Freud – Wien Träumende – Vienna Dreaming

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014


Sigmund Freud

Psychology’s most famous figure is also one of the most influential and controversial thinkers of the twentieth century.

Sigmund Freud’s work and theories helped shape our views of childhood, personality, memory, sexuality and therapy.

Other major thinkers have contributed work that grew out of Freud’s legacy, while others developed new theories out of opposition to his ideas.

Sigmund Freud – (6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) was an Austrian neurologist who became known as the founding father of psychoanalysis.

Freud qualified as a doctor of medicine at the University of Vienna in 1881, and then carried out research into cerebral palsy, aphasia and microscopic neuroanatomy at the Vienna General Hospital.

He was appointed a university lecturer in neuropathology in 1885 and became a professor in 1902.

In creating psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst, Freud developed therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association (in which patients report their thoughts without reservation and in whichever order they spontaneously occur) and discovered transference (the process in which patients displace onto their analysts feelings derived from their childhood attachments), establishing its central role in the analytic process

Freud’s redefinition of sexuality to include its infantile forms led him to formulate the ‘Oedipus Complex’ as the central tenet of psychoanalytical theory.

His analysis of his own and his patients’ dreams as wish-fulfilments provided him with models for the clinical analysis of symptom formation and the mechanisms of repression as well as for elaboration of his theory of the unconscious as an agency disruptive of conscious states of mind.

Freud postulated the existence of libido, an energy with which mental processes and structures are invested, and which generates erotic attachments, and a death drive (Thanatos), the source of repetition, hate, aggression and neurotic guilt.

In his later work Freud drew on psychoanalytic theory to develop a wide-ranging interpretation and critique of religion and culture.
Freud’s work has suffused contemporary thought and popular culture to the extent that in 1939 W. H. Auden wrote, in a poem dedicated to him: “to us he is no more a person / now but a whole climate of opinion / under whom we conduct our different lives”.

Early Life and Education

Freud was born to Jewish Galician parents in the town of Freiberg in Mähren, in the Austrian Empire, the first of their eight children.

His father, Jacob Freud (1815–1896), a wool merchant, had two sons, Emanuel (1833–1914) and Philipp (1836–1911), from his first marriage. Jacob’s family were Hasidic Jews, and though Jacob himself had moved away from the tradition, he came to be known for his Torah study.
He and Freud’s mother, Amalia (née Nathansohn), 20 years her husband’s junior and his third wife, were married by Rabbi Isaac Noah Mannheimer on 29 July 1855.
They were struggling financially and living in a rented room, in a locksmith’s house at Schlossergasse 117 when their son Sigmund was born.
He was born with a caul, which his mother saw as a positive omen for the boy’s future.
In 1859 the Freud family left Freiberg.
Freud’s half brothers emigrated to Manchester, England, parting him from the “inseparable” playmate of his early childhood, Emanuel’s son, John. Jacob Freud took his wife and two children (Freud’s sister, Anna, was born in 1858; a brother, Julius, had died in infancy) firstly to Leipzig and then in 1860 to Vienna where four sisters (Rosa, Marie, Adolfine and Paula) and a brother (Alexander) were born.
In 1865, the nine-year-old Freud entered the Leopoldstädter Kommunal-Realgymnasium, a prominent high school.
He proved an outstanding pupil and graduated from the Matura in 1873 with honors.
He loved literature and was proficient in German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Latin and Greek.
Freud read William Shakespeare in English throughout his life, and it has been suggested that his understanding of human psychology was partly derived from Shakespeare’s plays.
Freud entered the University of Vienna at age 17.
He had planned to study law, but joined the medical faculty at the university, where his studies included philosophy under Franz Brentano, physiology under Ernst Brücke, and zoology under Darwinist professor Carl Claus.
In 1876 Freud spent four weeks at Claus’s zoological research station in Trieste, dissecting hundreds of eels in an inconclusive search for their male reproductive organs.
He graduated with an MD in 1881.

Early Career and Marriage

Freud was born to Jewish Galician parents in the town of Freiberg in Mähren, in the Austrian Empire, the first of their eight children.
His father, Jacob Freud (1815–1896), a wool merchant, had two sons, Emanuel (1833–1914) and Philipp (1836–1911), from his first marriage.
Jacob’s family were Hasidic Jews, and though Jacob himself had moved away from the tradition, he came to be known for his Torah study.
He and Freud’s mother, Amalia (née Nathansohn), 20 years her husband’s junior and his third wife, were married by Rabbi Isaac Noah Mannheimer on 29 July 1855.
They were struggling financially and living in a rented room, in a locksmith’s house at Schlossergasse 117 when their son Sigmund was born.
He was born with a caul, which his mother saw as a positive omen for the boy’s future. In 1859 the Freud family left Freiberg.
Freud’s half brothers emigrated to Manchester, England, parting him from the “inseparable” playmate of his early childhood, Emanuel’s son, John.
Jacob Freud took his wife and two children (Freud’s sister, Anna, was born in 1858; a brother, Julius, had died in infancy) firstly to Leipzig and then in 1860 to Vienna where four sisters (Rosa, Marie, Adolfine and Paula) and a brother (Alexander) were born.
In 1865, the nine-year-old Freud entered the Leopoldstädter Kommunal-Realgymnasium, a prominent high school.
He proved an outstanding pupil and graduated from the Matura in 1873 with honors.
He loved literature and was proficient in German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Latin and Greek.
Freud read William Shakespeare in English throughout his life, and it has been suggested that his understanding of human psychology was partly derived from Shakespeare’s plays.
Freud entered the University of Vienna at age 17.
He had planned to study law, but joined the medical faculty at the university, where his studies included philosophy under Franz Brentano, physiology under Ernst Brücke, and zoology under Darwinist professor Carl Claus.
In 1876 Freud spent four weeks at Claus’s zoological research station in Trieste, dissecting hundreds of eels in an inconclusive search for their male reproductive organs.
He graduated with an MD in 1881.

Charles Darwin
Ex Libris – Sigmund Freud

Freud had greatly admired his philosophy tutor, Brentano, who was known for his theories of perception and introspection, as well as Theodor Lipps who was one of the main contemporary theorists of the concepts of the unconscious and empathy.

Brentano discussed the possible existence of the unconscious mind in his 1874 book Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint.
Although Brentano denied the existence of the unconscious, his discussion of it probably helped introduce Freud to the concept.

Eduard von Hartmann

Freud owned and made use of Charles Darwin’s major evolutionary writings, and was also influenced by Eduard von Hartmann’s ‘The Philosophy of the Unconscious’.

He read Friedrich Nietzsche as a student, and analogies between his work and that of Nietzsche were pointed out almost as soon as he developed a following.
In 1900, the year of Nietzsche’s death, Freud bought his collected works; he told his friend, Fliess, that he hoped to find in Nietzsche’s works “the words for much that remains mute in me.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) was a German philologist, philosopher, cultural critic, poet and composer. He wrote several critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and aphorism.
Nietzsche’s key ideas include the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy, perspectivism, the Will to Power, the “death of God”, the Übermensch and eternal recurrence. One of the key tenets of his philosophy is the concept of “life-affirmation,” which embraces the realities of the world we live now in over the idea of a world beyond. It further champions the creative powers of the individual to strive beyond social, cultural, and moral contexts. His radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth has been the focus of extensive commentary, and his influence remains substantial, particularly in the continental philosophical schools of existentialism, postmodernism, and post-structuralism. His ideas of individual overcoming and transcendence beyond structure and context have had a profound impact on late-twentieth and early-twenty-first century thinkers, who have used these concepts as points of departure in the development of their philosophies.

His interest in philosophy declined after he had decided on a career in neurology and psychiatry.

Sigmund Freud – A Life in Photos
Development of Psychoanalysis

In October 1885, Freud went to Paris on a fellowship to study with Jean-Martin Charcot, a renowned neurologist who was conducting scientific research into hypnosis.
He was later to recall the experience of this stay as catalytic in turning him toward the practice of medical psychopathology and away from a less financially promising career in neurology research.

Une leçon clinique à la Salpêtrière

Charcot specialized in the study of hysteria and susceptibility to hypnosis, which he frequently demonstrated with patients on stage in front of an audience.

Once he had set up in private practice in 1886, Freud began using hypnosis in his clinical work. 
He adopted the approach of his friend and collaborator, Josef Breuer, in a use of hypnosis which was different from the French methods he had studied in that it did not use suggestion. 

Josef Breuer (January 15, 1842 – June 20, 1925) was a distinguished Austrian physician who made key discoveries in neurophysiology, and whose work in the 1880s with a patient known as Anna O. developed the talking cure (cathartic method) and laid the foundation to psychoanalysis as developed by his protégé Sigmund Freud.
Breuer is perhaps best known for his work in the 1880s with Anna O. (the pseudonym of Bertha Pappenheim), a woman suffering from “paralysis of her limbs, and anaesthesias, as well as disturbances of vision and speech.” Breuer observed that her symptoms reduced or disappeared after she described them to him. Anna O. humorously called this procedure chimney sweeping. She also coined the more serious appellation for this form of therapy, talking cure. Breuer later referred to it as the “cathartic method”.
Breuer was then a mentor to the young Sigmund Freud, and had helped set him up in medical practice. Ernest Jones recalled, “Freud was greatly interested in hearing of the case of Anna O, which made a deep impression on him”; and in his 1909 Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Freud generously pointed out, “I was a student and working for my final examinations at the time when  Breuer, first (in 1880-2) made use of this procedure. Never before had anyone removed a hysterical symptom by such a method.”

The treatment of one particular patient of Breuer’s proved to be transformative for Freud’s clinical practice.
Described as ‘Anna O‘, she was invited to talk about her symptoms while under hypnosis (she would coin the phrase “talking cure” for her treatment).
In the course of talking in this way, these symptoms became reduced in severity as she retrieved memories of traumatic incidents associated with their onset.
This led Freud to eventually establish in the course of his clinical practice that a more consistent and effective pattern of symptom relief could be achieved, without recourse to hypnosis, by encouraging patients to talk freely about whatever ideas or memories occurred to them.

In addition to this procedure, which he called “free association“, Freud found that patient’s dreams could be fruitfully analysed to reveal the complex structuring of unconscious material, and to demonstrate the psychic action of repression which underlay symptom formation.
By 1896, Freud had abandoned hypnosis, and was using the term “psychoanalysis” to refer to his new clinical method and the theories on which it was based.

Freud’s development of these new theories took place during a period in which he experienced heart irregularities, disturbing dreams and periods of depression, a “neurasthenia” which he linked to the death of his father in 1896, and which prompted a “self-analysis” of his own dreams and memories of childhood.
His explorations of his feelings of hostility to his father and rivalrous jealousy over his mother’s affections led him to a fundamental revision of his theory of the origin of the neuroses.
On the basis of his early clinical work, Freud had postulated that unconscious memories of sexual molestation in early childhood were a necessary precondition for the psychoneuroses (hysteria and obsessional neurosis), a formulation now known as ‘Freud’s seduction theory‘.
In the light of his self-analysis, Freud abandoned the theory that every neurosis can be traced back to the effects of infantile sexual abuse, now arguing that infantile sexual scenarios still had a causative function, but it did not matter whether they were real or imagined, and that in either case they became pathogenic only when acting as repressed memories.

Oedipus Complex ?

This transition from the ‘theory of infantile sexual trauma‘ as a general explanation of how all neuroses originate to one that presupposes an autonomous infantile sexuality provided the basis for Freud’s subsequent formulation of the theory of the ‘Oedipus Complex’.

Freud described the evolution of his clinical method and set out his theory of the ‘psychogenetic origins of hysteria‘, demonstrated in a number of case histories, in ‘Studies on Hysteria’ published in 1895 (co-authored with Josef Breuer).
In 1889 Freud published ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ in which, following a critical review of existing theory, Freud gives detailed interpretations of his own and his patients dreams in terms of wish-fulfilments made subject to the repression and censorship of the “dream work”. 
He then sets out the theoretical model of mental structure (the unconscious, pre-conscious and conscious) on which this account is based.
An abridged version, ‘On Dreams’, was published in 1901.
In works which would win him a more general readership, Freud applied his theories outside the clinical setting in ‘The Psychopathology of Everyday Life’ (1901), and ‘Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious’ (1905).
In ‘Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality’, published in 1905, Freud elaborates his theory of infantile sexuality, describing its “polymorphous perverse” forms, and the functioning of the “drives”, to which it gives rise, in the formation of sexual identity.
The same year he published ‘Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (Dora)’ which became one of his more famous and controversial case studies.
Early Followers

Freud spent most of his life in Vienna.
From 1891 until 1938, he and his family lived in an apartment at Berggasse 19 near the Innere Stadt or historical quarter of Vienna.

Universität Wien

As a docent of the University of Vienna, Freud, since the mid-1880s, had been delivering lectures on his theories to small audiences every Saturday evening at the lecture hall of the university’s psychiatric clinic.

He gave lectures in the university every year from 1886 to 1919.
His work generated a considerable degree of interest from a small group of Viennese physicians.
From the autumn of 1902 and shortly after his promotion to the honorific title of Außerordentlicher Professor, a small group of followers formed around him, meeting at his apartment every Wednesday afternoon, to discuss issues relating to psychology and neuropathology.
This group was called the Psychologische Mittwochs-Gesellschaft, and it marked the beginnings of the worldwide psychoanalytic movement.
This discussion group was founded around Freud at the suggestion of the physician Wilhelm Stekel.
Wilhelm Stekel 

Wilhelm Stekel (March 18, 1868 – June 25, 1940) was an Austrian physician and psychologist, who became one of Sigmund Freud’s earliest followers, and was once described as “Freud’s most distinguished pupil. ‘Stekel may be accorded the honour, together with Freud, of having founded the first psycho-analytic society‘. He later had a falling-out with Freud. His works are translated and published in many languages.

Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing 

Stekel had studied medicine at the University of Vienna under Richard von Krafft-Ebing.

Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (14 August 1840 – 22 December 1902) was an Austro–German psychiatrist and author of the foundational work ‘Psychopathia Sexualis’.
Krafft-Ebing, born in Mannheim, Germany, studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg, where he specialized in psychiatry. He later practised in psychiatric asylums. After leaving his work in asylums, he pursued a career in psychiatry, forensics, and hypnosis.

His conversion to psychoanalysis is variously attributed to his successful treatment by Freud for a sexual problem, or as a result of his reading ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, to which he subsequently gave a positive review in the Viennese daily newspaper’ Neues Wiener Tagblatt’.
The other three original members whom Freud invited to attend, Alfred Adler, Max Kahane, and Rudolf Reitler, were also physicians.
Both Kahane and Reitler were childhood friends of Freud.
Kahane had attended the same secondary school and both he and Reitler went to university with Freud.
They had kept abreast of Freud’s developing ideas through their attendance at his Saturday evening lectures.
In 1901, Kahane, who first introduced Stekel to Freud’s work, had opened an out-patient psychotherapy institute of which he was the director in Bauernmarkt, in Vienna.
In the same year, his medical textbook,’ Outline of Internal Medicine for Students and Practicing Physicians’ was published.
In it, he provided an outline of Freud’s psychoanalytic method.
Kahane broke with Freud in 1907 for unknown reasons, and in 1923 committed suicide.
Reitler was the director of an establishment providing thermal cures in Dorotheergasse which had been founded in 1901.
He died prematurely in 1917.
Adler, regarded as the most formidable intellect among the early Freudian circle who, in 1898, had written a health manual for the tailoring trade.
He was particularly interested in the potential social impact of psychiatry.
Max Graf, a Viennese musicologist and father of “Little Hans”, who had first encountered Freud in 1900, and joined the Psychologische Mittwochs-Gesellschaft soon after its initial inception, described the ritual and atmosphere of the early meetings of the society:
The gatherings followed a definite ritual.
First one of the members would present a paper.
Then, black coffee and cakes were served; cigar and cigarettes were on the table and were consumed in great quantities.
After a social quarter of an hour, the discussion would begin.
The last and decisive word was always spoken by Freud himself.
There was the atmosphere of the foundation of a religion in that room.
Freud himself was its new prophet, who made the heretofore prevailing methods of psychological investigation appear superficial.
By 1906, the group had grown to sixteen members, including Otto Rank, who was employed as the group’s paid secretary.
Also in that year Freud began correspondence with Jung who was then an assistant to Eugen Bleuler at the Burghölzli Mental Hospital in Zürich.
In March 1907 Jung and Ludwig Binswanger, also a Swiss psychiatrist, travelled to Vienna to visit Freud and attend the discussion group.
Thereafter they established a small psychoanalytic group in Zürich.
In 1908, reflecting its growing institutional status, the Psychologische Mittwochs-Gesellschaft was renamed the Wiener Psychoanalytischen Vereinigung.
In 1911, the first women members were admitted to the Society.
Tatiana Rosenthal and Sabina Spielrein were both Russian psychiatrists, and graduates of the Zürich University medical school.
Prior to the completion of her studies, Spielrein had been a patient of Jung at the Burghölzli and the clinical and personal details of their relationship became the subject of an extensive correspondence between Freud and Jung.
Both women would go on to make important contributions to the work of Russian Psychoanalytic Society which was founded in 1910.
Freud’s early followers met together formally for the first time at the Hotel Bristol, Salzburg on 27 April 1908.
This meeting, which was retrospectively deemed to be the first Internationalen Psychoanalytischen Kongress, was convened at the suggestion of Ernest Jones, then a London based neurologist, who had discovered Freud’s writings and begun applying psychoanalytic methods in his clinical work.
Jones had met Jung at a conference the previous year and they met up again in Zürich to organize the Kongress.
There were, as Jones records, “forty-two present, half of whom were or became practicing analysts”.
In addition to Jones and the Viennese and Zürich contingents accompanying Freud and Jung, also present and notable for their subsequent importance in the psychoanalytic movement were Abraham and Max Eitingon from Berlin, Sándor Ferenczi from Budapest and the New York based Abraham Brill.
Important decisions were taken at the Kongress with a view to advancing the impact of Freud’s work.
A journal, the ‘Jahrbuch fur psychoanlytische und psychopathologishe Forschungen’, was launched in 1909 under the editorship of Jung.
This was followed in 1910 by the monthly ‘Zentralblatt fur Psychoanalyse’ edited by Adler and Stekel, in 1911 by ‘Imago’, a journal devoted to the application of psychoanalysis to the field of cultural and literary studies edited by Rank and in 1913 by the ‘Internationale Zeitschrift fur Psychoanalyse’, also edited by Rank.
Plans for an Internationale Vereinigung der Psychoanalytikers were put in place, and these were implemented at the Nürnberg Congress of 1910, where Jung was elected, with Freud’s support, as its first president.
Freud turned to Brill and Jones to further his ambition to spread the psychoanalytic cause in the English-speaking world.
Both were invited to Vienna following the Salzburg Congress and a division of labour was agreed with Brill given the translation rights for Freud’s works, and Jones, who was to take up a post at Toronto University later in the year, tasked with establishing a platform for Freudian ideas in North American academic and medical life.
Jones’s advocacy prepared the way for Freud’s visit to the United States, accompanied by Jung and Ferenczi, in September 1909 at the invitation of Stanley Hall, president of Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, where he gave five lectures on psychoanalysis.
When the ocean liner George Washington arrived in New York, Freud is rumoured to have remarked to Jung, “They don’t realize that we are bringing them the plague.”
The event, at which Freud was awarded an Honorary Doctorate, marked the first public recognition of Freud’s work and attracted widespread media interest.
Freud’s audience included the distinguished neurologist and psychiatrist James Jackson Putnam, Professor of Diseases of the Nervous System at Harvard, who invited Freud to his country retreat, where they held extensive discussions over a period of four days.
Putnam’s subsequent public endorsement of Freud’s work represented a significant breakthrough for the psychoanalytic cause in the United States.
When Putnam and Jones organised the founding of the American Psychoanalytic Association in May 1911 they were elected president and secretary respectively.
Brill founded the New York Psychoanalytic Society the same year.
His translations of Freud’s work began to appear from 1909.
Early Work
Freud entered private practice in neurology for financial reasons, receiving his M.D. degree in 1881 at the age of 25.
Amongst his principal concerns in the 1880s was the anatomy of the brain, specifically the medulla oblongata.
He intervened in the important debates about aphasia with his monograph of 1891, ‘Zur Auffassung der Aphasien’, in which he coined the term agnosia, and counselled against a too locationist view of the explanation of neurological deficits.
Like his contemporary Eugen Bleuler, he emphasized brain function rather than brain structure.
Freud was also an early researcher in the field of cerebral palsy, which was then known as “cerebral paralysis”.
He published several medical papers on the topic, and showed that the disease existed long before other researchers of the period began to notice and study it.
He also suggested that William Little, the man who first identified cerebral palsy, was wrong about lack of oxygen during birth being a cause.
Instead, he suggested that complications in birth were only a symptom.
Freud hoped that his research would provide a solid scientific basis for his therapeutic technique.
The goal of Freudian therapy, or psychoanalysis, was to bring repressed thoughts and feelings into consciousness in order to free the patient from suffering repetitive distorted emotions.
Classically, the bringing of unconscious thoughts and feelings to consciousness is brought about by encouraging a patient to talk about dreams and engage in free association, in which patients report their thoughts without reservation and make no attempt to concentrate while doing so.
Another important element of psychoanalysis is transference, the process by which patients displace onto their analysts feelings and ideas which derive from previous figures in their lives. 
Transference was first seen as a regrettable phenomenon that interfered with the recovery of repressed memories, and disturbed patients’ objectivity, but by 1912, Freud had come to see it as an essential part of the therapeutic process.
The origin of Freud’s early work with psychoanalysis can be linked to Josef Breuer.
Freud credited Breuer with opening the way to the discovery of the psychoanalytical method by his treatment of the case of Anna O.
In November 1880, Breuer was called in to treat a highly intelligent 21-year-old woman (Bertha Pappenheim) for a persistent cough that he diagnosed as hysterical.
He found that while nursing her dying father, she had developed a number of transitory symptoms, including visual disorders and paralysis and contractures of limbs, which he also diagnosed as hysterical.
Breuer began to see his patient almost every day as the symptoms increased and became more persistent, and observed that she entered states of absence.
He found that when, with his encouragement, she told fantasy stories in her evening states of absence her condition improved, and most of her symptoms had disappeared by April 1881. 
However, following the death of her father in that month her condition deteriorated again. 
Breuer recorded that some of the symptoms eventually remitted spontaneously, and that full recovery was achieved by inducing her to recall events that had precipitated the occurrence of a specific symptom.
In the years immediately following Breuer’s treatment, Anna O. spent three short periods in sanatoria with the diagnosis “hysteria” with “somatic symptoms”, and some authors have challenged Breuer’s published account of a cure.

Freud’s Major Theories

According to Freud, the mind can be divided into three different levels:
The conscious mind includes everything that we are aware of.
This is the aspect of our mental processing that we can think and talk about rationally.
A part of this includes our memory, which is not always part of consciousness but can be retrieved easily at any time and brought into our awareness.
Freud called this the preconscious.

In Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, the conscious mind consists of everything inside of our awareness. This is the aspect of our mental processing that we can think and talk about in a rational way.
The conscious mind includes such things as the sensations, perceptions, memories, feeling and fantasies inside of our current awareness. Closely allied with the conscious mind is the preconscious, which includes the things that we are not thinking of at the moment but which we can easily draw into conscious awareness.
Things that the conscious mind wants to keep hidden from awareness are repressed into the unconscious mind. While we are unaware of these feelings, thoughts, urges and emotions, Freud believed that the unconscious mind could still have an influence on our behavior.Freud often used the metaphor of an iceberg to describe the two major aspects of human personality. The tip of the iceberg that extends above the water represents the conscious mind. As you can see in the image at the right, the conscious mind is just the “tip of the iceberg.” Beneath the water is the much larger bulk of the iceberg, which represents the unconscious.
While the conscious and preconscious are important, Freud believed that they were far less vital than the unconscious. The things that are hidden from awareness, he believed, exerted the greatest influence over our personalities and behaviors
The preconscious mind is the part of the mind that represents ordinary memory.
While we are not consciously aware of this information at any given time, we can retrieve it and pull it into consciousness when needed.

In Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, the preconscious mind is a part of the mind that corresponds to ordinary memory. These memories are not conscious, but we can retrieve them to conscious awareness at any time.
While these memories are not part of your immediate awareness, they can be quickly brought into awareness through conscious effort. For example, if you were asked what television show you watched last night or what you had for breakfast this morning, you would be pulling that information out of your preconscious.

A helpful way to think of the preconscious is that it acts as a sort of gatekeeper between the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind. It allows only certain pieces of information to pass through and enter conscious awareness.

The unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict. 

According to Freud, the unconscious continues to influence our behaviour and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences.
Freud likened these three levels of mind to an iceberg.
The top of the iceberg that you can see above the water represents the conscious mind.
The part of the iceberg that is submerged below the water but is still visible is the preconscious. 
The bulk of the iceberg lies unseen beneath the waterline and represents the unconscious.
Each person also possesses a certain amount of psychological energy that forms the three basic structures of personality: the id, the ego, and the superego. These three structures have different roles and operate at different levels of the mind. In the next article in this series, learn more about the functions of each of these structures.
According to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, personality is composed of three elements.
These three elements of personality – known as the id, the ego and the superego – work together to create complex human behaviours.

The Id

Das Es – the id – is the only component of personality that is present from birth.
This aspect of personality is entirely unconscious, and includes of the instinctive and primitive behaviours.
According to Freud, the id is the source of all psychic energy, making it the primary component of personality.
The id is driven by the pleasure principle, which strives for immediate gratification of all desires, wants, and needs.

The pleasure principle is the instinctual seeking of pleasure and avoiding of pain in order to satisfy biological and psychological needs. Specifically, the pleasure principle is the driving force guiding the id.

If these needs are not satisfied immediately, the result is a state anxiety or tension.
The id is very important early in life, because it ensures that an infant’s needs are met.
However, immediately satisfying these needs is not always realistic or even possible.
If we were ruled entirely by the pleasure principle, we might find ourselves grabbing things we want out of other people’s hands to satisfy our own cravings.
This sort of behaviour would be both disruptive and socially unacceptable.
According to Freud, the id tries to resolve the tension created by the pleasure principle through the primary process, which involves forming a mental image of the desired object as a way of satisfying the need.
According to Freud the id is unconscious by definition:
It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have learned from our study of the Dreamwork, and of the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of that is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego. We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations…. It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle.
In the id:
contrary impulses exist side by side, without cancelling each other out…. There is nothing in the id that could be compared with negation … nothing in the id which corresponds to the idea of time.
Developmentally, the id precedes the ego; i.e. the psychic apparatus begins, at birth, as an undifferentiated id, part of which then develops into a structured ego.
Thus, the id:
contains everything that is inherited, that is present at birth, is laid down in the constitution — above all, therefore, the instincts, which originate from the somatic organization, and which find a first psychical expression here (in the id) in forms unknown to us.”
The id:
knows no judgements of value: no good and evil, no morality…. Instinctual cathexes seeking discharge – that, in our view, is all there is in the id.”
It is regarded as: “the great reservoir of libido“, the instinctive drive to create – the life instincts that are crucial to pleasurable survival.
Alongside the life instincts came the ‘death instinct‘ – Thanatos – which Freud articulated relatively late in his career in “the hypothesis of a death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate state.”
For Freud, “the death instinct would thus seem to express itself – though probably only in part – as an instinct of destruction directed against the external world and other organisms”through aggression.
Freud considered that “the id, the whole person … originally includes all the instinctual impulses … the destructive instinct as well.” as ‘Eros’, or the ‘life instinct‘.

The Ego

The ego (Das Ich), is the component of personality that is responsible for dealing with reality.
According to Freud, the ego develops from the id, and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world.
The ego functions in both the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind.
The ego operates based on the ‘reality principle’, which strives to satisfy the id’s desires in realistic and socially appropriate ways.

The reality principle is the ability of the mind to assess the reality of the external world, and to act upon it accordingly, as opposed to acting on the pleasure principle.
Rebellion against the constraints of the reality principle, in favour of a belief in infantile omnipotence, appears as a feature of all neurotic behaviour.
Psychosis can be seen as the result of the suspension of the reality principle, while sleep and dreaming offer a ‘normal’ everyday example of its decommissioning.
The reality principle increases its scope in the wake of puberty, expanding the range and maturity of the choices the individual makes.
A further change in the reality principle from adolescence to adulthood can be a critical transition in its consolidation; but the impact of certain traumatic experiences may prove to be detrimental from within the unconscious. In the new reality principle, the individual must find themselves to be represented as a strong presence within their own mind and making reasoned decisions, instead of being merely perceived. It is the culmination of the way in which an adolescent learns to experience oneself in the context of their external reality.

The reality principle weighs the costs and benefits of an action before deciding to act upon or abandon impulses.
In many cases, the id’s impulses can be satisfied through a process of delayed gratification – the ego will eventually allow the behaviour, but only in the appropriate time and place.
The ego also discharges tension created by unmet impulses through the secondary process, in which the ego tries to find an object in the real world that matches the mental image created by the id’s primary process.
The ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world…. The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions … in its relation to the id it 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.
Still worse, “it serves three severe masters … the external world, the super-ego and the id.
Its task is to find a balance between primitive drives and reality while satisfying the id and super-ego.
Its main concern is with the individual’s safety and allows some of the id’s desires to be expressed, but only when consequences of these actions are marginal.
Thus the ego, driven by the id, confined by the super-ego, repulsed by reality, struggles … [in] bringing about harmony among the forces and influences working in and upon it,” and readily “breaks out in anxiety — realistic anxiety regarding the external world, moral anxiety regarding the super-ego, and neurotic anxiety regarding the strength of the passions in the id.
It has to do its best to suit all three, thus is constantly feeling hemmed by the danger of causing discontent on two other sides.
It is said, however, that the ego seems to be more loyal to the id, preferring to gloss over the finer details of reality to minimize conflicts while pretending to have a regard for reality.
But the super-ego is constantly watching every one of the ego’s moves and punishes it with feelings of guilt, anxiety, and inferiority.
To overcome this the ego employs defence mechanisms.
The defence mechanisms are not done so directly or consciously.
They lessen the tension by covering up our impulses that are threatening.
Ego defence mechanisms are often used by the ego when id behaviour conflicts with reality and either society’s morals, norms, and taboos or the individual’s expectations as a result of the internalization of these morals, norms, and their taboos.
Denial, displacement, internationalisation, fantasy, compensation, projection, rationalization, reaction formation, regression, repression, and sublimation were the ‘defence mechanisms’ Freud identified, however, his daughter Anna Freud clarified and identified the concepts of undoing, suppression, dissociation, idealization, identification, introjection, inversion, somatisation, splitting, and substitution.

The Superego

The last component of personality to develop is the superego (Das Über-Ich).
The superego is the aspect of personality that holds all of our internalized moral standards and ideals that we acquire from both parents and society – our sense of right and wrong.
The superego provides guidelines for making judgments.
According to Freud, the superego begins to emerge at around age five.
There are two parts of the superego:
The ego ideal includes the rules and standards for good behaviours.
These behaviours include those which are approved of by parental and other authority figures. Obeying these rules leads to feelings of pride, value and accomplishment.
The conscience includes information about things that are viewed as bad by parents and society.
These behaviours are often forbidden, and lead to bad consequences, punishments or feelings of guilt and remorse.
The superego acts to perfect and civilize our behaviour.
It works to suppress all unacceptable urges of the id, and struggles to make the ego act upon idealistic standards rather that upon realistic principles.
The superego is present in the conscious, preconscious and unconscious.
Freud’s theory implies that the super-ego is a symbolic internalisation of the father figure, and cultural regulations.
The super-ego tends to stand in opposition to the desires of the id because of their conflicting objectives, and its aggressiveness towards the ego.
The super-ego acts as the conscience, maintaining our sense of morality and proscription from taboos.
The super-ego and the ego are the product of two key factors: the state of helplessness of the child and the Oedipus complex.
Its formation takes place during the dissolution of the ‘Oedipus Complex’, and is formed by an identification with and internalisation of the father figure after the little boy cannot successfully hold the mother as a love-object out of fear of castration.
The super-ego retains the character of the father, while the more powerful the Oedipus complex was and the more rapidly it succumbed to repression (under the influence of authority, religious teaching, schooling and reading), the stricter will be the domination of the super-ego over the ego later on – in the form of conscience or perhaps of an unconscious sense of guilt.”
In Sigmund Freud’s work ‘Civilization and Its Discontents’ (1930), he also discusses the concept of a “cultural super-ego“.
Freud suggested that the demands of the super-ego “coincide with the precepts of the prevailing cultural super-ego. At this point the two processes, that of the cultural development of the group and that of the cultural development of the individual, are, as it were, always interlocked.
Ethics are a central element in the demands of the cultural super-ego, but Freud (as analytic moralist) protested against what he called “the unpsychological proceedings of the cultural super-ego … the ethical demands of the cultural super-ego. It does not trouble itself enough about the facts of the mental constitution of human beings.

The terms “id”, “ego”, and “super-ego” are not Freud’s own. They are latinisations by his translator James Strachey. Freud himself wrote of “das Es,” “das Ich,” and “das Über-Ich” – respectively, “the It”, “the I”, and the “Over-I” –  thus to the German reader, Freud’s original terms are more or less self-explanatory. Freud borrowed the term “das Es” from Georg Groddeck, a German physician to whose unconventional ideas Freud was much attracted (Groddeck’s translators render the term in English as “the It”). The word ego is taken directly from Latin, where it is the nominative of the first person singular personal pronoun and is translated as “I myself” to express emphasis.

Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are unconscious psychic processes that provide the ego with relief from the state of psychic conflict between the intruding id, the threatening superego and the powerful influences emanating from the external reality.
Due to these forces in the mind opposing and battling against each other, anxiety signals an internal danger.
These mechanisms come into play to enable the ego to reach compromise solutions to problems that it is unable to solve, by letting some component of the unwelcome mental contents emerge into consciousness in a disguised form.
How efficiently these mechanisms are to strengthen the ego, and to what extent they further different forms of compromise formations that may turn out to be psychoneurotic symptoms, depends on how successfully the ego reaches a higher or lesser degree of integration of these conflicting forces in the mind.
The more the ego is blocked in its development for being entangled in its earlier conflicts (fixations), clinging to archaic modes of functioning, the greater is the possibility of succumbing to these forces.
Anna Freud, in ‘The Ego and The Mechanisms of Defence’ (1946), formulates the hypothesis that what the ego fears most is the return to a previous stage of fusion with the id, in case repression fails or instincts are too intense.
In order to ensure the maintenance of the level of organization achieved, the ego has to protect itself from the invasion of instinctual demands (drives) of the id, and from the return of the repressed contents.
In fact, in the chapter “The Ego’s Dependent Relations”, in ‘The Id and the Ego’ (1923), Freud says: “psychoanalysis is the instrument to enable the ego to achieve a progressive conquest of the id“.
Psychoanalysis aims at transforming greater amounts of what once belonged to the id into acceptable possessions of the ego, along with its main purpose of turning unconscious contents into conscious ones.
Thus, the mind can find solutions that were previously unattainable to the immature ego.
The Major Defense Mechanisms:

1. Repression – the withdrawal from consciousness of an unwanted idea, affect, or desire by pushing it into the unconscious part of the mind.
2. Reaction formation – the fixation in consciousness of an idea, affect, or desire that is opposite to a feared unconscious impulse.
3. Projection – unwanted feelings are attributed to another person.
4. Regression – a return to forms of gratification belonging to earlier phases, due to conflicts arising at more developed stages.
5. Rationalization – the substitution of the true, but threatening cause of behavior for a safe and reasonable explanation.
6. Denial – the conscious refusal to perceive disturbing facts. It deprives the individual of the necessary awareness to cope with external challenges and the employment of adequate strategies for survival as well.
7. Displacement- the redirection of an urge onto a substitute outlet.
8. Undoing – is achieved through an act, which goal is the cancellation of a prior unpleasant experience.
9. Introjection – intimately related to identification, aims at solving some emotional difficulty of the individual by means of taking into his personality characteristics of someone else.
10. Sublimation – part of the energy invested in sexual impulses is shifted to the pursuit of socially valuable achievements, such as artistic or scientific endeavors.

Seduction Theory

In the early 1890s, Freud used a form of treatment based on the one that Breuer had described to him, modified by what he called his “pressure technique” and his newly developed analytic technique of interpretation and reconstruction.
According to Freud’s later accounts of this period, as a result of his use of this procedure most of his patients in the mid-1890s reported early childhood sexual abuse.
He believed these stories, which he used as the basis for his ‘seduction theory‘, but then he came to believe that they were fantasies.
He explained these at first as having the function of “fending off” memories of infantile masturbation, but in later years he wrote that they represented Oedipal fantasies, stemming from innate drives that are sexual and destructive in nature.
Another version of events focuses on Freud’s proposing that unconscious memories of infantile sexual abuse were at the root of the psychoneuroses in letters to Fliess in October 1895, before he reported that he had actually discovered such abuse among his patients.
In the first half of 1896, Freud published three papers, which led to his ‘seduction theory‘, stating that he had uncovered, in all of his current patients, deeply repressed memories of sexual abuse in early childhood.
In these papers, Freud recorded that his patients were not consciously aware of these memories, and must therefore be present as unconscious memories if they were to result in hysterical symptoms or obsessional neurosis.
The patients were subjected to considerable pressure to “reproduce” infantile sexual abuse “scenes” that Freud was convinced had been repressed into the unconscious.
Patients were generally unconvinced that their experiences of Freud’s clinical procedure indicated actual sexual abuse.
He reported that even after a supposed “reproduction” of sexual scenes the patients assured him emphatically of their disbelief.
As well as his pressure technique, Freud’s clinical procedures involved analytic inference and the symbolic interpretation of symptoms to trace back to memories of infantile sexual abuse.
His claim of one hundred percent confirmation of his theory only served to reinforce previously expressed reservations from his colleagues about the validity of findings obtained through his suggestive techniques.
Freud subsequently showed inconsistency as to whether his seduction theory was still compatible with his later findings.

The Unconscious

The concept of the unconscious was central to Freud’s account of the mind.
Freud believed that while poets and thinkers had long known of the existence of the unconscious, he had ensured that it received scientific recognition in the field of psychology, however, the concept made an informal appearance in Freud’s writings.
The unconscious was first introduced in connection with the phenomenon of repression, to explain what happens to ideas that are repressed.
Freud stated explicitly that the concept of the unconscious was based on the theory of repression.
He postulated a cycle in which ideas are repressed, but remain in the mind, removed from consciousness yet operative, then reappear in consciousness under certain circumstances. 
The postulate was based upon the investigation of cases of traumatic hysteria, which revealed cases where the behaviour of patients could not be explained without reference to ideas or thoughts of which they had no awareness.
This fact, combined with the observation that such behaviour could be artificially induced by hypnosis, in which ideas were inserted into people’s minds, suggested that ideas were operative in the original cases, even though their subjects knew nothing of them.
Freud, like Josef Breuer, found the hypothesis that hysterical manifestations were generated by ideas to be not only warranted, but given in observation.
Disagreement between them arose, however, when they attempted to give causal explanations of their data: Breuer favored a hypothesis of hypnoid states, while Freud postulated the mechanism of defense (see above).
Freud originally allowed that repression might be a conscious process, but by the time he wrote his second paper on the “Neuro-Psychoses of Defence” (1896), he apparently believed that repression, which he referred to as “the psychical mechanism of (unconscious) defense“, occurred on an unconscious level.
Freud further developed his theories about the unconscious in ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ (1899) and in ‘Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious’ (1905), where he dealt with condensation and displacement as inherent characteristics of unconscious mental activity. 
Freud presented his first systematic statement of his hypotheses about unconscious mental processes in 1912, in response to an invitation from the London Society of Psychical Research to contribute to its Proceedings.
In 1915, Freud expanded that statement into a more ambitious metapsychological paper, entitled “The Unconscious”.
In both these papers, when Freud tried to distinguish between his conception of the unconscious and those that pre-dated psychoanalysis, he found it in his postulation of ideas that are simultaneously latent and operative.

‘Die Traumdeutung’

The Nightmare
Johann Heinrich Füssli

The ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ introduces Freud’s theory of the unconscious (see above) with respect to dream interpretation, and also first discusses what would later become the theory of the ‘Oedipus Complex’ – (see below).
Freud revised the book at least eight times and, in the third edition, added an extensive section which treated dream symbolism very literally, following the influence of Wilhelm Stekel.
Freud said of this work, “Insight such as this falls to one’s lot but once in a lifetime.”
The initial print run of the book was very low – it took many years to sell out the first 600 copies. However, the work gained popularity as Freud did, and seven more editions were printed in his lifetime.
The text was translated from German into English by A. A. Brill, an American Freudian psychoanalyst, and later in an authorized translation by James Strachey, who was British. 
Because the book is very long and complex, Freud wrote an abridged version called ‘On Dreams’, which was published in 1901 as part of Lowenfeld and Kurella’s ‘Grenzfragen des Nerven und Seelenlebens’.
It was re-published in 1911 in slightly larger form as a book.
Freud spent the summer of 1895 at manor Belle Vue, near Grinzing in Austria, where he began the inception of ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’.
In a 1900 letter to Wilhelm Fliess, he wrote in commemoration of the place:
Do you suppose that some day a marble tablet will be placed on the house, inscribed with these words: ‘In this house on July 24th, 1895, the secret of dreams was revealed to Dr. Sigm. Freud’ ? At the moment I see little prospect of it.” – Freud in a letter to Wilhelm Fliess, June 12th, 1900

Overview of ‘Die Traumdeutung’

The Bee Sting
Salvador Dali

Dreams, in Freud’s view, are all forms of “wish fulfillment” – attempts by the unconscious to resolve a conflict of some sort, whether something recent or something from the recesses of the past (later in ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, Freud would discuss dreams which do not appear to be wish-fulfilment).
Because the information in the unconscious is in an unruly and often disturbing form, a “censor” in the preconscious will not allow it to pass unaltered into the conscious.
During dreams, the preconscious is more lax in this duty than in waking hours, but is still attentive: as such, the unconscious must distort and warp the meaning of its information to make it through the censorship.
As such, images in dreams are often not what they appear to be, according to Freud, and need deeper interpretation if they are to inform on the structures of the unconscious.
Freud used to mention the dreams as “The Royal Road to the Unconscious“.
He proposed the ‘phenomenon of condensation‘; (see below) the idea that one simple symbol or image presented in a person’s dream may have multiple meanings.
For this very reason, Freud tried to focus on details during psychoanalysis and asked his patients about things they could even think trivial (i.e. while a patient was describing an experience in their dream, Freud could ask him/her: “was there any sign upon the walls ? What was it ?”).
As Freud was focusing upon the biologic drives of the individual (a fact that alienated him from several colleagues of his like Breuer, Jung and Adler), he stated that when we observe a hollow object in our dreams, like a box or a cave, this is a symbol of a womb, while an elongated object is a symbol for penis – or more correctly the phallus.
Due to these statements, Freud attracted much criticism from those who believed him a “sexist” or “misanthrope“, as he was alleged to have overemphasised the role of instinct, as though he believed people were “wild beasts“.


The first edition begins:
In the following pages, I shall demonstrate that there exists a psychological technique by which dreams may be interpreted and that upon the application of this method every dream will show itself to be a senseful psychological structure which may be introduced into an assignable place in the psychic activity of the waking state. I shall furthermore endeavor to explain the processes which give rise to the strangeness and obscurity of the dream, and to discover through them the psychic forces, which operate whether in combination or opposition, to produce the dream. This accomplished by investigation will terminate as it will reach the point where the problem of the dream meets broader problems, the solution of which must be attempted through other material.”
Freud begins his book in the first chapter titled “The Scientific Literature on the Problems of the Dream” by reviewing different scientific views on dream interpretation, which he finds interesting but not adequate.
He then makes his argument by describing a number of dreams which he claims illustrate his theory.
Freud describes three main types of dreams: 1. Direct prophecies received in the dream (chrematismos, oraculum); 2. The foretelling of a future event (orama, visio) 3. The symbolic dream, which requires interpretation (Interpretation of Dreams 5).
Much of Freud’s sources for analysis are in literature.
Many of his most important dreams are his own – his method is inaugurated with an analysis of his dream “Irma’s injection” – but many also come from patient case studies.

Theory of Dreams

In the psychodynamic perspective, the transferring of unconscious thoughts into consciousness is called ‘dreamwork‘.
In dreams, there are two different types of content, the manifest and latent content.
The latent content is the underlying, unconscious feelings and thoughts.
The manifest content is made up of a combination of the latent thoughts, and it is what is actually being seen in the dream.
According to Carl Jung’s principle of compensation, the reason that there is latent content in dreams is because the unconscious is making up for the limitations of the conscious mind.
Since the conscious mind cannot be aware of all things at once, the latent content allows for these hidden away thoughts to be unlocked.
Psychoanalysts use the knowledge of the process of dreamwork to analyse dreams.
In other words, the clinician will study the manifest content to understand what the latent content is trying to say.


To be able to understand dreamwork fully, a person needs to understand how the mind transfers the latent thoughts to manifest.
The first step is called condensation, and it is the combining of different unconscious thought into one.
The combining of the unconscious thoughts makes it easier for the mind to express them in the dream.
The step of condensation has two sub-steps, day residues and censorship.
Day residues are left over daily issues that bring up some unconscious thought.
The mind then displays this thought through a similar situation from the day.
Before the unconscious thoughts can be displayed they are censored.
Since many unconscious thoughts do not follow the moral code of society, the mind changes them to be more respectful.
This is done so that it does not cause the dreamer anxiety and therefore wake them up.
It is also due to censorship that multiple unconscious thoughts are combined, since it is hard to just have one slip through.
After condensation, another step in the formation of dreams is displacement.
This is where the dream directs feelings or desires onto an unrelated subject.
This is similar to the practice of transference, which is a common technique used in psychoanalysis.
Another step in the formation of dreams is symbolism.
Objects or situations in dreams, actually represent something else, commonly an unconscious thought or desire.
The fourth, and final step in formation is secondary revision.
In this step, all the thoughts are put together and are made coherent.
Also another point of this step is to make the dream relate to the dreamer.
These four steps put together make up dreamwork.

Der Ödipus-Komplex

The term ‘Oedipus Complex’ denotes the emotions and ideas that the mind keeps in the unconscious, via dynamic repression, that concentrates upon a child’s desire to sexually possess the parent of the opposite sex (e.g. males attracted to their mothers, whereas females are attracted to their fathers).

Oedipus and the Sphinx
Gustave Moreau
Frederic Leighton

Freud believed that the Oedipus complex is a desire for the parent in both males and females; 
Freud deprecated the term “Electra complex”, which was introduced by Carl Gustav Jung in regard to the Oedipus complex manifested in young girls.
The Oedipus complex occurs in the third – phallic stage (ages 3–6) – of the five psycho-sexual development stages: (i) the oral, (ii) the anal, (iii) the phallic, (iv) the latent, and (v) the genital – in which the source of libidinal pleasure is in a different erogenous zone of the infant’s body.
In classical psychoanalytic theory, child’s identification with the same-sex parent is the successful resolution of the Oedipus complex, a key psychological experience that is necessary for the development of a mature sexual role and identity.
Freud further proposed that boys and girls experience the complexes differently: boys in a form of castration anxiety, girls in a form of penis envy; and that unsuccessful resolution of the complexes might lead to neurosis and/or paedophilia.
Men and women who are fixated in the Oedipal stage of their psychosexual development might be considered “mother-fixated” and “father-fixated”.
In adult life this can lead to a choice of a sexual partner who resembles one’s parent.

Background to Der Ödipus-Komplex

Oedipus refers to a 5th-century BC Greek mythlogic character Oedipus, who unwittingly kills his father, Laius, and marries his mother, Jocasta.
A play based on the myth, ‘Oedipus Rex’, was written by Sophocles, ca. 429 BC.
Modern productions of Sophocles’ play were staged in Paris and Vienna in the 19th century and were phenomenally successful in the 1880s and 1890s. which Freud attended.
In his book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ – (see above), he proposed that an Oedipal desire is a universal, psychological phenomenon innate (phylogenetic) to human beings, and the cause of much unconscious guilt.
He based this on his analysis of his feelings attending the play, his anecdotal observations of neurotic or normal children, and on the fact that the ‘Oedipus Rex’ play was effective on both ancient and modern audiences (he also claimed the play Hamlet was effective for the same reason).
Freud described the man Oedipus:
‘His destiny moves us only because it might have been ours – because the Oracle laid the same curse upon us before our birth as upon him. It is the fate of all of us, perhaps, to direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and our first hatred and our first murderous wish against our father. Our dreams convince us that this is so.’

The Theory of Der Ödipus-Komplex

Oedipus and the Sphinx

In psychoanalytic theory, the Oedipus complex occurs during the phallic stage of psycho-sexual development (age 3–6 years), when also occurs the formation of the libido and the ego; yet it might manifest itself at an earlier age.
In the phallic stage, a boy’s decisive psycho-sexual experience is the Oedipus complex – his son-father competition for possession of mother.
It is in this third stage of psycho-sexual development that the child’s genitalia are his or her primary erogenous zone; thus, when children become aware of their bodies, the bodies of other children, and the bodies of their parents, they gratify physical curiosity by undressing and exploring themselves, each other, and their genitals, so learning the anatomic differences between “male” and “female”, and the gender differences between “boy” and “girl”.

Psychosexual Infantilism

Despite mother being the parent who primarily gratifies the child’s desires, the child begins forming a discrete sexual identity – “boy”, “girl” – that alters the dynamics of the parent and child relationship; the parents become objects of infantile libidinal energy.
The boy directs his libido (sexual desire) upon his mother, and directs jealousy and emotional rivalry against his father – because it is he who sleeps with his mother.

Moreover, to facilitate union with mother, the boy’s id wants to kill father (as did Oedipus), but the pragmatic ego, based upon the reality principle, knows that the father is the stronger of the two males competing to possess the one female.
Nonetheless, the boy remains ambivalent about his father’s place in the family, which is manifested as fear of castration by the physically greater father; the fear is an irrational, subconscious manifestation of the infantile id.

Psycho-logic Defence

In both sexes, defence mechanisms provide transitory resolutions of the conflict between the drives of the id and the drives of the ego.
The first defence mechanism is repression, the blocking of memories, emotional impulses, and ideas from the conscious mind; yet its action does not resolve the id–ego conflict.
The second defence mechanism is identification, by which the child incorporates, to his or her (super)ego, the personality characteristics of the same-sex parent; in so adapting, the boy diminishes his castration anxiety, because his likeness to father protects him from father’s wrath in their maternal rivalry; by so adapting, the girl facilitates identifying with mother, who understands that, in being females, neither of them possesses a penis, and thus are not antagonists.


Unresolved son–father competition for the psycho-sexual possession mother might result in a phallic stage fixation, conducive to a boy becoming an aggressive, over-ambitious, vain man. Therefore, the satisfactory parental handling and resolution of the Oedipus complex are most important in developing the male infantile super-ego, because, by identifying with a parent, the boy internalizes Morality, thereby, he chooses to comply with societal rules, rather than reflexively complying in fear of punishment.

to be continued

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

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