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Sigmund Freud’s Personal Life and Theories

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Abstract

This paper is focused on the life of renowned psychologist Sigmund Freud and his contributions to Psychology. First, the paper is going to discuss his life, from early childhood in the streets of the Austrian Empire to his unfortunate death caused by cancer. Afterward, this paper will describe and analyze some of Freud’s different ideas and theories regarding his studies in Psychology. This section will include experiments Freud performed with his patients with their respective theory. In addition, each segment will include a personal insight into the theory and perchance a personal experience if relatable. To finalize the paper, there would be a concluding section that analyzes the impact of Freud in the field, the frequency of his studies in Psychology nowadays, and a personal note.

Sigmund Freud: An Analysis on His Personal Life, Theories, and Impact In The Field of Psychology

Personal Life Sigmund Freud, also known as the father of psychoanalysis, was an Austrian neurologist who later became a well-known theorist in the field of Psychology. His ideas formed a cutting-edge mentality towards the human mind, personality, and not to mention the development of therapeutic skills on talk therapy like dream association, free association, and transference to name a few. Freud is considered one of the most influential, yet controversial, minds of the twentieth century. Early Life He was born on May 6th, 1856 under the name Sigismund (which he later on changed to Sigmund) in a town in the Czech Republic, formerly known as Freiberg, Morovia during the Austrian Empire. At a young age, his family initially moved to Leipzig, Germany but later transferred to Vienna, Austria, possibly because his father was a merchant. His family was Jewish but Freud himself wasn’t practicing the religion. He spent the majority of his life in Vienna and obtained his education in the city. Education Freud was initially homeschooled but later he was admitted at the Spurling Gymnasium, where he excelled in all of his classes and graduated with a Summa Cum Laude or the highest distinction. He later became a student at the University of Vienna in 1873. As a college student, his research was mostly concentrated on neurobiology, especially the nervous tissue of animals and humans, and the biology of the brain. In 1881, Freud obtained his degree in medicine giving him recognition as a talented physician. After his studies, Freud started working at the Vienna General Hospital.

Early Career and Accomplishments

His early career was influenced by his collaboration with Dr. Josef Breuer, in which they used hypnosis to help patients recall traumatizing experiences. Breuer was known for his discovery that stated when patients talked about their symptoms without any reservations, said symptoms will begin to diminish. In 1885, Freud went to Paris to study under famed French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. At the time under his mentorship, Freud was interested in the emotional disorder known as hysteria, or the exaggerated emotion of excitement. The following year, Freud decided to focus on nervous and brain disorders and with little delay, he set up a private practice. In addition, he married Martha Bernays, whom he fathered 6 children, one of them, Anna Freud, followed the footsteps of her father and became a famous psychoanalyst herself. With his former mentor Dr. Josef Breuer, they worked in the case study of Anna O, whose real name was Bertha Pappenheim. She was suffering from tactile anesthesia, paralysis, and nervous coughs. Both neurologists hypothesized that the reason for her symptoms came from her recalling traumatic memories over the period of time they treated Pappenheim. Ultimately, they concluded there wasn’t any physical illness that made Bertha this way. However, they did discover that talking to her about her difficult experiences decreased her symptoms. Pappenheim coined this the “talking cure.” In 1895, Freud and Breuer published their work titled Studies in Hysteria. After working for a long time, Dr. Josef Breuer decided to part ways from Sigmund Freud due to the fact he felt that Freud was too concentrated on the sexual origin of a person’s mindset and wasn’t capable to exploring different perspectives on the matter. This didn’t stop Freud, however, and continued to develop his own theories. He developed a theory that expressed the constant conflict between the innate sexual and aggressive impulses and the defenses against them in our unconscious. Throughout 1897, Freud began to examine himself in a thorough manner. By the year 1900, he published his most recognizable work under his name The Interpretation of Dreams. Such work explained how dreams serve as a method of communication from our unconscious mind to expose our desires and experiences. Formation of the International Psychoanalytic Association Freud received the title of Professor of Neuropathology in the University of Vienna from 1902 to 1938. Even though his theories weren’t agreed by many at the time, he still managed to influence pupils that eventually founded the International Psychoanalytic Association with Carl Jung as president in 1910. Jung was a close acquaintance of Freud but eventually decided to move on from him and began to propose his own theories. Final Accomplishments and Death Soon after the Great War, Freud shifted his focus to the application of his theories to literature, art, anthropology, and history. During 1923, he came up with a new published worked called The Ego and the Id. Freud proposes a new structure of the mind, which is divided into three parts: “Id,” Ego,” and “Superego.” He was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw this same year. Around the time Nazism was becoming a forceful political power in Europe, They publicly burned Freud’s books. And, in 1938, Freud had to flee to England with his wife and daughter Anna due to the fact it was annexed to Nazi Germany and they would have been politically persecuted by the Nazis. After 30 painful surgeries during this stressful times, Freud passed away on September 23rd, 1939 in Hampstead, United Kingdom. Freudian Theories Freud’s career as a neurologist mostly consisted of finding ways to unpack what we call the unconscious due to the fact it was believed that it holds the hidden formation and precepts of human personality. The Case of Anna O. as previously referred, the case of Anna O (or Bertha Pappenheim) had an immense impact in Psychology and a turning point of Freud’s career. She was diagnosed with hysteria, a condition in which a patient shows physical symptoms when having a mental issue rather than an organic issue. Freud and former mentor, Dr. Josef Breuer realized that she had developed a fear of drinking when she witnessed a dog she wasn’t very fond of drink from her glass during their therapeutic sessions. In addition, the pair realized that her other symptoms were caused by Bertha taking care of her sick father. She wasn’t able to discuss her anxiety for her illness but later on, she was able to do so through the use of psychoanalysis. Her paralysis came to an end as soon as she was given the opportunity to express her unconscious thoughts. An important note to consider is the fact that even though Anna O. was considered one of Freud’s “patients,” the two never actually met in person. Ultimately though, both neurologists published the book called Studies of Hysteria in 1895. Freud proposed that deeply repressed memories can be manifested in physical symptoms. However, he expressed his belief that the actual cause of Bertha’s hysteria was the result of the sexual abuse she experienced at a young age. Yet, this idea made Breuer part ways with Freud and end their personal and professional relationship. Still, Anna O’s case study allowed Freud to obtain information that was beneficial for his future theories on therapy and psychoanalysis. In my personal opinion, I believe that if Freud was capable to look beyond his personal perspective on the case, both Breuer and he would have found even more in-depth characteristics to the human psyche and quite possibly a scientific evidence to support their claims (beyond recording their case study).

The Unconscious Mind

Even though Sigmund Freud wasn’t the first person to invent the idea of a conscious mind versus an unconscious one, He heavily popularized the idea and doing so placed him as one of the most famous theorists of his time. Between 1900 to 1905, Freud constructed a landscape of the mind. In this topographical model, he described the characteristics of the mind’s structure with their respective functions. He used his famous iceberg analogy to do so. The iceberg is divided into three: The conscious, the subconscious, and the unconscious.

The Conscious

On the tip of the iceberg, we can find this level of the human mind. Here lie all the thoughts that we perceive and are the focus of our attention throughout our lives. Freud expressed the fact that this part of the mind is small compared to the other two.

The Subconscious

This level serves as a border between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. Freud stated that we can find the memories and stored knowledge in this barrier of the mind. In simple terms, this level would allow us to be aware of it if we chose to do so (by recalling memories and things of the sorts).

The Unconscious

The final level and most significant level based on Freud is the unconscious part of the mind. It serves as an archive of primitive impulses and wishes deep down in the mind and are controlled by the preconscious area. This includes but is not limited to sexual and aggressive instincts, fears, unacceptable sexual wishes, violent motives, irrational desires, immoral urges, selfish needs, shameful memories, traumatic experiences, etc. In 1915, Freud discovered that some desires and events from his patients were too painful for them to acknowledge them and therefore were placed in the unconscious mind. The process of that happening was coined repression (further discussed in Defense Mechanisms) Freud’s obsession with the unconscious lead to him hypothesizing that it controls behavior to a greater degree than originally thought by others. This allowed his methods of psychoanalysis to be beneficial for his theories. In retrospection, I can understand where Freud was coming from with his focus on the unconscious. It is difficult, if not impossible, to target one specific reason as to why one behaves a certain way. Because of that fact, Freud hypothesizes allowed us to look more in-depth to the psyche of human beings and formulate ideas that eventually became the standard in the field of Psychology.

The Psyche

In 1923, Sigmund Freud developed a more expansive model of the mind. This new model included the entities of Id, Ego, and Superego. The three aren’t any physical parts of the brain but rather conceptualizations that helped describe important mental functions and they are considered significant parts in the human personality scheme.

Id

The Id is the part of our personality that is in charge of instincts and primitive behavior. The Id consists of all the biological (or inherited) parts of our personality present when we are born, which include the life (sex) instinct, Eros (which has the libido), and the death (aggressive) instinct. Its function remains infantile throughout a person’s life and does not change no matter how much time has passed or experienced has been gained. It is not influenced by logic or reality due to the fact the Id is found in the unconscious part of the mind.

Ego

The ego works as a mediator between the external world and the Id. The ego is in charge of the decision-making processes found in one’s personality. The way the ego operates is based on the principle of working out realistic and reachable methods to please the Id’s necessities. It functions on social realities, norms, rules, and etiquettes when it comes to deciding how to act. However, in comparison to the Id, the ego is relatively weaker and the best course of action is to point out the Id the best direction to take and making the Id think like it was its idea in the first place.

Superego

The superego uses the morals and values taught by one’s parents that are implemented in society. The main function of the superego is to command the id. In addition, It tries to persuade the ego to achieve moralistic goals and try to reach perfection. The superego has two systems: the ideal self and the conscience. The ideal self is an imaginary depiction on an ideal self, which includes how you behave around people and society, and career aspirations. The conscience is the part of the mind that can punish the ego for doing something that isn’t in the ideal self by implementing feelings of guilt. On the other hand, if we behave appropriately then the superego will reward us with a sense of proudness. This new model of the mind in my opinion highly visualizes the events that have no explanation that happens in our brains. However, I do feel that this model is a stretch to the previous model and overall confusing with the interconnection of the three parts of the human psyche.

Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are psychological methods found in the unconscious that are used in order to protect a person from unacceptable thoughts or feelings that cause anxiety. Freud stated that defense mechanisms are put in motion by the ego of a person in order to deal with problems and conflicts in one’s life. There are 6 defense mechanisms: Repression, Denial, Projection, Displacement, Regression, and Sublimation.

Repression

This defense mechanism puts a barrier between the conscious and the unconscious so the threatening thoughts do not escape into the conscious part of our brain. This is put in motion by our ego.

Denial

This involves a person refusing to have experienced a certain event when such a situation is too much to handle and thus blocks external events from reaching awareness.

Projection

In this defense mechanism, we can see an individual attributing their unacceptable feelings, thoughts, and emotions to another person.

Displacement

Displacement is put in motion when we try to satisfy an inherent impulse with something else. This could be an object, activity, etc.

Regression

This happens when one moves to a psychological stressful time in times of stress. We can see this in infants that used to suck on their thumb but do so again when they have to go to the hospital.

Sublimation

Similar to displacement, this serves to substitute a certain impulse with something else. However, such item of substitution is acceptable in society and that makes it differ from displacement. For instance, playing a sport is a perfect way to put our emotions in a productive way. I find interesting Freud’s defense mechanisms because it is something I have done in the past before. An example of me implementing one of the defense mechanisms would be sublimation. When I used to be depressed, I decided to start working out instead of drowning in my own thoughts, I pursued working out as an alternative that was socially acceptable.

Conclusion and Evaluation

Sigmund Freud has definitely been a mind to be recognized in the field of psychology due to his mayor influence in the field. Because of his research, we have open up discussions regarding mental health and accepting the fact that not all psychological problems have to come from a physical reason. Using talking as a door to open up major psychological breakthroughs caused an improvement in psychotherapy. However, we need to keep in mind that Freud’s theories are excellent at explaining but not necessarily predicting a behavior, which is the ultimate goal of scientific research. Therefore, his theories are unfalsifiable and highly scientific. Not to mention he was extremely biased in his interpretations. Yet, Sigmund Freud was ahead of his time and he helped ignite a spark that became the bonfire we call psychology.  
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