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The ABCs of Freudian Psychology

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Sigmund Freud LIFE
Sigmund Freud LIFE
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Freud went to medical school in Vienna to become a scientist, not a doctor. While there, Ernst Brucke invented the notion of "mechanism" as an experimental way of investigating life through chemistry and physics, and as a replacement for the idea of "vital forces" that supposedly exchanged energy between living and non-living matter. As an alternative, Brucke concluded that all animal nervous systems were made up of the same basic stuff, and differed only in complexity.

After five months in Paris with renown French neurologist, Jean Martin Charcot another "mechanist," Freud learned that hysteria was not a disease just of women's sex organs, but -- since it could be induced by hypnosis -- was instead, a disturbance of the mind, of sexual ideas, and thus was a neurosis of both sexes.

Once back in Vienna, Freud had learned from a friend, Josef Breuer, about an interesting case of hysteria by Anna O., a 21-year old woman having hallucinations as she tried to care for her dying father. After he died the hallucinations became more violent and were accompanied by mumbled words. Breuer repeated them back to her to get her to tell him about her hallucinations. This made her feel better even though it did not cure her.

Freud and Breuer published their joint results: Hysterics suffer from traumatic memories -- psychic agents that can directly influence the body physically. These memories remain an active part of the unconscious, motivating behavior even when they are repressed. The hysterical symptoms for instance, are just the alternative channels of expression due to the "blockage" caused by repression. Unblocking the memories relieves the symptoms of the hysteria. Thus hysteria is a defense against unpleasant ideas; and symptoms are symbols for what remains unconscious. The ideas they resist invariably turn out to be sexual.

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Freud probed this theory much further than made Breuer comfortable. And, after they broke up, Freud alone concluded that Anna's love should have been considered one more substitute symptom covering up the sexual basis of her illness. This led him to his Seduction Theory: Repressed memories almost always reveal sexual molestation by a parent or adult. It has a delayed effect on the child's memory and becomes pathogenic only after puberty.

Freud coined the term "psychoanalysis," with the modest hope of turning "neurotic misery" into "normal unhappiness," by posing uncomfortable questions that pressured his patients. Since questions seemed to disturb the patient's free flow of thoughts, he backed off and allowed them to say whatever came into their minds, i.e., to free-associate.

The clue to the patient's neurotic symptoms was hidden in the patient's unconscious. The patient did not know what was repressed. Yet only he could lead a therapist to its discovery. Patients became more and more defensive as the therapist's questions got closer to the unconscious cause of the trauma.

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Freud believed that knowledge is equal to mental health. He says that "We are most normal when our quest for knowledge is uninhibited." Neurotics are those stuck in the painful ignorance of lack of self knowledge, of not knowing that their unconscious inhibitions control them. An inhibition is by definition, a restraint against knowing the origin of the problem which determine the neurotic's rigid pattern of behavior.

In the interpretation of dreams, Freud concluded that dreams provide incontrovertible evidence of the unconscious, and generally represent the partially censored symbolic fulfillment of wishes, the latent content of which was almost always made up of sexual desires -- no matter how well disguised by manifest content. Dreams function like a miniature model of neurosis itself, in which the latent content is displaced by the more appropriate but symbolic manifest content. The emotional energy from the pathogenic idea is unconsciously displaced by the hysterical symptoms.

In Freud's general theory of the mind, neuroses are not necessarily abnormal, just another form of mental functioning, a form that allows glimpses into the walled-off sections of the mind. According to him, the mind is divided into preconscious (all conscious ideas), and unconscious (wishes that get their energy from the primary physical drives).

In his theory, the id is driven by the pleasure principle, which is unorganized and impulsive, inevitably running into conflict with the ego, which seeks to avoid danger by adapting to reality as civilized behavior dictates. All human thought is a compromise between the preconscious and the unconscious; between the id and the ego, often monitored and sometimes overruled by the superego.

When one thinks about it, Freud's theory of sexuality is quite reasonable. All he is suggesting is that two adults of the opposite sex engaging in genital intercourse for procreation simply is not the whole story. Sex begins even before foreplay, i.e., with dreams, fantasies, voyeurism, exhibitionism, fetishisms, ogling, flirting, hugging, kissing, coddling, fondling, eroto-zonal stimulation, penetration and after play. Any component of the sexual instinct can become highly sexualized and fixated on any one of these areas. These fixations can then be used to replace the normal sexual aim and act.

Everyone is born with a basic sex drive called the libido, one's internal source of sexual excitation and pressure. The aim of sex is to relieve the pressure through sensations of pleasure on an object of desire. Since the sex drive has both mental and physical components, one can also become neurotic about sex, for instance in fixations and fetishes.

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The sexual history begins at birth where the infant's libido is unstructured and can thus take pleasure from any part of its body. Acquiring sexual aims and objects comes from complex learning, and thus can go badly wrong. Sexual history develops though stages: the oral stage, of sucking a mother's breast; the anal stage, of learning to control one's bowels; the phalllc stage, where stimulation of the genital zone occurs naturally; and the latent stage, where the sex drive appears to go underground during puberty.

But then comes the Oedipal complex, where sons secretly desire sex with their mothers and the death of their fathers, while daughters desire the opposite. Sons develop "castration anxiety" out of fear of the father's much larger penis, and of what the father might do if he discovers the son's secret sexual desires for his mother. Daughters have penis envy too owing to not having one. For this missing part of her anatomy, the mother is blamed. But this also clears a free path to desiring the father as the daughter's primary sex object. Thus, the Oedipal riddle confronts both sexes on the way to adult sexuality.

The woman can emerge sexually healthy only if she accepts the idea of union with a male other than the father and comes to terms with the mother. Likewise, a man can emerge sexually healthy and whole only if he accepts the idea of union with a woman other than his mother and begins to come to terms with fear of his father.

Pure masculinity and femininity do not exist. Everybody is bisexual to some degree in both brain and physiology. Sexual curiosity is distinctly human and healthy. Five Stars.

 

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Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...)
 

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