Sigmund Freud is well known by many of us for countless reasons. He has earned his title as the founder of psychoanalysis (Gay 195), is known for his innovative discoveries involving psychology, and even has psychological phenomena named after him (for example, the Freudian slip). Forever changing the way we understand ourselves and other people, it is extremely rare for an educated person to go their entire lives without hearing his name.
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So, how did someone like Freud become so incredibly influential? On May 6, 1856, in the Austrian town of Freiberg, now known as the Czech Republic, Sigmund Freud was born. When he was only four years old, Freud’s family moved to Vienna, the town where he would work and live for the remainder of his life. At the age of twenty-five, he had received his medical degree. As a young researcher and medical student, Freud’s research began by focusing on neurobiology, which involved exploring the biology of brains and nervous tissue of animals and humans. After graduation, Freud became involved in private practice and had a growing interest in various psychological disorders. Although he treated patients, he considered himself first and foremost a scientist rather than a doctor, and he was determined to understand the workings of human knowledge and experience as much as possible. Early on, Freud became greatly influenced by the work of his friend and colleague, Josef Breuer. Breuer had discovered that when he encouraged a hysterical patient to talk freely about the earliest point in which their symptoms began to occur, the symptoms would sometimes gradually lessen.
However, Josef decided to end the relationship, since he felt that Freud had placed too much emphasis on the sexual origins of a patient’s psychological disorder and was completely unwilling to consider other points of view. Despite this, Freud continued to refine is own research. He eventually developed the concept of psychoanalysis, a method through which an analyst unpacks unconscious conflicts based on the dreams, fantasies, and free associations of the patient. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, first and foremost, was inspired by his colleague Josef Breuer. It proposed that mental disorders had originated from deeply traumatic experiences, which occurred in the patient’s past. He believed that the root of the neurosis had been unconsciously blocked and hidden from consciousness. He treated his patients by empowering them to remember the traumatic experience and bring it to consciousness. After doing so, he would challenge them to confront it both emotionally and intellectually, in which he believed would then allow them to discharge it and, ultimately, rid them of their neurotic symptoms. Secondly, Freud’s innovative discoveries involving the ego, dream analysis, and child sexuality were also some of the most influential concepts of the twentieth century. To begin, Freud’s theory involving one’s ego is one still being thoroughly taught in psychology classes today, similar to a science.
According to Freud, there are three essential parts of the human personality: the id, ego, and superego. The id is known to be the impulsive, irrational, and primitive unconscious that only operates according to the outcome of pleasure or pain. The ego is sense of self, or the “I” people perceive, which evaluates the outside social and physical world and makes plans accordingly. And lastly, the superego is the moral voice for the ego, which results in the feelings of anxiety and guilt. The next well-known concept, Freud’s dream analysis theory, proposed that people dreamed to cope with problems that the mind was struggling with subconsciously and couldn’t deal with consciously. In other words, dreams were fueled by a person’s wishes. Freud believed that by understanding and analyzing our dreams, we were able to grasp a better understanding of ourselves and our deepest desires. The Oedipus complex theory is one we are mostly familiar with. It states that between the ages of three and five, as a normal part of the development process, all kids are sexually attracted to the parent of the opposite sex and in competition with the parent of the same sex. Named after the Greek legend of Oedipus (who killed his father so he could marry his mother), this proposition is no doubt an interesting one, but also one that many are still skeptical about.
Psychology and psychiatry students today continue to learn and be fed these extremely well-known theories in their colleges and universities, often carrying them on into their careers. They will often keep these in mind when diagnosing or treating patients. As there are situations in which the age-old theories apply and seem completely accurate, there are also situations in which it may be deemed inaccurate or not the case at all. Ultimately, it is up to the psychologist or psychiatrist to decide whether to apply them or not, depending on the individual patient. Although there are many who support Freud’s various theories, it is no surprise that there has also been some backlash, especially when it comes to the touchy subject of child sexuality. Regarding Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex, one critic has said of a certain text that it “sugarcoats or ignores altogether Freud’s immense flaws and the toxic harm he caused to actual lives (Giraldi 199).” As far as his other theories are concerned, the Oedipus complex theory has been the most controversial.
This is somewhat due to the fact that there have been constant situation that disprove it, where the individual that someone is sexually attracted to is absolutely nothing like his or her parent of the opposite sex. Lastly, psychological phenomena such as the Freudian slip is something that may occur occasionally in our everyday lives, and when it does, we’re always reminded of the famous Sigmund Freud. This term had come from one of Freud’s books, titled The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, in which it is defined as “the psychological meaning behind the misuse of words in everyday writing and speech and the forgetting of names and words.” He revealed through a series of examples that these slips revealed our inner desires, fantasies, and anxieties. However, not unlike the other theories, there is also some controversy about whether Freudian slips mirror our subconscious or are just merely a conflict of thought versus speech. Today, the reality is that Freud is everywhere. It is no longer possible to see a play or other work of art without drawing upon Freud’s penetrating vision. No modern biography is without inquiry into the subject’s childhood, family, and traumatic as well as beneficial early experience. He revolutionized the understanding and treatment of mental disorders like nobody else has. His many interesting theories aside, he profoundly changed our understanding of thought, humanity, and culture.
Although he was constantly criticized and challenged, Freudian theory is still alive and well in the Western culture and education system. Modern neuroscience has come to prove many of his theories correct, thus reinforcing his incredible intelligence and legacy. Freud’s basic formulations about the functioning of the human mind have stood the test of time. The important thing about Sigmund Freud, besides his massive contribution to psychology, was that he looked beyond the patients who suffered from traumatic experiences and recognized the universal role of these traumatic experiences in all people. Freud remains essential as part of the continuous dialogue among students of psychology and behavior, as well as among members of the general public concerned with issues of politics, culture, and mental health. He saw the similarities in us, as human beings, and the incredible synchronicity in the inner workings of our minds universally. And that is truly something that is worth being known for.
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