Freud’s main focus was to discover in the individual h/er unconscious urges – to make the unconscious conscious. In order to achieve this goal, he applied a particular brand of therapy, a method known as psychoanalysis. You might imagine yourself stark naked, standing before a gargantuan, over-filled closet. Your goal in psychoanalysis is to examine the meaning, connotation and minutia of each and every piece of clothing you find there, before deciding what to wear. Freud’s method could be expected to last upwards of seven to ten years, making it all quite costly, leaving the patient rather self-absorbed, esoteric and, ultimately, undressed.
Freud’s theory of the human mind was biased toward women, often describing females as inferior to men, helpless and sexually frustrated – especially weighted down with penis envy. Addressing the idea that females could potentially, one day, be psychotherapists, Freud stated, “We shall not be very greatly surprised if a woman analyst who has not been sufficiently convinced of the intensity of her own wish for a penis also fails to attach proper importance to that factor in her patients” (Freud, 1949). According to Freud, women were prone to not only developing penis envy, but hysteria and melancholia as a result of a life dominated by an obsession with sexual and reproductive functions.
In as much as Freud contributed broadly and harshly to the subject of women, he added another dimension to the discussion of men and the development of the masculine gender identity. That discussion, although seemingly as absurd as his ideas on the feminine gender, continues today and is responsible for a number of encouraging modern-day presumptions about gender development. Freud’s work, more than anyone else before him, disrupted the established idea of human sexuality and made possible serious inquiry into the complex mystique of masculine and feminine gender and male and female sexual development.
Although Freudian psychoanalysis, when practiced at all, is often the exclusive domain of psychiatrists, many of Freud’s theoretical constructs survive today and are actually quite valuable, used to promote insight in an array of other more modern therapeutic orientations. Defense mechanisms (DM) for example are Freudian concepts and are often the focus of a number of therapeutic initiatives.
DMs are believed to be unconscious psychological motivations used to preserve and protect the self image. DMs reshape psychological and environmental phenomena by influencing perception. The reshaping of perception makes psychological information more adaptive for ego assimilation. Essentially, the purpose of DMs is one of many ways we protect our mind from anxiety. Simply, if we don’t like what we see, we are capable of seeing it differently.
There are believed to be four types (levels) of DMs: Level One (Pathological): delusion, projection, denial, distortion; Level Two: (Immature) acting out, projection, idealization; Level Three: (Neurotic) hypochondriasis, isolation, repression, regression; Level Four: (Mature) altruism, humour, identification and sublimation. DMs are expressed through unconscious motivations and overt behavior and often influence or even form the expression of individual personality.
Freud identifies the Id, the Ego and the Super-ego as having significant influence over the development of defense mechanisms (DMs). (These three conceptual structures, the Id, the Ego and the Super-ego, represent functions of the mind and are not meant to describe parts of the brain.)
- The Id is UNSEEN and can be imagined as a screaming newborn (about the same size and age you are right now), motivated by instinct, self-gratification, impatience and pleasure. “I want what I want and I want it PRONTO!”
- The Super-ego is also UNSEEN and processes information believed to be ideal, moral, wholesome, and ethical – highly motivated by consequence and outcome. “That is not right. I will avoid or postpone that opportunity.”
- The Ego is one’s PRESENT awareness, the result of how the Id and the Super-ego resolve their difference, and is SEEN in how we express our personality.
According to Freud, the Id and the Super-ego engage in a struggle of sorts, counterbalancing one another – the Super-ego attempts to inhibit the pleasure-seeking demands of the Id, and the Id attempts to thwart the managed, moral and principled forces of the Super-ego.
The Ego can be imagined as an observer, watching the match between the Id and the Super-ego, having no role in the battle except to carry out the will of the victor. For example, “I want the cookie. If I eat it, it will be good. If I am caught, I will be punished. If I am punished, I will be bad. If I am not caught, I will still know I did it and I couldn’t live with that. I could always lie and say I didn’t do it. If I lie, it will be wrong and I will be bad. If I take the cookie and eat it I could pretend I didn’t do it. I could feel good about stealing it because I should get a cookie anyway. I don’t care what people think of me. I don’t want to lose my mother’s love. I will lie to her, but if she finds out, she will forgive me anyway; oh, what to do?” We may see the development of denial, distortion or rationalization taking shape in the dialogue. Freud believed that DMs often appear when impulses of the Id are in conflict with the reasoned conclusions of the Super-ego, e.g., anxiety will result when the resolution between these two conceptual structures is maladaptive and not sufficient to resolve an external threat posed to the Ego. If you make a quick, irrational and self-serving decision, do you adjust to the decision by denying, rationalizing, intellectualizing or projecting? If you take your time and choose not to pursue your ambition, do you find yourself fantasizing, distorting, intellectualizing or undoing?
Modern psychotherapy promotes a here-and-now style of emotional problem-solving – one where the focus of treatment is placed on the client’s current behaviors and attitudes, rather than relentlessly reviewing one’s past – as if giving a client a forum for continuously, cyclically telling and retelling themselves the dreadfulness of their past can somehow help solve their problems in their present life. Not only is our recollection of our past often narrow, inadequate and biased, but can serve little or no purpose. By searching for meaning in our past, we are often left to construe meaning, motivation and purpose, leading nowhere except to re-live events that were unfortunate and regrettable to begin with.
A here-and-now perspective encourages the client to recognize that emotional problems are more likely resolved by making the past an issue of the present:
“My mother was neglectful. She often didn’t feed me. She was alcoholic.”
“How is that a problem for you now?”
“I feel like I didn’t have a childhood.”
“What if you didn’t have a childhood?”
“Then I would have missed out on a lot of things other kids got to experience.”
“How would that be a problem for you now?”
“I don’t feel like I have had a complete life.”
“What would that mean?”
“That I will never be what I could have been.”
“What do you think you could have been?”
“What would it have meant if you had become a dentist?”
“I would have been happier. I would have more money. People would call me doctor. I would have gone to college. I would have married better. The list goes on.”
“What does it mean now that you haven’t achieved those goals?”
“That I am not successful.”
“What does that mean to you now?”
“That I am a bad person.”
While a here-and-now approach can be an intense, transformative experience, it is also an opportunity to build a stronger awareness of ourselves, our patterns of behavior and our potential for change. The client creates a working condition from which problem-solving can occur, rather than depending on some esoteric interpretation of the past. When the client becomes fully aware of the importance of the present in emotional problem-solving, s/he is more capable of identifying repetitive patterns and behaviors that can be changed NOW.
People are often not able to appreciate who they really are because they keep listening to their historical dialogue. Changing how you talk to yourself NOW is far more likely to bring about lasting change.
We may benefit from Freud’s dependence on the past to resolve our immediate emotional troubles. We can, in fact, find something to wear without examining every garment in the closet. In fact, Freud’s description of the Id, Ego and Super-ego can be used to strengthen our understanding the human mind while continuing to promote a here-and-now perspective.
Knowledge and awareness of both paradigms may help in providing better treatment outcomes.
Possessing a heightened awareness of what may seem antediluvian Freudian ego psychology may very well help inform a modern application of a here-and-now orientation. Rather than remaining an unconscious (UNSEEN) phenomenon, we can bring the repetitive, negative dialogue that rages between the Id and the Super-ego into our conscious (SEEN) awareness. The more conscious we can make the dialogue, the more we can deliberately influence the overall outcome.
Instead of being a bystander to the disputes that rage in our unconscious, we can be the primary arbitrator of our emotional disputes. Remaining in the here-and-now, we might recognize the puerile quality of our unconscious arguments by making them part of our consciousness. By doing so, we might draw our own conscious, well-balanced conclusions.
You may decide, in the NOW to end the dispute between your Id and your Super-ego and welcome an emotional life that emphasizes the here and now – neither depending on the past nor the future for your state of mind. The shape of your personality may become the result of an active, intentional and conscious process, rather than leaving it to the victor of an unconscious argument involving two extremes.
- ID,Ego and Super-ego (zazenlife.com)
- Psyche (wellheregoes.wordpress.com)
- Anxieties: Real or Repressed? (hempaz.wordpress.com)
- Id, Ego, and the Super Ego Bros. (nightmaremode.net)
- The Confusion about Ego (matchsoul.wordpress.com)
- David Cronenberg: The dumbing down of Freud and Jung (blogs.vancouversun.com)
- Tracing the Ego of Mankind – Psychoanalysis (thinkingfromtheheart.wordpress.com)
- The Psychic Apparatus of Politics (anthonycollebrusco.wordpress.com)
- Review of Jung vs. Freud in A Dangerous Method (psychcentral.com)
- Transactional Analysis (pbmo.wordpress.com)
- ‘A Dangerous Method’ and the Most Freudian Movies Ever (moviefone.com)
- My Fascination With Sigmund Freud (psychopoeia.com)
- Sorting Through the Sexual Madness of “A Dangerous Method” (my.psychologytoday.com)
- A Review: Pt XI Tarzan The Invincible By Edgar Rice Burroughs (idynamo.wordpress.com)
- 5 Things You Think About Psychology (Because of TV and Movies): Part 2 (schyzm.wordpress.com)
- Revelations and Resurrections: David Cronenberg on ‘A Dangerous Method’ (Feature) (popmatters.com)
- An Underground Ambassador (rachelgoldlust.wordpress.com)
- Making the Unconscious Conscious (eitheory.com)
- Spiritualism – Psychoanalysis and Human Nature (bhavanajagat.com)