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Anna Freud: biography and work of the successor of Sigmund Freud

Anna Freud: biography and work of the successor of Sigmund Freud

May 9, 2021

When talking about psychoanalysis it is almost inevitable to think specifically about Sigmund Freud, a historical character who, beyond supposing the beginning of a current of thought, has become one of the most popular and recognizable icons.

However, the psychodynamic current, which is the branch of non-scientific psychology that Freud founded, had already since the early twentieth century many other representatives who defended a view of the psyche significantly different from that of the father of psychoanalysis. For example, this is the case Anna Freud . Today we explain his life, his work and his most relevant theories.

Psychoanalysis: Freud, Jung and Adler


Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav Jung are two of these examples. They were exceptional thinkers who soon moved away from the proposals of their mentor and came to found different currents within psychodynamics (individual psychology and deep psychology, respectively).

However, part of the successors of Sigmund Freud claimed the works of his master and worked embracing most of the expositions of this, to expand and qualify ideas related to "classical" psychoanalysis. Anna Freud , the daughter of Sigmund Freud, was one of these people.

The first years of Anna Freud

Anna Freud was born in Vienna in 1895, and was the last daughter of the marriage formed between Sigmund Freud and Martha Bernays . At that stage his father was developing the theoretical foundations of psychoanalysis, so from a very young age he came into contact with the world of psychodynamics. In fact, during the course of the First World War he used to attend meetings of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Circle. Shortly after, between 1918 and 1920, he began to psychoanalyze with his father.


It is at this time when Anna Freud stops working as a governess and decides to devote herself to psychoanalysis. Specific, he dedicated himself to psychoanalysis with boys and girls . Between 1925 and 1930, Anna Freud began to give seminars and lectures to train psychoanalysts and educators, convinced that the practice and psychoanalytic theory created by her father could be very important during the first years of life of the people, which is when social norms are internalized and determining traumas can be fixed. He also publishes his book Introduction to Psychoanalysis for Educators.

It is also at this time that one of the most important train collisions of the first years of psychoanalysis arises: the theoretical battle waged by Anna Freud and Melanie Klein , another of the few European psychoanalytic women of the beginning of the century. Both held totally opposite ideas in many aspects related to the evolution of the psyche with age and the procedures that should be followed to deal with children and adolescents, and both received a lot of media coverage. Anna Freud, in addition, received the support of her father.


Taking psychoanalysis further

In the 1930s, Anna Freud began to revise the Freudian theory of the psychic structures of the id, the ego and the superego. Unlike Sigmund Freud, very interested in the id, the unconscious and the hidden and mysterious mechanisms that according to him govern behavior, Anna Freud was much more pragmatic and preferred to focus on what makes us adapt to real contexts and everyday situations .

This type of motivation made him focus his studies on the self, which according to Sigmund Freud and herself is the structure of the psyche directly connected with the environment, reality. In other words, if Sigmund Freud proposed explanations about how the self and the superego had the role of preventing the id from imposing their interests, Anna Freud understood the self as the most important part of the psyche, as the party acting as arbitrator between the superego and the id. From this approach arose shortly after the so-called ego psychology, whose most important representatives were Erik Erikson and Heinz Hartmann.

But let's go back to Anna Freud and her ideas about the self.

Anna Freud, the self and the defense mechanisms

In the mid-1930s, Anna Freud published one of her most important books: The Self and defense mechanisms.

In this work he tried to describe in a more detailed way the functioning of the ego structures of which his father had spoken years before: the self, the id and the superego. The it, according to these ideas, is governed by the pleasure principle and seeks the immediate satisfaction of their needs and drives , Meanwhile he superego value if we approach or move away from an ideal image of ourselves that only acts nobly and adjusting perfectly to social norms, while the I is between the other two and tries that the conflict between them does not harm us.

Anna Freud emphasizes the importance of the self as an escape valve that makes the tension accumulated by an it that has to be constantly repressed not put us in danger. The self, which is the only one of the three psychic structures that has a realistic vision of things, tries to entertain the id so that its demands are delayed until the moment in which satisfying them does not put us at risk, at the same time that negotiates with the superego so that our self-image is not seriously damaged while we do this.

The defense mechanisms are, for Anna Freud, the tricks that the self uses to deceive the id and offer small symbolic victories, since it can not satisfy their needs in the real world. A) Yes, the defense mechanism of denial consists in making us believe that the problem that makes us feel bad, simply does not exist ; the displacement defense mechanism causes us to redirect an impulse towards a person or object with which we can "retaliate", while rationalization consists in replacing an explanation about what has happened with another that makes us feel better (you can see more defense mechanisms in this article).

Setting the foundations of Freudian theory

Anna Freud did not stand out as being particularly groundbreaking, quite the opposite: accepted the bulk of Sigmund Freud's ideas and extended them as regards the functioning of the id, the ego and the superego.

However, his explanations served to give him a more pragmatic and not so obscure approach to psychoanalysis. That their clinical and educational approaches are really useful or not is a totally different topic.


Personality: Carl Jung and Karen Horney (May 2021).


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