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Freudian Psychology

Freudian Psychology is derived from the works of Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud. He is known as the father of the psychodynamic approach to psychology. He attempted to understand the driving forces that explain human behavior.

Freudian Psychology Explanations

Freudian Psychology Explanations
Freudian Psychology


Sigmund Freud is a reputed neurologist who is regarded as the father of psychoanalysis, an established method for treating psychological conditions through communication. Freud believed that the human mind is responsible for taking both conscious and unconscious decisions on the basis of psychological drives. He is known for a wide range of theories based on the unconscious mind, dreams, infantile sexuality, libido, repression, and transference. All of these continue to influence the field of psychology to various degrees. He believed that we are “simply actors in the drama of their own minds, pushed by desire, pulled by confidence. Underneath the surface, our personalities represent the power struggle going on deep within us.”

Sigmund Freud was a trained neurologist, who laid down a new understanding of human psychological development and treatment of psychological disturbance. Freudian psychology consists of three key aspects that constitute a person’s personality. They are id, ego, and superego.

Origin Of Freudian Psychology: The Case Of Anna O

Freud believed that simply talking about our problems can help alleviate them. This was evident from the case of Anna O wherein his close friend and colleague, Josef Breuer discussed it with him. The young woman’s real name was Bertha Pappenheim. She was a patient of Breuer’s after suffering from hysteria. Her symptoms included blurred vision, hallucinations, and partial paralysis. Breuer observed that having a discussion about her experiences provided some extent of relief from her symptoms. She referred to this treatment as “the talking cure”.

Freud discussed her case with Breuer and the two collaborated on a book in 1895 based on her treatment titled “Studies in Hysteria”. Freud concluded that her hysteria was a result of childhood sexual abuse. Freud’s insistence on “sexual abuse” being a cause of Anna O’s condition created a rift between Freud and Breuer’s professional and personal relationship. Breuer disagreed with Freud because he believed that sexual abuse was not a cause of her hysteria. Although the friendship and professional relationship ended, Freud continued his work in the development of talk therapy.

Freudian Psychology: The Psychoanalytic Theory

The Psychoanalytic Theory
Freudian Psychology


Sigmund Freud is largely credited for his contribution to developing talk therapy. He also developed influential theories about subjects such as the unconscious mind, the sources of psychopathy, and the significance of dreams. Freud later developed a more structural model of the mind composed of the entities- id, ego, and superego which Freud called the psychic apparatus. These are the hypothetical conceptualizations of mental functions. The psychic apparatus 1 is the three essential parts of human personality.

1. Id

According to Freudian Psychology, the id is characterized by the part of the unconscious that always seeks pleasure without taking the consequences into consideration. He explains why people act in certain ways when it is not in line with the ego and superego. Id is that part of the mind that is responsible for the most basic and primal instincts in humans. This theory suggests that the “Id” is the impulsive and unconscious part of the mind that only functions on the desire to seek immediate satisfaction. This part is not capable of grasping any form of reality or consequence. Freudian psychology pointed out that humans are governed by the id because it makes them engage in need satisfying behaviors without thinking about whether it is right or wrong. Freud compared id and ego as the horse and the rider, wherein, the id is the horse controlled by the ego or the rider. He explained that even though the id is supposed to be controlled by the ego, they often intertwine with one another according to the ego. The id consists of two kinds of biological instincts that he called Eros and Thanatos.

The Eros is the life instinct that helps the individual to survive. This includes sustaining activities such as respiration, eating, and sex. The energy created by life instincts is known as libido. On the other hand, Thanatos, or death instinct is the presence of destructive forces present in all human beings. When this energy is directed outwards, it is expressed as aggression and violence. Freud believed that Eros is stronger than Thanatos, which allows people to survive rather than self-destruct.

2. Ego

Ego, in Freudian psychology, is believed to be the factor responsible for balancing between pleasure and pain. It’s impossible for the id to accomplish all desires. Although the ego realizes this, it continues to seek pleasure and satisfaction. Although the ego does not know the difference between right and wrong, it is aware that not all desires can be met at a given time frame. According to Freud, the reality principle can be defined as how the ego operates to satisfy the id’s demands as well as compromising it to be at par with the reality. The ego is composed of the unconscious desires of an individual. It is important to keep in mind that the ego takes into account the ethical and cultural aspects of a desire as a way to balance out the desires originating from the id. The id and ego are unconscious but the ego has access to the perpetual system. The ego allows the individual to engage in self-preserving behaviors to control the instinctual demands of the id.

Read More About Ego Depletion Here.

3. Superego

In Freudian psychology, Superego is developed around age four or five where an individual incorporates the morals of the society. Freud believed that the superego controls the impulses of the mind that are looked down upon morally. The superego is the conscience of the mind and can understand the difference between right and wrong. Freud categorized the superego into two categories: the ideal self and the conscience. The conscience of the human mind contains ideals and morals that exist within a society that governs an individual’s internal desires. The ideal self is characterized by the images of how people should behave according to societal norms.

Freudian Psychology: The Three Levels Of The Mind

Three Levels Of The Mind
Freudian Psychology


Sigmund Freud developed a topographical model of the mind where he described the features of the mind’s structure and function. Freud used an analogy 2 of an iceberg to describe the three levels of mind. Freudian psychology states that there are three levels of the mind that govern human behavior. Just like an iceberg, the important part of the mind cannot be seen.

Level 1: The Conscious Mind

The surface of the unconscious mind contains the thoughts that are the focus of our attention and is seen as the tip of the iceberg. It contains all the thoughts, memories or feelings that we experience at any given moment.

Level 2: The Preconscious Mind

The preconscious mind consists of the information that can be retrieved from memory.

Level 3: The Unconscious Mind

The third region is the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind 3 acts as a repository for all the desires, impulses, thoughts, or urges which are mediated by the preconscious area.

For instance, Freud found some events and desires were often too frightening or painful for his patients to acknowledge and believed such information was locked away in the unconscious mind. This occurs through the process of repression. He emphasized the importance of the unconscious mind and that the unconscious mind governs behavior to a greater degree than people understand. The goal of psychoanalysis is to make the unconscious conscious.

Psychosexual Stages

Psychosexual Stages
Freudian Psychology


The Victorian times were highly repressive and women were forced to repress their sexual needs. Due to this sexual repression, the result was some form of neurotic illness. Freud attempted to understand the nature and variety of these illnesses by retracing the sexual history of the patients. This study was conducted to understand how the emotions of love, hate, shame, guilt, and fear were handled by these women. This led Freud to develop his most controversial work – his theory of psychosexual development and the Oedipus complex.

According to Freudian psychology, children are born with a libido (i.e sexual pleasure) and they go through a number of stages to seek pleasure from different parts of the body. In order to be psychologically healthy, we must successfully complete each stage. The mental abnormality will only occur if one of the psychosexual stages is not completed and when the person fixates on one particular stage. This theory demonstrates how adult personality is determined by childhood experiences. If an individual doesn’t experience fixation in any of the psychosexual stages and has successfully reached the genital stage, they will grow into a well balanced human being.

Freudian Psychology
Freudian Psychology

Freudian Psychology In Anxiety And Defense Mechanisms

Freudian psychology proposed that humans have a set of defense mechanisms built to defend themselves against an unfavorable event. Defense mechanisms are focused on how the ego defends itself against internal events or impulses which are unacceptable to one’s ego. These defense mechanisms are used to handle conflict between the id, ego, and superego. Freud observed that the major drive for people was a reduction of tension and the notable cause of tension was anxiety. He also identified three types of anxiety 4 , namely, reality anxiety, neurotic anxiety, and moral anxiety.

1. Reality Anxiety

Reality anxiety is the basic form of anxiety and is built around the ego. It is usually based on the fear of real or unforeseen possible events. For instance, being hit by a car while crossing the street.

2. Neurotic Anxiety

It originates from an unconscious fear that the basic impulses of the id will take control of the person. This will ultimately lead to eventual punishment for expressing the id’s desires.

3. Moral Anxiety

This stems from the superego of the mind. The fear of violating values or moral codes is present in this case that tends to appear as feelings like guilt or shame.

In case anxiety occurs, the first thing the mind does is to seek rational ways of escaping the situation by using problem-solving efforts wherein a range of defense mechanisms may be triggered. Defense mechanisms often tend to distort or falsify reality. When the reality becomes unclear, there is a change in perception that tends to lessen the anxiety thus leading to a reduction in tension that one may experience.

Defense Mechanisms

Defense Mechanisms
Freudian Psychology


Sigmund Freud observed a number of ego defenses throughout his career, but his daughter, Anna Freud further developed and elaborated them. The defensive mechanisms are as follows:

  1. Denial: It is the mechanism that leads an individual to believe that what is true is actually false.
  2. Displacement: It is the act of taking out impulses on a less threatening element.
  3. Intellectualization: This involves the avoidance of unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects.
  4. Projection: This involves attributing uncomfortable feelings to others
  5. Rationalization: This is the creation of false but believable justifications
  6. Reaction Formation: This is taking the opposite belief because the true belief causes anxiety.
  7. Regression: This involves going back to the previous stage of development.
  8. Repression: It is the pushing of uncomfortable thoughts out of conscious awareness.
  9. Suppression: It involves consciously forcing unwanted thoughts out of their awareness.
  10. Sublimation: This involves redirecting wrong urges into socially acceptable actions.

These defensive mechanisms are not under any individual’s conscious control and our unconscious will use one or more of these to protect oneself from any stressful situations. They are natural and normal human behavior and without these neurosis develops such as anxiety states, phobias, obsessions, or hysteria.

Read More About Defense Mechanisms Here

Freudian Psychology In Dreams

One of the most notable works of Sigmund Freud is the Interpretation of dreams. According to Freudian psychology, sources of dreams 5 include stimuli from the external world, subjective experiences, organic stimuli within the body, and mental activities during sleep. This set the stage for his work on psychoanalytic theory. During therapy sessions with patients, Freud asked his patients to discuss what was on their minds. He found that the discussion was more often related to dreams. Due to this, Freud began to analyze dreams believing that it gave him access to the patient’s deepest thoughts. He also found connections between the individual’s current hysterical behaviors and past traumatic experiences. According to Freud, dreams were messages from the unconscious disguised as wishes controlled by internal stimuli. Dreams serve as valuable cues to how the unconscious mind operates. The primary purpose of a dream is to transform the forbidden wish into a non-threatening form as a way to reduce anxiety.

The dream interpretation can be explained when a dream about a house might be an indication of worries about security as well as worries about one’s perception of the world. He characterized dreams as “the royal road to the unconscious”. He believed that the contents of dreams can be broken down into two types, namely, the manifest content and the actual content. The manifest content of a dream includes all of the actual content of the dream – the events, images, and thoughts contained within the dream. The manifest content is what the individual remembers about the dream after waking up. The latent content is the hidden and underlying meaning of the dream.

Contributions Of Freudian Psychology

The theories of Sigmund Freud had an enormous impact on the field of psychology. His contributions explained that not all mental illnesses have physiological causes. He also provided evidence that suggested that cultural differences also have an impact on psychology and human behavior. Freud’s work and publications opened up a new understanding of personality, clinical psychology, human behavior and development, and abnormal psychology.

References:
  1. Fonagy P. (2003). Psychoanalysis today. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 2(2), 73–80. []
  2. Boag, S. (2017). Conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1370-1 []
  3. Bargh, J. A., & Morsella, E. (2008). The Unconscious Mind. Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 3(1), 73–79. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6916.2008.00064.x []
  4. Thornton, S. P. (n.d.). Sigmund Freud. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy | An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers. https://iep.utm.edu/freud/ []
  5. Zhang, W., & Guo, B. (2018). Freud’s Dream Interpretation: A Different Perspective Based on the Self-Organization Theory of Dreaming. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 1553. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01553 []