With Sigmund Freud: Is it all about sex?

Freud has contributed a great deal to our profession but the psychoanalyst tends to have the role of the wise initiate who ‘knows’ and disagreement would be seen
usually as a defence or a manifestation of pathology. This is at odds with the
transpersonal school, which most certainly does not ‘know’ but finds creativity
in holding and exploring the mystery.

Sigmund Freud, 1856-1939. His quest, along with other Freudians was to seek the connection between the life of the psyche and the physiological processes. The major connection identified by Freud was through dreams, which mediated between the conscious and unconscious aspects of ourselves. The essential dominant he believed was sexuality and the psychoanalysis that he developed was a reductive process of stripping away all the factors which masked or influenced the sex drive in order to make it conscious.

Perhaps Freud’s greatest contribution is his concept of the structure of the unconscious and the idea that there are different levels of consciousness. Conscious / Pre-conscious and unconscious/and how they relate to the development and problems of the personality.

The id is the seat of innate desires and the principle source of psychic energy. It wants immediate satisfaction in accordance with the pleasure principle. The id is primary process thinking. The baby feels hunger and it either immediately satisfies this by reaching for the nipple or if this isn’t possible it satisfies it partially or indirectly by imagining a bottle of milk. This hallucinatory wish fulfilment is called primary process thought.

The Ego Freud’s view was that the development of the ego lies in the id’s inability to always get what it wants and is necessary for physical and psychological survival. It helps in survival because it possesses secondary process thought, which is more organised, integrated and logical and includes intellectual activities such as perception, logical thought, problem solving, memory etc. Acting out instincts in thought or deed creates fear and anxiety regarding punishment of guilt. The defences ease conflict between the instinctual demands of the id and society.

When anxiety is aroused the ego tackles the problem in a realistic way utilizing its problem solving skills. However, when the anxiety is so strong it threatens to engulf the ego, then the defence mechanisms come into play. When the individual can’t satisfy the super ego or the id he develops a complex, a problem and what happens then is that you spend a lot of time avoiding stimulating the instinct. If there is a conflict over food you try to avoid food.

The super-ego is a symbolic internalization of the father figure and cultural regulations. The super-ego tends to stand in opposition to the desires of the id because of their conflicting objectives, and is aggressive towards the ego. The super-ego acts as the conscience, maintaining our sense of morality and the prohibition of taboos. Its formation takes place during the dissolution of the Oedipus complex and is formed by an identification with and internalization of the father figure after the little boy cannot successfully hold the mother as a love-object out of fear of castration

Acting out instincts in thought or deed creates fear and anxiety regarding punishment of guilt. The defences ease conflict between the instinctual demands of the id and society. According to Freud, humans have an instinctual drive to maximise sexual gratification and minimise punishment. As a child grows up it takes on ideas from society and parents which are at odds with its instincts. The result is that the mind fears punishment .

1. Instincts 2. Punishment and guilt 3. Defence mechanisms

Another important component is the sex instinct

1. The sex drive has its source in bodily needs. Sexual excitation arises from erogenous zones in the body particularly the oral, anal and genital areas.

2.The aim of the sex drive, or any instinct, is to remove this bodily need . This ultimate goal is achieved via subordinate goals such as finding and investing energy in sexual objects. Freud defined an instinct as an “urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things” This return to an earlier state of mental and physiological lack of excitation is achieved by satisfying the need.

3.Tension mounts, an appropriate sex object is found , tension is discharged and the person experiences pleasure. There are many ways to satisfy a drive. Libido becomes attached or in Freud’s terminology, cathected to an object.

Drives can be fused as in for example, playing soccer which satisfies co-operative and aggressive needs. Or hunger, which satisfies both hunger and destructiveness. (biting and chewing)

Drives can also be satisfied in a partial or indirect way as for example gossiping about someone rather than physically attacking someone. Drives are also substituted as intense hate turns into love or sexual desire becomes platonic love.

One object can be substituted for another as when an adult’s oral needs are satisfied by playing a trumpet. In some cases a culturally or morally higher goal is substituted for the desired goal.

An angry person may sublimate his desire to attack other people by making violent films. (Mel Gibson).

Freud’s psycho-sexual theory of human development

There are 3 groups of problems that clients present in therapy;

1. Inability to trust, love and have close relationships, low self esteem

2. Inability to recognise and express hostility, anger, rage and hate. Denial of these aspects of our psyche.

3.Inability to fully accept feelings of sexuality, fear of sexual feelings.

These stem from early life development and affect our social and sexual development. Early in his work Freud discovered that looking for the causes of disturbed personality usually led to unresolved sexual experiences of childhood. Each stage centres on a particular erogenous zone of the body that when stimulated produces sexual tensions that need to be relieved.

Lecture notes from Early Life Issues: Freud – Richard Stewart

Related blog posts

The Clinical (illness) model – personality typologies

Transference and counter Transference

Acting Out – What are the fantasies?

Resistance in Therapy