Mr. Christensen Honors English B



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Mr. Christensen

Honors English B

February 28, 2011

Sigmund Freud's Impact

In 1856 Sigismund Schlomo Freud, Sigmund for short, was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and moved to Vienna when he was four years old. His family background is Jewish, though he himself was an avowed atheist (“Sigmund Freud” 1998). He was his mother and father's favorite child and they made many sacrifices for their son to get the best education possible (“Sigmund Freud” 2011). In 1900, when he was forty-four years old his first major book was published called The Interpretation of Everyday Dreams and in 1901 he published Psychopathology of Everyday Life (Rana 1997). Numerous advancements have been made by other psychologists based on Freud's theories in multiple different areas of psychology. Sigmund Freud's ideas and publications, although now considered controversial, greatly influenced other psychologists and will continue to change society in America.

In order to understand Freud's philosophies it is important to understand what psychology was like at that point in time and its history. Psychology originally started out as biological psychology (the application of the principles of biology to the study of mental processes of human behavior) which was pioneered by French physiologist Pierre Cabanis in the 1800s. It was not until 1879 that psychology became an independent field of study (Ramirez 1999). “Psychology, as such, did not exist in western nations in the last century. The scientific theories of the nineteenth century either ignored or opposed the existence of a 'Science of the Supreme Spirit'” (“Ancient and Modern Science” 1995). Growing out of biological perspectives of the previous century, modern psychology is dominated by three ways of seeing things which are the psychoanalytical, behavioral and cognitive-social approaches (“Ancient and Modern Science” 1995). Psychology continues to grow and change through the course of time. However, “Freud's theories were controversial, but they set the stage for the modern science of psychology” (“Ancient and Modern Science” 1995).

The publications of Sigmund Freud changed society's view of psychology when they were first published. “Freud's books and lectures brought him both fame and ostracism from the mainstream of the medical community” (Boeree 2003). Many people believed his theories were based off of his personal experiences and not by legitimate scientific experience. He created the concept that there is a conscious mind, preconscious mind, and an unconscious mind and made it very popular. Although he did not necessarily invent the idea, he is given credit for making it popular (Boeree 2003). And yet, people at that time and even today are driven to deny and resist becoming conscious of these motives [the motives of our unconscious mind] most likely because of the fact that often times some of these theories are above the comprehension level of many adults (Boeree 2003). Society's view of psychology changed instantly because most of his ideas were brand new to people and they formed opinions of him right away.

Not only did society change right away, but also continues to be affected by the publications of Sigmund Freud in the long run. “There is no fixed Freudian creed. Freud's ideas evolved over his lifetime, and he continued to revise his theories until his death. His followers have reviewed and expanded his work and are still doing so today” (Muckenhoupt 11). To those who follow psychology and its changing philosophies Freud's publications and ideas are a “staple” in psychology and they are something that is referred back to by almost everyone. He has dramatically changed the way people look at themselves and the deeper meanings of the mind.

Supporters have praised Freud rapturously and critics have called him everything from a con- man to a dirty-minded pansexualist . . . but no one disagrees that he has been one of the most influential scientists of the century. Not only did he influence the professional practice of psychology and psychiatry, but he changed the way people (in Western cultures) view themselves and think about their lives. (“Sigmund Freud” 1998)

Everyone seems to have an opinion on Freud's work, they either agree or disagree with him, but no matter what ones opinion of him are, one can not deny the influence he has had on psychology in the long run. “The unconscious is not the great churning cauldron of activity he made it out to be. Most psychologists today see the unconscious as whatever we don't need or don't want to see. Some theorists don't use the concept at all” (Boeree 2003). A lot of Freud's theories are now thought of as controversial, psychologists today have picked out the pieces they agree with and have done away with the rest.

Psychology is what it is today because of the advancements made by Freud. Freud's therapy has been more influential than any other and more influential than any other part of his theory. These include; the need for a relaxed atmosphere and free association (Boeree 2003). “In fact, in Freudian therapy, the therapist practically disappears. Add to that the physically relaxing couch, dim lights, sound-proof walls, and the stage is set”(Boeree 2003). The techniques that Freud developed are still used today.

It is to Freud's credit that he managed to rise above his culture's sexual attitudes. Even his mentor Breuer and the brilliant Charcot couldn't fully acknowledge the sexual nature of their clients' problems. Freud's mistake was more a matter of generalizing too far, and not taking cultural change into account. It is ironic that much of the cultural change in sexual attitudes was in fact due to Freud's work! (Boeree 2003)

This quote points out how influential Freud's work was and still is. His ideas were things that most people had never heard of before and he popularized them. “Other now-famous Freudian innovations include the therapy couch, the use of talk therapy to resolve psychological problems, and his theories about the unconscious -- including the role of repression, denial, sublimation, and projection” (“Sigmund Freud” 2011).

A parapraxis is a slip of the tongue, often called a Freudian slip. Freud felt that they were also clues to unconscious conflicts. Freud was also interested in the jokes his clients told. In fact, Freud felt that almost everything meant something almost all the time -- dialing a wrong number, making a wrong turn, misspelling a word, were serious objects of study for Freud. (Boreree 2003)

The term Freudian slip is still used by psychologists today and the meaning behind events, no matter what the size, continues to be a popular idea.

He originally drew inspiration from the work of Charles Darwin which explained behavior in evolutionary terms. But Freud's introduction to hypnotherapy and to the stunning revelations it elicited from mentally ill patients led him to develop a revolutionary theory of the mind and of the dynamics underlying human behavior. While Freud's theories have always been controversial, his work forms a major portion of the foundations of modern psychology, with considerable modification by later theorists. (“Sigmund Freud” 2011)

Once again, this quote proves that his ideas are controversial, but have an enormous impact on modern society and has made psychology what it is today.

His most controversial theory is the Oedipus Complex. “In the Oedipus Complex, a boy is fixated on his mother and competes with his father for maternal attention” (“Oedipus Complex” 2002-11). The least popular part of Freud's theory is the Oedipal Complex and the associated ideas of castration anxiety and penis envy (Boeree 2003). Sure some children are attached to their opposite sex parent and are competitive with their same-sex parent, it is true that some boys worry about the differences between boys and girls, and fear that someone will cut their penis off. It is also true that girls may wish they had a penis. And it is true that some of these children retain these affections, fears, and aspirations into adulthood (Boeree 2003).

Most personality theorists, however, consider these examples aberrations rather than universals, exceptions rather than rules. They occur in families that aren't working as well as they should, where parents are unhappy with each other, use their children against each other. They occur in families where parents literally denigrate girls for their supposed lack, and talk about cutting off the penises of unruly boys. They occur especially in neighborhoods where correct information on even the simplest sexual facts is not forthcoming, and children learn mistaken ideas from other children. (Boeree 2003)

Freud's controversial Oedipus Complex has some true and relatable points to it, but as the quote above says, the reasons that young boys and girls feel this way is because of how they were raised and the experiences they have gone through, not because the boy or girl has sexual feelings towards their opposite sex parent.

If we view the Oedipal crisis, castration anxiety, and penis envy in a more metaphoric and less literal fashion, they are useful concepts: We do love our mothers and fathers as well as compete with them. Children probably do learn the standard heterosexual behavior patterns by imitating the same-sex parent and practicing on the opposite-sex parent. In a male-dominated society, having a penis -- being male -- is better than not, and losing one's status as a male is scary. And wanting the privileges of the male, rather than the male organ, is a reasonable thing to expect in a girl with aspirations. (Boeree 2003)

This quote shows that there are more reasonable ways of explaining these desires and shows how controversial the Oedipus Complex has become.

Another controversial theory along with the Oedipus Complex, an idea which many of his students rejected, is his idea that everyone has an unconscious wish to die.

And yet the goal of all this motion is to be still, to be satisfied, to be at peace, to have no more needs. The goal of life, you might say, is death. Freud began to believe that "under" and "beside" the life instincts there was a death instinct. He began to believe that every person has an unconscious wish to die. (Boeree 2003)

Some psychologists today agree with this theory more than the Oedipus Complex, quite possibly because of the fact that there seems to be more reason and logic behind this idea.

This seems like a strange idea at first, and it was rejected by many of his students, but I think it has some basis in experience: Life can be a painful and exhausting process. There is easily, for the great majority of people in the world, more pain than pleasure in life -- something we are extremely reluctant to admit. Death promises release from the struggle. (Boeree 2003)

Again, there seems to be more support for this theory of Freud's, it is more easily related to the Oedipus Complex. This might be because it is in our human nature to want to escape the suffering of life and the unconscious wish to die is a more common and accepted idea than having sexual feelings towards ones mother/father.

Freud received even more criticism for his emphasis on sexuality, however, many feel that there is enough evidence to support this theory and that it fits in with modern society. “A more general criticism of Freud's theory is its emphasis on sexuality. [Freud says] everything, both good and bad, seems to stem from the expression or repression of the sex drive. Many people question that, and wonder if there are any other forces at work” (Boeree 2003).

First let me point out that, in fact, a great deal of our activities are in some fashion motivated by sex. If you take a good hard look at our modern society, you will find that most advertising uses sexual images, that movies and television programs often don't sell well if they don't include some titillation, that the fashion industry is based on a continual game of sexual hide-and-seek, and that we all spend a considerable portion of every day playing "the mating game." Yet we still don't feel that all life is sexual. (Boeree 2003)

What Boeree says above is hard to oppose, but of course some people deny a presence of sex in their society and ultimately disagree with Freud's heavy emphasis on sexuality.

Freud used his personal experience and tried to pass it as scientific research. “Today he falls under criticism from most sides, as his speculative theories fail to find support” (Rana 1997). Many believe his theories lack scientific support because he relied to heavily on his own life experiences and was narrow minded when drawing conclusions.

As the child of a third marriage, the young Freud misunderstood his family's structure. Jacob Freud had married Amalia Nathansohn in 1855, when he was 40 and she was 20. Jacob's sons from his first marriage, Emanuel and Philipp, were far closer in age to Amalia than Jacob was. Emanuel was older than Amalia, whereas Philipp was only a year younger. One of Sigmund's first playmates was Emanuel's son John; Sigmund was actually John's uncle, but he was a year younger than his nephew. Naturally, Sigmund believed that his half brother Philipp, a bachelor, was much better suited to marry Amalia than his father, Jacob. But Jacob was Amalia's husband. When Freud's younger sister Anna was born, Sigmund worried that Philipp had taken his father's place and given his mother a child. (Muckenhoupt 19)

Many psychologists also believe that some of his controversial theories were the result of a distorted childhood, that he used his own experiences and tried to pass it as scientific research with lack of support. “His views were grudgingly accepted by psychologists because they did not offer sufficient explanatory or predictive insight into the structure or nature of the mind” (“The History and Bases of Psychology” 1995). Lack of insight as to where his ideas came from also add to his lack of creditability.

Freud's publications of his books had a great influence on American culture and society. His work in the field of psychology will be referenced by others for many years to come and will continue to be an important part of history. Sigmund Freud's ideas and publications, although now considered controversial, greatly influenced other psychologists and will continue to change society in America.

Works Cited

"A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries: Sigmund Freud." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. 1998. Web. 17 Feb. 2011.

Boeree, George. "Sigmund Freud." Personality Theories. Web. 17 Feb. 2011.

Muckenhoupt, Margaret. Sigmund Freud: Explorer of the Unconscious. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.

"Oedipus Complex." Changing Minds and Persuasion -- How We Change What Others Think, Believe, Feel and Do. Web. 17 Feb. 2011.

Ramirez, Courtney. "How Has Psychology Changed Over the Years?" Articles and Answers about Life - Life123. Web. 17 Feb. 2011.

Rana, Himmat. "Psychology History." Psychology History. May 1997. Web. 17 Feb. 2011.

"Sigmund Freud." NNDB: Tracking the Entire World. 2011. Web. 17 Feb. 2011.

"The History and Bases of Psychology." The History and Bases of Psychology. October 1995. Web. 17 Feb. 2001.



Theosophy. "Ancient and Modern Science--Psychology (7 of 7)." Blavatsky Net Theosophy - Original Theosophy Text - Focus on Madame Blavatsky. Sept. 1995. Web. 17 Feb. 2011.


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