Freud, Sigmund

Freud, Sigmund

Bio: (1856–1939) Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis. In 1873, Freud enrolled at the University of Vienna to study medicine, and he graduated six years later. He worked as an assistant at the General Hospital in Vienna, where he conducted research on the nervous system and was exposed to the work of French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. Charcot’s research on hysteria and hypnosis significantly impacted Freud’s later work. In 1886, Freud married Martha Bernays, and they had six children together. The same year, Freud resigned from his hospital post and opened a private practice, and started with the development of theory and therapeutic methods of psychoanalysis.  Freud died in London in 1939, after fleeing Austria following the Nazi annexation.

Friendship and collaboration with Austrian physician Joseph Breuer during 1892-1896 influenced Freud's early ideas on psychoanalysis. Two of them co-authored the book Studies on Hysteria (1895). Studies on Hysteria and The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) are the first Freud books where he laid the foundations for the theory and practice of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis, as a method of treating mental illness, involves exploring a patient's unconscious mind through dialogue. In psychoanalysis, patients are encouraged to explore their thoughts, emotions, and experiences in a safe and non-judgmental environment, with the goal of uncovering repressed memories and resolving inner conflicts.

Freud's work in psychoanalysis led him to develop several key concepts, including the unconscious mind, the id, ego, and superego, and the psychosexual stages of development. The human mind consists of three parts: id, ego, and superego. The id is the most primitive part of the psyche, and it is responsible for our instinctual drives and impulses. The id operates on the pleasure principle, seeking immediate gratification of our desires without considering the consequences. The ego is the rational part of the psyche, and it mediates between the id and the external world. The ego operates on the reality principle, which takes into account the consequences of our actions and tries to find a balance between our desires and the demands of the external world. The superego is the moral component of the psyche, representing society's internalized values and ideals. The superego is responsible for our sense of guilt and shame when we violate societal norms and values.

Freud also believed that the human psyche is divided into three levels of awareness: the conscious, the preconscious, and the unconscious. The conscious level contains thoughts and perceptions that we are currently aware of, while the preconscious level contains thoughts and memories that we can bring to consciousness with effort. The unconscious level contains thoughts and memories that are repressed and hidden from our awareness.

In the book, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1904) Freud widened the concept of sexuality and he now understood it from a much wider and developmental perspective.  Sexuality was considered diphasic,  development from birth to five is centered around erotogenic zones of the bodily. After that, follows the period of comparative quiescence (latency), and after that second stage of sexual openness starts with puberty.

In the book Totem and Taboo: Resemblances between the Psychic Lives of Savages and Neurotics (1913) Freud explores the myth (that he invented) about the killing and eating of the violent father in the primal horde. Freud starts with  Darwin's theory that states that in early primitive human societies, a single alpha male possessed a harem of females, with all other males prohibited to form relations with those females.  Freud makes an assumption that in a single event in a distant human past the band of brothers that was expelled from the group by their alpha-male father, returned and kill and eat him. Brothers both feared and respected the father. After the act of murdering and eating the father, the sons are in a state of remorse and guilt, and they give up having sexual relations with the women belonging to the deceased father, and in that way, they create new symbolic order, and that is the order of the law. The respect and remorse that the brothers felt toward their father, to Freud, is the symbolic origin of the Oedipus complex, and totemism. Even more, this hypothetical singular event represents the true origins of human society, and of all religions, as an effect of collective guilt and ambivalence regarding the killing of the father figure (the true original sin).

In Civilization and Its Discontent (1930), Freud delves into the intricate complexities of civilization and human nature. He provides an exploration of the inherent tensions and conflicts that arise within the fabric of society. By examining the nature of human desires, instincts, and the impact of societal norms, Freud unveils the discontent that underlies the veneer of civilization. Freud posits that civilization, by its very nature, necessitates the suppression of certain human instincts. He argues that the establishment of societal structures demands the repression of individual desires, particularly aggressive and sexual drives. This repression is essential for maintaining order, preventing chaos, and enabling cooperation among individuals. However, this suppression of instinctual desires results in fundamental discontent within individuals, creating a perpetual tension between civilization and innate human nature.

Central to Freud's thesis is the notion that human beings are driven by a relentless pursuit of happiness. Yet, he argues that true happiness is elusive due to the inherent conflicts between our instincts and societal constraints. The imposition of moral codes and cultural norms often imposes restrictions on personal fulfillment. Consequently, individuals experience a sense of dissatisfaction and frustration, leading to psychological disturbances. Freud asserts that civilization's inherent discontent arises from the perpetual struggle between the individual's instinctual desires and the societal demands for conformity.

According to Freud, the establishment of civilization demands sacrifices from its members. Individuals are compelled to relinquish their natural inclinations and submit to societal expectations. This surrender of instincts and desires is the price paid for living in a civilized society. Freud further contends that this loss is accompanied by a sense of guilt arising from the violation of one's own instinctual drives. As a result, individuals experience internal conflict and anxiety, often manifesting as neuroses and mental disorders. 

Freud critically examines the role of religion within the framework of civilization. He argues that religion serves as a powerful mechanism to alleviate the discontent caused by civilization's restrictions. By providing a moral compass and promising an afterlife reward, religion attempts to reconcile the conflict between individual desires and societal constraints. Freud, however, views religion as an illusion, a form of wish fulfillment that distracts individuals from the harsh realities of existence. He suggests that this illusory comfort perpetuates the discontent within civilization by suppressing the truth of human nature.

Main works

On Aphasia (1891); 

Studies on Hysteria (co-authored with Josef Breuer) (1895);

The Interpretation of Dreams (1900);

On Dreams (abridged version of The Interpretation of Dreams) (1901); 

The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1904); 

Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905); 

Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905);

Delusion and Dream in Jensen's Gradiva (1907);

Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1910); 

Leonardo da Vinci, A Memory of His Childhood (1910); 

Totem and Taboo: Resemblances between the Psychic Lives of Savages and Neurotics (1913); 

The Unconscious (1915);

Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1915–17); 

Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920); 

Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921); 

The Ego and the Id (1923); 

Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926); 

The Question of Lay Analysis (1926); 

The Future of an Illusion (1927); 

Civilization and Its Discontents (1930); 

New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1933); 

Moses and Monotheism (1939); 

An Outline of Psychoanalysis (1940). 

Still Have Questions?

Our user care team is here for you!

Contact Us