At around two years old the human mind recognises the need to be realistic and plan for the future, rather than surviving on primary instinct. Thus the ego develops. Operating on the reality principle, it battles the Id for control of behaviour. Unlike the Id, the Ego has a partly conscious, secondary thought process. ‘The ego is still, however, essentially selfish, i.e. protecting the individual from harm,’ (Benson, 1999, p51).
At around 3, we start to absorb influence from our parents and the Super Ego begins to develop. The Super Ego expands from our learned morals and the conventions of society. ‘Super means above – looking down and monitoring the “Id-Ego” Battle,’ (Benson, 1999, P52). Like the Ego, the Super Ego is partly conscious; however it is not selfish and considers others too. As it develops it becomes ‘our social conscience and guides us towards sociably acceptable behaviour.’ (Cardwell et al, 1997, p549).
Freud was responsible for modern society's understanding of the effects childhood experiences can have on adult personalities. He split the childhood into five stages of psychosexual development.
During the first, the Oral stage from 0 to 2 years, the only drive present is the Id. Focused on survival, the Id drives the baby to feed by suckling. Thus the mouth becomes the main source of pleasure. Benson (1999, p52) states that 'through oral satisfaction the baby develops trust and an optimistic personality.'
From 2 to 3 years, the child becomes aware of its bowels and how to control them. Here begins the Anal Stage, as ‘the focus of gratification shifts to the anus… aiding with potty training,’ a vital step to independence and survival, (Benson, 1999, P54). However, withholding elimination goes against the Id's nature of random discharge without regard for consequence. This results in the requirement for an ego to develop, 'and as such has important implications in the personality later in life,' (Cardwell et al, p550, 1997).
The phallic stage, from 3 to 5 years, starts when children become aware of sexual differences and become curious about their own genitals. Benson (1999) explains that boys will develop differently to girls from here on. Boys will develop Oedipus Complex and unconsciously experienced a sequence of sub stages. Firstly he will develop a strong desire for his mother. Then, after noticing the strong (sexual) bond between her and his father, he will become deeply jealous of his father and hate him. The boy's fear of his father uncovering these thoughts instils a fear of the ultimate punishment, castration. The boy resolves that to avoid castration by pleasing his farther, and at the same time impress his mother, he must become like his father. This is called identification. Girls, having unconsciously concluded that they have already been castrated, do not develop the same fears. Though, ‘since their mother is the same, girls also end up identifying, i.e. adopting their mother’s morality and gender roles. This was always rather vague’ and known as the Electra Complex (Benson, 1999, p56).
Freud believed this was followed by the latent stage. Most of Freud's theories are based on sexual activity. Therefore, with the resolution of the Oedipus Complex resulting in a break in sexual conflict, he decides this stage of development must be latent or in active. Despite these ‘drives being redirected into other activities, such as formation of friendship and hobbies,’ (Cardwell et al, 1997, p550).
Finally Freud describes the genital stage, when from puberty onwards the energy focuses again on the genitals. ‘This surge in sexual energies reactivates previous conflicts.’ (Cardwell et al, 1997 p550) This time due to the benefit of secondary process thinking, the sexual energy is not for immediate gratification but instead drives the child to form loving relationships and practice the responsibilities of adult life through sexual activity.
Problems during development through the stages can result in being “stuck” in a stage. This is called a Fixation. The most common are oral and anal fixations. Benson (1999) states that an oral fixation can develop if a child is over fed or frustrated during the oral stage and can result in chewing of fingernails, thumb sucking or the need of oral stimulation for comfort. Experiences during the Anal stage of development can lead to an anal fixation, locking holding on or letting go traits to the personality. Hording is a typical anal fixation.
Repression is a defence mechanism along with the previously mentioned fixations and identification. Repression means to subconsciously push unwanted thoughts or memories to the unconscious protecting ourselves from horror, guilt, or fear. However too much or long-term repression can manifest into physical or psychological ailments. Benson (1991, p 57) states that 'sometimes, therefore, it is better for the unpleasant ideas to rise in the conscious mind and be dealt with…. The psychoanalyst’s job is to trace these... Help make them conscious and assist the patient in facing them.'
A good example of this can be found in Freud and Breuer's case of Anna O (1895). Anna had several neurotic symptoms including nervous cough and partial paralysis. Freud learned that ‘Under hypnosis a subject has greater access to his unconscious conflicts,’ (Palaci). In this, the first case of its kind, Freud chose to use hypnosis as the catharsis to uncover Anna’s repressed memory. The memory, it turned out, was linked to feelings of guilt experienced by Anna whilst nursing her dying father. It was claimed that ‘her nervous coughing stopped after this repressed memory came to light,’ (Eysenck, 2005, p683). However, it is now widely believed that little reliance can be placed on the accuracy of what people claim whilst in a hypnotised state, because hypnosis makes the human mind too open to suggestion. The other problem with the method being, that many people are difficult, or in fact impossible, to hypnotise.
In modern psychology, Freud's theories are still highly controversial. ‘His case studies read like more stories, than empirical findings’ and many psychologists, including Popper, claimed this made his theories scientifically untestable. Modern thinking tends to agree with Carl Jung, (1875-1961) who ‘after working closely with Freud from 1906 to 1913, decided he placed too much emphasis on sex,’ (Benson, 1991, p56+59). However Freud did help many patients to understand and cope with their problems i.e. Dora, Anna O, and Wolfman. He had an enormous effect on modern Society and changed the way people think about themselves and others. His groundbreaking theories still form the foundation of our beliefs today and he truly earned himself the title ‘Founding Father of Psychology.’
Mrs Jodieanne Dainter.
I314 words, not including direct quotes.
Benson. C, (1999) Introducing Psychology. Cambridge, Icon Books LTD.
Cardwell, M. Clark, L. & Meldrum, C. (1997) Psychology for A Level, London, Harper Collins.
Eysenck. M, (2005) Psychology for A2 Level, Hove Psychology Press.
Freud, S, (1933) New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. New York. W.W. Norton.
Palaci. J, Light Hypnotic Trance in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 14/11/2009