Psychoanalytic Theory and Freud: Main Points

Posted: September 14, 2009 at 9:32 pm by
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freud Psychoanalytic Theory and Freud: Main Points

This article is a first in a series of articles relating to Psychology. The purpose of these articles is to give you a basic idea of the various theories in Psychology. Soon I will be taking the licensing exam to become a Licensed Professional Counselor in Texas. I decided the best way to study was to create a list of main points for the various therapy styles in Psychology. By making these series of notes available to you, you can get a better idea about the field of Psychology yourself. Disclaimer: these articles are by no means account for all the information within the particular theory. These articles mainly come from books on the subject as well as my personal notes. I encourage you to explore each topic in more detail.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud was born in Vienna in 1856. He was the first born in his family which consisted of three boys and five girls. His father was strict, which was common in this time period, leaving him to often spend time with his mother, whom he felt was warm and kind. His family lived in a small apartment, however his family noticed his intelligence and made sure to foster his learning. He graduated from the university of Vienna at the age of 26 and obtained his medical degree. Four years later he became a lecturer at the university. Freud spent much of his life working on his theory, which he named psychonalaysis. Freud often suffered from somatic complaints, phobias and the intense fear of dying. Freud invented the term self-analysis, which he would often perform himself to understand his fears and his unconscious. Freud became popular and is often viewed as the father of Psychology. He died in 1939 of cancer of the jaw.

Id, Ego, and Superego

To Freud, humans consist of impulses and drives. These impulses are often buried deep within us, some by which we do not even recognize. This is especially true of young children under the age of six. Freud coined the term libido, which consists of all the life energies of a person. This libido contains the drives that make is who we are, and is a source of motivation. We often gravitate toward pleasure and avoid pain. Within a person, the personality is working to balance the libido in an efficient manor. To that end, the personality of a person is divided into three main parts: the id, ego, and superego.

The Id is the first portion of the personality to develop. The Id is focused on the wants and needs of a person. The Id does not care about consequences, and aims at achieving pleasure and avoiding pain. The Id is not rational, and does not care how it’s wants are obtained. The Id is present from birth, where babies only care about their needs being met. To make things easier, think of the Id as a spoiled child, who cries if they do not get their way.

The Ego is the opposite of the Id, which focuses on morality and justice. The Ego is the judgement portion of the personality, who uses intellect to gain order within a situation. The Id is a sort of ‘traffic cop’, who controls how to best operate. The Ego works against the Id and tries to control the Id’s impulses. While the Id worked around the pleasure principle, the Ego works as the reality principle, and sees the world as it should be.

The Superego is the bridge by which tempers the Id and Ego. The purpose of the Superego is to provide a balance so both sides are at an equilibrium. The Superego makes decisions if things are right or wrong. The Superego has the ability to reward by feelings of acceptance and self love, and punish by feelings of guilt and shame.

Consciousness and Unconscious

One of the hallmark features of Freud’s theory is the development of the unconscious. Freud viewed the mind as a collection of two main parts. The first part, the conscious, is the part of the mind we are aware of. It includes the thoughts and feelings of a person. It is the surface level, meaning it is the level we are aware of in a thinking state. Freud viewed the conscious as the smallest portion of the mind, as the drives and impulses which drive humans often exist on a level lower then the conscious. The largest level, the unconscious, includes all impulses, desires, and is the core of a person. The unconscious is not directly observed, as it is hidden below the conscious. One studies the unconscious by looking at slips of the tongue, dreams, free association techniques, hypnosis, and projective techniques.

For example, let us take a man who has become an alcoholic. He has a low paying job while his wife is highly successful and brings in a majority of the money into the house hold. He does not often receive attention from his wife due to her job. He begins to drink because he feels he hates his job and feels inferior to his wife. Now he is an alcoholic, and his wife has to take time off for him to get help. In the conscious, he hates his job and feels inferior; in the unconscious, he craves attention, so he created a drinking problem to obtain the attention. In this example, the unconscious influenced the conscious in ways the conscious was not aware of. If his true feelings of attention are not obtained in the long term, the unconscious will create another problem to gain the attention it craves.


Anxiety, according to Freud, is a state of tension which motivates us to action. It develops as a conflict between the id, ego, and superego over control of available psychic energy. Anxiety warns of impending danger. There are thee kinds of anxiety: reality, neurotic, and mortal. Reality anxiety deals with threats from the external world. The level of anxiety depends on the degree of danger.

Neurotic and mortal anxiety deals with internal threats to the balance of power within the personality. Unless steps are taken to reduce the anxiety, the ego may become overthrown. Mortal anxiety is the fear of one’s own conscience. A person with a well developed ego may feel guilty when doing something against their moral code, and punish themselves. Neurotic anxiety occurs when a person fears they will do something by which they will be punished.

Defense Mechanisms

When the presence of anxiety, the ego can become overwhelmed. To keep the Ego from collapse, the ego has developed defense mechanisms. The defense mechanisms below are normal, and are often experienced by a majority of people.

  • Repression: Repression is the ego’s way of denying access of painful memories from consciousness. Some painful memories are extremely devastating, which can cause massive stress to the ego and the entire personality. By denying these memoeies, a person can exist without the negative affects of these memories.
  • Denial: Similar to repression, denial is the ego’s way of focusing attention away from a problem. Denial operates at preconscious and conscious levels, where the ego will avoid a problem or play down a situation.
  • Reaction Formation: When engaging threating stimuli, the ego may respond in the opposite manor. By expressing the opposite impulse, stress is reduced. Example: John hates his boss, so he bakes a cake for his boss on his birthday. While John hates his boss, the ego removes the hateful emotion and replaces it with kindness, reducing the stress John feels.
  • Projection: Unacceptable impulses and fears are projected at others. By labeling others with one’s own impulses, the ego can reduce stress. Example: John’s lustful thoughts are causing him stress, resulting in John yelling at others who experiencing similar thoughts.
  • Displacement: At times, we cannot respond to others as we would like. When the ego has extreme feelings towards a target, tension builds. To relieve this tension, the ego will target the aggression to another source. Example: John’s boss yells at him all day at work, so when he gets home, he yells at his kids to relieve the stress he felt by being yelled at by his boss.
  • Rationalization: When a bad event occurs, the ego reduces the tension by explaining reasons for the event. Example: John looks for a new job, but is rejected, so he blames the bad economy for the rejection.
  • Sublimilation: Unacceptable impulses and drives are channeled in a manor acceptable to society. Example: John would love to beat up his boss and others, but he cannot, so he quits and becomes a police officer so he can beat up bad guys.
  • Regression: Under severe stress, the ego may wish to revert to an earlier time of less stress. Example: John’s severe stress from work and home results in him loosing his job, where he moves back with his parents and wants to play games all day, as he did when he was a teenager.
  • Introjection: Under severe stress, the ego may identify with those providing the severe stress in a form of stress relief. Example: prisoners of war often begin to identify with their captors. This helps them relieve the stress they are under.
  • Identification: To protect one from feeling like a failure, the ego may drive a person to join a cause or an organization bigger then the person, as to feel worthwhile. John feels like a failure in life after loosing his job, so he joins Greenpeace as a way to belong to something bigger then he is.
  • Compensation: The ego may feel inferior in specific instances, so it highlights the successful aspects of it’s personality. Example: John feels inferior as a productive member of society, so he highlights his time with Greenpeace as much more important then his professional career.

Freud’s Psychosexual Stages

Freud devised a series of stages by which a person enters at specific points in development. These stages occur in order, however a person can become stuck at a specific stage, called fixiation.

  • Oral Stage: Occurring during the first year of life, the child receives oral gratification by sucking at it’s mother’s breast. By doing so, the child receives both the nutrition and love it needs. Children who do not bond with a parent, or ones who do not receive proper nutrition may become orally fixated, possibly resulting in mistrust of others, fear, loss of love and relationship difficulties.
  • Anal Stage: The anal stage occurs during the second and third years of live, where the child becomes potty trained. During this period the child learns independence and personal power. A child who does not successfully complete this stage may feel inferior, and depend on others instead of themselves.
  • Phallic Stage: The child first begins to discover sexual desires. This often occurs during years three through six, where the child experiences unconscious desires for the opposite sex parent. This often resolves itself through wanting love and acceptance from the opposite sex parent. The child may also possess anxiety or fear from the same sex parent. For boys, it is known as the Oedipus complex, and for girls it is known as the Electra complex.
  • Latency Stage: With the trauma of the phallic stage over, the child moves from sexual desires to ones of belonging and acceptance from others. Interests in friends, school, and socialization are the main drives here. This stage often begins at six, and ends at puberty.
  • Genital Stage: Beginning, at puberty, the genital stage begins with a reawaking of sexual energy. This is a period where a child will likely form their sexual identity. The genital stage is the final stage, lasting until death. One of the main criticism of Freud is the lack of further stages.


When a client begins sessions with a Psychoanalytic therapist, the client is encouraged to free associate, meaning to tell what they wish to tell about any topic. The therapist is distant, as to allow the client to give true insights about themselves without bias towards the therapist. While the therapist may wish to remain distant, the client may begin to transfer feelings about a person towards the therapist. This is called transference, and is a common result in Psychoanalytic theory. Usually the client will have unfinished business towards someone, and in turn may shift these feelings towards the therapist. A psychoanalytic therapist will look for transference during therapy and use it to get to the unconscious. The concept of transference is often present in modern psychology.

In Conclusion

Freud’s Psychonalytic theory was one of the most influential theories in all of Psychology. Many other theories resulted from Psychoanalytic theory, paving the way for modern psychology. While Freud’s theories are criticized by many, he opened the door for future discussion and research.

Source: Theory and Practice of Counseling & Psychotherapy by Gerald Corey.

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One Response to “Psychoanalytic Theory and Freud: Main Points”

  1. jatnikaNo Gravatar says:

    it really helped me.. :) i’m a .. psychology student and freud’s psychoanalytic theory is really helpful .. nice..!! keep it up..^_^v


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