The Echoes of the Mind (14) Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult. ~ Sigmund Freud

Austrian physician Sigmund Freud (1856–1923) started out in neurology, but after studying hypnosis, shifted his career into practicing medical psychopathy.

At first Freud incorporated hypnosis in his clinical work. He treated Austrian Jewish feminist Bertha Pappenheim by letting her freely converse about her problems and past traumas while hypnotized. This “talking cure,” as she called it, lessened her symptoms.

From this experience Freud decided to encourage patients to talk their way through their traumatic experiences without hypnosis. Along with this free association, as he termed it, Freud found that a patient’s dreams were fruitful material for analysis.

The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind. ~ Sigmund Freud

By 1896 Freud had his method of psychoanalysis established.

Psychoanalysis is my creation. ~ Sigmund Freud

The overriding tenet of Freud’s thinking was that neuroses came from repressing sexual thoughts, regardless of originating from experience or imagination.

The analytic psychotherapist thus has a threefold battle to wage: in his own mind against the forces which seek to drag him down from the analytic level; outside the analysis, against opponents who dispute the importance he attaches to the sexual instinctual forces and hinder him from making use of them in his scientific technique; and inside the analysis, against his patients, who at first behave like opponents but later on reveal the overvaluation of sexual life which dominates them, and who try to make him captive to their socially untamed passion. ~ Sigmund Freud

Psychosexual Development Theory

We know less about the sexual life of little girls than of boys. But we need not feel ashamed of this distinction; after all, the sexual life of adult women is a dark continent for psychology. ~ Sigmund Freud

Freud developed his psychosexual theory of personality development in the 1st decade of the 20th century. He imagined a healthy child from infancy progressing through stages of conflict and reconciliation between instinctual gratification and externally imposed limits. Freud identified the following stages: oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital. These were supposed focal erogenous zones.

Freud proposed that psychological problems develop if a child got too little or too much satisfaction at a stage, creating a fixation that manifested in adulthood via aberrant thoughts and behaviors.

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 in later life. ~ Sigmund Freud

Freud’s proposal of libidinous children caused a furor. It was generally thought that young children were naturally innocent.

The oral stage covers the 1st year of life. The mouth is the supposed erogenous zone.

Someone fixated at the oral stage (oral-incorporative) tends to be a good listener, overeats, likes smoking, drinking, and kissing. Such a person tends to be dependent and gullible, according to Freud. But someone fixated at the later stage, when teething begins, is oral-sadistic. Such a person is sarcastic, cynical, and aggressive.

The anal stage lasts through the 2nd year of life. As solid food enters the diet, the pleasure of a good dump earns its appreciation. An individual fixated at the anal stage (anal-expulsive) tends to be messy, wasteful, and generous.

The later anal stage is after toilet training, where pleasure is derived from withholding feces. A fixation here (anal-retentive) makes a person stingy, orderly, and perhaps a perfectionist. Anal-retentive people tend to be collectors.

The phallic stage lasts from 3–6 years of age and applies to both boys and girls. Freud thought that the clitoris was a tiny penis.

Freud developed fantastic scenarios for the phallic stage. It begins with both sexes having strong, even erotic feelings toward their mother, as she is their caregiver. These feelings persist in a male but change for a female child.

A boy’s love of his mother generates a jealous hostility toward dad, who is perceived as a rival. Because a male’s source of pleasure is his penis, and his father is much more powerful, a boy begins to experience castration anxiety, which causes repression of his sexual and aggressive inclinations.

A toddler buck resolves this by identifying with his father. This symbolic identification removes dad as a threat, while letting a boy feel like he is sharing mom with dad. Castration anxiety is relieved.

A female child finds that she lacks a viable penis, for which she blames her mother. This generates both positive and negative feelings for mom.

Around the same time, a girl discovers that dad has the desired organ. This causes sexual attraction to father and penis envy. Hence, a female child’s emotions toward her father are also mixed.

The supposedly healthy resolution of female Oedipal complex is repression: of her hostility toward mom, and her sexual attraction to dad. She “becomes” the mother and shares her father.

The identification and repression necessary during the phallic stage develop the superego (moral conscience). By identifying with the parent of the same sex, a youngster introjects that parent’s moral values.

Freud believed that male and female development during the phallic stage were asymmetrical because a female, lacking a penis, never experiences castration anxiety. Thus a girl’s resulting identification is less intense. Because Freud considered such identification as critical to the development of the superego, he believed that male morality was stronger than female.

The latency stage lasts from age 6 to puberty. Owing to the intense repression required during the phallic stage, sexual drives are latent. A child derives gratifications from hidden sexual urges by channeling energies to other activities, such as friendships, school, and satisfying personal curiosities. During the latency stage, a child learns to adapt to actuality, as well as beginning the process of infantile amnesia: repressing the earliest sexual or evil memories.

The genital stage lasts from puberty through adulthood. Puberty brings sexual urges to the forefront, as they are too intense to repress.

The lack or surfeit of satisfactions, and fixations, that a person experiences (or not) during psychosexual stages determines personality as an adult. For Freudians, childhood experiences are the stuff from which normality or neuroses are made. Freud wholly bought the notion:

The child is the father of the man. ~ English poet William Woodsworth

 The Feminine Enigma

Any credibility one may be willing to grant Freud’s psychosexual development schema is undermined by Freud’s admission that he did not understand women.

The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “what does a woman want?” ~ Sigmund Freud

Many women have considered Freud’s fiction of penis envy especially preposterous and/or hilarious, including Freud’s daughter, Austrian psychoanalyst Anna Freud.


Freud believed that an individual’s sex drive (libido) developed by changing its object, a process he termed sublimation. Via sublimation, one consciously turns a socially unacceptable impulse into a socially acceptable behavior. Freud considered sublimation a sign of maturity.

Sublimation of instinct is an especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical activities, scientific, artistic or ideological, to play such an important part in civilized life. ~ Sigmund Freud

Freud never considered that sexual repression stems from a culture imbued with the deranged Judeo-Christian mores regarding sexual desire and behavior. (Freud was of Jewish descent.)

Id, Ego, Superego

The ego is not master in its own house. The poor ego has to serve three harsh masters, and it has to do its best to reconcile the claims and demands of all three. The three tyrants are the external world, the superego, and the id. ~ Sigmund Freud

Freud was most proud of his own school of structuralism, in dividing the mind into a triumvirate of conflicting units: the id, ego, and superego. The confluence of these 3 is the supposed source of all behavior.

The id is the source of feral desires: the biological beast within that operates on what Freud termed the pleasure principle: seeking immediate gratification.

The antithesis of the id is the superego, which provides an injection of ethics. The superego is one’s conscience.

The engine of rational cognition is the ego. The ego derives its energy from the id but relies upon the superego for guidance. The ego balances between the id’s hedonism and the moralism of the superego, tempered by consideration of immediate circumstance. The ego thus follows the “reality principle.”

Freud thought that the ego was partial to the id. The superego constantly monitors the ego in action, punishing the ego with feelings of guilt, anxiety, and inferiority for its transgressions. To overcome the superego’s chastisement, the ego employs various defense mechanisms, which Freud cataloged as: denial, displacement, reaction formation, compensation, sublimation, rationalization, projection, repression, fantasy, and regression.

Freud considered the id unconscious, the superego preconscious, and the ego 1/2 conscious, 1/4 unconscious, and 1/4 preconscious. The thoughts of which one is aware of are conscious. The unconscious comprises autonomic mental processes which are not available to introspection; to Freud, these include: affect, thought processes, memory, and motivation. The preconscious applies to thoughts which are conceived unconsciously, but are not subject to repression, and so capable of becoming conscious.

View of Human Nature

Freud shared Hobbes’ view of human nature – at least, the nature of men.

Men are not gentle creatures who want to be love, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. Homo homini lupus [man is a wolf to man]. ~ Sigmund Freud

Although pessimistic, Freud thought that people could live somewhat rational lives. But, to do so, they must comprehend the workings of their own mind.

The news that reaches your consciousness is incomplete and often not to be relied upon. You behave like an absolute ruler who is content with the information supplied him by his highest officials and never goes among the people to hear their voice. Turn your eyes inward, look into your own depths, learn first to know yourself! ~ Sigmund Freud

View of Religion

Freud considered religion grounded in human feelings of helplessness and insecurity. To overcome those emotional complexes, a powerful father figure was created in the form of God. This keeps people at a childlike, irrational level.

Teachings from the East fared no better. Freud thought that the Eastern religions promoted derealization, depersonalization, and regressive pathology.

The whole thing [religion] is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. ~ Sigmund Freud

Freud hoped that religion would in time be discarded in favor of scientific principles.

No belittlement of science can in any way alter the fact that it is attempting to take account of our dependence on the real external world, while religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from its readiness to fit in with our instinctual wishful impulses. ~ Sigmund Freud


Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. ~ Sigmund Freud

Personally, Freud was self-indulgent, proud, and given to self-deception. His own fixations and cognitive limitations were reflected in his psychological theories.

Freud had a fondness for psychotropic medication. Beginning in 1883 he became an enthusiastic advocate of cocaine. By 1885, numerous cases of cocaine addiction alarmed the local medical community. Freud was nonplussed but discontinued his personal use in 1896.

Though fortunate to escape lasting cocaine addiction, he was no so lucky with nicotine. Freud often smoked 20 cigars a day. His physician warned him that his heart arrhythmias were due to smoking; but Freud was unable to stop. He rationalized his puffery by quoting Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw:

Don’t try to live forever, you will not be successful.

Freud underwent a series of 33 operations to deal with the devastation that his smoking caused. His jaw was replaced with an artificial one. Yet Freud could not stop smoking.

Freud was not entirely without inner strength: he refused pain-killing drugs during his 16-year bout with cancer.

By all accounts, Freud was authoritarian, paternalistic, and dogmatic. He was incapable of tolerating disagreements.

While his fame attracted followers, Freud was unable to engage in collaborative relationships. Only sycophants, of which he collected several, maintained long-term relationships with the man. Freud’s falling out with Carl Jung is exemplary. Jung began as a submissive student. The two became close friends.

By 1909, Freud was envisioning Jung as his successor as leader of the psychoanalytic movement. But once Jung started having his own ideas, notably the notion of the collective unconscious, which Freud found unacceptable, the two men parted ways.


Although it is hard for many of us to appreciate this now, Freud introduced a revolutionary new way of understanding human behavior. Instead of regarding human choice and decision-making as primarily the result of rational and logical deliberations, Freud suggested that human behavior is largely driven by subconscious and nonrational drives and is then rationalized and justified in terms of logic and reason. ~ English psychologist Jim Sidanius & American social psychologist Felicia Pratto

Just as Darwin’s legacy long loomed over evolutionary theories, so Freud haunted every school of psychology that followed.