Sigmund Freud

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


A Man Who Changed the World


The three greatest minds of our times who changed the world were three German Jews: Marx, Freud and Einstein. Although we may disagree with some of Karl Marx’s stand, he is credited for his pioneering in economics. If it were not for Einstein, physics, mathematics and the sciences would not have given us what we have today and all the benefits derived therefrom. Although we, the uninitiated masses, do not understand the theory of relativity, we know all that his discoveries have given us and of which we are the beneficiaries. Freud, the genius that we are discussing today, brought behavioral science to the forefront and enlightened the world with his explanation/discovery of the unconscious mind, the human psyche and much much more. He is indeed the father, the forerunner of psychoanalysis and the “newer” additional thinking, discoveries and disputes are all attributable to this great mind.

Sigesmund Schlomo Freud was born May 6, 1856 in a small town Freiberg, Moravia. His father was a wool merchant with a keen mind and a good sense of humor. His mother was the second wife of Freud’s father and twenty years his junior. She was twenty-one years old when her first and favorite child Sigmund was born.  Sigmund had two older half brothers and six younger siblings. When he was four of five the family moved to Vienna, where he lived most of his life. He was a brilliant child, always at the head of his class. Ultimately he went to medical school, where he became involved in research. He studied with his physiology professor Ernst Brücke; it was then believed that no other forces than the physical-chemical processes (reductionism) are active within the organism. Freud spent many years trying to reduce personality to neurology, a cause which he later abandoned. Freud was excellent at his research, concentrated on neurophysiology and invented a special cell-staining technique. He later had a grant to study with the great psychiatrist Charcot in Paris, then with Bernheim in Nancy. Both of these gentlemen investigated the use of hypnosis with hysterics. After spending a short time as a neurology resident and director of a children’s ward in Berlin, Freud came back to Vienna, married his fiancée of many years, Martha Bernays, and set up a practice in neuropsychiatry with the help of Joseph Breuer.

Freud’s books and lectures brought him fame and ostracism from the mainstream of the medical community. Freud emigrated to England just prior to World War II, when Vienna became a dangerous place for Jews.  He died of the cancer of the mouth and jaw from which he had suffered for the last twenty years of his life.

Freud made the idea of the conscious versus the unconscious mind popular. The conscious mind is what we are aware of at any particular moment, our present perceptions, memories, thoughts, fantasies, feelings, etc. There is also the preconscious, what can be called “available memory”, i.e. anything that can easily be made conscious. The unconscious includes all the things that are not easily available to awareness, such as our drives or instincts, and things that are put there because we cannot bear to look at them, such as the memories and emotions associated with trauma. According to Freud, the unconscious is the source of our motivations, whether they are desires for food, sex, neurotic compulsions, or the motives of an artist or scientist. The id, the ego and the superego were ideas developed by Freud. The id is comprised of the instincts or drives. The id works in keeping with the pleasure principle, which can be understood as a demand to take care of needs immediately. We can observe this in the newborn infant who screams for what he needs or wants instantly. The id is the psychic representative of biology. The ego relates the organism to reality by means of its consciousness and searches for objects to satisfy the wishes that the id creates to satisfy the organism's needs. The ego in essence says “take care of a need as soon as an appropriate object is found.” It represents reason. The ego struggles to keep the id happy; it meets with obstacles in the world. It meets with obstacles and occasionally meets with objects that actually assist in attaining its goals. It keeps a record of obstacles and aids. It keeps track of the rewards and punishments meted out by the two most influential objects in the world of the child – mom and dad. This record of things to avoid and strategies to take becomes the superego. It is not completed until about seven years of age. For some people it is never completed. The superego is the conscience, which is an internalization of punishments and warnings. Another part of the superego is the ego ideal. It derives from rewards and positive models presented to the child. The conscience and ego ideal communicate their requirements to the ego with feelings like pride, shame and guilt.

Freud spoke of life instincts. Libido comes from the Latin word “I desire”. Sex, Freud found, is much more important in the dynamics of the psyche than other needs. Libido has come to mean the sex drive. Anxiety was discussed and labeled to come in various forms, one of which is neurotic anxiety. This is the fear of being overwhelmed by the id.  Neurotic is the Latin word for nervous. Repression was called “motivated forgetting”, that is, not being able to recall a threatening situation, person or event. Displacement is the redirection of an impulse onto a substitute target. Projection is displacement outward.  It involves the tendency to see your own unacceptable desires in other people. Reaction formation is changing an unacceptable impulse into its opposite. For example, a child angry with its mother may become overly concerned with her and rather shower her with affection. Introjection, sometimes called identification, involves taking into your own personality characteristics of someone else, because doing so solves some emotional difficulty. A child who is left alone may in some way try to become “mom” in order to lessen his or her fears. Regression is a movement back in psychological time when one is faced with stress. When we are troubled or frightened our behaviors often become more childish or primitive. Rationalization is the cognitive distortion of “the facts” to make an event or an impulse less threatening (making excuses). Sublimation is the transforming an unacceptable impulse into a socially productive form.

Freud evolved with five stages of development: oral, anal, phallic or oedipal, latent and genital stages.  Much has been described in relation to these stages.

Freud’s therapy has been very influential and are here touched upon briefly:

There must be a relaxed atmosphere where the client must feel free to express anything.

Free association: The client may talk about anything at all. With this the unconscious conflicts will inevitably drift to the fore. The therapist is trained to recognize clues to problems and solutions that the client would overlook.

Resistance: The client is nearing something in his free associations that he unconsciously finds threatening.

Dream analysis.

Parapraxis: slips of the tongue.

In short: Freud said that the goal of therapy is to make the unconscious conscious!

From this, one of our great innovative and brilliant Jewish brethren, father of psychoanalysis, we have learned much about the human mind.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Youth Culture and the Generation Gap.

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