FREUD MAJOR CONTRIBUTIONS
Freud, working with hysteric patients, came to understand that the symptoms from which they suffered embodied a meaning that was simultaneously hidden and revealed.
Over time he learned that all neurotic symptoms were messengers carrying repressed – hence unconscious – psychic content. This led him to develop his “talking cure”, which revolutionized the interaction between patient and therapist. Freud saw his patients on six days of the week, listening and responding to what they were telling him, while they were lying on a couch. Invited to speak whatever crossed their minds, his patients provided Freud with associations leading back to repressed childhood experiences, wishes and fantasies that had resulted in unconscious conflicts; once brought into consciousness these conflicts could be analyzed, and the symptoms then dissolved. This procedure became not only a potent method of treatment but also an efficient tool for studying the human psyche, leading to the development of an evermore sophisticated psychoanalytic theory of how the mind works and, in recent years, to joint and comparative studies in the new field of neuro-psychoanalysis. Freud’s early discoveries led him to some groundbreaking new concepts:
- The Unconscious: psychic life goes beyond what we are conscious of, also beyond what is preconscious in the sense of what we could become aware of once we tried to think of it. A major part of our mind is unconscious, and this part is only accessible with psychoanalysis.
- Early childhood experiences are an amalgam of fantasy and reality; they are characterized by passionate wishes, untamed impulses, and infantile anxieties. For example, hunger stirs a wish to swallow up everything, yet also the fear of being swallowed up by everybody else; the wish to be in control and independent is linked to fears of being manipulated or abandoned; to separate from an important care-taker could lead to remaining exposed, helpless and alone; to love one parent might risk to lose the love of the other. Thus early wishes and fears result in conflicts which, where they cannot be resolved, are repressed and become unconscious.
- Psychosexual development: Freud recognized that the progressive maturation of bodily functions centred on the erotogenic zones (mouth, anus, genitals) comes along with pleasures and fears experienced in the relationship with the care-taking objects, and these structure the development of the child’s mind.
- The Oedipus complex is the core complex of all neuroses. A child of age four to six becomes aware of the sexual nature of the parents’ relationship, from which they are excluded. Feelings of jealousy and rivalry arise and have to be sorted out, together with the questions of who is male and who female, who can love and marry whom, how are babies made and born, and what can the child compared to the adult do or not do. The resolution of these challenging questions will shape the character of the adult mind and the super-ego (see below in The Ego, the Id and the Super-Ego).
- Repression is the force that keeps unconscious dangerous fantasies related to unresolved portions of childhood conflicts.
- Dreams are wish-fulfilments. Most often they express the fulfilment of infantile sexual wishes or fantasies. Since they appear in disguise (as absurd, strange or incoherent scenes) they require analysis to reveal their unconscious meaning. Freud called the interpretation of dreams the royal road to the unconscious.
- Transference is the ubiquitous tendency of the human mind to view and identify new situations within the templates of earlier experiences. In psychoanalysis transference occurs when a patient views the analyst like a parental figure, with whom they can re-experience the major infantile conflicts or traumas as if within the original child-parent relationship.
- Free association describes the emergence of thoughts, feelings and fantasies when they are uninhibited by restrictions through fear, guilt, and shame (see below in The Core Psychoanalytic Method and Setting).
- The Ego, the Id and the Super-Ego: The Ego is the major seat of consciousness, the mind’s agent that exercises the repressions, and integrates and consolidates various impulses and tendencies before they are translated into action. – The Id is the unconscious part of the mind, the site of the repressed and the unknowable memory traces of early life. The Super Ego is the mind’s guide and conscience, a retainer for prohibitions to keep to, and ideals to strive for.
Susana L. Ruiz