The theory of psychoanalysis developed by Sigmund Freud bases its view of human nature on determinism.Structure of personality consists of three systems: the id, ego, and superego. The id is the primary source of energy and the basis of instincts existing within the unconscious mind and is driven by what Freud called “the pleasure principle.” This illogical, amoral entity serves to reduce tension and pain while restoring pleasure. The ego controls and regulates personality, remaining in touch with reality while formulating plans of action to satisfy needs. Finally, the superego is the individual’s moral code judging whether action is good or bad. This component also regulates traditions and ideals that are handed down from generation to generation.
Freud identifies key concepts and levels of unconsciousness. Through psychoanalysis, the unconscious is studied with a focus on dreams, behavior, slips of tongue, posthypnotic suggestion, and the use of techniques like free association that provide the client an opportunity to search their thoughts for links to various issues and problems. In this therapy, unconscious thoughts and processes are the basis for all forms of problem symptoms and behaviors.
A significant component of Freud’s approach is the concept of anxiety. Defined as a state of tension, this feeling motivates individuals to action in order to alleviate the uncomfortable state. Although Freud identified a number of types of anxiety, how an individual processes these inputs determines the effect these feeling have on the individual and overall experience of living.
Defense mechanisms are utilized which help individuals cope with anxieties and prevent the ego from becoming overwhelmed. For example :
- Repression results in the individual burying and forgetting the traumatic event in order to reduce painful thoughts and emotions.
- Denial is used to negate the responsibility of accepting or integrating information into one’s life and schema. The individual essentially blinds himself to reality and the potential pain that may accompany the acceptance of this. To defend against a threatening impulse, the individual could respond with the opposite impulse to balance feelings.
- Reaction formation and helps to conceal emotions that would either call into question ones own identity.
- Projection and displacement and represent a key component of Freudian theory. Interestingly enough, this aspect of psychoanalytic theory was developed by Freud’s daughter, Anna.
Freud’s psychosexual stages begin in the first year of life with the oral stage, as a child is fixated on sucking and satisfying the need for food and pleasure. This shifts to the anal stage when the child is ages one to three and begins to develop independence, expressing strong emotions, and accepting personal power. The third stage of psychosexual development is the phallic stage centering on the child’s unconscious and incestuous desires for the parent of the opposite sex. The next stage is latency, where previous sexual urges are replaced by a focus on school, playmates, and sports. This is also a time of socialization as children develop relationships with others. And finally, the genital stage marks the last step in Freud’s psychosexual development and begins at age twelve, usually concluding at age eighteen, although may continue further into life. This stage is a time of sexual development and remains in place as long as the individual remains mentally healthy.