Updated: Jun 5, 2020
Who Was Sigmund Freud?
Sigmund Freud ( born Sigismund Schlomo Freud; 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst.
He qualified as a doctor of medicine in 1881 at the University of Vienna. Upon completing his habilitation in 1885, he was appointed a docent in neuropathology and became an affiliated professor in 1902. Freud lived and worked in Vienna, having set up his clinical practice there in 1886. In 1938, Freud left Austria to escape the Nazis. He died in exile in the United Kingdom in 1939.
In founding psychoanalysis, Freud developed therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association and discovered transference, establishing its central role in the analytic process. Freud's redefinition of sexuality to include its infantile forms led him to formulate the Oedipus complex as the central tenet of psychoanalytical theory. His analysis of dreams as wish-fulfillments provided him with models for the clinical analysis of symptom formation and the underlying mechanisms of repression. On this basis Freud elaborated his theory of the unconscious and went on to develop a model of psychic structure comprising id, ego and super-ego.
Freud postulated the existence of libido, a sexualised energy with which mental processes and structures are invested and which generates erotic attachments, and a death drive, the source of compulsive repetition, hate, aggression and neurotic guilt.
In his later works, Freud developed a wide-ranging interpretation and critique of religion and culture.
Though in overall decline as a diagnostic and clinical practice, psychoanalysis remains influential within psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy, and across the humanities. It thus continues to generate extensive and highly contested debate with regard to its therapeutic efficacy, its scientific status, and whether it advances or is detrimental to the feminist cause. Nonetheless, Freud's work has suffused contemporary Western thought and popular culture. W. H. Auden's 1940 poetic tribute to Freud describes him as having created "a whole climate of opinion / under whom we conduct our different lives."
I. Early Life, Education and Career
Freud was born in the Austrian town of Freiberg, now known as the Czech Republic, on May 6, 1856. When he was four years old, Freud’s family moved to Vienna, the town where he would live and work for most of the remainder of his life. He received his medical degree in 1881. As a medical student and young researcher, Freud’s research focused on neurobiology, exploring the biology of brains and nervous tissue of humans and animals.
After graduation, Freud promptly set up a private practice and began treating various psychological disorders. Considering himself first and foremost a scientist, rather than a doctor, he endeavored to understand the journey of human knowledge and experience.
Early in his career, Freud became greatly influenced by the work of his friend and Viennese colleague, Josef Breuer, who had discovered that when he encouraged a hysterical patient to talk uninhibitedly about the earliest occurrences of the symptoms, the symptoms sometimes gradually abated.
After much work together, Breuer ended the relationship, feeling that Freud placed too much emphasis on the sexual origins of a patient's neuroses and was completely unwilling to consider other view points. Meanwhile, Freud continued to refine his own argument.
Freud's psychoanalytic theory, inspired by his colleague Josef Breuer, posited that neuroses had their origins in deeply traumatic experiences that had occurred in the patient's past. He believed that the original occurrences had been forgotten and hidden from consciousness. His treatment was to empower his patients to recall the experience and bring it to consciousness, and in doing so, confront it both intellectually and emotionally. He believed one could then discharge it and rid oneself of the neurotic symptoms. Some of Freud’s most discussed theories included:
Id, ego and superego:
These are the three essential parts of the human personality. The id is the primitive, impulsive and irrational unconscious that operates solely on the outcome of pleasure or pain and is responsible for instincts to sex and aggression. The ego is the “I” people perceive that evaluates the outside physical and social world and makes plans accordingly. And the superego is the moral voice and conscience that guides the ego; violating it results in feelings of guilt and anxiety. Freud believed the superego was mostly formed within the first five years of life based on the moral standards of a person’s parents; it continued to be influenced into adolescence by other role models.
Psychic energy : Freud postulated that the id was the basic source of psychic energy or the force that drives all mental processes. In particular, he believed that libido, or sexual urges, was a psychic energy that drives all human actions ; the libido was countered by Thanatos, the death instinct that drives destructive behavior.
Oedipus complex: Between the ages of three and five, Freud suggested that as a normal part of the development process all kids are sexually attracted to the parent of the opposite sex and in competition with the parent of the same sex. The theory is named after the Greek legend of Oedipus, who killed his father so he could marry his mother.
Dream analysis: In his book The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud believed that people dreamed for a reason: to cope with problems the mind is struggling with subconsciously and can’t deal with consciously. Dreams were fueled by a person’s wishes. Freud believed that by analyzing our dreams and memories, we can understand them, which can subconsciously influence our current behavior and feelings.
Freud’s theories were no doubt influenced by other scientific discoveries of his day. Charles Darwin's understanding of humankind as a progressive element of the animal kingdom certainly informed Freud's investigation of human behavior. Additionally, the formulation of a new principle by scientist Hermann von Helmholtz, stating that energy in any given physical system is always constant, informed Freud's scientific inquiries into the human mind. Freud's work has been both rapturously praised and hotly critiqued, but no one has influenced the science of psychology as intensely as Sigmund Freud.
The great reverence that was later given to Freud's theories was not in evidence for some years. Most of his contemporaries felt that his emphasis on sexuality was either scandalous or overplayed. In 1909, he was invited to give a series of lectures in the United States; it was only after the ensuing publication of his book Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1916) that his fame grew exponentially.
Freud has published a number of important works on psychoanalysis. Some of the most influential include:
1. Studies in Hysteria (1895)
Freud and Breuer published their theories and findings in this book, which discussed their theories that by confronting trauma from a patient’s past, a psychoanalyst can help a patient rid him or herself of neuroses.
2. The Interpretation of Dreams (1900)
In 1900, after a serious period of self-analysis, Freud published what has become his most important and defining work, which posits that dream analysis can give insight into the workings of the unconscious mind. The book was and remains controversial, producing such topics as the Oedipus complex. Many psychologists say this work gave birth to modern scientific thinking about the mind and the fields of psychology, psychiatry and psychoanalysis.
3. The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901)
This book gave birth to the so-called “Freudian slip” — the psychological meaning behind the misuse of words in everyday writing and speech and the forgetting of names and words. These slips, he explained through a series of examples, revealed our inner desires, anxieties and fantasies.
4. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905)
While no one person will die without sex, the whole of humanity would without it — so sex drives human instincts, Freud believed. In this work, he explores sexual development and the relationship between sex and social behavior without applying his controversial Oedipal complex.
IV. Wife and Kids
In 1882, Freud became engaged to marry Martha Bernays. The couple had six children — the youngest of whom, Anna Freud, went on to become a distinguished psychoanalyst herself.
Freud fled Austria to escape the Nazis in 1938 and died in England on September 23, 1939, at age 83 by suicide. He had requested a lethal dose of morphine from his doctor, following a long and painful battle with oral cancer.
VI. Corporate Life
1. Apply Freud's principles to some aspects of your work.
Freudian motivation theory holds that an individual's unconscious desires and emotions shape their behavior.
Freud's theories can make you a better manager.
Freud's theories can help you better market your services and products.
Ever wonder why your colleague reacts to negative feedback by kicking his desk ? Or why your manager seems to approach one-on-ones differently with each employee?
Much of this is due to Freud's development of psychoanalysis, where people explore hidden reasons that explain negative behavior by talking about their issues with an impartial analyst. Almost all forms of counseling are rooted in Freud's notion of the "talking cure."
2. Using psychotherapy on your workplace culture
It is not just people that can benefit from a Freudian approach – an organization can have Freudian characteristics. These include a focus on ...
Past events and achievements. Companies become fixated on improving existing products or services rather than innovating new ones
A "phallocentric" culture, or a workplace dominated by male hierarchies and masculine stereotypes.
Top-down management and power relationships.
Freud was not only interested in the role of strong figureheads and competition to achieve recognition (most famously, the Oedipal complex); his own personal and professional relationships provide a case study in unbending orthodoxy. Many of Freud's psychoanalytical disciples broke with him because of his refusal to consider independent views that challenged his authority.
If a close analysis of your organization reveals such Freudian characteristics, the company might need a little therapy, or at least a deep dive into why these characteristics have become part of the culture.
If your business relies on past achievements, revisit your mission and vision statements, and see where your company can establish new goals. Seek to understand why you have a reliance on past achievements and what, if anything, that is doing to help the business now.
If valuable employees are leaving the company because they feel the business doesn't recognize their contributions, re-examine your management style and promotion policies.
How can you better meet the needs of employees ?
What can you do to make them feel valued ?
Where are you lacking in motivating your workers ?
One inevitable truth about psychoanalys is that the more a person is observed the more he becomes artificial and unnatural in his or her behaviour. The theories used for the p