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Chapter 7: Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis (The Discovery of the Unconscious)

The Life of Freud

Sigmund Freud broke with official medicine and was the first in the history of dynamic psychiatry to do so. The result was a cultural revolution that can be compared to what Darwin had unleashed.

Freud’s personality was strongly shaped by the Jewish tradition, he kept the patriarchal ideology, which included man’s superiority to women, and a devotion to the extended family.

He experimented with the effects of cocaine on muscular force, but a paper by Erlenmeyer than warned against the danger of cocaine launched a storm against Freud.

Freud, like Jung, went through a creative illness. A creative illness comes after a period of intense occupation with an idea and search for truth. It is a condition that can take the shape of depression, psychosis, or neurosis.

While ill, the subject can live a normal professional and family life, but even if he keeps social activities, he is completely absorbed with himself. He suffers from feeling isolated. The end of the illness is marked with a quick recovery followed by a phase of exhilaration, where the subject emerges with a permanent transformation in his personality, and a conviction that he has discovered a great truth.

Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams is his least understood work, because of the many changes the text has undergone, and the difficulty of translating the book. The book is also filled with allusions that the contemporary reader may be familiar with, but would not be understandable today without a commentary.

In 1911, one of Freud’s students, Adler, left Freud and founded a dissident society. A year later, Stekel left, and the great crisis occurred in 1913, when Freud and Jung ended their relationship. Freud published one of his major works later that year, Totem and Taboo.

Jung thought that Freud was bitter, and others thought he was cold. But a characteristic of Freud that was important was his tremendous energy for work, and his ability to concentrate intensely one goal. His physical courage was complimented with his moral courage, as he displayed a stoic attitude in the final 16 years of his life. He was convinced by his theories and did not admit contradiction. His opponents thought he was intolerant while his supporters saw him as a passionate seeker of truth.

Freud viewed society as authoritarian and the family as paternalistic. He respected his masters and expected his disciples to respect him.

In 1896, Freud sketched his classification of neuroses, which was divided into actual neuroses, whose source was present sexual life, and psychoneuroses, who sources were in his past sexual life. Actual neuroses were subdivided into neurasthenia, which originated from masturbation, and anxiety neurosis, which originated from frustrated sexual stimulation.

The Oedipus Complex

Psychoneuroses were divided into hysteria and obsessions. The cause of hysteria was sexual abuse by an adult during childhood. Obsessive neuroses had the same origin, but the child’s role was more active than passive, and that he felt pleasure. Obsessive ideas were simply self-reproach in a modified form, and in this way, Freud explained the prevalence of hysteria in women and of obsessions in men.

Freud introduced the idea of the Oedipus complex, which is that the little boy wants to possess his mother, and get rid of his father, but is afraid of castration as a punishment for his feelings. And this, according to Freud, is the terrible secret that every mans keeps in the recesses of his heart, repressed and forgotten, and appears in a veiled form through his dreams every night.

Eros and Thanatos

Regarding drives, Freud did not think they had a progressive character that tended to further the development of the individual or species. They have a conservative aim, they seek to establish prior conditions. He suggested a dual classification of the instincts: Eros (all libidinal instincts) and Thanatos (the death instinct), but he thought that the death instinct was more fundamental.

Like Schopenhauer, Freud thought the “goal of life is death,” and the preservation instinct is itself an aspect of the death instinct, because it protects against accidental, externally caused death, so that the individual may die from internal causes.

Eros is more than sexual instinct, it exists in every living cell and drives the living substance to constitute larger beings, it postpones death in this way. The death instinct is the tendency for the living substance to return to a state of inanimate matter. The two instincts are inseparable, and life is a compromise between Eros and Thanatos until the latter prevails. Freud hoped the biology would confirm these speculations in scientific terms.

For years, Freud proclaimed the primacy of the libido, and rejected Adler’s idea of an autonomous aggressive drive. But with his new theories, he had to admit that there was a primary masochism that was not merely sadism turned inward, and in his later writings would give more importance to the role of aggressive and destructive instincts.

The idea of the death instinct had its precursors. Von Schubert was among the Romantics who expressed it clearly – mainly as a wish in the latter part of life, to die. Novalis said that “life is for the sake of death.” Novalis thought that the antithesis to death was the instinct of organization (culture, language, philosophy).

The ideas in Beyond the Pleasure Principle had mixed reviews among psychoanalysts, but those presented three years later in The Ego and the Id was much more successful. Freud defined the ego as “the coordinated organization of mental processes in a person.” The mind consisted of ego, id, and superego.

The ego had a conscious and unconscious element. Perception and motor control constituted the conscious ego, while dreams and repression constituted the unconscious ego.

Freud previously thought that the mind had three layers: preconscious, unconscious, and conscious. Neuroses was a result of the conflict between the conscious and the unconscious. Language was an ego function; unconscious ideas were made preconscious through words.

The id was not different from Freud’s concept of the unconscious, but the word “unconscious” was now used to describe the id and parts of the ego and superego.

The novel part of Freud’s The Ego and the Id is the superego – the watchful, judging, and punishing agency in the individual. Its origin was in the introjection of the father figure as a partial solution to resolve the Oedipus complex. The power of the superego in the individual depends on how the Oedipal complex has been resolved and the superego derives its energy from the id – hence its cruel and sadistic quality.

Freud concluded that the “Id is quite amoral, the Ego strives to be moral, and the Superego can be hyper-moral and cruel as only the Id can be.”

Freud described the pitiful state of the ego, which was being bullied by other instincts. The main concern of psychotherapy would now be to help the ego by reducing these pressures, and helping the ego gain strength.

To many contemporaries, the idea of the psychological structure containing the id, the ego, and the superego, seemed perplexing but it was not very revolutionary. The id can be traced to the Romantics, the essence of the superego originates in Nietzsche, particularly in The Genealogy of Morals. And defining the ego as the coordinating organization of mental processes was like Janet’s function of synthesis, and ego strength was not so different from Janet’s psychological tension.

The Psychology of Crowds

Le Bon wrote a book about the psychology of crowds, Freud thought that Le Bon’s theory did not explain the secret behind the leader’s power. Libido binds the individual to the leader and convinces him to give up his individuality.

There are unorganized, transient crowds, but also artificial and durable crowds, such as the Church and the Army, and in these cases, there is an illusion that the leader loves the individuals. But these libidinal manifestations cover the aggressive drives. When a group collapses, this aggressiveness is expressed in outbursts of violence. What truly binds people together are the basic feelings of envy and aggression.

Freud’s Group Psychology and Ego was inspired by the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire in 1918, with the panic that followed.


Tarde suggested an inter-psychological process that existed, which he called imitation. Imitation can be conscious or unconscious and applies to individuals and groups. The father is the lord and model for his son, and his son’s imitation is a primal phenomenon. This imitation does not depend on cunning or force, but on prestige, a process Tarde compared with hypnotism.

He then explained that prestige does not come from intelligence or strength of will that has an invisible connection to sexuality. He stressed the role of the unconscious in mass psychology and described how they are united by either love or hatred. These teachings were popularized by Le Bon’s Psychology of Crowds.

The idea is that any person in a crowd loses their individuality and gains a part of the crowd’s soul, and the latter is intellectually inferior and is intrinsically malicious. Freud’s ideas have remarkable similarity to these concepts, although there are key differences too. What Tarde called imitation was what Freud later called identification.

The Pleasure Principle of the Artist

As a child, the individual lives according to the pleasure principle, but then the individual discards pleasure for the principle of reality, which will dominate in his adult life. The artist maintains the principle of pleasure more than others, and compromises with the reality principle by inducing feelings of pleasure in others.

Freud drew from his masters and colleagues, in addition to his rivals, patients, and students. Nietzsche said that a “good writer has not only his own mind, but he minds of his friends as well.”

The Unmasking Trend

An importance source of Freudian thinking is the “unmasking trend.” It is the systematic search for deception and self-deception and the uncovering of hidden truths. This trend started with the French moralists who thought of it as demystification. In his Maxims, La Rochefoucauld unmasked virtuous acts and attitudes as disguised manifestations of narcissism.

Schopenhauer described love as a mystification of the individual through the Genius of the Species, meaning that the qualities ascribed to the beloved are illusions, issuing from the unconscious will of the species.

Marx stated that the opinions of an individual, unknown to him, are determined by social class, which is determined by economic conditions. War and religion are “mystifications,” in which the elite deceive the lower classes and themselves.

Nietzsche admired the French moralists and Schopenhauer and was another exponent of the unmasking trend. He investigated the many disguises of the will to power, and that of resentment which disguised itself as idealism and love of mankind. He emphasized that man had a need for fictions. In literature, unmasking was overdone, as can be seen in Ibsen’s plays.

Freud subscribed to Scientism, the idea that knowledge can only be acquired through science. But since science has limits, a large part of reality is unknowable, perhaps the greater part. Positivism should logically imply agnosticism, but Freud was a resolute atheist. But this extreme positivist thinking led to a trend where its proponents expelled the “soul from psychology, vitalism from biology, and finality from evolution.”

Neurophysiologists asserted that they could explain mental processes in terms of-extant or hypotheticalbrain structures (this was the brain mythology already referred to), or even exclusively in terms of physical and chemical processes. These physiologists ignored Bichat’s dictum that “Physiology is no more the physics of animals than astronomy is the physiology of the stars.”

The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic PsychiatryChapter 7: Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis (The Discovery of the Unconscious) 1

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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