Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory

Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is an example of psychodynamic approach to the study of human behavior. With this approach, it is believed that the unconscious psychological conflicts control human behavior. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, built the psychoanalytic concepts almost entirely relying on his extensive clinical observations of patients with neuroses, as well as on psychoanalysis.

Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory

Personality’s structural components

Freud distinguished three levels of consciousness – the conscious, the subconscious and the unconscious – to describe the degree of accessibility of the mental processes of awareness. The most significant psychic events take place in the unconscious (which by its nature is instinctive and detached from reality.) In Freud’s theory, human personality consists of three structural components: the ID, EGO and SUPEREGO.

  • ID, which is the instinctive core of the personality, is a primitive, impulsive and subject to the principle of pleasure. ID uses reflex reactions and primary representation in order to obtain immediate gratification of instinctual impulses.
  • EGO is the rational part of the personality and the principle of reality. Its task is to develop an individual action plan to meet the requirements of the ID within the constraints of the social world and the consciousness of the individual. This problem, the EGO resolves with secondary reporting processes.
  • SUPEREGO, the latest in the emerging process of personal development, it is the moral side. The superego consists of two structures – the conscience and ego ideal.

The Psychoanalytic Theory Concepts


Freud’s theory of motivation

Freud’s theory of motivation is based on the concept of instinct, defined as an innate state of excitement, which is looking for relaxation. In psychoanalytic theory distinguishes two categories of instinct: the instinct of life (Eros) and the death instinct (Thanatos). Instinct has four basic parameters: the source, target, object and stimulus. This Freud’s explanation of the stages of psychosexual development is based on the premise that sexuality is given at birth and develops further, covering a number of biologically specific erogenous zones until reaching maturity.

Psychosexual development

After Freud. personality development goes through the following four stages: oral, anal, phallic and genital. The latency period is a stage of psychosexual development. Freud thought that in the process of psychosexual development the unresolved conflicts lead to fixation and formation of certain types of character. For example, adults with a fixation on anal retention stage become inflexible, boring and forcibly accurate.

Defense mechanisms

Freud distinguished three types of anxiety: a realistic, neurotic and emotional. He believed that anxiety plays the role of warning signal ego about the impending danger from instinctual impulses. In response, the ego uses a number of safeguards, including the repression, projection, displacement, rationalization, reaction formation, regression, sublimation, and denial. Defense mechanisms are unconscious and distort the perception of reality by the individual. Freud’s theory is based on certain assumptions about the nature of man.

Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory Today

Many psychoanalytic concepts still need rigorous empirical testing. Freud argued the empirical validity of his theory on the basis of clinical observations during therapy, and he also objected the experimental research in laboratory. However, there were some attempts to establish the validity of certain concepts of psychoanalysis. The most typical research was focused on an experimental evaluation of displacement and subliminal psychodynamic activation of unconscious conflict, as well as their impact on the pathological behavior. These studies have provided empirical support for certain key psychoanalytic hypotheses. However, the results of each study should be regarded carefully and critically .

The concept of psychoanalysis have very many applications in everyday life. One of the most significant – is psychoanalytic therapy – using fairly well-tested methods like: the method of free association, interpretation of resistance and transference analysis. All are aimed to study the unconscious, which enables a better understanding of patient’s personality. This new knowledge about themselves are then transferred into everyday life by using the emotional relearning. Recent changes in the practice of psychoanalysis led to the emergence of so-called psychoanalytic therapy. In psychoanalytic therapy there may be restrictions in the duration of therapy, it is focused on a group or family therapy and prescribed medication in combination with traditional methods of psychoanalysis.

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