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Sigmund Freud: life and work of the famous psychoanalyst

Sigmund Freud: life and work of the famous psychoanalyst

May 24, 2022

Sigmund Freud He is, perhaps, the most famous, controversial and charismatic thinker of twentieth-century psychology.

His theories and his work have left an important mark on the way in which explanations have been given for decades in childhood, personality, memory, sexuality or therapy. Many psychologists have been influenced by his work, while others have developed their ideas in opposition to him.

Nowadays, scientific psychology develops outside the ideas of Sigmund Freud. However, that does not detract from this researcher's historical value. Next we will review his life and his work.

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Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis

Freud is the father of psychoanalysis, a method that aims to treat mental illness. Freudian psychoanalysis is a theory that attempts to explain the behavior of human beings and is based on the analysis of unconscious sexual conflicts that originate in childhood. This theory holds that the instinctual impulses that are repressed by consciousness remain in the unconscious and affect the subject. The unconscious is not observable by the patient: the psychoanalyst is the one who must make these unconscious conflicts accessible through the interpretation of dreams, failed acts and free association .

The concept called "free association", is a technique that seeks that the patient expresses, during therapy sessions, all their ideas, emotions, thoughts and images as they are presented, without restrictions or orderings. After this opening, the psychoanalyst must determine what factors, within those manifestations, reflect an unconscious conflict.

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The relationship of Sigmund Freud with Charcot and Breuer: Origin of Psychoanalysis

To understand his theory, we must know that everything started in Paris, where Sigmund Freud was thanks to a scholarship. There he spent a lot of time next to Jean-Martin Charcot , a famous neurologist studious of the hypnotic phenomenon, and thus begins his interest in the suggestion and study of hysteria. Once the scholarship was completed, Freud returned to Vienna and shared Charcot's theories with other doctors, but everyone rejected him. Josef Breuer , a friend of yours.

Further, Breuer played an important role in the life of Sigmund Freud as a father figure , advising him in the different aspects of the career they shared, supporting him financially so that he could establish his office as a private doctor, creating the cathartic method and writing with him the inaugural work of the history of psychoanalysis.

The famous case of Anna O.

In case of Anna O. (his real name was Bertha Pappenheim) marked a before and after in the career of a young Freud . Anna O. was a patient of Breuer who suffered hysteria, but both took charge of her problem. The patient was a young woman who fell ill in the fall of 1880. When she was 21 years old, her father unexpectedly fell ill and was forced to take care of him. So much was her attention to her father, that the great carelessness that she gave herself led her to anemia and weakness. But these problems; who soon prostrated her in bed, were followed by even more alarming discomforts: paralysis, a serious disturbance of language and other symptoms that appear after the death of her father, and for which she is diagnosed as hysterical.

Breuer's treatment focused on inducing the patient to a hypnotic state and persuading her to recall the circumstances prior to the first appearance of each of the symptoms suffered. Upon leaving the hypnotic trance, these hysterical symptoms were disappearing one by one. The doctor performed this treatment twice a day, and Anna O. used to call it "cure by the word". Breuer baptized him as method cathartic . In the case of Anna O. it was concluded that she had suffered sexual abuse in her childhood by a family member, and although it seemed that the therapy worked, there was a sexual transference between the patient and the doctor. Then there were problems with a false pregnancy of the patient, in love with her therapist, and Breuer left harassed by the jealousy of his wife.

Breuer and hysteria

Breuer concluded that the patients who showed the symptoms of hysteria did not have physical ailments but, in reality, their symptoms were the result of the permanent action of certain traumatic experiences of the past and that they had been repressed, although not forgotten , and also, that when releasing these repressed thoughts, externalizing them and accepting them in a conscious way, the symptoms disappeared. At first, Breuer did not make his discoveries public, but he shared them with Freud. The latter used this method, but left hypnosis aside and instead established the procedure of "free association".

Later, the relationship between Breuer and Freud began to decline due to several discussions in the scientific field. Breuer adhered to a classical scientistic conception that did not accept the total separation between physiology and psychology, while Freud bet on the creation of a whole new theoretical system for psychology and absolute independence of any other medical branch. On the other hand, Breuer conceived the cathartic method with hypnosis, but without the adoption of "free association" or other modifications and extensions suggested by Sigmund Freud. The friendship ended up being definitively broken by the year of a joint publication.

The unconscious mind

Sigmund Freud developed a topographic map of the mind in which he described the characteristics of the structure and functioning of the mind. In this model, the conscious mind is only the tip of the iceberg . In the unconscious mind many of our primitive impulses and desires that are mediated by the preconsciousness .

Freud discovered that some events and desires caused so much fear and pain to his patients, that they remained guarded in the dark subconscious , affecting the behavior in a negative way. This happened due to the process he called "repression". In his theory gives great importance to the unconscious mind, since the goal of psychoanalysis is to make aware what is bothering the unconscious.

The psychic instances

Later, Freud developed a model of the mind that was composed of IT, ME and SUPER-ME, and called it the "psychic apparatus". As he IT , the I Y SUPER-YO they are not physical areas, but hypothetical conceptualizations of important mental functions.

  • The IT operates at the unconscious level. It responds to the pleasure principle and is composed of two types of biological instincts or impulses that he called Eros and Thanatos . Eros, or life instinct, helps individuals survive; directs activities that sustain life such as breathing, food or sex. The energy created by the impulses of life is known as libido. In contrast, the Thanatos or death instinct, are a series of destructive forces that are present in all living beings. When the energy is directed towards others, it is expressed in aggressions and violence. Freud thought that Eros has more power than Thanatos, and it makes it easier for people to survive instead of self-destruct.
  • The I (or ego) develops during childhood. Its objective is to satisfy the demands of IT within social acceptance. In contrast to IT, the I follows the reality principle and operates in the conscious and the subconscious.
  • The SUPER-YO (or superego) is responsible for ensuring that moral standards are followed, so it acts with the principle of morality and motivates us to act with a socially acceptable and responsible behavior. The SUPER-ME can make a person feel guilty for not following the rules. When there is a conflict between the objectives of IT and the SUPER-ME, the ME acts as a mediator. The self has defense mechanisms to prevent the anxiety of these conflicts. These levels or instances overlap, that is, they are integrated and in this way the human psyche works. This is a process that goes from the moment a person is born.

When one is born is all IT, your needs for food, hygiene, sleep and contact must be met immediately, because it does not have the ability to wait, that is, it is governed by a pleasure principle, it is impatient. Little by little he learns to wait, he perceives that someone encourages him, distinguishes situations, that is the moment in which the SELF emerges and as he grows he continues with his learning.

Among these learnings he distinguishes that there are things that he can not do and others that he does, then it is when the SUPER-YO begins to form. A child is orienting his behavior as indicated by the adults who are giving him prizes or punishments according to whether or not he responds to the norms or indications that they give.

The defense mechanisms

Freud speaks to us about defense mechanisms, such as the techniques of the unconscious, which are responsible for minimizing the consequences of events that are too intense. In this way, through these mechanisms, the individual is able to function normally.It is a response of the SELF, which defends itself both from the excessive pressure of IT, when it demands the satisfaction of impulses, and from the excessive control of the SUPER-ME; Thanks to them, the SELF also protects itself from the presence of past traumatic experiences.

The defense mechanisms are incorrect ways of solving the psychological conflict and can lead to disturbances in the mind, behavior, and in the most extreme cases to the somatization of the psychological conflict and the physical dysfunctions that express it. These are some of the defense mechanisms:


It refers to the redirection of an impulse (usually an assault) towards a person or an object. For example, someone who is frustrated with their boss and kicks their dog.


It is similar to displacement, but the impulse is channeled into a more acceptable form. A sexual drive sublimates towards a non-sexual purpose, pointing to socially valued objects, such as artistic activity, physical activity or intellectual research.


It is the mechanism that Freud discovered first. It makes reference to that the I erase events and thoughts that would be painful if they were kept at the conscious level.


It refers to individuals who attribute their own thoughts, motives or feelings to another person. The most common projections can be aggressive behaviors that provoke a feeling of guilt, and fantasies or sexual thoughts.


It is the mechanism by which the subject blocks external events so that they are not part of the consciousness and deals with evident aspects of reality as if they did not exist. For example, a smoker who refuses to face smoking can cause serious health problems.

If you want to know more about this topic, you can visit the article "Defense Mechanisms"

Stages of Freud's theory

The era in which the author of psychosexual theory lived, and in which it was usual the strong repression of sexual desires, especially in the female sex, Sigmund Freud understood that there was a relationship between neurosis and sexual repression. Therefore, it was possible to understand the nature and variety of the disease by knowing the patient's sexual history.

Freud considered that children are born with a sexual desire that they must satisfy, and that there are a series of stages, during which the child seeks pleasure from different objects. This is what led to the most controversial part of his theory: the theory of psychosexual development.

Oral stage

It begins with the birth and continues during the first 18 months of life. This stage is focused on the pleasure in the mouth, that is the erogenous zone. The child sucks everything he finds because that is pleasurable and he knows his surroundings. Therefore, in this phase the child already experiments with his sexuality. If the adult, for example, forbids him to suck his finger, hand, etc. It is obstructing you to explore and explore your surroundings. Which can bring future problems for the child.

Anal stage

The anal phase of development occurs between 18 months and three years of age. In this stage the child's and parents' concern revolves around the year, it is the stage of toilet training. Sexual enjoyment for the child is in defecation. He feels that he is thus surrendering a production of his body, a part of himself and that is why it is so important to him.

It is a stage of great importance and it is essential that sphincter control is done progressively, without pressure. Mishandling this stage will have a negative impact on future behavior.

Phallic stage

The phallic phase of Sigmund Freud's theory begins at three years and extends to six years. In this stage the genitals are the object of pleasure and interest in sexual differences and genitals appears, so it is very important not to repress and properly manage this stage, since it could obstruct the capacity for research, knowledge and general learning . Freud says that men begin to experience sexual feelings towards their mothers and see their parents as competitors, so they fear being castrated, a process that results in the Oedipus Complex. Later the children identify with their parents and repress the feelings towards their mothers to leave behind this phase.

Latency stage

Freud's latency phase develops between six years and the onset of puberty. It coincides with the school stage and for a long time it was mistakenly believed that sexuality was dormant, latent. What happens is that during this period the child's interest focuses on knowing, learning and researching. A good management of the previous stages contributes very favorably to school success.

Genital stage

This phase occurs at puberty, and once again, the focus is on the genitals. Individuals show curiosity about genital sexuality and it is essential that they find in their parents and in the adult world the openness and availability to talk about sex and to clarify and answer their questions.

Analysis of dreams

Freud considered that dreams were important in order to explain what happened in the unconscious, because while we dream the defenses of the I are not present. Because of this, much repressed material becomes conscious, albeit in a distorted way. Remembering fragments of dreams can help uncover buried emotions and memories. Therefore, dreams play an important role in the unconscious mind and serve to give clues as to how it operates.

Sigmund Freud distinguished between manifest content (what is remembered from the dream) and latent content , the symbolic meaning of the dream (what it tries to say). The first is superficial and the second is manifested through the language of dreams. The author of the "Theory of the Interpretation of Dreams" mentions that all dreams represent the realization of a wish on the part of the dreamer, including nightmares. According to his theory, the "censorship" of dreams produces a distortion of their content. So what may seem like a set of meaningless dreamed images, through analysis and its "deciphering" method, can really be a set of coherent ideas.

Curiosities about the life of Freud

We recently published this article that may be of help to complement your knowledge about the figure of the Austrian psychoanalyst:

"10 curiosities about the life of Sigmund Freud"

Legacy of this great thinker

Freudian ideas caused a great impact, and his work brought together a large group of followers. Among them can be cited: Karl Abraham, Sandor Ferenczi, Alfred Adler, Carl Gustav Jung, Otto Rank and Ernest Jones. Some, like Adler and Jung, moved away from the principles of Freud and created their own psychological conception.

There is no doubt that Psychoanalysis has been revolutionary for psychology and it has served as the basis for the development of a large number of psychological theories and schools. In its beginnings, and even today, it has been a doctrine that has awakened great passions, for and against . Possibly one of the main criticisms, refers to the lack of objectivity in the observation and the difficulty of deriving specific hypotheses verifiable from this theory, but however much they criticize it, in the development of psychology, there is a before and a after this famous character.

PSYCHOTHERAPY - Sigmund Freud (May 2022).

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