Chances are, you’ve heard of the Oedipus complex or the idea that your dreams reveal your inner desires. The creator of these ideas was Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and the founding father of psychoanalysis. His ideas and theories still remain very influential in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy, and their impact can even be seen in the visual arts and humanities.
- Born in Freiburg in the Austrian Empire (1856 – 1939)
- Became doctor of medicine at the University of Vienna
- Studied neurology and neurophysiology
- Worked as a doctor int the Vienna General Hospital
- Researched and developed the theory of psychoanalysis
- Departed from Austria to escape Nazism near World War 2
Theories of Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is a broad set of psychological theories and therapeutic techniques containing Freud’s theories relating to the unconscious mind. Here are three of the most important theories that make up psychoanalysis.
1. Id, Ego, and Superego
This idea states that the human psyche is made up of the three parts, id, ego, and superego. Freud believed these aspects all develop at different periods in one’s life, and they interact and control one’s actions.
- The impulsive, instinctual part containing innate desires (sexual, aggressive drives)
- Existing from birth
- Seeking immediate pleasure
- Example: An infant crying because they’re hungry—expressing their desires without repression
- Mediates between the id and superego to regulate inner urges and adapt to external society
- Seeking realistic ways that consider both the id’s desires and social etiquettes and rules
- Employs defense mechanisms when the superego doesn’t allow the id’s desires (e.g. denial, repression, projection)
- Example: Controlling the urge to steal someone’s items, but instead buying that item from the store
- The values and ethics of the external world one lives in
- Mainly taught by parents’ guidance
- Contains the “conscience” – which can punish the person if they’ve done something deemed “wrong” by society and maintain a moral code
- Often contradicts the id’s desires
2. The Unconscious Mind
Freud believed that the mind can be separated into two parts: the conscious mind and the unconscious mind.
- Unconscious mind
- Contains things we’re not conscious of—childhood memories, socially unacceptable desires which have been repressed, traumas and painful thoughts
- Lies “below the surface” of the conscious mind
- These influence one’s actions and thoughts “unconsciously”—unintended by the person
- “Freudian slip”: When you’re talking and you accidentally make a mistake in your speech, but that mistake actually reveals your unconscious thoughts
- Example: Instead of saying “I love you, Bob” to Bob, her current lover, Mary accidentally says “I love you, Tom”, where Tom is the name of her ex she still has repressed romantic feelings for.
3. Dream Interpretation
Finally, Freud believed that there was no coincidence in dreams, and that the contents of our dreams were related to wish-fulfillment. He published “The Interpretation of Dreams” in 1899 where he detailed his theories about dreams.
- “Dreams are the Royal Road to the Unconscious Mind.”
He proposed that this was easy to see in young children, who would often have straightforward dreams about the things they wished for. However, in adults, their desires are repressed even in their dreams, and thus, they appear in distorted forms.
Manifest content: The actual dream itself
Latent content: The hidden meaning of this dream (the dreamer’s unconscious desires)
For example, he believed that men were represented by houses with smooth walls, while women were represented by houses with balconies. Here are some other Freudian interpretations of content that appears in dreams:
|Manifest content||Latent content|
|Kings, queens, or other royalty||Parents|
|Small animals, vermin||Siblings or children|
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Cherry, Kendra. “What Do Your Dreams Really Mean?” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 23 June 2019, http://www.verywellmind.com/dream-interpretation-what-do-dreams-mean-2795930.
Cherry, Kendra. “How Psychoanalysis Influenced the Field of Psychology.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 24 Apr. 2020, http://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-psychoanalysis-2795246.
“Id, Ego and Super-Ego.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 May 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Id,_ego_and_super-ego.
McLeod, Saul. “Id, Ego and Superego.” Id Ego Superego | Simply Psychology, 2019, http://www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html.
“Sigmund Freud.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 May 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Freud.
“Unconscious Mind.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconscious_mind#Freud’s_view.
Gaarder, Jostein. Sophie’s World: Journal & Book of Days. Orion Pub. Group, 1999.
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