1) Distinguish among the defense mechanisms of denial, repression, projection, reaction formation, and displacement.
2) In which ways is Freud’s thinking no longer valid? Alternatively, what does his work provide that is useful to a modern study of personality?
3) Think about Sigmund Freud’s view of children and contrast it with that of his daughter, Anna, and later neo-analytic theorists. How did each distinguish the psychology of adults from that of children in terms of the id and the ego?
4) Mahler thought that the degree of integration and separation between parent and child contributed greatly to healthy and unhealthy relationships in adulthood. What might be examples of healthy and unhealthy degrees of closeness between parents and children?
This week’s focus will be on some of the pioneers in what would eventually become the subspecialty of personality within the field of psychology. Both Freud and Erikson are known as stage theorists in that they viewed the development of one’s personality to occur as an individual sequentially progressed through several distinct stages, characterized by a particular challenge that needed to be overcome. Healthy personality development is associated with the successful navigation through these challenges, while personality problems or limitations are related to an individual’s inability to adequately negotiate the challenge(s).
Early Pioneer: Sigmund Freud
When we mention the name Sigmund Freud many people think about sex drives and his concepts of Id, Ego, and Superego to explain structures of the mind. He is sometimes referred to in the behavioral sciences as the father of psychology because he tried to chart the mind. He believed that it was the multidimensional essential cause of motives, thoughts, actions, reactions, feelings, and beliefs. He was an extremely intelligent and developed a theory of personality and psychotherapy that prior to him had not seen. He established new ways of viewing and interpreting human behavior. He was a physician and he considered himself to be a biological scientist. As such he was concerned with biological structures such as the mind. He wondered what effect this framework exerted on psychological reactions.
Freud studied hypnosis under Jean-Martin Charcot who was a famous neuropathologist of the time. He began to use this method to treat what was known at the time as hysteria. Hysteria was considered a nervous ailment whose biological cause could not be determined.
Freud came to realize that hypnosis was not sufficient to treat many of his patients. He began to investigate other forms of suggestion such as free association and dreams. He considered dreams to be a royal road or pathway into the realm of the unconscious. He believed that we are given symbols in dreams that either brings us information about wishes we would want to be fulfilled or about wishes we would want to repress. He felt that the mind disguises our wishes with symbols when the material is too threatening in some way to our concept of us. He continued to posit that dreams contain two levels of material. He called these levels manifest and latent.
The manifest content of a dream is what the person remembers while the latent content is the hidden psychological core of the dream. He believed if we could bring the unconscious meaning into consciousness we could mitigate psychological distress. Today many people insist that dreams have meaning even stating that they believe some dreams are prophetic. It is no wonder that Freud was so intrigued by how unconscious motivations can influence our behavior.
Three Parts of the Mind
Freud viewed the mind as having three parts. He labeled these parts the Id, the Ego and the Superego. These parts are in no way physical nor are they located in a discrete portion of the brain. Let’s take a separate look at each of these structures.
· SUPER EGO
We begin with the Id. We often say that it operates on the pleasure principle. It is the simple and instinctual piece of the personality. It contains two instincts, Eros or the life instinct often interpreted as sex and Thanatos or the death instinct often interpreted as aggression. Operating under the pleasure principle means that we solely want to satisfy our own needs and desires. The Id is not affected by either logic or reality. The goal is to attain what we desire in an effort to reduce inner stress. This is most readily seen in babies. They become hungry, they scream and cry regardless of day, time, or circumstance and once their hunger need is met they settle down. If the baby is denied food, they will experience some form of discomfort or pain.
The Ego, on the other hand, is grounded in reality and the real world. We can think of it as a kind of mediator between the instinctual Id and the external world. It functions under the reality principle. It finds realistic tactics to satisfy the immediate and often unrealistic desires of the Id in order to avoid negative societal consequences. It accomplishes this using compromise and the delaying of gratification. The ego integrates social norms and rules in choosing how we will behave. Like the Id, the Ego also wants pleasure and wants to avoid pain. However, the Ego finds realistic and pro-social means to accomplish this.
Finally, we come to the Superego. The Superego integrates the morals and values of a society and culture which was learned at a young age from our parents and significant others in our lives. Its function is also one of control. It tries to control the ego’s antisocial impulses such as sex and aggression as defined by the cultural or societal norms. It also encourages the ego to strive for goals that are moral and not just realistic and to strive for excellence. It operates under the morality principle.
Importance of Early Childhood Development
Freud suggested that children experience psychological development within the framework of a series of set stages. Further, he believed that each stage had its own conflict which had to be successfully resolved. He proposed that there were five distinct stages.
STAGES OF PSYCHOSEXUAL DEVELOPMENT
The first stage is the oral stage which according to Freud takes place between 0 and 1 year of age. At this stage, the focus is on the baby’s mouth. The baby derives satisfaction by putting things in its mouth such as the breast. This behavior includes biting and sucking among other things. This meets the infant’s need for satisfaction at this stage. The problem arises when the infant is physically weaned from bottle or breast. Freud posits that failure to transfer psychosexual energy or libido at this stage to the next can result in oral fixation. This kind of fixation can lead to many oral behaviors such as nail biting, smoking, overindulgence in food and even sucking on substances.
The second stage is the anal stage which occurs between 1 and 3 years of age. Freud suggests that the focus is now on the anus and that the child obtains pleasure from expelling bodily waste. The child at this point realizes that it is a separate entity and has wishes and desires that may come into conflict with the larger world. The conflict here is potty training. If the parent is harsh or demanding or if training begins too early in the child’s life the child may refuse to train or refuse to defecate at all. Failure to transfer libido satisfactorily and resolve this conflict can lead to fixation in the anal phase. This can result in an anal retentive personality characterized by excessive neatness, stubbornness and being close handed with money and other possessions. Conversely, if the potty training method was too liberal the result can be a person who is anal expulsive. This personality overly shares is messy and rebellious.
The third stage is the phallic stage and occurs between the ages of 3 and 6. At this stage, children derive pleasure by exploring their genitals. Masturbation can occur at this stage. This discovery of sexual pleasure and bodily differences as well as the social unacceptance of apparent sexual behavior, according to Freud, gives rise to both the Oedipus complex in boys and the Electra complex in girls. The Oedipus complex simply stated is that little boys have a desire for their mother but fear punishment by castration by their father. They resolve this conflict by adopting the attributes of their father. The Electra complex in girls posits that little girls wish they had a penis and blame their mothers for this lack. In order to resolve this conflict, the little girl must connect with her mother’s characteristics. In doing so she will attract a man, her penis substitute and have a baby.
The fourth stage is the latency stage which occurs between the ages of 5 or 6 and goes to puberty. Freud believed that the libido is dormant at this stage because sexual desires are repressed. He further believed that this sexual energy is redirected into hobbies, friendships or school, etc. Because he cites no conflict at this stage there is no fixation at this stage
The fifth and final stage is the genital stage which is from puberty to adulthood. This is the stage when adolescents enter a time of sexual investigation. It is during this stage that successful resolution results in a stable, loving exclusive relationship with a heterosexual partner. Freud believed that the appropriate channel for the sexual urge was through heterosexual intercourse. Fixation at this point can prevent this from occurring and hence bring about the rise of sexual corruption. If one is fixated at the oral stage, one may derive sexual satisfaction from kissing and oral sex and not necessarily from intercourse.
Males vs. Females
How did Freud view males versus females? In his early views on sexuality, Freud saw women as men without penises. This led him to believe that women were inferior because of this obvious lack. He paid little attention to the role clitoral stimulation played in orgasm and indeed believed that in order for sexuality in a girl to mature, she needed to shift pleasure seeking to the vagina. He equated a vaginal orgasm with the penis and thus being natural, while a clitoral orgasm did not require a penis and therefore was not natural. Modern research beginning with Masters and Johnson does not confirm his ideas about orgasms.
According to the zeitgeist of the late 19th century, Freud accepted the belief that men were naturally superior to women. His theories focused on male’s behaviors as the norm while female behavior was considered to be a deviation from the norm.
One of Freud’s contentions derived from his observations of women who choose to remain in abusive or painful relationships with men. He believed that women had an unconscious desire for misery and indeed actually received instinctive pleasure from suffering. Although Freud’s reflections about gender are not supported by modern research findings, nevertheless he was among the first intellectuals to explore and try to comprehend psychological differences between the genders.
What are defense mechanisms and why do we need them anyway? Freud believed that the ego utilizes a range of defense mechanisms in order to handle the conflicts of life. These mechanisms operate outside our conscious awareness and help us to deflect unpleasant feelings such as anxiety or enhance our feelings about good things. Remember the job of the ego? If it becomes overwhelmed and cannot find a satisfactory resolution of a problem it becomes anxious and maybe even feels threatened. In order to deal with this threat to our ego, our unconscious will employ one or more defense mechanisms for our protection against the stressor. While defense mechanisms are normal, Freud believed that when they become too dominant neuroses develop.
According to Freud, there are several ego defense mechanisms.
UNCONSCIOUS DEFENSE MECHANISMS
Repression is the unconscious defense mechanism that keeps threatening thoughts or ideas in the unconscious. PTSD is thought to manifest because of the repression of memories considered too horrible to bring to the conscious mind. Falling under this rubric are also memories of incest and false memories.
Reaction formation is the pushing away of threatening impulses by overemphasizing the opposite of a person’s thoughts or feelings. We can see this in action when we watch some public figures. Or consider if you really dislike a person, yet you behave in the opposite way toward that person.
Denial involves blocking external events from consciousness in an effort to reduce anxiety. Continuing to smoke cigarettes despite all of the evidence of its harmful effects on health is an example of denial.
Projection attributes our own unacceptable thoughts and ideas unto another person. If you really dislike a family member but feel awful about how you feel you can convince yourself that the family member really dislikes you.
Sublimation is a mechanism by which we convert dangerous urges into socially accepted behaviors. Excessive aggressive urges may lead one to become a surgeon.
Regression is a dense mechanism that pushes us back to a safer psychological time in the face of stress. A child who begins to suck its thumb after the death of a family member is a good example.
Rationalization is a defense which seeks to craft a rational explanation for a behavior that was impulse driven. Going to night spots of shady repute is explained as doing the necessary research.
Displacement shifts the target impulse such as aggression unto another target. Say the boss chews you out for something. You really cannot aggress against the boss and hope for a positive outcome so when you go home you kick the dog or yell at family members.
Freud was a major contributor to psychological thought. He was the first to define and explore personality development and its relationship to behavior. He created a guide or roadmap and a language to explore the importance of understanding unconscious drives. He emphasized the importance of the sexual drive and explored its workings in adults, infants, and children as a motivational force. Many of his observations are confirmed by modern research on the brain and cognitive psychology.
Psychoanalytic thought is applied today in many different ways. The most obvious of course is in the area of emotion and motivation. Perhaps one of the most important tenets is the finding that emotional and behavioral states can exist separately from conscious thought. Modern research on certain emotions reveals that we may be hardwired to produce certain facial expressions that are universally recognized. This research is consistent with Freud’s notion that we can experience emotion and motivation without being fully able to understand it.
The idea of free will at first seems to be in complete opposition to the idea of determinism. However, we must remember that Freud tried to bring the unconscious into awareness and his aim was to change behavior. This gives us an intriguing look about his own awareness about free will. We humans often believe that any action is preceded by intention. We have found that this is not always the case. Intention can be unconscious or something that follows an action. Intention can be externalized as in the case of someone such as a schizophrenic who hears voices and believes that the source of the voices exists outside themselves.
Let’s say that you and your sibling are talking about when she fell out of the tree and broke her leg. Suddenly your sibling begins remembering other experiences that were related to the incident. She might wonder why memories that she has not thought of in many years came flooding back to her. This is called hypermnesia or excess of memory. Sometimes to access these unreported memories free association and hypnosis is used. There is, however, no infallible way to determine if these memories are accurate. Also, we much ask ourselves what role does reward or punishment play in stimulating our ability to remember.
Freud noticed that adults rarely remember events that happened to them before the age of three or four. He was one of the first to write about this and believed that repression of threatening sexual desires was the basis for this forgetting. However, later research has found that almost all memories are forgotten not just distressing ones.
Compiled by Himmat Rana (May 1997). Sigmund Freud. Retrieved from:
Library of Congress (n.d.). Sigmund Freud: Conflict & Culture. Retrieved from: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/freud/freud03.html
McLeod, S.A. (2008). Id, Ego, and Superego. Retrieved from: