Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theories Explained

Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalytic Theories of Personality

Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories have largely contributed to psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis consists of various psychological therapies and theories that help in the treatment of various psychological disorders. The psychoanalysis process involves understanding the unconscious thoughts of the individual and bringing them into the consciousness of the person by using various psychoanalytic techniques; these techniques are discussed in this article. Freud’s psychoanalytic theories are based on his belief that the type of personality that an individual acquires in his/her adulthood is determined by his/her childhood experiences, and any disruptions or traumas in childhood may result in negative personality traits in adulthood. His theories involve the topographic model of the mind, structural model of personality, defence mechanisms to deal with anxiety, psychosexual stages of development, and psychoanalytic techniques. We’ll get to know about all these concepts in this article.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist, who is also known as the father of psychoanalysis, was born on 6 May 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia. His family later shifted to Vienna, where he spent most of his childhood and adulthood. He completed his graduation in medicine in 1881 from the University of Vienna. After his graduation, he worked at the psychiatry clinic of the Vienna general hospital. He developed his interest in the treatment of the ‘hysteria’ (post-traumatic stress) patients during his short placement at the Salpetriere clinic, Paris. After he returned to Vienna, he left the psychiatry clinic and set up his private clinical practice, where he and his colleague Joseph Breuer studied the case histories of hysteria clients and later published their research “studies on hysteria” (1895). This research served as an important tool in the development of Freud’s psychoanalytic theories. In 1901, he published one of his popular books, “The Interpretation of Dreams,” which involves various psychoanalytic techniques such as free association and dream analysis. Freud, along with his followers, established the ‘International Psychoanalytic Association’ in 1910. Hereafter, he went on exploring the various aspects of the unconscious mind and its influence on the behaviour of an individual. In 1923, Freud elaborated on the three parts of the human psyche, i.e., id, ego, and superego, in his publication “The Ego and the Id.” Freud, along with his family, left Austria and shifted to London in 1938 due to the arrival of Nazis. During this time, he suffered from jaw cancer, and he died on 23 September 1939 in London. Although his psychoanalytic theories have been criticized by many, it remains as one of the most influential theories in psychology.

My Life is interesting only if it is related to psychoanalysis” -Sigmund Freud (1884)

Sigmund Freud’s Topographic Model of the Psyche

According to Freud, a large part of our thoughts, feelings, and desires are unconscious, and the knowledge and interpretation of the unconscious of the person play a very crucial role in psychoanalysis as it helps to get a true and deeper insight into an individual’s mind. Freud proposed that there exist three levels of awareness, i.e., consciousness, preconscious, and unconsciousness; these levels are discussed below.


Everything that we are feeling, thinking, wishing, or paying attention to at the given moment, comes under the consciousness of our mind. For example, suppose a girl is riding a bike; hence, the vehicles, road in her field of vision, and the horn sound she is hearing, or anything else she is experiencing at that moment such as hunger, thirst, or pain, are all present in her consciousness.

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Everything that the person is not paying attention to at the given moment, but the information is readily available to enter into the conscious of the person whenever it’s required. For example, you may not be thinking about your sibling’s mobile number at the given moment, but you’ll immediately recall the number whenever needed.

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The unconscious consists of all those feelings, thoughts, or desires that the person is not aware of, but it influences almost every aspect of his/her daily life. For example, the hatred towards a particular family member due to strict parenting, or any childhood traumatic incidents that the person doesn’t remember, but which deeply affects his/her current behaviour. In this case, it becomes almost difficult for a person to recall such past incidents that have been influencing his/her behaviour since they happened in his/her life.

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Sigmund Freud’s Structural Model of Personality

The human personality and behaviour are very diverse and complex to explain; Sigmund Freud’s structural model of personality attempts to explain it through different personality components. According to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, human behaviour and personality depend on the interactions among the three major components, i.e., the id, ego, and superego. Each component plays a unique and notable contribution to the human personality. This model focuses on the role of the unconscious mind in taking various decisions and shaping the personality and behaviour of the person. Let us discuss the three components (id, ego, and superego) of the personality.

Id, Ego, and the Superego


This component is present from the time of birth in the people. It involves taking instantaneous decisions without thinking much about the cause and consequences of the decisions. Here, the decisions taken by the person are primarily from his/her unconscious part of the mind. The ‘id’ works on Freud’s pleasure principle, i.e., it focuses on fulfilling biological needs and conscious or unconscious desires such as anger, hunger, thrust, urge to pee or sex. If these needs or desires are not satisfied, it may lead to tension, stress, or anxiety. As id is the only component that is present from birth, hence the behaviour of the children is mostly controlled by the id, and they always focus on fulfilling their needs as early as possible. For example, children argue to eat their favourite candy again and again without considering that it may cause them cavities. Another example is that if the child is thirsty, and there’s a long queue for getting the water bottle, the id part of the child will influence him/her to break the queue and get the water immediately to satisfy his/her thrust. Sigmund Freud defined id as:

The source of all the psychic energy”


The children’s behaviour due to the id component may be acceptable by society, but this behaviour may cause a problem when the person grows up. Hence, the development of another component, i.e., ‘ego,’ helps people make decisions based on the reality principle. It involves taking decisions not only based on fulfilling personal needs or desires but also considering the realistic and socially approved behaviour. In contrast to the previous example (given in the id section) in which the child broke the queue and simply grabbed the water bottle, the ego component of the child allows him/her to ask if he/she can get the water bottle first as he/she is very thirsty. Sigmund Freud explained the concept of id and ego by comparing the id and the ego as the horse and the horse rider, respectively. The horse provides the motivation and potential, while the horse rider gives the instructions and administration to the horse. The horse will roam anywhere and do anything that it desires without the direction of the horse rider. The rider helps the horse reach its destination in a controlled and appropriate way. According to Freud, the primary function of the ego is to delay the needs or desires until the appropriate time, or it is realistic and acceptable. The ability to delay gratification increases as we grow older. Sigmund Freud defined ego as:

Part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world”

Sigmund Freud's Comparison of the Id and the Ego with the Horse and the Horse-rider respectively

Sigmund Freud’s comparison of the ‘Id’ and the ‘Ego’ with the horse and the horse-rider, respectively.


It is the last component of personality development, and it begins to develop around the age of five. The superego primarily works on internalized moral values or principles that we learn from our parents and society. The superego helps us make appropriate judgments by suppressing the id’s urges and forcing the ego to work as per the moral principles rather than the realistic principles. The superego is divided into two parts, i.e., the ego ideal and the conscience. The ego-ideal includes the set of rules for the appropriate behaviour. Here, behaviour is influenced by the authority figures such as parents and teachers. People experience the feeling of accomplishment and pride in fulfilling this set of rules. The ego-ideal is also considered as the ideal image we have in our minds about ourselves. The conscience involves the set of rules for behaviour that are considered as bad. When we do things that are considered not appropriate according to our conscience, it may lead to bringing a feeling of guilt in us. It is commonly observed that the decision made as per the ego and the superego are the same most of the time, but the superego’s reasons for taking that decision are based on the moral principles or judgments, while the ego’s reasons for taking a particular decision are based on the other people’s opinion and its impact on the person who is making such decisions.

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Interaction among Id, Ego, and the Superego

All the three components, i.e., id, ego, and the superego are not separate entities; they interact with each other and are equally important to decide the overall behaviour and personality of the person. Sometimes your decisions are based on fulfilling your own needs (id), i.e., what is best for you, and sometimes they are based only on the moral principles (superego), i.e., what is best for others, or sometimes based on the reality principle (ego), i.e., what is best for you and the others. The interaction of these three components varies at the different stages of people’s lives. The id plays an important role in taking actions to fulfil personal needs, and the ego helps in taking action in a realistic and socially acceptable way, and the superego helps to take morally appropriate decisions. It is difficult to make a balance in all these components, hence the conflict is often seen. According to Freud, a person has a balanced personality if he/she can effectively use his/her ego to make a balance between the id and the superego. A person with an extreme id may have an uncontrollable or impulsive personality and will try to fulfil his/her needs and desires at any cost even if it is unethical, while people with the dominant superego may have an extreme judgemental and moralistic personality, and they may face difficulty in accepting things or opinions that they themselves perceive as morally wrong or unethical. Freud proposed the term ego-strength and said that those who have high ego strength can easily make a balance between the id and the superego, and they can tackle various conflicting situations, while those with low ego-strength find it difficult to balance these components. The ego of the person tries to find the compromise between the id and the superego. Let us understand it with an example, a teenage girl named Diana has a diet plan for several months as she wants to lose weight, and one day, she starts craving junk food, instead of working out & eating salad. In this situation, the superego of Diana will influence her to not eat junk food, and rather it will influence her to go for a routine of 60 minutes daily treadmill, while her id will influence her to eat her favourite pizza and skip the workout session for that particular day. In this case, Diana’s ego will help her in making the compromise between her superego and id by suggesting she should eat the pizza and salad after 30 minutes of a treadmill walk. This is how the ego manages the conflict between the id and the superego.

According to Freud:

People are simply actors in the drama of their own minds, pushed by desires, pulled by coincidence. Underneath the surface, our personality represents the power struggle going on deep within us.”

Interaction among the Id, Ego, and the Superego

Sigmund Freud’s Iceberg Analogy

Sigmund Freud explained his model of the psyche and personality by comparing it to an iceberg. According to him, the conscious thoughts of the person are represented by the tip of the iceberg as we are aware of our conscious thoughts, and the tip of the iceberg is clearly visible from the outside. The preconscious mind is represented by the area just below the waterline. As the majority of the individual’s thoughts are hidden, the larger and the deeper submerged part of the iceberg represents the unconscious mind. As we are not consciously aware of the effect of the id energy (natural desires, thoughts, or feelings) on our behaviour, the id belongs to the unconscious part. The ego is the part of each three types of awareness, but it majorly contributes to the conscious and the preconscious part than the unconscious part. The superego consists of all three levels of awareness and hence comprises the entire iceberg.

Sigmund Freud's Iceberg Model of Mind

Sigmund Freud’s Iceberg Model of the Mind

Defence Mechanisms

As we have discussed above, trying to make a balance between the id, ego, and the superego leads to conflict, and these internal conflicts increase the level of anxiety of an individual. Freud proposed that anxiety arises due to the inability of the ego to balance between instant gratification (id) and maintaining moral values and norms (superego). To manage conflicts and anxiety, we use various defence mechanisms; defence mechanisms are the particular behaviour of the individual to get rid of the anxiety in a particular situation. People usually are not aware of the moment that they are consciously using defence mechanics to deal with their negative feelings. These mechanisms could either be positive or negative according to the behaviour of the person. Here are some commonly used defence mechanisms.

Conflict between the Id and the Superego

1. Denial

Refusing to accept very obvious and real events because they are uncomfortable or displeasing.”

For example, a man is addicted to alcohol, and it is affecting almost every area of his life, whether it’s his academics, professional life, or personal life. However, he refuses to admit it and argues that he seldom drinks only to lower his stress level.

2. Reaction Formation

Trying to reduce the anxiety by behaving differently or believing in certain factors or views that are opposite to your real thoughts or feelings.”

For example, a boy has a crush on a girl, but she is married. Hence, he tries to reduce his anxiety by saying or trying to believe himself that she is a bad girl and not suitable for him.

Reaction Formation Defense Mechanism

3. Rationalization

Attempting to justify the unacceptable or inappropriate behaviour, feelings, or thoughts with some self-serving reasons or explanations.”

For example, a boy failed his history exam as he did not study and attend full classes, but he explained to his parents that he failed the exam because the teacher did not like him.

Rationalization Defense Mechanism

4. Projection

Attributing one’s own undesirable or unacceptable desires, thoughts, or feelings to others.”

For example, a man often cheats on his wife, and he is feeling bad about it but doesn’t want to accept it. Hence, he unconsciously projects his feelings on his wife that she is already cheating on him, and she is unfaithful.

Projection Defence Mechanism

5. Displacement

Transferring one’s urges or feelings about an individual or a thing onto someone or something less threatening targets.”

For example, a student is angry at his teacher as the teacher scolded him for creating nuisance in the classroom, but he can’t show his anger to the teacher. He reaches home and releases his frustrations at his younger brother.

Displacement Defense Mechanism

6. Acting Out

Showing extreme behaviour to express one’s true feelings, or thoughts.”

For example, when the parents do not give their child his/her favourite toy, the child may start throwing tantrums or even injure himself/herself to express his/her anger.

7. Repression

Suppressing unpleasant and painful memories, thoughts, or feelings in the unconscious.”

For example, a boy witnessed a fire accident that burned his house into ashes; it happened when he was nine years old. However, as an adult, he does not remember this traumatic event as he has repressed this event into his unconscious.

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8. Dissociation

Dissociating yourself from your actual personality and thinking and behaving entirely different from your usual personality to deal with the emotional stress.”

People use this mechanism when they become unable to bear their thoughts, memories, or feelings of their real world. They start living in a world that they have created in their own mind to get rid of the anxiety. The person who uses the dissociation defence mechanism a lot often loses the right track of time and/or themselves, and it may even lead to the ‘multiple personality disorder.’

9. Regression

Returning to a far less mature stage of psychological development for coping with the undesirable situation.”

For example, Sandy is an adult, but she cried like a child when she heard about her mother’s demise.

Regression Defense Mechanism

10. Sublimation

Redirecting unacceptable feelings, thoughts, or desires, through socially acceptable behaviour.”

For example, a man desires revenge from the drunk truck driver who is responsible for the death of his only child. However, he channelized this negative thought of revenge into positive behaviour by adopting an orphan child and supporting the organizations that help the people who’ve lost their loved ones.

The Other Side of the Couch — Defense Mechanism: Sublimation

Sublimation- “Channeling one’s frustration (anxiety of facing problems) towards a different goal (eating).”

Psychosexual Stages of Development

Sigmund Freud proposed that the interactions between the three major components of the human mind (id, ego, superego) develop through the five psychosexual stages of development. According to Freud, the personality of the people gets established during their childhood till the five years of age, and he associated the behaviour of the children with the ‘libido’ (psychosexual energy). He explained personality development through the five stages, where each stage is associated with a specific erogenous zone; erogenous zones are considered as the particular areas of the body that are sensitive to stimulation. The child’s personality depends upon how a child deals with the conflicts that occur in every stage as each stage has distinctive conflicts. The child may get fixated at one stage if the needs or desires of the child are over gratified or are leading to frustration at that particular stage. Fixation disturbs the normal development of the personality from one stage to the next, and when the child grows up, he/she may focus on the particular needs that were over gratified or not fulfilled at all. Let us discuss Freud’s five psychosexual stages of development.

Sigmund Freud's Psychosexual Stages of Development

1. Oral Phase

It is the first stage of psychosexual development, and it lasts up to the age of 18 months. At this stage, the child focuses on the mouth for gratification, which involves suckling, chewing, sucking, ingesting the food, and putting things in his/her mouth. The id is dominant at this stage as ego and super-ego are not yet developed, hence every action of the child at this stage depends on the pleasure principle. However, some signs of the ego are seen. As we have read above that the ego is responsible for the delay of gratification and waiting for the appropriate time to fulfil the needs. The development of the ego can be understood from the child’s cry. From birth to around two months of age, the cry seems to be insignificant, but later, it is linked to certain needs such as hunger or pain. The oral stage disturbance could lead to permanent fixation, and negative personality traits such as greediness, dependent on others, and impatience. The examples of oral stage fixation that are observed in adulthood may involve overeating, smoking, thumb-sucking, chewing, nail-biting, and putting objects in the mouth.

Oral Phase of Freud's Psychosexual Stages of Development

2. Anal Phase

The anal phase begins around the 18 months of the child’s age and lasts up to around three years. At this stage, the focus of the child transfer from the mouth to the lower end of the digestive tract and the anus. The ego formation begins at this stage. Toilet training is taught to the children by their parents during this phase, and the conflicts between the id (urge to pee immediately) and ego (pee in the bathroom only) is observed. Fixation at this stage may occur due to strict toilet training or extreme gratification (smearing poop on the walls/creating mess). The little gratification at this stage may lead to the development of anal-character having personality traits of compulsiveness or rigidity, and over gratification at this stage may result in the traits like short-tempered, untidiness, and narcissistic personality.

Anal Phase of Freud's Psychosexual Stages of Development

3. Phallic Phase

The phallic phase begins around the age of three and lasts up to the age of six. The focus of the child at this phase shifts to the genital areas. Although genitals are the source of gratification at this stage, it is not in the same way as that of adult sexuality because the children are physically immature yet. The children now begin to understand the differences between girls and boys, and the focus of the driving energy of the children shifts to their parents that leads to the Oedipus complex and Electra complex.

Oedipus Complex and Electra Complex

Freud introduced the terms ‘Oedipus complex’ for males to describe their libido in his psychosexual theory. The term ‘Oedipus complex’ is derived from a Greek mythological king, ‘Oedipus,’ who married his own mother after unintentionally killing his father. According to Freud, the boys become more possessive of their mother and develop feelings of rivalry and envy towards their father. The ‘id’ wants the mother’s affection and resists the father, but the ‘ego’ knows that he can’t fight with the father as the father is stronger than him, which leads to fear of getting punished by the father; Freud, termed it as the ‘castration anxiety.’ The term ‘Electra complex’ (termed by Carl Jung) is derived from  ‘Electra,’ a Greek mythological character, who was involved in her mother’s murder and was sexually attracted towards her father. According to Freud, the psychosexual development of females are almost similar to that of males, where the boys face castration anxiety, and the girls develop penis envy. He said that females envy males as they possess a penis and argued that most females remain fixated at this phase, which results in an inferior and submissive personality of the females. However, Freud’s views on feminine sexuality, and more particularly the ‘penis envy,’ faced strong criticisms by many psychologists and feminists. A German psychoanalyst, Karen Horney, questioned Freud’s views and considered them shameful and humiliating to women. She instead argued that the men feel inferiority because of their inability to give birth to the babies, which she termed as ‘womb envy.’ The concept of morality begins internalizing in children at the phallic stage, and they follow various norms or rules due to their willingness and belief in morality rather than the fear of getting punished, i.e., the super-ego starts developing at this phase.

Phallic Phase of Freud's Psychosexual Stages of Development

4. Latent Phase

The age period of the latent phase is not exactly defined; it usually begins when the child starts going to school (age 3-7) and may last up to the onset of puberty (age 8-13). The superego of the child continues to progress during this phase, and the child learns to suppress the id energies. As the child begins his/her school journey, their concerns shift towards building relationships with peers, developing hobbies, and playing games. The child develops morality, social skills, and communication skills and also begins to understand the various complex feelings of disgust, shame, and guilt. If the children get fixated at this stage, it may result in immature behaviour or difficulty in maintaining a good relationship with others, when they become adults.

Latent Phase of Freud's Psychosexual Stages of Development

5. Genital Phase

It is the last stage of Freud’s psychosexual development stages, and it begins from the onset of puberty and onwards. This phase stays for a longer period of time. The libido gets activated, and the focus is on the genitals in the form of adult sexuality. The person develops sexual interests towards the opposite sex. The source of gratification at this stage includes love relationships, strong bonds with the family, and successfully carrying out the responsibilities of adulthood. In the earlier stages, the primary focus was the self-needs, but due to ṭhe full development of ego and the super-ego at this phase, the individual’s focus shifts to their own welfare and the welfare of the society as well. Maintaining a proper balance in different areas of life is the main goal of this stage. Unlike younger children, individuals at this stage become able to control the id energies that involve immediately satisfying the needs and desires, and they make decisions based on reality and moral principles. The genital stage disturbance may lead to the inability of an individual to focus on the more important adulthood responsibilities than focusing on their own body and other needs. The successful completion of all the five stages most probably leads to a kind, caring, and well-balanced personality.

Genital Phase of Psychosexual Stages of Development

Criticisms of Freud’s Psychosexual Theory

Sigmund Freud’s Psychosexual Stages of development has been strongly criticized by many researchers and psychologists due to several factors that mainly involve lack of scientific approach and anti-feministic approach. Let us discuss some key criticisms related to the psychosexual stages.

  • Sigmund Freud faced massive criticism for focusing only on the single factor, i.e., sexuality, in explaining the development of the human personality.
  • Critics argue that this theory focuses more on the male’s psychosexual development and does not enlighten much about the female’s psychosexual developments.
  • It is impracticable to scientifically test or measure certain factors associated with this theory such as libido, hence it lacks scientific validity.
  • According to Freud, disturbance at any stage of this theory leads to a certain type of personality in the future. However, it seems quite absurd as it is difficult to explain that the current personality or behaviour of the person is due to any particular experience in their childhood because of the longer duration between the two variables, i.e., behaviour, and childhood experience.
  • This theory lacks empirical research and is only based on case studies, and that too was not conducted on the children. He only studied the data of his adult patients.

Anna O’s Case and Psychoanalytic Techniques

The Story of Anna O

To understand Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic techniques, we’ll first discuss the famous case study of ‘Anna O.’ The real name of ‘Anna O’ was Bertha Pappenheim, she was suffering from various problems like hallucination, right side body paralysis, hearing, visual, and speech disturbances. She took the help of a physician, Joseph Breuer, for her treatment. Breuer diagnosed that Anna O was suffering from hysteria. Breuer discussed Anna O’s case with his friend Sigmund Freud, who suggested the concept of talk therapy to cure Anna O’s hysteria. It was found that Talk therapy helped Anna O to a great extent in dealing with her hysteria. Freud found this case very interesting, and he deeply studied Anna O’s reports. Freud suggested to Breuer that the roots of Anna O’s hysteria belonged to her childhood sexual abuse. However, Breuer disagreed with Freud’s conclusion that eventually led to the end of their collaboration. Anna O’s treatment lasted for around two years (1880-1882), his treatment led to the establishment of various psychoanalytic techniques, from ‘free association’ and ‘talk therapy’ to the treatment of mental disorders. Although Sigmund Freud never met Anna O, her treatment played a crucial role in the development of psychoanalytic techniques. In fact, Sigmund Freud himself called Anna O the real founder of Psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic methods involve various methods or techniques to cure various mental disorders by bringing the fears, feelings, and conflicts present in the unconscious mind into the consciousness of the person, and improving the abilities of the ego to reduce the levels of conflict and anxiety in people. Let us discuss some important psychoanalytic techniques.

Free Association

As we have read above that when Anna O was freely allowed to talk about her past experiences, traumas, and anything that came to her mind, she felt very relieved in her hysterical symptoms. This introduced the ‘free association’ psychoanalytic technique. It involves allowing and encouraging the person to freely speak anything that comes to his/her mind without making any judgment or interruption to the talks. Earlier, to encourage the person to talk freely and comfortably, the person on whom the therapy was conducted was made to lay on the couch, and the therapist used to sit behind the person, which used to reduce the eye contact between the person and the therapist that would eventually encourage the person to speak freely. While conducting the therapy, the therapist notices every minute detail of the person’s talk, such as a pause in the talk, slip of the tongue, which is termed as a ‘Freudian slip.’ According to Freud, Freudian slip gives a deep analysis of the person’s unconscious mind, and by interpreting the hidden messages of the unconscious material, the therapist can get a deeper insight into the person’s mind. For example, a girl accidentally says to her father that ‘he is the beast,’ while she consciously wanted to say that ‘he is the best.’ Now, as per the Freudian slip, it may be because of the girl’s anger towards her father on the unconscious level.

7 Important Methods in Psychology With Examples – StudiousGuy

Dream Analysis

Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious”-Freud 1900

Freud believed that dreams play a significant role in analyzing the unconscious of a person. Freud’s famous publication “The Interpretation of Dreams” formalized his work on dream analysis and psychoanalytical technique. He mentioned that the accurate interpretation of the hidden message behind the dreams can become a great psychoanalytical tool. He also mentioned his dream that worked as the basis of formulating his dream analysis technique. He said that he was once concerned about one of his patients, Irma, as she was not showing much improvement as he expected. Freud was guilty about it, and he blamed himself that maybe his treatment was not worth it. Later, Freud had a dream that he met Irma at a party, where he saw some flashes of another doctor treating Irma, and he realized that Irma’s condition was not improving because another doctor used a contaminated syringe in Irma’s treatment. Thus, this freed Freud from the self-guilt that another doctor is responsible for Irma’s condition and not him. In concluding his dream, Freud proposed that the dreams worked as wish-fulfilment. He wished that he is not the one who is responsible for Irma’s bad condition, and his dream fulfilled his wish that another doctor was responsible for her condition. He distinguished between the part of the dream that an individual remembers (manifest content) and the true or symbolic meaning behind the dream (latent content). The process through which the hidden desires or wishes of the person are transferred into the manifest content (dreams) is called ‘dreamwork.’ Sigmund Freud wrote the following about the dream work,

At bottom, dreams are nothing other than a particular form of thinking. It is the dream-work which creates that form.”

Interpretation of Dreams

The dreamwork involves three major processes, i.e., condensation, displacement, and secondary elaboration. The condensation process involves the merging of various thoughts, desires, or images into one that may be similar or contradictory to each other. For example ‘the image I saw in the dream was once pizza and also a pie.’ The condensation process of the dreamwork is the reason behind the distorted and compact version of the manifest content in comparison to the latent content because a small fraction of the manifest content consists of several latent contents (desires, thoughts, or feelings) merged together. The displacement process involves the transformation of any objects, images, or the person that we are concerned about to something else that may be contradicting or be insignificant in the manifest content. For example, one of Freud’s patients was very disgruntled at his sister-in-law, and he used to call her a dog in anger, and once he dreamed of killing a dog. Freud interpreted this dream that his patient wished to kill his sister-in-law. He said that through dreams, the person fulfils the unconscious feelings or desires that will be too threatening on the conscious level, hence dreams make it happen in sleep because the defences of the ego are low during sleep, and the suppressed desires may enter the consciousness of the person. Here, in this example, if the patient has had dreamed of killing his sister in law that might result in the feeling of guilt, hence his unconscious displaced her into a dog. Although most dreams (manifest content) do not make any sense, some dreams are logical and coherent; it is because of the secondary elaboration. The secondary elaboration links the gaps of the distorted latent content so that dreams appear to make some sense.

Resistance Analysis

Resistance is the unconscious attempt of the person to prevent the undesirable feelings and thoughts of someone or something that may cause anxiety to enter into the conscious mind. For example, the resistance of the person to talk about certain things or any individual, and refusing to answer certain questions that are asked during the therapy. Resistance can be a problem for the therapist to get the desired answers, but the resistance analysis can be helpful for the therapist to understand the event or situation that is triggering anxiety in the person.

Resistance Analysis Psychoanalytic Technique

Transference Analysis

Transference is the process in which the person transfers his/her unconscious desires, feelings, or thought about the certain individual in their past onto the therapist, i.e., the person will start relating to the therapist in the same way he/she was related to the person in the past. The therapist should not try to stop the transference from occurring as it could reveal unconscious information about the person, and the therapist can help the person deal with the conflict. According to Freud, the relationship between the therapist and the patient resembles that of the mother and the child in the transference process.

Transference Psychoanalytic Technique

Criticisms of Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theories and Techniques

Criticisms of Sigmund Freud's Theory

Freud’s Psychoanalytic theory laid the groundwork for many other psychologists and researchers such as Erik Erikson, Carl Jung, and Karen Horney to develop their theories of personality. His psychoanalytic techniques are still used by therapists to treat mental disorders. Regardless, his theory and its methods have always been criticized by many psychologists, researchers, and feminists due to certain factors. Here are some key points that are being criticized by the researchers.

  • Freud had only focused on the influence of various personality driving forces (id, ego, and the superego) on human behaviour without giving much attention to other factors such as genetics, environment, or individual differences.
  • Psychoanalytic techniques that Freud has described require a significant amount of both money and time. These methods do not serve the purpose for the people who require a brief and effective therapy session, and also those who can not pay the hefty charges.
  • To effectively apply psychoanalytic techniques, the individual needs to possess a sufficient level of ego. The person with a high level of ego can easily balance their id and the superego with the assistance of the therapist. Hence, psychoanalysis is not suitable for people who possess a low level of ego.
  • Most of the concepts of Freud’s psychoanalytic theories, such as the impact of psychosexual stages disturbances on adulthood personality, and oedipal complex, are not properly supported with the empirical evidence. Hence, psychoanalytic theories lack scientific validity. Moreover, Sigmund Freud used the term Oedipal complex for both the males and the females to define the child’s attraction towards the opposite sex parent, and jealousy towards the same-sex parent. His opinions are considered anti-feministic and vague by many feminists.
  • Some critics argued that Freud’s theories overemphasized the impact of the unconscious on human behaviour as the consciousness of the person also influences behaviour.
  • Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories are the result of his researches on the patients dealing with hysteria, hence his theory lacks generalizability.
  • It is observed that Freud’s psychoanalytic theories apply only to the western population, and it lacks validity if applied to other culture populations.


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