Sigmund Freud Psychoanalysis

Throughout the course of history, scientists have dealt three great shocks to our feelings of self-importance. Nicolaus Copernicus demonstrated that the Earth is not the center of all creation, but merely one of several planets that rotate around the sun. Charles Darwin showed that humans are not a unique and privileged life form, but just one of many animal species that have evolved over millions of years. Sigmund Freud emphasized that we are not even the masters of our own minds, but are driven by many powerful unconscious processes (wishes, fears, beliefs, conflicts, emotions, memories) of which we are totally unaware. (See Freud, 1917a; 1916–1917/1966, pp. 284–285.)

Theories that minimize our role in the general scheme of things, and attack widely held beliefs, will not find ready acceptance. Galileo, a follower of Copernicus, was forced to recant his beliefs about the solar system in order to avoid being burned at the stake; John Thomas Scopes was fired in 1925 for daring to teach evolutionary theory in an American high school, precipitating the famous “Monkey Trial.” Freud’s theory of personality has also provoked strong resistance, but here there are additional rea- sons for controversy. Early in Freud’s career, three men whom he admired gave him similar (and startling) bits of information. Josef Breuer, with whom Freud later coauthored the landmark Studies on Hysteria (Freud & Breuer, 1895/1966), remarked that neurotic behaviors were always concerned with secrets of the marital bed. Jean-Martin Charcot emphatically proclaimed to an assistant that certain nervous disorders were “always a question of the genitals,” a conversation Freud overheard. And the distinguished gynecologist Rudolf Chrobak advised Freud that the only cure for a female patient with severe anxiety and an impotent husband could not be prescribed: “Rx: A normal penis, dose to be repeated” (Freud, 1914/1967, pp. 13–15; E. Jones, 1953/1963a, p. 158). Although Freud was somewhat shocked by these radical notions and dismissed them from his mind, they later emerged from his preconscious to form the cornerstone of this theory—one that attributes virtually all human behavior to the erotic instinct.


  • To devise the first theory of personality and the first psychotherapy, which he needed to treat his patients (and himself).

  • To explore the unconscious, a vast hidden realm within every personality, so he could better understand his patients (and himself).

  • To show that we do not want to understand important aspects of our own personality, and to explain how and why we conceal such information from ourselves.

  • To devise methods for bringing unconscious material to consciousness, including the interpretation of dreams.

  • To explain why personality often becomes a house divided against itself, torn by severe intrapsychic conflicts.

  • To show that sexuality underlies virtually all human behavior, and the failure to resolve the Oedipus complex is the primary cause of psychopathology.

  • To emphasize that childhood is extremely important for personality development, and is when psychopathology originates.

  • To warn that we are born with malignant instincts, which we must learn to sublimate into socially acceptable (but less satisfying) behaviors.

  • To urge us to know ourselves and discover our hidden wishes, fears, beliefs, and conflicts, difficult though this may be.

  • To apply psychoanalytic theory to many areas, including religion, work, and literature.


Sigmund Freud was born on May 6, 1856, at Freiberg, Moravia (now Czechoslovakia). His father was a wool merchant, his parents Jewish. Freud spent nearly all of his life in Vienna, where his family moved in 1860, and gradually rose from the lower middle class to the heights of society and world fame—though not without considerable physical and psychological suffering.

Freud was an excellent student throughout his academic career, receiving his medical degree from the University of Vienna in 1881. He was not overly enthusiastic about becoming a practicing physician, a slow route to economic security in those days, and longed for the brilliant discovery that would bring rapid fame. After graduation he continued to work in the physiology laboratory of his teacher, Ernst Brücke, and performed some high-quality research in microscopic neuroanatomy. Ironically, Freud narrowly missed out on the renown that he sought by failing to appreciate the full significance of some of his findings.

Freud’s future at this time was highly uncertain. His finances were meager, his job did not pay well, and two senior assistants blocked his chances for advancement. When he became engaged to Martha Bernays in 1882, he accepted Brücke’s friendly advice to seek his fortune elsewhere. He spent the next 3 years as an assistant to two noted medical scientists, Hermann Nothnagel and Theodor Meynert, won a travel grant to study for a few months with Charcot in Paris, and at last ended a 4-year courtship by mar- rying Martha on September 30, 1886. Freud’s letters to his betrothed show him to have been an ardent and devoted lover, if at times jealous and possessive, and the marriage was for some time a happy one. The Freuds had six children, three boys and three girls, with the youngest (Anna) becoming a prominent child psychoanalyst and ultimately assuming the leadership of the Freudian movement. Interestingly, the man who emphasized sexuality so heavily in his theories was in all probability celibate until his marriage at age 30. Also, while Freud normally declined to practice his psychological ideas on his wife and

children, he did create a rather bizarre Oedipal situation by psychoanalyzing Anna himself; and no doubt due in part to this unusual emotional involvement with her father, she never married, devoted her life to the cause of psychoanalysis, and eventually replaced Martha as the most important woman in Sigmund’s life (Roazen, 1975/1976b, pp. 58–59, 63, 439–440).

Freud’s own life provided him with a great deal of psychological data. He was himself Oedipal, had powerful unconscious hostility toward his father, and was quite close to his mother (who was some nine- teen years younger than her husband and devoted to her “golden Sigi”). Freud suffered from a severe neurosis during the 1890s, yet did strikingly original work during this time, as though the pressure of his own emerging psychopathology drove him to new heights (E. Jones, 1953/1963a, p. 194). Ellenberger (1970, pp. 447ff.) has described this syndrome as a “creative illness.” The sufferer undergoes agonizing symptoms that alternately worsen and improve, exaggerated feelings of isolation, and intense self-absorption, and emerges from this ordeal with a permanently transformed personality and the conviction of having discovered profound new truths. During this period Freud also began his self-analysis (1897), probing the depths of his own mind with the psychological techniques that he developed. Though his creative illness ended by 1900, he continued the self-analysis for the remainder of his life and reserved the last half-hour of each day for this purpose.

Personally, Freud was highly moral and ethical—even puritanical. Some found him cold, bitter, rejecting, the kind of man who does not suffer fools gladly, and more interested in the discoveries to be made from his patients than in themselves. Others depicted him as warm, humorous, profoundly under- standing, and extremely kind. (See, for example, Ellenberger, 1970, pp. 457–469; E. Jones, 1953/1963a; 1955/1963b; 1957/1963c; Reik, 1948/1964, p. 258; Rieff, 1959/1961; Roazen, 1975/1976b; Schur, 1972.)

Some colleagues remained devotedly loyal to Freud throughout their lives, whereas others (including Josef Breuer, Wihelm Fliess, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler) engaged in acrimonious partings because of Freud’s adamant emphasis on sexuality as the prime mover of human behavior.

Freud’s professional life had many interesting highlights, and also a few major blunders. In 1884, his friend Ernst Fleischl von Marxow suffered an extremely painful illness and became addicted to morphine, which he took as medication. Freud recommended a “harmless” substitute—cocaine—and even published an article praising the new drug. Unfortunately, cocaine also proved to be highly addictive, and Freud was justifiably criticized. In 1896, Freud announced that most of his psychoanalytic patients had been seduced by immoral adults during their childhood. A year later he concluded to his chagrin that these incidents were imaginary, and that the unconscious cannot distinguish between memory and fantasy.

However, successes far outnumbered failures. Freud and Breuer culminated a decade of work by publishing Studies on Hysteria in 1895, which described the psychological treatment of behavior disorders (paralyses, headaches, loss of speech, and so forth) that had no physical cause. The Interpretation of Dreams, the cornerstone of Freud’s theory, appeared in 1900. Fame was far from instant, and this classic took 8 years to sell all of 600 copies. By now Freud had completed his break with official medicine, however, and was more self-assured as the leader of an established movement. There were some vitriolic accusations that psychoanalysts were obscene sexual perverts, and Freud clearly identified with the role of the lonely hero struggling against insuperable odds, but the belief that he was ostracized by Vienna is one of the unfounded legends that surround his life. Rather, his position and fame continued to improve. (See Ellenberger, 1970, p. 450; Freud, 1927/1961c, p. 36; 1925/1963a, pp. 44, 91; 1933/1965b, pp. 8,60, 137;

E. Jones, 1955/1963b, pp. 237, 291.)

In 1909, Freud received an invitation to visit the United States and deliver a series of lectures at Clark University. They were well received, but he left with the impression that “America is a mistake; a gigantic mistake, it is true, but none the less a mistake” (E. Jones, 1955/1963b, p. 263). World War I impressed on him the importance of aggression as a basic human drive, and the ensuing runaway inflation cost him his life savings (about $30,000). Fortunately his reputation was sufficient to attract English and American patients, who paid in a more stable currency, but his hardships were not over.

During the last 16 years of his life, Freud was afflicted with an extremely serious cancer of the mouth and jaw. This required no fewer than thirty-three operations, forced him to wear an awkward prosthesis to

fill the resulting gap between what had been the nasal and oral cavities, and prevented him at times from speaking and swallowing, yet he bore this ordeal with his customary stoic courage. Nor did he curtail his prolific and literate writings, which fill twenty-three volumes and won the Goethe Prize in 1930. Still one more trial was in store: the Nazi invasion of Vienna in 1938, during which Anna was detained by the Gestapo but eventually released. Freud and his family successfully escaped to London, where he was received with great honor. There he finally succumbed to the cancer on September 23, 1939. Freud’s death took the controversial form of an assisted suicide: he reluctantly decided that his suffering had reached the point where going on made no sense, and his doctor administered a dose of morphine that produced a peaceful sleep from which Freud never awoke (Schur, 1972).


Freud named his theory psycho-analysis. (Most modern writers omit the hyphen.) This term is also used to denote the form of psychotherapy that Freud originated.

Instincts and Psychic Energy

Drive Reduction.

 Freud concludes that human beings are motivated by powerful innate forces (instincts). An instinct becomes activated when your body requires sustenance, such as food or water. The activated instinct (need) produces a psychological state of increased tension or arousal (drive) that you experience as unpleasant, such as hunger or thirst.

According to Freud, the goal of all behavior is to obtain pleasure and avoid unpleasure or pain (the pleasure principle, to be discussed later in this chapter). So you take action to reduce the unpleasant tension (the drive), as by eating or drinking, which satisfies your body’s need. Drive reduction restores the body to a previous state of equilibrium where no needs are active (homeostasis), and is our primary way of achieving pleasure. (See Freud, 1911/1963c, p. 22; 1916–1917/1966, p. 356; 1926/1969b, pp. 25–26.) Freud does concede that drive increases may sometimes be pleasurable, as in the case of excitement during sexual intercourse, but he regards this as an awkward contradiction that cannot readily be reconciled with his theory (1924/1963h, p. 191).

Insofar as the specific nature of instincts is concerned, Freud changed his mind several times. At one point he distinguished between sexuality and those instincts that serve the goal of self-preservation (such as hunger and thirst). However, the ultimate version of his theory states that we are motivated by two instincts: sexual and destructive (aggressive).

The Sexual Instinct (Eros).

 In Freudian theory, sexuality has an unusually wide meaning: it signifies the whole range of erotic, pleasurable experience. In addition to the genitals, the body has many parts capable of producing sexual gratification (erotogenic zones); “in fact, the whole body is an erotogenic zone” (Freud, 1940/1969a, p. 8; see also Freud, 1905/1965d, pp. 58ff).

To emphasize that sexuality refers to far more than intercourse and reproduction, Freud frequently uses the name Eros (the ancient Greek god of love) as a synonym for this instinct. Such self-preservative behavior as eating and drinking involves the sexual instinct because the mouth is one of the major erotogenic zones, and because we preserve ourselves out of self-love (narcissism) and the wish to con- tinue gaining erotic pleasure.

The Destructive Instinct.

One of Freud’s more radical conclusions (reached toward the latter part of his career) is that life itself aims at returning to its previous state of nonexistence, with

all human beings driven by a “death instinct” (Freud, 1920/1961a, pp. 30ff; see also Freud, 1923/1962, pp. 30–37). The concept of a death instinct remains controversial even among psychoanalysts, however, since it is incompatible with the accepted evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest.

A more widely accepted interpretation of Freud’s later ideas is that there are two primary human drives, sexual (Eros) and destructive or aggressive (e.g., Brenner, 1973/1974). These two types of instincts are fused together, though not necessarily in equal amounts. Thus any erotic act, even sexual intercourse, is also partly aggressive, whereas any aggressive act, even murder, is partly erotic. Both the sexual and destructive instincts are present at birth.

External and Internal Conflict.

 Freud (1927/1961c, p. 10) is extremely pessimistic about human nature. He argues that we are inherently uncivilized, and that the sexual and destructive instincts include the desire for incest and the lust for killing. Since other people will not tolerate such behavior, conflict between the individual and society is inevitable. And this also implies that intrapsychic conflict is unavoidable, for we must reluctantly learn to channel these strong but forbidden impulses into compromise activities that are socially acceptable (sublimate them). For example, destructive and sadistic impulses may be sublimated by becoming a football player.

Although we may try to make these compromises and substitutes as close to the original goal as society will permit, they are not as satisfying. We are all left with some unpleasant psychological tension, which is the price we must pay for living in a civilized society (Freud, 1908b; 1930/1961b).

Psychic Energy (Libido) and Cathexis.

 Just as overt actions are powered by physical energy, mental activity involves constant expenditures of psychic energy. Psychic energy is unobservable and has no known physical correlates, despite Freud’s belief that underlying neurological functions would ultimately be discovered. It should be considered a hypothetical construct, rather than an actual entity.

Each of us possesses a more or less fixed supply of psychic energy. If a relatively large amount is usurped by one component of personality, or is expended in pathological forms of behavior, less will be available for other components or for healthy activities.

Freud refers to the psychic energy associated with the sexual instinct as libido, but offers no name for aggressive energy. Since virtually all behavior involves a fusion of sexuality and destructiveness, however, libido may be considered to refer to both varieties of psychic energy (Brenner, 1973/1974,

p. 30). Libido is wholly intrapsychic, and never flows out of the mind into the outside world. It attaches itself to mental representations of objects that will satisfy instinctual needs, a process known as cathexis (plural, cathexes).

For example, an infant soon learns that its mother is an important source of such instinctual satisfactions as feeding, oral stimulation, and physical contact. The infant therefore develops a strong desire for her and invests a great deal of psychic energy (libido) in thoughts, images and fantasies of her. In Freudian terminology, the infant forms a strong cathexis for its mother. Conversely, a visiting stranger is not greatly desired and is only weakly (if at all) cathected with libido. The hungrier you are, the more libido you expend in thoughts of food. And an individual who devotes more libido to unresolved Oedipal desires will have less available to fuel such activities as finding a suitable wife or husband.

Psychic Determinism and Parapraxes

Psychoanalytic theory states that nothing in the psyche happens by chance; all mental (and physical) behavior is determined by prior causes. Apparently random thoughts, the inability to recall a familiar word or idea, saying or writing the wrong words, self-inflicted injuries, and dreams all have underlying reasons, which are usually unconscious. This principle is known as psychic determinism, and Freud (1901/1965c) presents many examples of such parapraxes (erroneous actions; singular, parapraxis).

One famous illustration of motivated forgetting (repression) occurred when a friend tried to convince Freud that their generation was doomed to dissatisfaction. The friend wished to conclude his argument by quoting a phrase from Virgil that he knew well, “Exoriar(e) aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor” (“Let someone arise from my bones as an avenger”), but could not recall the word “aliquis” and became hopelessly confused. After supplying the correct quotation, Freud advised his friend to think freely and uninhibitedly about the “forgotten” word (the technique of free association). This led to the discovery of numerous unconscious connections—the division of the word into “a” and “liquis,” liquidity and fluid, blood and ritual sacrifices, and a miracle of flowing blood alleged to have taken place at Naples—and eventually to the friend’s fear that a woman with whom he had enjoyed a romantic affair in Naples had become pregnant (that is, her menstrual blood had stopped flowing). The word “aliquis” was deliberately forgotten (repressed) because it was a threatening reminder of an important inner conflict: a wish for (avenging) descendants, as indicated by the Virgil quotation, and a stronger opposing desire not to be embarrassed by any out-of-wedlock offspring (Freud, 1901/1965c, pp. 9–11, 14).

Forgetting (or arriving late at) an appointment or college examination happens for definite reasons. The explanation of these parapraxes may be fairly simple, such as anger at the person to be met or fear of failing the exam. The causes of important psychic phenomena, however, are usually numerous (overdetermined) and more complicated. For example, the forgetful student may also be motivated by an unconscious wish to punish parents who are applying too much pressure to excel—and to punish herself because she feels guilty about her strong hostility toward them.

“Freudian slips” of the tongue or pen are also parapraxes that reflect unconscious motivation. A politician who expected little good from a meeting began it with the statement, “Gentlemen: I take notice that a full quorum of members is present and herewith declare the sitting closed!” Only when the audience burst into laughter did he become aware of his error. A German professor, intending a modest observation that he was not geeignet (qualified) to describe an illustrious rival, exposed his true jealousy by declaring that he was not geneigt (inclined) to talk about him. Another expert with an exaggerated sense of self-importance declaimed that the number of real authorities in his field could be “counted on one finger—I mean on the fingers of one hand.” A young man who wished to escort (begleiten) a lady acquaintance, but feared that she would regard his offer as an insult (beleidigen), revealed his true feelings by unconsciously condensing the two words and offering to “insort” (begleitdigen) her (Freud, 1901/1965c, pp. 59, 68–69, 79).

Self-inflicted injuries are likely to be caused by unconscious guilt that creates a need for punishment. A member of Freud’s family who bit a tongue or pinched a finger did not get sympathy, but instead the question: “Why did you do that?” (Freud, 1901/1965c, p. 180). Brenner (1973/1974, p. 139) relates the case of a female patient who was driving her husband’s car in heavy traffic, and stopped so suddenly that the car behind crashed into and crumpled one of the rear fenders. Her free associations indicated that this parapraxis was due to three related, unconscious motives: anger toward her husband because he mistreated her (expressed by smashing up his car), a desire to be punished for such unwifely hostility (which was certain to be satisfied once her husband learned of the accident), and powerful repressed sexual desires that her husband was unable to satisfy (which were symbolically gratified by having someone “bang into her tail”). Thus apparently bungled actions may prove to be quite skillful displays of unconscious motivation.

The Unconscious

The common occurrence of parapraxes implies that much of personality is beyond our immediate aware- ness. Freud concludes that most of personality and mental activity is unconscious and cannot be called to mind even with great effort. Information that is not conscious at a given moment, but which can read- ily become so, is described as preconscious. The preconscious is much closer to the conscious than to the unconscious because it is largely within our control. (See Freud, 1923/1962, pp. 5, 10; 1915/1963g, pp. 116–150.)


Freud originally defined the structure of personality in terms of the unconscious, preconscious, and conscious (the topographic model). However, he found that this straightforward approach left much to be desired.

The topographic model states that the act of relegating material to the unconscious (repression) originates from the preconscious or conscious, and should therefore be accessible to awareness. Yet Freud found that his patients often engaged in repression without having any conscious knowledge that they were doing so. He was therefore forced to conclude that “all that is repressed is unconscious, but not all that is unconscious is repressed” (1923/1962, p. 8; see also Freud, 1915/1963f, pp. 104–115; 1916–1917/1966, pp. 294ff).

To overcome such difficulties, Freud developed a revised theory (the structural model) that describes personality in terms of three constructs: the id, the ego, and the superego (Freud, 1923/1962). These concepts, and their relationship to the topographic model, are illustrated in Figure 2.1. (“Pcpt.-cs.” refers to the “perceptual-conscious,” which is the outermost layer of consciousness.) Freud emphasizes that the id, ego, and superego are not separate compartments within the mind. They blend together, like sections of a telescope or colors in a painting. For purposes of discussion, however, it is necessary to treat these interrelated constructs one at a time.

The Id

The id (das Es; literally, the “it”) is the only component of personality that is present at birth. It therefore includes all of the instincts, and the total supply of psychic energy. The id is entirely uncon-

The id transforms biological needs into psychological tension (drives). Its only goal is to gain pleasure by reducing these drives (the aforementioned pleasure principle). The id is totally illogical and amoral, however, and has no conception of reality or self-preservation. Its only resource is to form mental images of what it wants, a process called wish-fulfillment. The id is like an impulsive child that wants pleasure right away, so it demands an immediate substitute if its initial choice is frustrated. For example, an infant deprived of the bottle may cathect its thumb and discharge tension by sucking.

The id’s irrational, impulsive, and image-producing mode of thought is known as the primary process (Freud, 1911/1963c). The primary process permits opposites to coexist side by side, represents ideas by parts that stand for the whole, and condenses related concepts into a single entity. It has no sense of time and is not affected by experience, so childhood instinctual impulses and repressions exist in the adult id as strongly as though they had just occurred. The primary process plays a prominent role in parapraxes, such as the word “insort” produced by condensation, or the association of opposites by the chairman who began a meeting by declaring it “closed.” (See Freud, 1933/1965b, pp. 15–16; 1940/1969a, p. 29.)

The Ego

Starting at about age 6 to 8 months, the ego (das Ich; literally, the “I”) begins to develop out of the id. The formation of the ego is aided by experiences that help the infant to differentiate between self and not-self, notably those concerning its own body. When the infant touches itself, it also experiences the sensation of being touched, which does not happen with other objects. And the infant’s body is a source of pleasure (and pain) that cannot be taken away, unlike the bottle at feeding time.

The images produced by the id cannot reduce drives or satisfy biological needs, since these images are only mental pictures of what the infant wants. However, the maturing child makes an important discovery: the environment contains objects that can satisfy the demands of the id. Mental representations of these objects are incorporated in the ego, and the growth of the ego increases the child’s capacity to deal with reality.

The ego is “a kind of façade of the id … like an external, cortical, layer of it” (Freud, 1926/1969b, pp. 18–19). Unlike the id, however, the ego spans the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. The ego is the only component of personality that can interact with the environment. It is logical and ratio- nal, and forms realistic plans of action designed to satisfy the needs of the id. Although the ego is also interested in pleasure, it suspends the pleasure principle in favor of the reality principle and delays the discharge of tension until a suitable object can be found. This makes it possible to avoid errors, such as drinking from a bottle of bleach when you are thirsty; to avoid punishment, like a parental slap for trying to eat a forbidden object; and to increase pleasure, as by rejecting an edible but unappetizing object and waiting for a tastier one. The rational, pleasure-delaying, problem-solving, and self-preservative mode of thought representative of the ego is known as the secondary process (Freud, 1911/1963c; see also Freud, 1940/1969a, p. 55).

The relationship between the ego and the id is intimate and complex. The ego may be servile and try at all costs to remain on good terms with the id. Or the ego’s concern with self-preservation may cause it to contest the impulsive id:

… in its relation to the id [the ego] is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength while the ego uses borrowed forces. The analogy may be carried a little further. Often a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is obliged to guide it where it wants to go; so in the same way the ego is in the habit of trans- forming the id’s will into action as if it were its own. (Freud, 1923/1962, p. 15. See also Freud, 1923/1962, p. 46; 1933/1965b, p. 77)

Freud regards decisions about when to bridle the id’s passions and bow before reality, and when to side with them and take arms against the external world, as “the ego’s highest function.… such decisions make up the whole essence of worldly wisdom” (1926/1969b, p. 27).

Anxiety. The ego’s task is a difficult one because it is “a poor creature owing service to three masters and consequently menaced by three dangers: from the external world, from the libido of the id, and from the severity of the superego” (Freud, 1923/1962, p. 46; see also Freud, 1933/1965b, p. 77). The ego responds to such threats with anxiety, a highly unpleasant emotion that is similar to intense nervousness. Anxiety does serve a self-preservative function, however: it readies the individual for appropriate action, so a limited amount is both normal and desirable.

Freud identifies anxiety by its source, or which of the ego’s three masters is responsible. Realistic (or objectiveanxiety is caused by danger in the environment, such as an ominous-looking individual coming your way on a deserted street. In addition to such immediate threats, memories of previous traumatic experiences may enable the ego to respond with anxiety as a signal of future danger. A knowledgeable sailor may react with signal anxiety to a cloud on the horizon because it indicates the approach of a hurricane, or a satiated infant may grow upset at the mother’s departure because it has learned that

becoming hungry in her absence will mean frustration and discomfort (Freud, 1926/1963j, pp. 76–77; 1916–1917/1966, p. 394). Such realistic anxiety may cause the pedestrian to flee or call for help, the sailor to batten down the hatches, and the child to try to get its mother to stay by crying.

Neurotic anxiety concerns the harm that will result from yielding to a powerful and dangerous id impulse. Moral anxiety is caused by acts or wishes that violate one’s standards of right and wrong (the superego, discussed later) and includes feelings of shame and guilt. These two sources of anxiety are more difficult to deal with because they are intrapsychic, and cannot be escaped by such simple physical actions as running away.

The Defense Mechanisms. To cope with severe threats from the id (or from the superego or external world) and with the associated anxiety, the ego may resort to various defense mechanisms. Perhaps the most important of these is repression (Freud, 1915/1963f), which (as we have seen) consists of unconsciously eliminating threatening material from awareness and being unable to recall it on demand.

We are not aware of using repression because it originates from the unconscious part of the ego, which expends psychic energy in order to prevent a dangerous id impulse from surfacing (a process called anticathexis or countercathexis, since it opposes a cathexis of the id). So long as the ego’s anticathexis is stronger than the id’s cathexis, repression succeeds and the dangerous material does not reach conscious- ness. Therefore, repressed material cannot be brought to consciousness simply by trying to do so; special methods are needed (as we will see). During sleep, however, the ego’s anticathexes weaken and allow repressed material to emerge in the form of dreams. This may also happen during such waking states as alcohol intoxication or extreme temptation.

All important repressions occur during early childhood, when the immature and relatively powerless ego needs special methods to cope with danger (Freud, 1926/1963j, pp. 97–99; 1926/1969b, pp. 30–31). Although repression can help to keep the id under control, it often creates more problems than it solves. Fleeing from an external threat can be a wise choice, but there is no good way to escape one’s own psyche. The id impulses continue to demand satisfaction, forcing the ego to use some of its limited supply of psychic energy in order to maintain the anticathexis. Repressed material is not affected by experience, since it is under the aegis of the id. So it remains at a childish level, which makes immature behavior more likely (such as a temper tantrum by an adult). And since repressions operate unconsciously, they cannot be undone when they are no longer needed. Self-deception provides relief, but at a price: an inability to per- ceive that the danger has disappeared, or that one is now old enough to deal with it effectively. Childhood repressions therefore persist into adolescence and adulthood, where they prevent true self-knowledge and may even lead to the development of troublesome neurotic symptoms.

Repression often occurs in combination with other defense mechanisms. One of these is reaction formation (Freud, 1926/1963j, p. 30; 1905/1965d, pp. 72–73), where threatening emotions, beliefs, or motives are repressed and are unconsciously replaced by their opposites. A child who is afraid to confront an all-powerful parent may repress her intense anger, and feel only constant affection. Or a man may repress strong feelings of self-hate that originated in childhood, and believe that he is superior to everyone else. In each case, overemphasizing the opposite emotion (love) reduces anxiety and helps to maintain the repression of the true but threatening emotion (hate). Similarly, an extremist may crusade against sexual immorality in order to conceal his own deviant sexual desires from himself. Although reaction formations may seem sincere, they can usually be identified by their extreme and compulsive nature. This defense mechanism also operates unconsciously, making possible the primary goal of self-deception.

The defense mechanism of displacement involves the transfer of feelings or behaviors from a dangerous object to one that is less threatening. A person who is angry with the boss may maintain a discreet silence, then go home and shout at a family member. Or aggressive impulses may be unconsciously diverted from a frightening object (such as a parent) to oneself, which may lead to self-inflicted injuries or even to suicide. Anxiety may also be displaced, as when a child who is victimized by abusive parents shies away from people in general.

In contrast, the defense mechanism of projection conceals dangerous impulses by unconsciously attributing them to other people or things (Freud, 1912–1913/1950, pp. 61ff; 1922/1963m). For example, projected anger may lead to the belief that you are disliked, hated, or being persecuted by other people. In displacement, you know that you are angry and choose a safer target; in projection, you repress your anger and believe that other people are angry at you. Also, projection always operates unconsciously, whereas some displacements may be conscious. Although projection plays a significant role in the devel- opment of paranoid behavior, it is a normal way for very young children to deny their mistakes (A. Freud, 1936/1966, p. 123).

The ego may also protect itself by refusing to face an unpleasant truth (denial of reality). Denial differs from repression in that the threat occurs in the external world, rather than within your own psyche (A. Freud, 1936/1966, p. 109). For example, a child who resents the birth of a sibling may keep repeating “no baby, no baby.” Or parents who are confronted with evidence that their son has committed a serious crime may refuse to believe it and insist that “he is a good boy.” The terrifying specter of death is a fre- quent cause of denial, for it is very difficult to accept the fact that we and our loved ones will someday be gone (Becker, 1973).

Denial is often accompanied by another defense mechanism, fantasy, where unfulfilled needs are gratified in one’s imagination. A child may deny weakness not only by playing with reassuring symbols of strength like toy guns or dolls, but also by daydreaming about being a famous general or worthy parent (A. Freud, 1936/1966, pp. 69ff). Virtually everyone daydreams to some extent. As with denial, however, an excessive amount of fantasy prevents the ego from fulfilling its main function—perceiving and dealing with reality.

Rationalization consists of using and believing superficially plausible explanations in order to justify unacceptable behavior (E. Jones, 1908). Unlike excuses, which are designed to persuade someone else, rationalizations reduce anxiety by concealing the truth from the person who uses them. For example, a man who abuses his wife may convince himself that he is in some way the real victim. A poorly prepared student who fails an examination may decide that the grading system was unfair. An inferior teacher may conclude that the students lack ability. Or a politician who spends tax money on personal vacations, engages in sexual harassment, or accepts favors from businesses that his committee regulates may believe that his august position entitles him to bend the rules.

Threatening emotions may unconsciously be separated from related thoughts or memories, a defense mechanism known as intellectualization. Some patients in psychotherapy seek relief by repressing their pain and talking unemotionally about their problems, thereby failing to make progress because they do not feel what they are saying. Another defense mechanism, undoing, involves rituals that symbolically negate a previous act or thought that causes feelings of guilt (Freud, 1926/1963j, pp. 53ff). A well-known literary example is that of Lady Macbeth, who murders the king and later tries to undo this heinous act (“get the blood off her hands”) with compulsive handwashing gestures.

It is normal for children to identify with their parents and want to become like them. However, identification can also be used as a defense mechanism. A child upset by the death of a beloved pet kit- ten may alleviate her pain by becoming like the lost object, claiming to be a cat, and crawling around on all fours. Or a student criticized by a domineering instructor may try to gain some feelings of strength

by unconsciously adopting his aggressor’s facial expressions (A. Freud, 1936/1966, p. 110; S. Freud, 1921/1959, p. 41). Teenagers who dress like their favorite rock stars, and adults who wear jerseys with the names of famous athletes, feel more positive about themselves by identifying with people whom they admire.

The defense mechanism of regression involves a return to behavior that is typical of an earlier and safer time in one’s life. The birth of a sibling may cause a child to resume actions long since discarded, like thumb sucking or bed wetting, as a reassuring reminder of the time when no threatening rivals were present. Or an adult faced with a traumatic divorce may regress to childish behavior and become depen- dent on her parents.

Finally, sublimation serves defensive purposes by unconsciously channeling illicit impulses (such as murder) into more socially acceptable outlets (like contact sports). However, sublimation differs from true

defense mechanisms in that it cannot be used to excess. Sublimation represents ideal behavior—the solu- tion to our having inborn illicit and antisocial instincts, yet also needing the benefits of society.

The defensive capacities of the ego are fortunate in view of the dangers that it faces. But since self- deception is beyond our conscious control, defense mechanisms can all too easily become excessive and self-defeating:

… the news that reaches your consciousness is incomplete and often not to be relied on.… Even if you are not ill, who can tell all that is stirring in your mind of which you know nothing or are falsely informed? You behave like an absolute ruler who is content with the information supplied him by his highest officials and never goes among the people to hear their voice. Turn your eyes inward, look into your own depths, learn first to know yourself! (Freud, 1917a, p. 143.)

The Superego

According to psychoanalytic theory, infants have no sense of right and wrong. (Recall that only the amoral id is present at birth.) At first this function is carried out by the parents, on whom the helpless child must depend for many years. They reward certain behaviors, a gratifying reassurance of their presence and affection. But they also punish other actions, a threatening sign that the child has lost their love and is now at the mercy of an awesome and dangerous environment.

Partly to protect itself from such disasters, and partly because it identifies with the all-powerful par- ents, the ego begins to internalize (introject) their standards. This leads to the formation of the superego (das Überich; literally, the “over I”), a special part of the ego that observes and sits in judgment above the rest. The superego is partly conscious and partly unconscious. It starts to develop out of the ego dur- ing the third to fifth year of life and continues to introject characteristics of teachers, teenage idols, and other authority figures, though these usually remain of secondary importance. Since the parents indirectly reflect the demands of society, the superego helps perpetuate the status quo (Freud, 1923/1962, p. 25; 1940/1969a, p. 3).

The superego includes two components: the conscience punishes illicit thoughts and actions, and the ego ideal rewards desirable behavior. A person who refuses to cheat or steal even though no one else is watching, or who strives to do the best possible job without being supervised, is responding to the dictates of the superego. For behaving in such acceptable ways, the superego rewards the ego with feelings of pride and virtue.

Unfortunately, psychic life is rarely this pleasant. Much of the superego lies in the unconscious, where it is intimately related to the id. It condemns the id’s illicit impulses as severely as actual misdeeds, but can directly influence only the ego. Therefore, both forbidden impulses and unacceptable behaviors cause tension to be generated between the superego and the ego, and this is experienced by the ego as guilt or moral anxiety. (Thus Freudian theory regards the idea of a “guilty conscience” as a misnomer. Emotions occur only in the ego, so the conscience causes the ego to feel guilty.) You feel guilty and anxious not only when you do something wrong, but also when you want to do something wrong, even if your illicit wishes are beyond your awareness.

Even though the ego may be unaware of the reasons for these unpleasant feelings, it is obliged to do something about them. It can obtain relief by substituting more acceptable thoughts or actions, or by resorting to defense mechanisms.

It is possible for the superego to be underdeveloped, leaving the individual without effective inner guidelines. Children brought up without love do not introject proper standards, lack appropriate tension between the ego and superego, and have few qualms about aggressing against others (Freud, 1930/1961b,

p. 77n). More often, however, the superego proves to be a harsh master—and another potential source of danger. It may become so perfectionistic and unrealistic that genuine achievements seem worthless. For example, a student who gives an excellent speech before a large group may feel little satisfaction.


Psychosexual Stages

To Freud, personality development consists of a series of psychosexual stages. Each stage is characteri- zed by a particular erotogenic zone that serves as the primary source of pleasure.

The Oral Stage.

 During the first 12 to 18 months of life, the infant’s sexual desires center around the oral region (mouth, tongue, and lips). Sucking at the breast or bottle provides not only nourishment, but erotic pleasure as well:

Primarily, of course, [oral] satisfaction serves the purpose of self-preservation by means of nourishment; but physiology should not be confused with psychology. The baby’s obstinate persistence in sucking gives evidence at an early stage of a need for satisfaction which … strives to obtain pleasure independently of nourishment and for that reason may and should be termed sexual No one who has seen a baby sink-

ing back satiated from the breast and falling asleep with flushed cheeks and a blissful smile can escape the reflection that this picture persists as a prototype of the expression of sexual satisfaction in later life. (Freud, 1905/1965d, pp. 76–77; 1940/1969a, p. 11.)

Pleasure is only part of the story, however. Frustration and conflict are inevitable because food does not always appear when the child is hungry, and because the child must eventually be weaned from the breast and taught to stop sucking its thumb. These are the first of many lessons about the need to sublimate instinctual urges and satisfy the demands of society. Toward the latter part of this stage, orality takes an aggressive turn when the teeth emerge and biting becomes possible.

The Anal Stage.

At about age 1 to 1½ years, the infant gains some control over its anal expulsions. Most of the libido detaches from the oral zone and cathects the anus, with the child gaining erotic gratification from the bodily sensations involved in excretion. In addition, the child can now exert control over the environment by contributing or withholding the feces. The former becomes an expression of compliance, similar to the giving of a gift, whereas the latter is a form of disobedience. Frustration and conflict center about the issue of toilet training, a difficult exercise in self-control. Once again, the child must learn to sacrifice pleasure in order to meet parental demands. (See Freud, 1908a; 1917b; 1933/1965b, pp. 99–102; 1905/1965d, pp. 81–83, 96.)

The Urethral Stage.

 The urethral stage is not clearly distinct from the anal stage, and Freud has relatively little to say about it. The canal carrying urine from the bladder now becomes an erotogenic zone, the child must learn to control urinary urges, and conflict arises from the problem of bed wetting. (See Freud, 1908a; 1905/1965d, pp. 104 n. 2, 144 n. 1.)

The Phallic Stage.

 At about age 2 to 3 years, the boy learns to produce pleasurable sensations by manually stimulating his sexual organ. This has a powerful effect on his cathexis for his mother:

He becomes his mother’s lover. He wishes to possess her physically in such ways as he has divined from his observations and intuitions about sexual life, and he tries to seduce her by showing her the male organ which he is proud to own. In a word, his early awakened masculinity seeks to take his father’s place with her; his father has hitherto in any case been an envied model to the boy, owing to the physical strength he perceives in him and the authority with which he finds him clothed. His father now becomes a rival who stands in his way and whom he would like to get rid of. (Freud, 1940/1969a, p. 46.)

The boy also displays affection for his father, together with jealousy toward his mother. This double set of attitudes toward both parents constitutes the Oedipus complex, named after the legendary Greek king who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother.

Oedipal feelings are extremely powerful. They include all the aspects of a true love affair: heights of passion, jealous rages, and desperate yearnings. However, the Oedipus complex ultimately leads to severe conflicts. The boy fears that his illicit wishes will cost him his father’s love and protection, a child’s strongest need (Freud, 1930/1961b, p. 19; see also Freud, 1909; 1924/1963o; 1905/1965d, p. 92). He also discovers the physical differences between the sexes, and draws a terrifying conclusion: that girls origi- nally possessed a penis but had it taken away as punishment, and the same fate will befall his own prized organ if he persists in his Oedipal wishes.

To alleviate this intense castration anxiety, the boy abandons his Oedipal strivings and replaces them with a complicated set of attitudes. He intensifies his identification with his father, wishing to be like him rather than replace him. The boy also recognizes that he may not do certain things that his father does (such as enjoy special privileges with his mother), and learns to defer to authority. This reduces castra- tion anxiety by eliminating the need for punishment, while identifying with his father also provides some vicarious gratification of his incestuous wishes for his mother.

These identifications and prohibitions are incorporated into the superego and help bring about its formation, with the prevention of Oedipal sexuality and hostility becoming its primary function (albeit an unconscious one). Thus a severe superego may result from an unusually strong Oedipus complex that requires powerful countermeasures. The whole issue is so frightening that it is thoroughly repressed, making it impossible to recall Oedipal experiences without the aid of psychoanalytic therapy. The effects of the Oedipus complex may be more obvious, however, as when a man chooses a wife who strongly resembles his mother.

The fear of castration cannot apply to girls, so Freud must find another way to explain the female Oedipus complex. (Some writers refer to this as the Electra complex, but Freud rejected this term [1920/1963l, p. 141n; 1931/1963q, p. 198].) Like the boy, the girl first forms a strong cathexis for her nurturing mother. The girl also has twofold attitudes (love and jealousy) for both parents. However, the discovery that she does not have a penis causes intense feelings of inferiority and jealousy (penis envy). Typically, the girl responds by resenting the mother who shares her apparent defect. She intensifies the envious attachment to her father, regards her mother as a rival, and develops an unconscious desire to compensate for her supposed physical deficiency by having her father’s baby:

In males … the threat of castration brings the Oedipus complex to an end; in females we find that, on the contrary, it is their lack of a penis that forces them into their Oedipus complex.… Not until the emergence of the wish for a penis does the doll-baby [that the girl plays with] become a baby from the girl’s father, and thereafter the aim of the most powerful feminine wish. Her happiness is great if later on this wish for a baby finds fulfillment in reality, and quite especially so if the baby is a little boy who brings the longed-for penis with him. (Freud, 1933/1965b, p. 128; 1940/1969a, p. 51. See also Freud, 1923/1963n, pp. 171–175; 1924/1963o, p. 181; 1925/1963p, p. 191.)

Because the girl lacks the vital and immediate threat of castration anxiety, her superego is weaker, she has more difficulty forming effective sublimations, and she is more likely to become neurotic. Freud also regards the clitoris as an inferior possession that has permanent negative effects on a woman’s char- acter, and concludes that a woman’s place is in the home (Freud, 1930/1961b, p. 50; 1926/1963j, p. 83; 1933/1965b, p. 65; 1940/1969a, pp. 12, 50; see also Rieff, 1959/1961, pp. 191ff). Freud does admit to great difficulty in understanding the feminine psyche, and ruefully concedes an inability to answer the “great question” of what a woman wants (E. Jones, 1955/1963b, p. 368). However, he has no doubts about the importance of the Oedipal theory:

I venture to say that if psychoanalysis could boast of no other achievement than the discovery of the repressed Oedipus complex, that alone would give it claim to be included among the precious new acquisi- tions of mankind. (Freud, 1940/1969a, pp. 49–50.)

The Latency Period.

 By age 5 to 6 years, personality is firmly established. From this time until puberty (age 12 or later), the child’s erotic drives become deemphasized. Oedipal storms subside, sexuality yields to safer forms of expression (such as affection and identification), amnesia clouds unsettling memories of infantile sexuality, and reaction formation may lead the child to spurn members of the opposite sex. The latency period is not a true psychosexual stage, however, and may even be largely or entirely absent in some instances.

The Genital Stage.

 The genital stage is the goal of normal development and represents psychological maturity. (The prior oral, anal, urethral, and phallic stages are therefore referred to as pregenital.) Narcissism now yields to a more sincere interest in other people, and the woman’s primary erotogenic zone shifts from the (pregenital) clitoris to the vagina. Thus “the female genital organ for the first time meets with the recognition which the male one acquired long before” (Freud, 1933/1965b, p. 99).

So long as the majority of libido successfully reaches this last stage, there is sufficient psychic energy to cathect appropriate heterosexual objects and form satisfactory relationships. Freud’s emphasis on sexu- ality does not blind him to the importance of love and affection, however, and he regards an attachment based solely on lust as doomed to eventual failure because there is little to keep the parties together once instinctual cathexes have been discharged.

The preceding age limits cannot be specified precisely because the psychosexual stages blend together, with no clear-cut point at which one gives way to the next. These stages deal primarily with the erotic drive, and there are no corresponding “psychodestructive stages” (just as there is no destructive analogue of libido). The emphasis on infantile and childhood sexuality may seem radical, but psychoanalysts regard this as a fact that is both obvious and proven (e.g., Brenner, 1973/1974, p. 22; Fenichel, 1945, p. 56; Freud, 1926/1969b, p. 39).

Fixation and Character Typology

Because human nature is inherently malignant, we have no inborn wish to change for the better, and parents must pressure the reluctant child to proceed through the various stages of development. This task is fraught with difficulties, and some libido inevitably remains attached (fixated) to the pregenital eroto- genic zones.

So long as most of the libido reaches the genital stage, no great harm is done. But if traumatic events occur during a pregenital stage, such as harsh attempts at weaning or overly severe punishment during toilet training, excessive amounts of libido will become fixated at that stage. The child will reject further development, and will demand the satisfactions that have been withheld. Excessive fixations can also be caused by overindulgence, as by allowing the child to engage in too much thumb sucking. Such intense gratification is undesirable because it is difficult to abandon and remains a source of yearning. So the parents must be careful not to allow either too little or too much gratification during any pregenital stage (Fenichel, 1945, pp. 65–66).

Fixation may leave too little libido available for mature heterosexuality and result in serious psycho- logical disturbances. However, it is also possible for a personality to be marked by characteristics of a pregenital stage without being classified as pathological.

Oral Characteristics.

 The oral stage primarily involves the passive incorporation of food, so the fixation of excessive libido at this stage is likely to cause dependence on other people. The oral individual also tends to be gullible (liable to “swallow anything”), and to overdo such pleasures as eating or smoking. It is possible for the defense mechanism of reaction formation to convert these characteristics into their opposites, however, leading to pronounced independence or suspiciousness. Thus psychoanalytic theory typically describes behavior patterns in terms of polarities, such as gullible–suspicious, with the ideal falling somewhere between the two extremes.

Anal Characteristics.

 Three traits result from excessive fixation at the anal stage: orderliness, parsimoniousness, and obstinacy (Freud, 1908a; 1933/1965b, p. 102). In bipolar terms, anal characteristics include miserliness–overgenerosity, stubbornness–acquiescence, and orderliness–sloppiness. Miserliness and stubbornness are related to a rebellion against toilet training, whereas orderliness represents obedient cleanliness following evacuation. These characteristics are sometimes referred to as anal-retentive, and the opposite extremes as anal-expulsive.

Urethral Characteristics.

 Fixation at the urethral stage is related to ambition, which represents a reaction formation against the shame of childhood bed wetting. Ambition may have other causes, however, such as parental pressures (Fenichel, 1945, pp. 69, 493).

Phallic Characteristics.

The characteristics of phallic fixation depend on how the Oedipus complex is resolved. An excessive concern with sexual activity and self-love may lead to promiscuity, or to a chaste preoccupation with one’s attractiveness. Other common phallic characteristics include vanity– self-contempt and recklessness–timidity.


Dream Interpretation

Psychoanalytic theory presents a formidable difficulty: the most important part of personality, the uncon- scious, is also the most inaccessible. During sleep, however, the ego relaxes its defenses and allows repressed material to emerge, and id impulses that were blocked during waking hours find gratification in the form of dreams. It is as though the ego says to the id, “It’s all right, no great harm can happen now, so enjoy yourself.” However, the ego recognizes that an overly threatening dream will cause the sleeper to awaken prematurely. So it censors the repressed material in various ways and limits the id to only partial fulfillment, and the resulting compromise between the pleasure-seeking id and the sleep-preserving ego is what the dreamer experiences.

In accordance with the principle of psychic determinism, no dream is accidental or trivial. But to understand the true meaning, it is necessary to unravel the disguises imposed by the ego and reveal the unconscious thoughts that lie beneath (interpret the dream). This is likely to be a difficult task, partly because the language of dreams is an unusual one and also because repression returns to full force imme- diately upon awakening. Nevertheless, having analyzed hundreds of dreams (including many of his own), Freud concludes that “the interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind” (1900/1965a, p. 647).

Manifest Content, Latent Dream-Thoughts, and the Dream-Work. The part of a dream that you remember (or could remember) upon awakening is the manifest content. The unconscious impulses, beliefs, emotions, conflicts, and memories concealed behind the façade of manifest content are the latent dream-thoughts. And the dream-work is the process that converts latent thoughts into manifest content (Freud, 1901/1952, p. 27; 1900/1965a, pp. 168, 211, 311ff; 1933/1965b, pp. 9–10; 1916–1917/1966, pp. 120, 170; 1940/1969a, p. 22).

The goal of the dream-work is to conceal threatening material that is likely to awaken the sleeper. For example, the dream-work may change troublesome latent Oedipal thoughts into manifest content wherein the dreamer enjoys a romantic affair with an attractive stranger, defeating a serious rival in the process. If the ego decides that greater deception is necessary, perhaps because the Oedipus complex is still a source of considerable conflict, the dream-work may turn love into anger and alter the sex (or even the species) of the romantic object. Now the manifest content will have the dreamer fighting with a person of the same sex. Alternatively, the dream-work may attribute the romantic or aggressive impulses to someone else. And countless other distortions are possible.

Dreams as Wish-Fulfillments. Dreams are triggered by memories of the preceding day that involve important frustrations (day’s residues). According to Freud, the purpose of dreams is to fulfill the dreamer’s wishes. A child forbidden to eat a delectable dish of cherries gained some satisfaction by dreaming of consuming them all, a woman who was pregnant but didn’t want to be dreamed of having her period, and a group of explorers in the icy wilderness had frequent dreams of tempting meals and the comforts of home. Adult dreams are usually more complicated, however, and involve repressed childhood impulses that are frequently of a sexual nature. (See Freud, 1901/1952, pp. 32–37; 105ff; 1925/1963a, p. 88; 1900/1965a, pp. 159–164, 431–435; 1933/1965b, p. 8;

1916–1917/1966, pp. 126ff.)

Although some dreams may appear to be disappointing, frightening, or self-punishing, closer analy- sis usually reveals some form of (or attempt at) wish-fulfillment. (Freud [1920/1961a, pp. 26–27] does rec- ognize one exception: the tendency to have repeated dreams about a previous traumatic physical injury.) A lawyer once heard Freud lecture about dream interpretation, and then dreamed about losing all of his cases. He argued that psychoanalytic theory must be wrong, since he didn’t want to be a failure. This man had been a former classmate of Freud’s, with grades that were quite inferior. He was jealous and wanted to embarrass Freud, and he fulfilled this wish by having a dream that made Freud’s theories look absurd. “Considering that for eight whole years I sat on the front bench at the top of the class while he drifted about somewhere in the middle, he could hardly fail to nourish a wish, left over from his school days, that some day would come a complete cropper” (Freud, 1900/1965a, p. 185).

A woman patient of Freud’s dreamed that she was unable to give a supper party because all of the stores were closed. “My wish was not fulfilled,” she told him. “How do you fit that in with your theory?” During the preceding day, a female friend had asked to be invited to dinner. The dreamer’s husband greatly admired this friend, but thought she was much too skinny. This dream satisfied the dreamer’s wish to keep a dangerous rival from becoming more attractive. As Freud explained: “It is as though, when your friend made this suggestion, you said to yourself: ‘A likely thing! I’m to ask you to come and eat in my house so that you may get stout and attract my husband still more! I’d rather never give another supper party’” (Freud, 1900/1965a, p. 182).

Frightening dreams indicate that the ego’s disguises are about to fail and allow dangerous material to emerge. Awakening the dreamer now becomes the lesser of two evils, and the dream-work behaves:

like a conscientious night watchman, who first carries out his duty by suppressing disturbances so that the townsmen may not be waked up, but afterward continues to do his duty by himself waking the towns- men up, if the causes of the disturbance seem to him serious and of a kind that he cannot cope with alone. (Freud, 1901/1952, p. 102. See also Freud, 1900/1965a, p. 267; 1933/1965b, p. 17; 1916–1917/1966, p. 217; 1940/1969a, p. 28.)

Self-punishment dreams satisfy a wish of the superego. An illicit id impulse strives for gratifica- tion, and the superego responds by causing the ego to feel guilty. The punishment dream alleviates this unpleasant emotion, thereby serving as an extraordinary sort of compromise between the three compo- nents of personality (Freud, 1900/1965a, pp. 514 n. 1, 596ff; 1933/1965b, pp. 27–28).

The Language of Dreams. Dreams are expressed in symbols, a device also found in myths, legends, jokes, and literature. For example, a stranger who appears in the manifest content may actually represent a parent, spouse, or even the dreamer. Freud attributes a sexual meaning to most symbols, with the male organ represented by elongated and potent objects (sticks, rifles, knives, umbrellas, neckties, snakes, plows) and the female organ denoted by containers (cupboards, caves, bottles, rooms, jewel cases). Staircases, going upstairs or downstairs, and being run over stand for the sexual act, whereas decapitation or the loss of teeth reflects castration (Freud, 1901/1952, pp. 107ff; 1900/1965a, pp. 385ff; 1916–1917/1966, pp. 149ff).

However, dream interpretation requires far more than a list of symbols and their meanings. Some symbols are used in an idiosyncratic way known only to the dreamer, and some elements are just what they seem and are not symbolic at all. Therefore, as was the case with parapraxes, free association must be used to reveal the underlying thoughts:

… we ask the dreamer … to free himself from the impression of the manifest dream, to divert his atten- tion from the dream as a whole on to the separate portions of its content and to report to us in succession everything that occurs to him in relation to each of these portions—what associations present themselves to him if he focuses on each of them separately A knowledge of dream symbolism will never do more

than enable us to translate certain constituents of the dream content.… It will, however, afford the most valuable assistance to interpretation precisely at points at which the dreamer’s associations are insufficient or fail altogether. (Freud, 1901/1952, pp. 110–111; 1933/1965b, pp. 10–11.)

The dream-work disguises threatening material in various ways. It may cause important aspects of the latent dream-thoughts to become minor parts of the manifest content (or vice versa), move the end of a series of latent thoughts to the beginning of the manifest content (or vice versa), or convert hate into love (or vice versa). The dream-work may condense several related ideas into a single symbol whose meaning is far from clear, or even eliminate some of the latent material altogether. Or it may attribute the dreamer’s hostile impulses to someone else, resulting in manifest content wherein a parent scolds the dreamer.

Because of these complexities, and because the dreamer’s free associations are likely to grind to a halt as they get closer to threatening material, not every dream can be interpreted (Freud, 1933/1965b,

p. 13). Nevertheless, in the preface to the 1932 English edition of The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud concluded that

this book … contains, even according to my present-day judgment, the most valuable of all the discoveries it has been my good fortune to make. Insight such as this falls to one’s lot but once in a lifetime.


The components of a well-adjusted adult personality work together in relative harmony, under the leader- ship of the ego, to achieve pleasurable yet safe discharges of tension. The majority of libido successfully reaches the genital stage, enabling the ego to deal with its three masters. The ego sublimates or blocks dangerous id impulses, but not those that are healthy. It heeds the moral dictates of the superego, but resists demands that are harsh and perfectionistic. And it takes the frustrations caused by the external world more or less in stride, forming appropriate plans and revising them as necessary. Though life is

difficult and some unhappiness is inevitable, the healthy individual is able to do two things well: love and work (Freud, cited by Erikson, 1963, pp. 264–265).

In maladjustment, on the other hand, the ego is weakened by the loss of libido to strong childhood fixations. The ego may therefore respond to external frustration by allowing more libido to regress, result- ing in childish behavior. It may be dominated by a stern and unyielding superego, enforce defense mecha- nisms too rigidly, and deprive the individual of healthy and socially acceptable satisfactions. Or, if the superego is also weak, illicit id impulses may lead to immoral and destructive behavior.

Although psychopathology may cause behavior that seems extreme or bizarre, there is no sharp bor- derline between the normal and abnormal personality. The distinction involves a difference in degree, not in kind. The painful difficulties of childhood can never be entirely avoided, with the result that “we are all a little neurotic” (Freud, 1901/1965c, p. 278).

Causes of Neurosis. Neurosis invariably begins in infancy and childhood, though it may not become clearly evident until much later. One important cause is a lack of physical affection, which makes it difficult for the infant to distinguish self from not-self and seriously hinders the development of the ego. Overindulgence or too much frustration during a psychosexual stage will result in harmful fixations, as we have seen. The child may suffer such traumatic events as observing the parents’ sexual intercourse (the primal scene), being seduced by an adult, or (in the case of the boy) being threatened with castration. This overwhelms the immature ego with more excitement than it can discharge, a painful condition, and creates the impression that sexuality is dangerous. During the phallic stage, lack of love may prevent the superego from introjecting proper standards. Or the superego may become overly severe, either because of introjects from stem parents or the need to overcome unusually powerful Oedipal conflicts.

The child who succumbs to neurosis enters the latency period with the Oedipus complex unresolved. For a while, the immature ego is able to achieve a state of balance by resorting to repression and other defense mechanisms. At puberty, however, when sexual activity heightens, this complicated and basically unstable adjustment begins to collapse. The instinctual impulses are now reinforced by an increased sup- ply of libido, so they surge forth with renewed vigor.

A relatively healthy adolescent can sublimate these impulses by forming cathexes for members of the opposite sex. But the neurotic individual cannot do this, because he or she remains fixated on Oedipal desires and conflicts. The ego, influenced by the superego, blocks these dangerous wishes by using anticathexes and defense mechanisms. The only way that the dammed-up libido can gain a measure of discharge is by emerging in a form that is both disguised and distorted—namely, a neurotic symptom. (See Fenichel, 1945, p. 20; Freud, 1915/1963f, pp. 111–112.)

Neurotic Symptoms. Neurotic symptoms resemble dreams in several ways. A symptom reveals important information about the unconscious, and is expressed in symbols. Like dream symbols, a symptom usually has several meanings. And a symptom represents a compromise between the demands of the id, the regulations of the superego, and the defenses of the ego. However, a neurotic symptom is always caused by sexual impulses. And more powerful defensive measures are necessary, since the waking state is a source of potential danger to the individual. (See Freud, 1900/1965a, p. 608; 1905/1963b, p. 136; 1906/1963k; 1916–1917/1966, p. 360.)

As an illustration, let us consider one of Freud’s less successful (but more instructive) cases. In hys- teria, psychological difficulties are unconsciously converted into physical symptoms. An 18-year-old girl, given the pseudonym of Dora, suffered from hysterical nervous coughing and the occasional loss of her voice. Dora’s unresolved Oedipal conflicts stemmed in part from an overindulgent father, who tried to compensate for an unhappy marriage by making her his confidante at an early age. Aided by two detailed dream interpretations, Freud concluded that Dora’s symptoms had several meanings. They reflected a clash between an id impulse for oral sex and the defenses of a horrified ego, with coughing providing some disguised wish-fulfillment in the appropriate erotogenic zone. It also served as punishment for such an illicit wish. Dora had experienced a traumatic seductive embrace with an older married man when she

was 14, and she unconsciously displaced this threatening genital stimulation to the oral zone. She spent some time in the company of this man, whose wife was having an affair with her father, and formed strong unconscious desires for him. Her vocal difficulties often occurred during his absences, and expressed a disguised wish not to talk at all unless she could speak to him. The coughing also resulted from an iden- tification with her father, who had a similar mannerism (Freud, 1905/1963b; 1921/1959, p. 38).1

One patient successfully treated by Freud, the “Rat Man,” was obsessed by horrifying (yet also unconsciously pleasing) thoughts that a pot containing hungry rats would be attached to the buttocks of his father and girlfriend. This distasteful symptom, which was based on a story that the Rat Man had heard while in military service, had at least three meanings. It reflected a powerful conflict between conscious love and unconscious hate for his father, a “gambling rat” who once disappointed his son by running up a debt that he did not repay. It indicated that his conflict carried over into his relationship with his girlfriend. And it involved a regression to the anal stage, which is when the conflict originated (Freud, 1909/1963y).

Another famous case is that of the “Wolf Man,” who suffered from a severe animal phobia. (A phobia is an intense fear of a specific object or situation that is not dangerous.) Through a detailed analysis of the patient’s free associations and dreams, this symptom was traced to various traumatic childhood events: seeing a frightening picture of a wolf during his early childhood, observing either a primal scene or inter- course between animals that was similar to this picture, and threats of castration from a beloved nurse when his sister engaged him in sex play at the age of three (Freud, 1918/1963aa).

A child known as “Little Hans” suffered from an irrational fear (phobia) of horses. Hans often played horse-and-rider with his father and had once seen a horse fall. Freud attributed this phobia to Hans’ Oedipal wishes that his father would suffer a painful fall and to displaced castration fears, expressed as anxiety about the horse biting him. This case is atypical, however, being analyzed primarily through cor- respondence with Hans’ father (Freud, 1909; 1926/1963j, pp. 29–41, 59–68).

Freud actually reports very few case histories, opting instead to preserve the anonymity of his patients by presenting his findings in the form of theoretical arguments. He also has little to say about the problems caused by an overly lenient superego, preferring not to treat such “worthless” people as juvenile delin- quents and criminals (Roazen, 1975/1976b, pp. 145–153). Among the other areas of interest to Freud are homosexuality and sexual perversions (1920/1963l; 1905/1965d). In a letter to the mother of a homosexual son, he wrote:

Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too. (E. Jones, 1957/1963c, p. 502.)

Whatever the form, neurotic symptoms can be remarkably persistent. Since they represent a compromise between the id, ego, and superego, they are actively maintained by all three parties to the conflict. Neurosis often involves powerful feelings of guilt, and painful symptoms may fulfill an unconscious wish for relief through punishment. As in the case of Dora, not getting well may also be a (primarily unconscious) way of punishing other people. Finally, in addition to the primary gain provided by the partial discharge of libido, symptoms may be supported by secondary gains as well. The sufferer may receive outpourings of sympathy from others, or be relieved of such onerous tasks as working or going to war, with these fringe benefits making it still more difficult to relinquish the symptoms. (See Freud, 1923/1962, p. 39; 1905/1963b, pp. 60–61; 1933/1965b, pp. 109–110.) These strong reasons for not want- ing to be cured conflict with the sufferer’s wish for relief, making the task of psychotherapy an extremely challenging one.


 In psychosis, the patient’s severe withdrawal from reality is likely to make hos- pitalization necessary. Repressed material becomes so powerful that it overwhelms the ego, or the conflict between the ego and reality proves to be so traumatic that the ego surrenders and throws itself into the fantasy world of the id.

Freud’s view of psychopathology as a difference in degree does extend to psychosis, but he regards a moderately well-functioning ego as essential for treatment and rejects the use of psychoanalytic therapy with psychotics. (See Freud, 1933/1965b, pp. 16, 154; 1916–1917/1966, p. 447; 1940/1969a, pp. 30, 58; 1926/1969b, pp. 31–32.) This view may well reflect some defensiveness on his part, and has been successfully challenged by later theorists (e.g., Fromm-Reichmann, 1950; Searles, 1965; Sullivan, 1962/1974).

Freud did analyze the autobiography of a psychotic named Daniel Schreber. He concluded that para- noia is inevitably related to underlying homosexuality: Love for people of the same sex is converted into hate by reaction formation, and is then projected onto others (Freud, 1922/1963m; 1911/1963z). However, modern theory also regards this idea as only partially correct at best (e.g., Arieti, 1974, p. 118).


During the years 1880 to 1882, Freud’s noted friend Josef Breuer treated the 21-year-old hysterical patient known as “Anna O.” Severe sexual and intellectual deprivation during her childhood and adolescence, followed by the fatal illness of her beloved father, produced a veritable museum of neurotic and psychotic symptoms: paralyzed limbs, hallucinations, a second personality that lived exactly one year in the past, nervous coughing, sleepwalking, and various speech disorders—and perhaps a hysterical pregnancy as well, although this has been disputed.

Breuer discovered a most unusual way to alleviate these formidable difficulties. He hypnotized Anna O., and had her relive each previous occurrence of a symptom in reverse chronological order! This procedure enabled her to release powerful emotions that she had been afraid to express at the time (the process of “catharsis”). Unfortunately, Breuer’s sympathetic care aroused such powerful displaced love from his attractive patient that he became upset, his wife became even more upset, and he dropped the case with considerable embarrassment. But he had shown that the forces causing psychopathology were unconscious, and could be brought to light with words and ideas alone. (See Ellenberger, 1970, pp. 480–484; Ellenberger, 1972; Freud & Breuer, 1895/1966, pp. 55–82; E. Jones, 1953/1963a, pp. 142ff; Rieff, 1959/1961, pp. 10, 41.)

Freud was so impressed by this demonstration that he adopted the hypnotic method with his own patients. However, he soon found that it left much to be desired. Cures were likely to be only temporary, with the patient becoming dependent on the therapist and suffering a relapse as soon as treatment was discontinued. The cathartic removal of a symptom left the underlying causes and conflicts unresolved, free to create new difficulties. Thus hypnotic therapy acted more like a cosmetic coverup than successful surgery. (The reason, according to Freud, is that hypnosis immobilizes the ego. Since the ego is the ratio- nal and problem-solving part of personality, it must remain active and functioning for therapy to succeed.) And some of Freud’s patients were unable to achieve a trance state, partly because he wasn’t a particularly good hypnotist (Freud, 1916–1917/1966, pp. 450–451; Freud & Breuer, 1895/1966, pp. 145ff). For these reasons, Freud abandoned hypnosis (and catharsis) and gradually developed the form of psychotherapy that has become known as psychoanalysis.

Theoretical Foundation.

 Simply telling the patient about the causes and meanings of neurotic symptoms will not produce a cure, for the information will be deflected by the ego’s defenses and appear to be irrelevant or incorrect (Freud, 1916–1917/1966, p. 281). A psyche dominated by unconscious forces from the past can be liberated in only one way: by bringing this unconscious material to consciousness, and enabling the patient to achieve an intellectual and emotional understanding (insight) about such issues as unresolved Oedipal conflicts and childhood fixations. These insights reeducate and strengthen the ego so that it may assume its proper role of leadership over the id and superego. As Freud puts it, “where id was, there ego shall be” (1933/1965b, p. 80).

Since the origin of neurosis lies in infancy and childhood, psychoanalysis strives to bring about a moder- ate amount of regression. This regression is therapeutic because it occurs in a favorable atmosphere, though there may well be a temporary turn for the worse as defense mechanisms are stripped away. Therapeutic regression is induced by carefully applied frustration, with the psychoanalyst remaining silent for consider- able periods of time. This also avoids the error of excessive sympathy, which would add to the secondary gains of neurosis and make it harder for the patient to get well. Freud views the analyst’s role as similar to the gardener, who removes weeds that impede growth but does not provide a direct cure (Ellenberger, 1970,

p. 461). Yet the analyst must also give enough gratification to prevent excessive frustration and regression, which would lead to infantile behavior. Unlike some modern psychoanalysts, who refuse even a small Christmas present and then try to deduce the patient’s unconscious motives for offering it, Freud would accept the gift of a book and might even respond in kind (Roazen, 1975/1976b, p. 125).

Therapeutic Procedures: Free Association, Resistance, Transference, and Others. The patient in classical psychoanalytic therapy reclines on a couch while the analyst sits to the rear, out of view. This procedure, which has become a popular symbol of psychoanalysis, enables the patient to relax physically and devote more energy to the demanding mental tasks that are required. It also prevents the patient’s regressions from being disrupted by the analyst’s facial expressions and gestures. Finally, it allowed Freud to avoid the unpleasant experience of being stared at for hours on end (1913/1963t,

p. 146). The patient attends therapy from four to six times per week, for approximately 50 minutes (and up to 100 dollars or more) per session, usually for several years. The heavy expense in money and time makes psychoanalysis inaccessible to most people, but an appropriately high fee is claimed to benefit the analysis (as well as the analyst) by providing an additional incentive to tear down one’s psychological defenses and enter the frightening world of the unconscious (Menninger & Holzman, 1973, pp. 31–32).

While reclining on the couch, the patient is required to say whatever comes to mind (the aforemen- tioned technique of free association). Nothing may be held back, no matter how silly, embarrassing, or trivial it may seem:

Your talk with me must differ in one respect from an ordinary conversation. Whereas usually you rightly try to keep the threads of your story together and to exclude all intruding associations and side issues, so as not to wander too far from the point, here you must proceed differently. You will notice that as you relate things various ideas will occur to you which you feel inclined to put aside with certain criticisms and objections. You will be tempted to say to yourself: “This or that has no connection here, or it is quite unimportant, or it is nonsensical, so it cannot be necessary to mention it.” Never give in to these objections, but mention it even if you feel a disinclination against it, or indeed just because of this.… Never forget that you have promised absolute honesty, and never leave anything unsaid because for any reason it is unpleas- ant to say it. (Freud, 1913/1963t, p. 147.)

The goal of free association is to evade the patient’s defenses and bring important unconscious mate- rial to consciousness. This “fundamental rule” of psychoanalysis was suggested by one of Freud’s patients (“Emmy von N.”), who asked that he refrain from interrupting so she could say what was on her mind (Freud & Breuer, 1895/1966, pp. 97–98). While the patient free associates (or tries to), the analyst gives full attention and (in most cases) avoids such distractions as taking written notes.

Free association is a difficult task. The patient’s conscious wishes to be cured by psychoanalysis conflict with strong unconscious drives to repress threatening material, not be in analysis, and remain ill. The ego’s defenses cannot be eliminated just by an instruction to tell everything, and they intrude on the free associations in the form of resistances. These may include long silences, refusing to say something that seems silly or embarrassing, telling carefully planned stories, avoiding important topics, “forgetting” (i.e., repressing) insights or issues discussed previously, hiding emotion behind a façade of intellectual- ization, being late or absent from therapy, or a myriad of other devices that violate the fundamental rule and prevent the patient from producing material from the unconscious. (See Fenichel, 1945, p. 27; Freud, 1900/1965a, p. 555.) The analyst must then help the patient become aware that a resistance is taking place, the form in which it occurs, and (lastly) the underlying reason, thereby eliminating the resistance so free association can continue. Thus it is necessary to analyze not only the threatening Oedipal impulses and other unconscious residues from childhood, but also the obstacles unconsciously placed in the path of therapy by powerful defense mechanisms.

During those periods when free association is not impeded by resistances, the patient relives child- hood conflicts in the analytic situation. Behaviors and emotions are unconsciously displaced from the past to the present, and from other important people in the patient’s life (such as the parents) to the analyst. This process is known as transference. (See Freud, 1920/1961a, pp. 12–13; 1905/1963b, p. 138; 1914/1963u, pp. 160,165; 1916–1917/1966, p. 455.)

Transference provides the analyst with firsthand evidence about the patient’s problems. It also usu- ally involves childhood love for the parents, and it is this transferred emotional attachment that makes the patient receptive to the analyst’s influence. The analyst therefore tries to intensify this process and make the transference, rather than the original symptoms, the main focus of treatment (transference neurosis). However, this procedure has some potential pitfalls. A patient’s transferred love may be intense and diffi- cult to deal with, as Breuer discovered. Or the transference may be too negative, as when powerful distrust or obstinacy is displaced from a harsh parent to the analyst. In fact, “there are cases in which one cannot master the unleashed transference and the analysis has to be broken off” (Freud, 1937/1963w, p. 270; 1926/1969b, p. 66). Managing the transference is the most crucial aspect of psychoanalytic therapy, and Freud succeeded where Breuer failed partly because he was able to deal with this important phenomenon. (See Fenichel, 1945, pp. 29–31; Freud, 1925/1963a, pp. 79–81; 1915/1963v.)

Since free association is distorted by resistances and transferences, the psychoanalyst must deduce the true meaning of the patient’s words and actions. Such an interpretation might relate a patient’s pres- ent heterosexual difficulties to unresolved childhood Oedipal conflicts. However, interpretations must be withheld until the patient is only a few steps away from the repressed material and the related ego defenses are ready to crumble. Otherwise, even a correct interpretation is likely to produce resistance and rejec- tion because it is too far beyond the patient’s conscious knowledge. (See Freud, 1913/1963t, pp. 152–153; 1937/1963x; 1926/1969b, p. 56.)

As is the case with most learning, the insights gained through psychoanalytic therapy must be practiced in order to integrate them into one’s life (the process of working through). Learning for the first time about an unconscious conflict, resistance, or self-defeating behavior usually does not produce change. The patient only gradually becomes convinced about the truth of formerly unconscious material, learns to avoid repress- ing it again, and refines the new knowledge into appropriate and effective behavior (Freud, 1914/1963u).

Psychoanalytic therapy also places considerable emphasis on dream interpretation. Dreams provide the analyst with important information because they usually involve a regression to infantile wishes and childhood sexuality.

A final aspect of Freudian psychotherapy concerns the psychoanalyst, who also has an unconscious tendency to displace emotions and behaviors from other important people (such as a parent or spouse) onto the patient. Such countertransferences may prevent the analyst from perceiving the patient accurately and responding appropriately (Freud, 1910/1963s, pp. 86–87). For example, a nagging patient might trig- ger the analyst’s unconscious resentment toward a parent who behaved in the same way. Or the analyst might overlook important symptoms because they are frighteningly similar to his or her own serious prob- lems. To help avoid such errors, and to provide a better understanding of psychoanalysis, psychoanalysts

must undergo analysis themselves as part of their training. Many do not even begin private practice until they are in their forties (Frenichel, 1945, pp. 30–31; Fine, 1973, p. 6; Freud, 1937/1963w, pp. 267–268).

Although Freud regards psychoanalysis as the premier method of psychotherapy, he does not recommend it for everyone or regard it as infallible, nor does he reject other approaches so long as they work (Freud, 1905/1963r, pp. 65–66, 69–72; 1937/1963w; 1933/1965b, p. 157). Psychoanalytic therapy strives to gain the best possible psychological conditions for the functioning of the ego, thereby enabling it to accept the challenge of living and loving. In a sense, the patient is freed from the extreme misery of neurosis in order to face the normal misery of everyday life. More optimistically, the patient leaves psychoanalytic therapy with feelings similar to those of an anonymous poet (cited by Menninger & Holzman, 1973, p. 182):

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.


According to psychoanalytic theory, human behavior is governed by the pleasure principle. People seek to avoid the unpleasure of increased drives, and to obtain pleasure by discharging tension. But society rules out the greatest sources of pleasure by imposing restrictions against our wild and untamed instincts, such as incest and murder. We must therefore channel these illicit instincts into socially acceptable (albeit less satisfying) behavior, and work offers a good outlet for such sublimations.

For example, a young boy developed intense curiosity about the births of his brothers and sisters. These dramatic events took place in his farmhouse home, yet he was not allowed to watch. As an adult, he satisfied his wish to know about such matters by becoming an obstetrician. This profession required him to be kind and considerate toward the babies and mothers whom he treated, thereby strengthening his unconscious defenses against the murderous rage he had felt at the birth of each new sibling. And it enabled him to sublimate hostile Oedipal wishes by identifying with his mother’s doctor, a superior figure who was treated with great deference by his father (Brenner, 1973/1974, p. 200).

Alternatively, a person may sublimate sadistic impulses by becoming a surgeon and cutting people up in a socially approved way. Or powerful Oedipal desires may be sublimated by becoming a photographer or painter of the opposite sex. Unfortunately, “the great majority of people only work under the stress of necessity [and have a] natural human aversion to work,” thus overlooking an important source of potential satisfaction (Freud, 1930/1961b, p. 27 n. 1; see also Freud, 1927/1961c, p. 8).


Not even our modern civilization can conquer the superior forces of nature. Earthquakes, floods, hur- ricanes, and diseases exact their inevitable toll in lives and property, while the relentless specter of death awaits us all.

To alleviate such threatening reminders of human helplessness, certain religions preach a reassuring message: Life continues even after death, brings the perfection that we missed on earth, and ensures that all good is rewarded and all evil punished. Fate and nature only appear to be cruel, for the omnipotent and omniscient Providence that governs all creation is benevolent as well. The difficulties of life serve some higher purpose, so there is no reason to despair. Those who successfully subject their thinking to religion receive comfort in return, whereas those who may be skeptical are advised that these tenets have been handed down from the beginning of time, and that one does not question the highest Authority of all.

Freud regards such beliefs as extremely harmful to the individual and to society, and has authored some of the sharpest attacks on religion ever published (Freud, 1939; 1930/1961b, pp. 21–22, 28–32, 56–58; 1933/1965b, pp. 160–175; 1927/1961c). He views religion as a regression to infancy, when the helpless baby

desperately needed the protection of an all-powerful parent. These childhood wishes are unconsciously projected onto the environment, creating the image of an exalted deity who must be blindly obeyed:

The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. (Freud, 1930/1961b, p. 21.)

Thus religion is a collective neurosis, a shared fixation at a very early stage of development. It is an illusion that tries to master the real world with fantasized wish-fulfillments, which must fall before the onslaught of reason and intellect. The more intelligent must eventually realize that our ancestors were wrong about a great many things, and perhaps religion as well; that the prohibitions against questioning religious doctrines are a clear sign of weakness, designed to protect these ideas from critical exami- nation; that tales of miracles contradict everything learned from sober observation; that earthquakes, floods, and diseases do not distinguish between believer and nonbeliever; that human evolution follows Darwinian principles rather than a divine plan; and that the promised afterlife of perfect justice is most unlikely ever to be delivered.

Furthermore, religion does not provide a good basis for social morality. “Thou shalt not kill,” a commandment that was frequently violated even when the influence of religion was strongest, becomes meaningless if people do not believe that God will enforce it. Nor does it pay to “love thy neighbor” if the neighbor replies with hatred, and no omnipotent being is on hand to keep score and redress this injustice.2 Civilization does require prohibitions against killing, but should base them on rational grounds: if one person may kill, so may everyone else. Ultimately all will be wiped out, for even the strongest individual cannot withstand the attack of a large group. If refusing to kill were properly recognized as a self-serving human principle, rather than a commandment of God, people would understand how such rules work to their own interests and strive to preserve them (Freud, 1930/1961b, pp. 56–58; 1927/1961c, pp. 37–44).

Freud concedes that his arguments will encounter powerful and emotional opposition. Since people are indoctrinated with religion during childhood, before they are able to apply reason to this issue, they become dependent on its narcotizing effects. Therefore, he recommends bringing children up without reli- gion. This would force us to face the full extent of our insignificance in the universe, abandon the security blankets of childhood, learn to rely on our own resources, and grow from infantilism to maturity (Freud, 1927/1961c, pp. 49–50). Just as Freud took no more than an occasional aspirin during 16 painful years with cancer, he allows us no narcotics and no rationalizations. We must forgo illusions of ideal justice and happiness in the hereafter, and be content to relieve the inevitable burdens of life. This will enable us to deal most effectively with reality:

[Science attempts] to take account of our dependence on the real external world, while religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from its readiness to fit in with our instinctual wishful impulses.… Our science is no illusion. But an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere. (Freud, 1927/1961c, p. 56; 1933/1965b, pp. 174–175.)


Female Sexuality. Freud’s belief that women are inferior creatures with defective sexual organs, weaker superegos, and a greater predisposition to neurosis is regarded by virtually all modern psychologists as absurd—a truly major blunder. Freud apparently had sexist prejudices (as was common in his era), which made it difficult even for such a sensible and rational man to understand the feminine psyche. Today, of course, theorists stress the equality or even superiority of women (such as their greater longevity and ability to bear children).

The psychoanalytic belief that clitoral orgasm is an inferior and pregential form of sexuality, and that vaginal orgasm is the only mature version, has also been contradicted by modern research. Although sexual response is probably too complex to be attributed to any single factor, studies have indicated that women who experience orgasm through clitoral stimulation are as normal and well-adjusted as those who obtain it from vaginal penetration. To many observers, therefore, Freudian theory represents yet another expression of an age-old cultural bias against women. (See for example Breger, 1981; Fromm, 1973; 1980; Horney, 1923–1937/1967; Lewis, 1981; Masters & Johnson, 1966.)

Sexuality and Rigidity. Freudian theory has been strongly attacked for its heavy emphasis on sexuality: the universality of the Oedipus complex, libido, the psychosexual stages, attributing all psychopathology to malfunctions of the sexual drive, regarding most dream symbols as sexual, and so forth. Even today, when sexuality is no longer so shocking, many find it hard to believe that this one drive explains nearly all human behavior. Psychoanalysts would argue that we have not yet come far enough along the path of freeing ourselves from our repressions, but there is also the possibility that Freud’s

personal life affected his theorizing to an excessive degree. For example, his frequent allusions to Oedipal parricide wishes may be related to an unusual degree of resentment toward his father (Ellenberger, 1970, pp. 451–452; Roazen, 1975/1976b, pp. 36–37). And although Freud was in many respects a fearless and objective investigator, he appears to have had an intense personal commitment to the issue of sexuality:

There was no mistaking the fact that Freud was emotionally involved in his sexual theory to an extraordi- nary degree. When he spoke of it, his tone became urgent, almost anxious, and all signs of his normally critical and skeptical manner vanished. A strange, deeply moved expression came over his face, the cause of which I was at a loss to understand. I had a strong intuition that for him sexuality was a sort of numino- sum. (Jung, 1961/1965, p. 150.)

Freud was in the difficult position of having the intelligence and sensitivity to fear death very strongly, yet not believing in religion. He hated helplessness and passivity, particularly the inevitable nonexistence and insignificance of death. Thus psychoanalysis may well have become the religion that would provide him with the immortality of lasting recognition. In fact, his harsh rejection of former colleagues who criticized libido theory (such as Jung and Adler) reflects an intolerance more suited to religion than to scientific controversy. (See Becker, 1973, pp. 100–101; Roazen, 1975/1976b, pp. 188, 209). Interestingly, Freud himself recognized this potential characteristic of a science:  every religion is … a religion of love for all those whom it embraces; while cruelty and intolerance towards those who do not belong to it are natural to every religion.… If another group tie takes the place of the religious one … then there will be the same intolerance towards outsiders … and if differences between scientific opinions could ever attain a similar significance for groups, the same result would again be repeated with this new motivation. (Freud, 1921/1959, pp. 30–31.)

Some modern analysts act like members of an exclusive ingroup, and invoke scathing criticisms against even the most respected psychologists of other persuasions. Fine (1973, pp. 8–10), for example, characterizes Adler’s contributions to psychological theory as “negligible” and dismisses behavior therapy as a “gimmick.” Challenging psychoanalytic theory, on the other hand, can be as difficult and frustrating as attacking a religion. If you cannot recall any Oedipal trauma, a psychoanalyst would reply that these events have been cloaked by repression. Similarly, a novel or dream that affords no obvious evidence of sexuality would be explained as the result of various defenses. Disagreement with a psychoanalyst’s inter- pretation is almost always seen as a resistance, rather than an error by the analyst. When Freud told Dora that a jewel case in her dream symbolized the female genitals, and she replied with “I knew you would say that,” Freud rejected the obvious conclusion (that she knew his theories well enough by then to predict his responses) and regarded her answer as a typical way of resisting the truth of his interpretation (Freud, 1905/1963b, p. 87). In fact, there is virtually no way to have a legitimate argument about sexuality with a Freudian.

To be sure, Freud’s beliefs derived from a deep and passionate commitment to what he regarded as the truth. He spent a lifetime of hard work sharing his patients’ deepest thoughts and most intimate feelings, and he was well aware that psychoanalysis has serious limitations. (See Freud, 1937/1963w; 1933/1965b, p. 144; 1916–1917/1966, p. 245.) Nor is professional arrogance limited to psychoanalysis, or even to psychology. Yet psychoanalysis would appear to suffer from an excessive rigidity, one that provokes public and professional disillusionment and risks losing the more valuable of Freud’s hard-won insights (Strupp, 1971).

Pessimism and Drive Reduction. Freud’s picture of the dark side of personality has also provoked strong criticism. No one can deny that people are capable of highly destructive and illicit acts, but can we really be inherently murderous and incestuous? Is adult pleasure limited to watered-down sublimations of our forbidden childhood desires? Is the belief in the goodness of human nature “one of those evil illusions by which mankind expect their lives to be beautified and made easier, while in reality they only cause damage?” (Freud, 1933/1965b, p. 104). Rather than accept such somber conclusions, some

theorists have tried to recast Freudian psychoanalysis in more optimistic terms (e.g., Horney, Fromm, Erikson). Others have chosen to opt for Freud’s “illusion” (e.g., Rogers, Maslow).

Freud’s emphasis on drive reduction has also come under heavy fire. A wealth of experience suggests that people are also motivated by desires for increases in tension, and actively seek out excitation and stimulation. Children display an incessant and lively curiosity, some adults continue to work despite being financially secure, and many people take up a challenging project or hobby instead of remaining idle. This issue is deceptively complicated, however, and some of these criticisms seem to be based on misunderstandings of psychoanalytic theory. Work that appears to be unnecessary and drive-increasing may actually be due to the lash of a demanding superego, or it may provide an opportunity for effective sublimations. Psychoanalytic theory does regard boredom as an unpleasant state, where some tension whose aim is unconscious is blocked from discharge (Fenichel, 1945, p. 15). Some gratifying drive increases, such as sexual forepleasure, depend on the expectation of subsequent drive reduction and lose their appeal if this belief is shattered. And Freud himself conceded the existence of pleasurable drive increases (1924/1963h, p. 191), as we have seen. It is probably true, however, that he did not give this fac- tor sufficient attention.

Psychic Energy.

 According to Freud, the fixation or regression of too much libido will lead to neurosis. But how much is excessive? Although Freud believed that neurological correlates of libido would ultimately be discovered, this has not happened, and it is impossible to measure the amount of psychic energy that is invested in a given cathexis, fixation, or regression. Therefore, some psychologists include the energy model among Freud’s dramatic failures. (See, for example, Bieber, 1980; Carlson, 1975.)

Internal Consistency.

Despite the fact that Freud’s constructs are carefully and intricately interrelated, psychoanalytic theory does not quite hold together. Serious contradictions tear at the foundation and threaten to bring down the entire structure.

As an example, let us consider once again the nature of the instincts. Freud originally regarded the sexual and self-preservative instincts as two separate categories. He also maintained that all instincts have the conservative function of restoring matter to a previous state of existence (e.g., returning from hunger to satiation). In 1920, however, Freud made some significant theoretical changes. Partly because aggressive behavior was becoming increasingly difficult to explain in terms of his theory, he redefined the two major types of instincts as sexual and destructive, with self-preservation included as part of Eros. However, tin- kering with one part of a theory is likely to affect other aspects as well. Freud continued to argue that all instincts are conservative, yet this now became a new source of difficulty. If nonexistence was our original condition, it is easy to see how the death instinct is conservative: it tries to bring us back to the inanimate state from which we started. But how, then, can the self-preserving Eros be conservative? If, on the other hand, our earliest condition was that of existence, then the death instinct cannot be conservative.

Freud finally indicated that perhaps Eros is not conservative (1940/1969a, p. 6), yet this creates a host of new difficulties. One gets the distinct impression of a man approaching the twilight of his life, confronting a majestic but weakening theoretical dam, and creating new leaks with every attempt to patch up old ones.


Some critics regard psychoanalysis as too subjective and uncontrolled. The psychoanalyst may be biased by preconceived theoretical notions and disregard contradictory evidence, or the patient may be influenced to behave in ways that support the analyst’s beliefs. The analyst exerts a powerful effect on the patient despite the apparent passivity of the procedure (e.g., Strupp, 1972), and Freud’s assertion (1937/1963x, pp. 278–279) that he never led a patient astray by suggestion seems highly improbable.

It has even been argued that Freud exaggerated the success of some of his cases, and distorted some of the facts in ways that would support his theory. For example, some critics contend that Freud tried to

force interpretations on the “Rat Man” that were favorable to his theory by using the power of his intellect and personality, and that he lengthened the case report and changed the order of events to make therapy appear more orderly and effective. Although these issues are very troublesome, they do not necessarily mean that Freud was seriously lacking in integrity; they do suggest that he was considerably more prone to human failings than his legend allows. And there are historians of psychoanalysis who regard these criticisms as unfair, and as unlikely to have much effect on the prevailing view of Freud’s work. (For a further discussion of these and related issues, see Eagle, 1988; the New York Times article by Goleman, 1990; Mahony, 1986.)

Freud’s refusal to take notes during the analytic session, so that he could respond unconsciously and empathically to the patient, is questioned by those who distrust the vagaries of memory (Wallerstein & Sampson, 1971). Despite Freud’s protestations, concentrating on neurotic people may have limited his understanding of the healthy and fulfilled personality. And there are no statistical analyses or hypothesis tests in Freud’s writings, in contrast to the usual scientific emphasis on quantification and control. For example, his analysis of the “aliquis” parapraxis may not prove that it was motivated by the unconscious fear of having impregnated a woman, since free associations beginning with any other word might also have led to this all-important personal issue.

Other Issues.

Such psychoanalytically oriented theorists as Erikson, Fromm, Horney, and Sullivan believe that Freud overemphasized the biological determinants of personality, and underestimated social and environmental factors (as we will see in subsequent chapters). Jung, Sullivan, and Erikson are among those who contend that personality development continues during adolescence and adulthood, rather than concluding at age 5–6 years. It has been argued that Freud overemphasized the negative aspects of religion, overlooked some of its advantages (and some of the disadvantages of science), and had a personal bias regarding the whole issue (Rieff, 1959/1961, pp. 325–328; Roazen, 1975/1976b, pp. 250–251).

It now appears that dreams are not the guardians of sleep, as Freud contended. It is sleep that serves to protect dreaming, a process that is apparently essential to our well-being. It is also doubtful that dreams are as sexually oriented as Freud thought, and it may well be that dream symbols are used more to reveal and express complicated ideas than to conceal illicit wishes. (See Dement, 1964; 1974; Fisher & Greenberg, 1977, pp. 21–79; Fromm, 1951/1957; C. S. Hall, 1966.)

Although a century has passed since the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams, few people today use their dreams as an aid to self-understanding. Even when one has the assistance of a psycho- therapist, it is all too easy to forget a dream or have difficulty arriving at a valid interpretation. Therefore, Freud’s belief that dreams represent the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious aspects of the mind may well have been too optimistic.

Empirical Research

As would be expected of a science, psychology has tried to resolve the aforementioned controversies by turning to empirical research. However, this has not been an easy task.

Psychoanalytic Theory. A number of studies carried out between 1950 and 1970 focused on the defense mechanisms. Some investigators tried to induce adolescent or adult participants to repress previously learned material by persuading them that they had failed on an important task, such as a test of intelligence or a measure of sexual deviation. Other researchers studied the ability to remember fairly recent life events, hypothesizing that traumatic incidents should be more readily repressed than pleasurable ones. Still others concentrated on the perceptual aspects of defense, using a tachistoscope (a high-speed projection device) to flash a series of individual words on a screen for a brief instant. These investigators hypothesized that taboo words (e.g., “penis,” “rape”) should be more readily repressed, and hence more difficult to perceive, than neutral words (e.g., “apple,” “stove”).

Taken as a whole, the results appear to indicate little support for the existence of repression. That is, the experimental group (which underwent the unpleasant experience) usually did not demonstrate poorer recall than the control group (which did not). However, since Freud states that the decisive repressions all take place during early childhood, it is difficult to see how an experimenter can justifiably claim to have refuted psychoanalytic theory merely by failing to trigger this mechanism in older participants. Even though the taboo words in the perceptual defense experiments were sometimes readily identified, the existence of some people who do not deny this particular aspect of reality is hardly a major blow to psychoanalytic theory. Thus the clinical evidence in favor of repression and the defense mechanisms would appear to outweigh these negative, but flawed, research findings. (For specific references, see the first edi- tion of this book [Ewen, 1980, p. 65] and Hilgard & Bower [1975, pp. 362–369].)

Silverman (1976) also concludes that research on psychoanalytic theory prior to the 1970s has been poorly designed, in part because it is difficult to study unconscious material without allowing it to become conscious. As a result, there has been a lack of convincing research support for the major propositions of psychoanalysis. To help remedy this defect, he reports on two independent research programs conducted over a 10-year period. Both programs dispensed with the metaphysical aspects of psychoanalysis (e.g., psychic energy and cathexes), and concentrated instead on basic clinical propositions. One program used subliminal tachistoscopic presentations of stimuli designed to intensify the participants’ wishes, feelings, and conflicts about sex and aggression (and not to induce repression, as in the studies criticized above). The other program employed hypnotic suggestion to induce conflict, as by suggesting that the participant strongly desired a member of the opposite sex who was married, more experienced, and likely to treat any advances with ridicule. The results supported a fundamental contention of psychoanalytic theory, namely that psychopathology is causally related to unconscious conflicts about sex and aggression.

Fisher and Greenberg (1977) have reviewed a substantial amount of research dealing with psycho- analytic theory. The evidence indicates that dreams do not serve to preserve sleep, as noted in a previous section. Nor is the manifest content of a dream merely a meaningless camouflage. It may at times function defensively, but it also provides important information about the dreamer’s personality and success in coping with important life issues. However, Freud was correct when he concluded that dreams provide an outlet for our internal, unconscious tensions. With regard to personality types, such oral characteristics as dependency, pessimism, and passivity do frequently cluster together. The same is true for the anal char- acteristics of orderliness, parsimoniousness, and obstinacy. Research on Oedipal issues supports Freud’s belief that both sexes begin life with a closer attachment to the mother, that castration anxiety is a com- mon occurrence among men, and that the boy goes through a phase of rivalry with his father. But the stud- ies also indicate that Freud was wrong about female Oedipality: there is no evidence that women believe their bodies to be inferior because they possess a vagina instead of a penis, or that women have less severe superegos than men. The research findings also suggest that the boy resolves his Oedipus complex not to reduce castration anxiety, but because the father’s friendliness and nurturance invite the boy to become like him. That is, the resolution of the boy’s Oedipus complex is due to trust rather than fear.

Hunt (1979) reviewed literature dealing with the psychosexual stages, and concluded that Freudian theory is incorrect in certain respects. Although some support does exist for the anal character, there is no evidence that it derives from the management of toilet training. (See also Singer, 1997.) Also questionable is the Oedipal hypothesis that children regularly compete with the parent of the same sex for the attention and love of the parent of the opposite sex. However, the research results support Freud’s general emphasis on experiences during early life as determinants of personality.

Recent research evidence also strongly supports two major aspects of Freudian theory. Anxiety is clearly harmful to one’s physical and psychological health (e.g., Suinn, 2001). And unconscious defense mechanisms influence many kinds of behavior, including child development, prejudice and racism, self- esteem, memory, and decision making (e.g., Cramer, 2000; Cramer & Davidson, 1998; Paulhus et al., 1997). To cite just one example, children who report extremely high self-esteem are often denying or defending against underlying feelings of imperfection (Cassidy, 1988; Cramer & Block, 1998). Yet Freud often fails to receive the credit that he deserves, for all too many modern psychologists have devised and used new names for the defense mechanisms while ignoring his work.

Some animal studies appear to demonstrate the existence of pleasurable tension increases. Animals will explore the environment, learn to solve mechanical puzzles, and learn to open a door in an opaque cage just to see outside, without any biological drive reduction taking place. Insofar as learning theory is concerned, it has been concluded that the drive-reduction hypothesis is probably inadequate (Bower & Hilgard, 1981, p. 113). On the other hand, Freud’s original theory about the seduction of children by adults may not have been as incorrect as he ultimately concluded. It has been suggested that incest is more prevalent than is generally believed, but is not publicized because of feelings of shame and guilt. The continuing interest in such Freudian issues is evidenced by the prominent coverage in such popular periodicals as The NewYork Times (Blumenthal, 1981a; 1981b; Goleman, 1990) and Newsweek (J. Adler, 2006; Gelman, 1981; 1991; Guterl, 2002).

Finally, Shevrin and Dickman (1980) surveyed diverse fields of empirical research dealing with the unconscious. Although the results by no means always agree with Freudian theory, the authors conclude that no psychological model that seeks to explain human behavior can afford to ignore the concept of unconscious processes.

Psychoanalytic Therapy.

Psychoanalytic therapy has also been subjected to the rigors of formal research, though there are serious methodological problems here also. (See, for example, Fisher & Greenberg, 1977; Seligman, 1995; Strupp & Howard, 1992; VandenBos, 1986; 1996.)

There is evidence that newer forms of psychotherapy may be more efficient and effective than psy- choanalysis, at least for certain types of pathology (e.g., Corsini, 1973; Sloane et al., 1975; Fisher & Greenberg, 1996). Even Eysenck’s polemical attacks on psychoanalysis (1952; 1965; 1966), which at one time appeared to have been convincingly refuted (Bergin, 1971; Meltzoff & Kornreich, 1970), have since met with some support (Erwin, 1980; Garfield, 1981). Nevertheless, a study of 20 behavior therapists who were themselves in personal therapy revealed that 10 opted for psychoanalysis (and none for behavior therapy!), with some freely conceding that analysis is the treatment of choice if one can afford it (Lazarus, 1971). And some analysts have sought to update their procedures by having the patient attend only once or twice per week, and by dispensing with the couch in favor of face-to-face interviews, while retaining many of the fundamental aspects of Freudian theory (e.g., Bieber, 1980).

Some theorists emphasize the common factors among the various forms of psychotherapy, argu- ing that the differences are more apparent than real (e.g., Bergin & Strupp, 1972; Luborsky, Singer, & Luborsky, 1975; Strupp, 1973). Others argue that those differences that do exist can and should be recon- ciled, so that psychologists can concentrate on advancing our knowledge rather than debating the merits of particular schools of thought. (See Goldfried, 1980; Marmor & Woods, 1980; Wachtel, 1977; 1987). At present, then, there are no simple answers regarding the relative effectiveness of psychoanalytic therapy.


Despite the controversies that beset psychoanalysis, Freud deserves his lasting place in history. Although there are modern psychologists who would disagree, the following almost certainly represent major prog- ress in our attempts to understand the human personality.

Freud emphasized the importance of the unconscious. Instead of naively assuming that behavior is what it seems on the surface, it is now widely accepted that part of every personality—and probably a very significant part—is below the level of awareness. The term Freudian slip and the various defense mechanisms have become part of our everyday language. Freud devised valuable techniques for interpret- ing dreams, and was the first to incorporate dream interpretation as a formal part of psychotherapy.

Freud developed the first method of psychotherapy, including procedures for bringing unconscious material to consciousness. He identified such fundamental issues as resistance and transference, and showed that many difficulties in adult life relate to childhood conflicts with one’s parents. He pointed

out the importance of early childhood for personality development. He stressed that psychopathology represents a difference in degree rather than kind, and showed that apparently incomprehensible neurotic symptoms have important meanings.

Freud called attention to the importance of anxiety, and emphasized that psychological pain can be as or more troublesome than physical pain. He showed that we may suffer from self-imposed commands and restrictions that are relentless and cruel, a concept accepted by many other theorists (albeit often presented using their own terminology rather than the superego). He analyzed himself and probed the terrors of his own unconscious without the aid of another analyst, because there were no others. And his theories about infantile sexuality and the inevitable conflict between the individual and society, although controversial, have triggered valuable discussions and rethinkings of these issues.

Despite many sharp attacks and incredulous critics, Freud is accorded great esteem throughout psychology and psychiatry. Textbooks in all areas of psychology pay him due respect, and many of the noted personality theorists whose views we will examine in subsequent chapters have used psychoanalytic theory as the foundation for their own work. Whatever Freud’s errors may have been, this extraordinary and brilliant man opened new psychological vistas for all humanity. The ultimate personality theory must include, at the very least, the best of his ideas, and no one who claims an interest in human behavior can afford to be without a firsthand knowledge of his works.


  1. The basic nature of human beingsThe Instincts: People are motivated by innate instincts that convert bodily needs into psychological tensions. We seek to gain pleasureby reducing these drives and to avoid unpleasure (the pleasure principle). The two types of instincts are sexual, which includes the whole range of pleasurable and self-preserving behav- ior, and destructive. These two types are fused together, though not necessarily in equal amounts, so that any behavior is at least partly erotic and partly aggressive. Our inherent nature is murderous and incestuous. Therefore, to enjoy the benefits of a civilized society, we must accept some frustration and sublimate our true illicit desires into socially acceptable (but less pleasurable) behavior. Psychic Energy: All mental activity is powered by psychic energy. The energy associated with the sexual instincts is called libido, whereas that related to the destructive instincts has no name. Mental representations of objects are cathected with varying quantities of psychic energy; the greater the amount, the stronger the cathexis and the more the object is desired. Psychic Determinism: All behavior has underlying causes. Apparent accidents (parapraxes), dreams, and seemingly irrelevant thoughts provide evidence about one’s unconscious feelings and beliefs, which may well be different from their con- scious counterparts. The Unconscious: The vast majority of mental activity is unconscious, and cannot be called to mind without the aid of such psychoanalytic techniques as free asso- ciation and dream interpretation.
  2. The structure of personalityThe Id: The id is present at birth, is entirely unconscious, and includes all innate instincts. It operates in accordance with the irrational primary pro- cess, and is motivated entirely by the pleasure principle. It has no sense of logic, time, or self-preservation, and its only resource is to form wish-fulfilling mental images of desired objects. The Ego: The ego begins to develop out of the id at about age 6 to 8 months. The ego results from experience with one’s own body and with the outside world, and spans the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. It operates in accordance with the logical and self- preservative secondary process and is motivated by the reality principle, delaying pleasure until a suitable and safe object has been found. The ego is the locus of all emotions, including anxi- ety, and tries to keep the id under control by using various defense mechanisms. The Superego: The superego begins to develop out of the ego at about age 3 to 5 years. It is partly conscious and partly unconscious, and includes standards of right and wrong. The superego results from introjected parental standards and from the resolution of the Oedipus complex.
  3. The development of personalityPsychosexual Stages: Personality is determined pri- marily during the first 5 years of life. We proceed through a series of psychosexual stages: oral, anal, urethral, phallic, a latency period (usually), and genital. A different part of the body serves as the primary erotogenic zone during each stage, providing the main source of pleasure (and conflict). The Oedipus complex occurs during the phallic stage and consists of a double set of attitudes toward both parents, with love for the parent of the opposite sex and jealousy toward the parent of the same sex usually stronger than the reverse feelings. The boy eventu- ally abandons his Oedipal strivings because of castration fears, whereas the girl ultimately seeks resolution by having children. Fixation and Regression: Normally, most libido eventu- ally reaches the genital stage. The fixation of excessive amounts of libido at pregenital stages results in various character patterns, and perhaps in psychopathology. Libido may also regress to a previous psychosexual stage or to an object that was long since abandoned, usually one that was strongly fixated.
  4. Further applications: Dream Interpretation: Dreams serve as “the royal road to the uncon- scious.” But they are expressed in a symbolic language that is difficult to understand, with the dream-work changing threatening latent dream-thoughts into more acceptable manifest content. Most dreams involve childhood sexual impulses, though some (especially those of children) are obvious and nonsexual. Virtually all dreams seek to fulfill some wish. Psychopathology: Neurosis invariably begins in infancy and childhood, though it may not become evident until much later. Failure to resolve the Oedipus complex results in an inability to form effective sublimations, so libido can be discharged only in the disguised and distorted form of neurotic symptoms. Like dreams, neurotic symptoms represent a compromise among the id, ego, and

    superego; and they have important underlying meanings, however strange they may appear on the surface. Psychotherapy: Psychoanalytic therapy strives to bring unconscious material to consciousness, where it can be examined and corrected by the ego. These insights strengthen the ego, increase its control over the id and superego, and improve its ability to deal with the dif- ficulties of everyday life. Psychoanalytic therapy is extremely expensive and time-consuming, uses the well-known couch, has the patient free-associate by saying whatever comes to mind, pays special attention to the patient’s resistances and transferences, and emphasizes carefully timed interpretations by the analyst. Other Applications: Psychoanalysis has been applied to such areas as work, religion (of which Freud was extremely critical), and literature.

  5. Evaluation. Among the weaknesses of psychoanalysis are male chauvinism, internal incon- sistencies, methodological problems, difficulties with the metaphysical energy model, a resil- ience to attack that borders on evasiveness, a lack of tolerance for other ideas and modern innovations, and (perhaps) an overemphasis on sexuality, drive reduction, and the biological determinants of personality. It has proved difficult to subject the propositions of psychoana- lytic theory to empirical research. Nevertheless, Freud’s contributions are monumental: the importance of the unconscious, dream interpretation, psychoanalytic therapy, resistance and transference, repression and the defense mechanisms, parapraxes, anxiety, the meaning of neurotic symptoms, and more.