Sigmund Freud

Known as the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud is one of the most influential people of the 20th century. He developed the Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality, theorized about ego defense mechanisms, and influenced other prominent psychologists like Alfred Adler and Erik Erikson. Sigmund Freud has a long-lasting legacy that many will study for years to come.

Sigmund Freud Sigmund Freud

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Table of contents
    • What are some background and factual details about Sigmund Freud?
    • What is Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality?
    • Why is Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality important?
    • What are other theories developed by Sigmund Freud?
    • What experiments did Sigmund Freud conduct?

    Sigmund Freud Facts

    Born on May 6th, 1856, Sigmund Freud was raised by a wool merchant father and coddling mother. Although Sigmund was his mother’s first child, he had 2 half-brothers from his father’s previous marriage. Eventually, he became an older brother to 6 younger siblings. Freud’s family lived in Moravia (Czech Republic) until they moved to Vienna (Austria) when Freud was around 5 years old.

    Freud continued to live in Vienna for most of his life until he immigrated to England before World War II as an adult. The reason for this sudden immigration is that Freud was Jewish and feared for his safety under Hitler's regime. In Vienna, Freud excelled in his early studies, which led to him being mentored by Ernst Brücke, a physiology professor.

    Through Brücke’s mentorship, Freud received grants to perform research under scientists and psychologists like Dr. Joseph Breuer. Breuer and Freud conducted a case study on mental health treatment with a patient of Breuer's known as Anna O. (Anna’s real name was Bertha Pappenheim!).

    Freud married a woman named Martha Bernays in 1886, and together they had 6 children: 3 girls and 3 boys. His youngest daughter, Anna Freud, also became a well-known psychologist by expanding on her father’s theories and work.

    While most people associate the name Freud with Sigmund Freud, there is another famous Freud: Sigmund's daughter Anna. The youngest of Freud's six children, Anna expanded on her father's theory of psychoanalysis by creating the field of Child Psychoanalysis. Her theory was controversial because Freud believed that children can't be treated with psychoanalysis.

    In Anna's theory of child psychoanalysis, she believed in creating a strong therapeutic union with the child; she wanted the child to be a willing participant and not coerced into therapy. Anna also emphasized treating the child as an individual. Like her father, Anna influenced how the psychologists following her approached the field, and she helped get the area of child and developmental psychology started!

    Sigmund Freud, a black and white photograph of Sigmund Freud, StudySmarter Sigmund Freud, pixabay.com

    Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Personality

    As mentioned earlier, Freud developed the Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality. This specific theory of personality revolves around the unconscious mind which Freud defines as any internal mental activity outside of our conscious awareness.

    The Unconscious, Conscious, and Preconscious

    In his theory, Freud strongly believed that every personality is influenced by the unconscious mind. At the same time, many people lack understanding of why they behave the way they do. In other words, because we are not mentally aware of our unconscious mind, we may never fully understand the reasons for our behavior.

    Along with the unconscious mind, Freud also talked about the conscious mind and preconscious mind. The conscious mind is the exact opposite of the unconscious because it is everything that we know is happening inside our minds. As you are reading this sentence, you are conscious of your mind processing the words you are reading and making sense of them. You are aware of what the words mean (if you are paying attention!).

    The preconscious mind according to Freud consists of everything that can easily be brought into conscious awareness, such as our memories. Memories are a great example of our preconscious because they are information that we store away but can recall when we want to.

    What did you have for lunch yesterday? If you can remember, Freud would say that information was stored in your preconscious mind because you were able to retrieve it! If you can't remember, Freud would say that information is stored in your unconscious mind.

    The unconscious vs. conscious mind was an idea already in existence before Freud's work, but Freud popularized these ideas.

    The Id, the Ego, and the Superego

    Now that we have covered the unconscious mind, we can discuss the three components that Freud believed influences our personality: the Id, Ego, and Superego. According to Freud, the relationships between these three parts are crucial to understanding why we behave, think, and feel in certain ways.

    The Id is fully unconscious, meaning that no part is ever within the conscious or preconscious mind.

    The Id is the component of personality that fully resides in the unconscious and our pleasure instinct drives it.

    It is motivated by pleasure (food, water, safety, and even sex). With that in mind, the Id is controlled by the pleasure principle and, if our desire for pleasures goes unmet and grows out of control, it will cause problems in the person's life.

    A great way to visualize the Id is by picturing a hungry baby crying and screaming. As soon as the baby is given a bottle, they immediately calm down because their desire or need for food was met.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum is the partially conscious Ego. Unlike the Id, the Ego is controlled by the reality principle which works to achieve what the Id wants but in an appropriate manner.

    The Ego is the component of personality that is partially conscious and works as a mediator between the Id and Superego.

    Have you ever seen those cartoons where the angel and the devil are on the shoulders of a character trying to choose between a bad and good decision? Well, in this case, the Id is the devil and the Superego is the angel. The person whose shoulders they are on is the Ego because they represent reality and a mediator between the other two.

    The Superego resides mostly in the unconscious and preconscious mind; this is the component of our personality that strives for perfection. If we are unable to achieve that, then we feel guilty or remorseful for not meeting those standards.

    The Superego is the component of personality that resides both in the unconscious and conscious mind. It acts as our sense of morality and can be very demanding or strict toward us.

    Unlike the Id and Ego, the Superego can be further broken down into 2 parts: the conscience and the ego ideal. The conscience oversees behavior that we consider bad while the ego ideal oversees good behavior. If we behave right (i.e., we follow the rules) and get praised for it by someone we consider an authority figure, we feel good about ourselves. But, if we do something that our conscience sees as bad or improper, we feel bad about it.

    Alice is only three years old, but she already has a strong sweet tooth. When she and her mom go to the grocery store, she begs for a lollipop. Her mom tells her no because she had some candy earlier. As her mom pays for their groceries, Alice steals a lollipop and sticks it into her pocket. Alice knows this is wrong, but she wanted it. When they leave the store and drive home, Alice feels bad and cries due to her guilt.

    So how do these 3 parts of personality contribute to who we are? According to Freud, there must be a healthy balance between all three components so that our personality and behaviors are reflected in a way that is socially acceptable and “normal."

    Sigmund Freud, an infographic displaying the 3 parts of Freud's theory of personality, StudySmarterFreud's 3 parts of personality, StudySmarter Original

    Here is a trick for remembering Freud's parts of personality: the Id = instinctual. The Ego = enforces reality. The Superego = strict.

    Importance of Sigmund Freud’s Theory

    While many critique Freud’s theory of personality, it is still important to psychology. It was the very first comprehensive psychological theory of personality to be developed! It attempts to explain why we behave the way we do.

    What happens if Freud's 3 parts of the personality are unhealthy or unbalanced? What if someone has a dominant Id that overpowers both the Ego and Superego, for example? Freud thought that this would result in impulsivity and poor decision-making. The pleasure principle would be stronger than the reality principle, causing the person to pursue pleasures in dangerous or inappropriate ways.

    All three parts must work together so that a person can properly fulfill their desires and needs. Freud’s theory of personality is also important because it is the foundation for his theory of ego defense mechanisms.

    Although it was taboo back in the day, Anna Freud was a lesbian. This is interesting because Freud theorized that girls who identify as lesbian do so because of bad parenting by their fathers!

    Sigmund Freud's Theory of Defense Mechanisms

    Using what you have learned about the Ego, is it true or false that the ego has to balance the demands of the Id? If you chose “true," you are correct! However, what happens when the Id's desires are too strong or the Superego is too demanding? Well, the Ego will react by becoming anxious and overwhelmed, which will eventually lead the Ego to become defensive.

    Freud theorized that the Ego’s defense against the Id's demands can show up in specific ways in a person's life. He called these ego defense mechanisms, and he believed they are all unconscious or automatic. The defense mechanisms are a way of trying to protect ourselves from the Id's instincts and the Superego's demands.

    In the chart below are three defense mechanisms with definitions and examples.

    Defense Mechanism Simple Definition Example

    Repression

    Choosing not to remember a dangerous situation or occurrence.

    When Anna first learned to drive, she got into a near-fatal collision. Although she was injured, she left the accident mostly unscathed. However, Anna refuses to talk about the situation and says that she can’t remember it, even though her memory usually works fine.

    Displacement

    Redirecting emotions caused by one source onto someone or something else that is less threatening.

    Ollie is angry at his teacher for putting him in detention. Not wanting to get in trouble for talking back, he stays quiet and lets his anger build up. Once he gets home, he takes his anger out on his younger brother by yelling at him.

    Projection

    Transferring objectionable feelings onto another person.

    Jake is often jealous of the number of male friends that his girlfriend has. Instead of admitting how he feels and talking to her about it, Jake becomes upset with her and eventually accuses her of being jealous of him.

    Sigmund Freud Experiments

    In 1884, Freud released a paper detailing the positive effects of cocaine on relieving symptoms of mental and physical ailments. Freud bolstered his claim by admitting to his use of cocaine to treat headaches and anxiety. However, due to immense backlash, Freud had to shelve the study because of a spike in cocaine use and addiction after its publication.

    Nevertheless, Freud did have other successful experiments. Freud believed that the main goal of any therapist was to get the client to express repressed thoughts, emotions, and memories so that they can be acknowledged on a conscious level (remember, repression occurs unconsciously). Freud tested his ideas about treating mental disorders by holding long sessions with clients in an apartment that functioned as his office.

    The client would lay down on a couch while Freud sat in a chair that was out of the client’s view. Freud believed that remaining out of the client's view would help the client be more open. Freud told the client to say whatever came to mind.

    His approach to treatment, known as psychoanalysis, was the very first therapy approach ever developed.

    Sigmund Freud, a photograph of the sculpture of Freud's therapy couch outside of the Sigmund Freud Museum, StudySmarterSculpture of Freud's Couch, wikimedia.commons.org

    Sigmund Freud - Key Takeaways

    • Sigmund Freud is known as the father of psychoanalysis.
    • In his theory, Freud strongly believed that every personality is influenced by the unconscious mind.
    • Freud’s theory of personality is also important because it is the foundation for his theory of ego defense mechanisms.
    • Here is a trick for remembering Freud's parts of personality: the Id = instinctual. The Ego = enforces reality. The Superego = strict.
    • Freud believed that the main goal of any therapist was to get their client to express repressed thoughts, emotions, and memories so that they can be acknowledged on a conscious level.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Sigmund Freud

    What is Freud most famous for? 

    Sigmund Freud is most famous for his "Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality". 

    [Remember: Freud is the "Father of Psychoanalysis"]

    What was Sigmund Freud's theory? 

    Sigmund Freud had many theories, but in his most famous theory, he theorized that three components influence our behavior and personality: the Id, Ego, and Superego. 

    Why is Freud's theory important? 

    Sigmund Freud's theory is important because it can be used to provide a reason as to why our personality and behavior are the way they are. 

    What are the three theories of Sigmund Freud? 

    Sigmund Freud had more than three theories, but here are his three most popular theories: 

    • Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality 
    • Defense Mechanisms 
    • Psychosexual Stages 

    What is Sigmund Freud's theory of personality? 

    In Freud's theory of personality, he theorized that three components influence our behavior and personality: the Id, Ego, and Superego. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Sigmund Freud is known as what? 

    What year was Sigmund Freud born? 

    True or False: Freud had six children; one of which who also became a psychologist. 

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