Freud And Psychoanalysis

6 June 2016

The impact of Freud’s psychoanalysis extends far beyond psychology, influencing much of the twentieth-century intellectual history. Freud stressed the enormous importance of unconscious mental processes in human behavior. He showed such processes affect the content of dreams, and cause commonplace mishaps such as slips of the tongue and forgetting names, as well as self-inflicted accidents and even diseases.

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Freud developed the technique of psychoanalysis as a method of treating mental illness. He formulated a theory of the structure of the human personality. He also developed or popularized psychological theories concerning anxiety, defense mechanisms, the castration complex, repression and sublimation, to name just a few. His writings greatly stimulated interest in psychological theory. Many of his ideas were, and are, highly controversial, and have provoked heated discussions ever since he proposed them (Classic Notes).

By listening carefully to the patient’s associations, Freud detected consistent themes, which on further analysis were shown to be manifestations of the patient’s unconscious wishes and fears.

The idea that much of behavior appears to be a compromise between wishes and fears assumed a central role in Freud’s understanding of neurotic symptoms, dreams, slips of the tongue, humor, sexual behavior and even occupational interests. In his analyses of these phenomena, he found evidence of unresolved childhood conflicts, unconscious incestuous wishes, and hostile impulses. From observations such as these, Freud formulated the psychoanalytic theory. We turn now to some of the findings and interpretations that form the core of this theory. (Freud, Sigmund).

One of the provocative aspects of psychoanalytic theory is the assertion that forces of which we are unaware—the unconscious, govern a significant part of our behavior. Our choice of a marital partner or vocation, our hobbies, quarrels with friends, careless acts and incompetent performances may reflect the influence of impulses and fears that remain unconscious—that is, inaccessible to our conscious mind. Impulses and feelings such as shame, guilt or fear—and the memories associated with these unacceptable feelings—may also be excluded from awareness.

When Freud encouraged his patients to recall painful memories and to confront unacceptable feelings, they appeared to resist his efforts. Freud hypothesized that this resistance was a function of an active, although unconscious, attempt to exclude unpleasant events and feelings from memory.

He called this repression. Freud is perhaps best known for proposing the idea that repressed sexual feelings often play a causative role in mental illness or neurosis. He also pointed out that sexual feelings and desires begin in early childhood, rather than in adolescence. (Classic Notes).

Because many of Freud’s ideas are still so controversial, it is very difficult to assess his place in history. He was a pioneer and a trailblazer, with a remarkable talent for coming up with new ideas. Despite the continuing controversy over his ideas, there seems little doubt that Freud is a towering figure in the history of human thought.

His ideas on psychology have completely revolutionized our conception of the human mind, and many of the ideas and terms which he introduced have become common usage—for example, the id, the ego, the superego, the Oedipus complex. (Classic Notes)

It is true that psychoanalysis is an extremely expensive mode of treatment, and that it often fails. But it is also true that the technique has a great many successes to its credit. Future psychologists may well conclude that repressed sexual feelings play a lesser role in human behavior than many Freudians have claimed.

However, such feelings surely play a greater role than most psychologists before Freud had believed. Similarly, the majority of psychologists are now convinced that unconscious mental processes play a decisive role in human behavior—one that was greatly underestimated before Freud. (Classic Notes)


Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Trans. and Ed. James Strachey. Intro.      Peter Gay. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961.

Civilization and its Discontents. Classic Notes. 2003. Accessed Oct 1, 2006 at:

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