Personality #2



Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalytical Theory

    Probably the single most influential theory of personality, Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical theory still has a great influence on our culture today. In fact, I would venture to guess that everyone who has been raised in a Western culture has adopted some of the concepts Freud introduced in his theories. As a whole, the theory has been more or less abandoned by the mainstream, particularly in its details. But many of the basic concepts Freud espoused, such as the existence of an unconscious conflict, are very much a part of many people's thinking these days. Such a view was not likely before Freud made his ideas public.

Hysteria and Psychogenesis

1.  Hysteria

a.  Freud was trained as a physician, and in his medical practice he received patients who had a particularly difficult-to-diagnose problem.

b.  The patients would claim severe physical symptoms for which there was little or no evidence of a somatogenic etiology.

1.  In essence, no physical explanation could be found.

2.  However, Freud did not believe the patients were faking the symptoms

c. The word hysteria is derived from the Latin for uterus (hysterectomy is removal of the uterus) because it was initially mistakenly thought to be a condition found mostly, if not completely, in women.

1.  The word hysterical today refers to someone who is responding excessively emotionally to a situation.

2.  The hysteria that Freud talked about included many symptoms, including trembling, convulsions, loss of sensory abilities, and memory loss.

2.  Psychogenesis

a.  Because no physical cause could be determined, and in some cases could be definitely ruled out, it was thought that the root cause of hysteria might be psychological.

b. This was a radical concept because Freud acknowledge that the perceptions of the patient were very real, yet the underlying cause was in the head, so to speak. 

Unconscious Conflict

1.  Root causes of psychogenic conditions

a.  Freud concluded that internal conflicts, repressed feelings and the like were responsible for producing the physical symptoms the patients were experiencing.

b. Terrible memories or thoughts were being repressed, which repression manifested itself in physical terms.

2.  Three components of the unconscious:

a.  Id

      1.  Focused on what people want to do

2.  Primitive, base part of one's identity.  

3.  It is governed by basic primal urges and impulses for food, drink, sex, comfort, etc. (a baby may cry for food, or a treat)

4.  In essence, it is guided by the pleasure principle--immediate gratification.

5.  This is all the personality an infant has at birth.


b.  Superego

      1.  Focused on what someone should do

2.  The superego develops as the person internalizes the rules of society and becomes a conscience.

3.  This is, in many ways, the opposite of the id.

4.  Whereas the id functions on physical wants and needs, the superego functions on more abstract principles.

c.  Ego

      1.  What can the person do

2..  The ego learns the harsh realities of life and tries to cope with them.

3.   Since immediate gratification is not always possible, the ego learns to find ways to work within the framework of limitations that exist.

4.  The ego is guided by the reality principle--pragmatically dealing with the realities of life.

5  Once the superego develops, the ego must cope with the morality being learned and find a compromise between the superego (right and wrong) and id (give it to me now!).

            The Id and the Superego are usually in conflict.  In addition, they may also come into conflict with reality

3.  Development of the unconscious:

a.  For Freud, childhood is the key to development.

b.  At birth, an infant only has an id.

c.  Soon after, however, the ego develops to deal with the limitations of the world (immediate gratification isn't always available.

d.  Then, as consequences get internalized, the superego develops.

e. The development of the ego and superego, and the balance between the superego and the id that the ego must accomplish, are the important hallmarks of personality development.

Mechanisms of the Unconscious

What causes conflict?

1.  Repression

a.  Resistance to some painful thought or memory leads to repressing that thought or memory.

b.  The level of resistance indicated the strength of the resistance, which was a clue as to the potential importance of that thought or memory.

c. For Freud, one would be likely to repress instances of childhood abuse.

d.  Or, one would be likely to repress shameful thoughts, such as a boy's sexual fantasies of his mother.

1.  Anxiety

a.  Anxiety is the reason behind the repression.

b.  Once the child has learned, through observation or as a result of negative consequences (i.e., punishment by parents) that something is negative, anxiety will accompany thoughts of that thing.

c.  Actually doing the forbidden act will produce anxiety, as well as thoughts of doing the forbidden thing.

d.  Since children don't know that parents cannot read their minds, they repress the very thought to avoid punishment.

Defense mechanisms

According to Freud, defense mechanisms exist to avoid facing up to the anxiety of our true thoughts and feelings.

1.  Displacement

a.  A negative feeling gets manifested toward the wrong source.

b.  Displaced aggression is when you are aggressive toward the wrong thing/person.

c.  Forbidden love may be directed toward someone who wasn't the original object of those feelings.

2.  Reaction formation

a.  Instead of expressing the forbidden feeling, express its exact opposite.

b.  So if Freud were to see an abused child clinging to her abuser, he would call that an instance of reaction formation.

3.  Rationalization

a.  Re-interpreting one's actions to make them acceptable.

b.  One could think of killing in the name of a supposedly merciful God as a form of rationalization (e.g., the Crusades).

4.  Projection

a. This is an interesting twist because the forbidden feeling/thought is acknowledged.

b.  BUT, the source of the feeling/thought is assumed to be someone else.

c. Psychoanalysts believe this happens often during therapy sessions--a patient will blame the therapist for doing or feeling the thing that they themselves are repressing.

5. Isolation / Intellectualization

a. This is something we sometimes see in what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

b.  Stressful memories return, but completely devoid of any emotional content.

c.  A person can describe a most horrific experience and not indicate any emotion.

Development of the Personality

    Freud believed that many problems people experienced as adults resulted from their not adequately developing their personality during childhood. Freud emphasized the role of sexual development as a key part of the id's role. The stages Freud describes have to do with the way a child seeks pleasure at various stages of development.


Accessing the Unconscious

    Since Freud placed so much emphasis on unconscious conflict as the cause of problems, he was left with a dilemma: how to discover what those particular unconscious conflicts were which were resistant to being brought into conscious awareness.

1.  Freudian slips

a.  Freud noticed that many people accidentally mis-spoke, and he felt these "slips of the tongue" were insightful.

b.  Odd memory lapses might be indicative of a repressed memory.

c.  So a pscyhoanalyst would pursue these anomalies with the patient to try and determine the underlying cause of the errors.

2.  Dreams

a. Freud felt that dreams arise from within the unconscious and therefore a window into unconscious conflicts.

b.  Types of dreams:

1.  Latent dream -- the true meaning of the dream, which is never expressly experienced.

2.  Manifest dream -- the actual content of the dream, which is what results after defense mechanisms have filtered away the true meaning of the dream.

c.  Dreams are very symbolic, meaning that the symbolism gives clues to the underlying latent meaning of the dream.

Critical Analysis of Freud's Theory

1.  Methodologies

a.  Freud's methods were not at all scientific.

b.  They were certainly well thought out, in many ways, but the ideas were not put to an empirical test.

c. In fact, some of the ideas Freud espoused cannot be empirically tested (how can you test if there is an unconscious?).

d.  Rarely did Freud make predictions that could be objectively measured. In essence, his theory was not falsifiable.

e.  Psychoanalysis is just too costly and time-consuming to be practically effective for all but the wealthy.

2.  Specific content

a. The emphasis on psychosexual development is unfounded, to many people.

b.  His views are often thought to be very sexist, in that women are not viewed well in psychoanalytical terms.

c.  Mothers were blamed for their children's problems, for example.

3. In (mild) defense of Freud

a.  Some of his views are very prevalent even today. The idea that there is an unconscious or sub-conscious is almost taken for granted in most Western cultures.

b.  Many philosophies have proposed an inner conflict as causing or influencing mental troubles.

c. Although Freud's theory got many details wrong, apparently, at least he tried to develop a comprehensive theory.

Psychodynamic Approach (Beyond Freud)

1.  Patterns of conflict

a.  Many (more modern) followers of the psychodynamic approach, including Karen Horney, agree with Freud that anxiety is a major influence on personality.

b. Personalities differ, they argue, based on the types of defense mechanisms erected to deal with that anxiety.

c.  Certain combinations of defenses will be indicative of a particular personality type.

d.  Think of the phrase "vicious cycle," which is very popular today.

1.  One negative reaction to anxiety leads to another defense against the negative effects of the first reaction.

2.  A person is creating more anxiety through each distruction reaction to the previous anxiety.

3. Addictive behavior can be like this.

2. Coping patterns

a. Another way to describe defense mechanisms are as coping strategies--means fo coping with anxiety.

b.  Studies of coping strategies suggest that the methods used become more mature as we get older.

These coping strategies, even if they are conscious attempts at alleviating stress, may be related to the unconscious conflicts Freud emphasized.