psychologist and ardent defender of her father's theories. After working at the Vienna General Hospital, Freud travelled to Paris to study hypnosis under Jean-Martin Charcot. When he returned to Vienna the following year, Freud opened his first medical practice and began specializing in brain and nervous disorders. Freud soon determined that hypnosis was an ineffective method to achieve the results he desired, and he began to implement a form of talking therapy with his patients. This method became recognized as a “talking cure” and the goal was to encourage the patient to tap into the unconscious mind and let go of the repressed energy and emotions therein. Freud called this function repression and felt that this action hindered the development of emotional and physical functionality, which he referred to as psychosomatic. The element of using talk therapy eventually became the foundation of psychoanalysis.

Although later on, the majority of his theories were discredited and banished from the textbooks of psychology, some concepts that Freud highlighted and emphasised still hold value, as clinicians have spoken about their empirical value. The following list, compiled with help from the American Psychoanalytic Association, are some of the relevant ideas Freud left to us.

1) The Unconscious. Nothing Comes "Out of the Blue"

Freud discovered that there are no accidents and no coincidences. Even "random-seeming" feelings, ideas, impulses, wishes, events and actions carry important, often unconscious, meanings. Anyone who has ever made a "Freudian Slip" that has left them embarrassed or baffled will attest to the importance of the unconscious meanings of the things we do and say. That time you "accidentally" left your keys at your lover's apartment may have been an accident; but more likely, at least unconsciously, you wanted to go back for more. From dreams to Freudian slips, to free association -- delving into one's unconscious as a means of unlocking often hidden or denied fantasies, traumas or motivations is still crucial to gaining the whole truth about human behaviour.

2) Sexuality is Everyone's Weakness-and Strength

Sex is a prime motivator and common denominator for all of us. It is not a message many want to hear. So high is our disgust for these elementary Darwinian principles -- that led to human triumph over all other living things -- that we spent much of our time denying the dark side of our lives. Even the most prudent, puritanical-appearing individuals struggle greatly against their sexual appetites and expression. One need only look to the many scandals that have rocked the Vatican, fundamentalist churches, politicians and celebrities alike. Freud observed this prurient struggle in men and women early on in Victorian Vienna and extrapolated easily from there.

3) Every Part of the Body is Erotic

Freud knew that human beings were sexual beings right from the start. He took his inspiration from the baby nursing at the mother's breast to illustrate the example of more mature sexuality, saying, "No one who has seen a baby sinking back satiated from the breast and falling asleep with flushed cheeks and a blissful smile can escape the reflection that this picture persists as a prototype of the expression of sexual satisfaction later in life." He knew, too, that sexual excitation is not restricted to genitalia, as pleasure is achieved through erotic attachment to potentially any idiosyncratically defined area of the body, and most definitely not limited to genital intercourse between a male and female. Even today many people have great difficulty accepting this idea.

4) Thought is a Roundabout Way of Wishing

Freud discovered that the mere act of thinking (wishing and fantasizing) is itself gratifying. In fact, what therapists and psychoanalysts commonly observe is that the fantasy is more mentally and physically stimulating and fulfilling than the actual, real-life action the fantasy is organized around. Is it any wonder that reality doesn't measure up to the intense, vivid fantasy? Freud's observation that humans' attempt to fantasize things into reality is today fully accepted by neuroscientists as the basis for imagination

5) Talking Cures

Whether an individual's therapy is based on Freudian psychoanalysis or some other form of talk therapy, the evidence is clear that talking helps alleviate emotional symptoms, lessen anxiety and frees up the person's mind. While medication and brief therapy can often be effective in alleviating symptoms, talk therapy uses the powerful tool of the therapeutic relationship. The whole person is involved in the treatment, not just a set of symptoms or a diagnosis, therefore deeper and more lasting change becomes possible.

"If someone speaks, it gets lighter"

6) Defense Mechanisms

The term "defence mechanism" is so much a part of our basic understanding of human behaviour that we take it for granted. Yet, this is another construct developed and theorized by the Freuds (Sigmund and his daughter, Anna). According to Freud, defence mechanisms are psychological strategies brought into play by the unconscious mind to manipulate, deny or distort reality to protect against feelings of anxiety and/or unacceptable impulses. Among the many types of defence mechanisms coined by Freud, i.e. repression, rationalization, projection, and denial are perhaps the most well-known. Denial is an outright refusal to admit or recognize that something has occurred or is currently occurring. Denial can be personal-for example denying an addiction or denying a painful life experience-but it can also take the form of denying scientific, social and cultural phenomena -- for example, the reality of climate change or the Holocaust.

7) Resistance to Change

Our minds and behaviour patterns inherently resist change. It's new, it's threatening and it's unwelcome -- even when it's a change for the good. Psychoanalysis got this ubiquitous principle of resistance right and found tools to bring it to consciousness and defeat its stubborn ability to create obstacles to forward movement, both for individuals and groups.

8) Transference

An example of the past impacting the present is the concept of transference, another Freud constructs that is widely understood and utilized in today's psychological practices. Transference refers to very strong feelings, hopes, fantasies and fears we have about the important relationships of our childhood that carry forward, unconsciously and impact present-day relationships.

9) Development

Human development continues throughout the life cycle; a successful life depends on adaptability and mastery of change as it confronts each of us. Every new stage of life presents challenges and provides the opportunity to reassess our core personal goals and values.

10) Mental illness often stems from early-life trauma

This was also the inference that Freud made when he claimed, based on his assessments of patients with mental health problems, that the experiences in our childhood profoundly influenced our adult well-being. Although Some prominent psychologists now claim Freud was wrong about actually how childhood adversity leads to mental health problems. Albeit this association is not, as he surmised, not because of the monsters lurking in our unconscious but, as neuroscience is now showing us because the brain is immensely malleable in response to the social environment in the first two decades of life.


Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

The 12 Things Sigmund Freud Got Right by Huffpost

Mental illness often stems from early-life trauma. It’s happening in Kashmir by Professor Vikram Patel


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