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Very few things survive the test of time by remaining unable or unwilling to change. It was 1895 when Sigmund Freud introduced his work in the area of human personality with the publishing of his book entitled “Studies on Hysteria.” Almost 120 years later, it remains one of the few works continuing to impact the entirety of mental health treatment. This raises a legitimate question: Is Freud’s Personality Theory Relevant Today?
It has undergone many iterations by several equally talented theorists. Each one adding to the Freudian paradigm. In addition, the work done by Freud in the field of experimental psychology gave approval for others to offer their findings. A goal of this article is to examine whether Freud’s personality theory and psychodynamic theory as its extension are still relevant.
We already discussed core concepts of Freud’s personality theory in the previous post, so here is just a brief summary. In a nutshell, Freud identified five stages of growth occurring from infancy through adulthood:
Oral: 0 – 1.5 years of age
Anal: 1.5 to 3 years of age
Phallic: 3 – 5 year of age
Latency: 5 – 12 years of age
Genital: 12 – adulthood
The experiences and information from those stages is sorted by three levels of the human mind:
Conscious – associated with super ego
Unconscious – associated with ego
Subconscious – associated with id
Imbedded in the Freudian theory is his own terminology with its dependence on human sexuality as the genesis of our behavior. As indicated in his five stages of development each stage is associated with a healthy management of the impulses, needs, and desires of each stage. Failure to do this may result in personality flaws and mental disorders.
Words to consider as we prepare to take a closer look at Carl Jung’s unique view of the human condition as expressed in the Jung’s Individuation Process. There have been similar undertakings into the minds of Freud, Rogers, Adler and other forefathers of modern psychology. Each of these theories offer a unique perspective on the human personality.
What is presented is an overview of the thinking from what we call today the classic schools of psychology. These schools of thought or psychological theories were all developed in the first half of 20th century. Most of these theories had a shared paradigm, which is the multi-tier view of the human mind.
That paradigm includes the long-standing acceptance of a conscious/sub-conscious world at work within us. In addition to a shared paradigm, the methodology used by these psychologists includes to varying degree both scientific study and practical case experience. The results of combining their theories are additive rather than paradigm shifting.
With this as the backdrop we enter the world of the Swiss psychiatrist/psychotherapist Carl Jung. He is best known for his work in developing the field of analytical psychology. We will see that the concept of Individuation holds center stage in Jung’s analytical psychology. According to Jung, it is individuation that is the central process of human development
Individuation – A Definition
From a linguistic point of view definition of terms and meaning introduces the potential for understanding. While individuation has become the property of the world of psychology it is worth noting that Jung intended for it to be a much more than that. For him it encompasses the philosophical, mystical, and spiritual areas of the human being.
The word itself has roots going back to the 1600’s when it was used to identify a person as an individual or individuation. Here again, Jung applied another of the elements of the classic psychology paradigm; the freedom to rename and redefine within a limited scope those terms that apply to the work at hand.
In the broadest possible way, individuation can be defined as the achievement of self-actualization through a process of integrating the conscious and the unconscious. Once again, any accurate understanding of Jung should come from him.
Sigmund Freud is considered to be the father of psychiatry. Among his many accomplishments is, arguably, the most far-reaching personality schema in psychology: the Freudian theory of personality. It has been the focus of many additions, modifications, and various interpretations given to its core points. Despite many reincarnations, Freud’s theory is criticized by many (e.g. for its perceived sexism) and it remains the focus of hot discussions on its relevance today.
Freud was a one of a kind thinker. There can be little question that he was influenced by earlier thinking regarding the human mind, especially the idea of there being activity within the mind at a conscious and unconscious level yet his approach to these topics was largely conceptual. His theoretical thoughts were as original as they were unique. It is a testament to Freud’s mind to know that whether you agree, disagree, or are ambivalent about his theory, it remains as a theoretical cornerstone in his field of expertise.
Human Personality: The adult personality emerges as a composite of early childhood experiences, based on how these experiences are consciously and unconsciously processed within human developmental stages, and how these experiences shape the personality.
Not every person completes the necessary tasks of every developmental stage. When they don’t, the results can be a mental condition requiring psychoanalysis to achieve proper functioning.
Stages of Development
Believing that most human suffering is determined during childhood development, Freud placed emphasis on the five stages of psychosexual development. As a child passes through these stages unresolved conflicts between physical drives and social expectation may arise.
These stages are:
- Oral (0 – 1.5 years of age): Fixation on all things oral. If not satisfactorily met there is the likelihood of developing negative oral habits or behaviors.
- Anal (1.5 to 3 years of age): As indicated this stage is primarily related to developing healthy toilet training habits.
- Phallic (3 – 5 year of age): The development of healthy substitutes for the sexual attraction boys and girls have toward a parent of the opposite gender.
- Latency (5 – 12 years of age): The development of healthy dormant sexual feelings for the opposite sex.
- Genital (12 – adulthood): All tasks from the previous four stages are integrated into the mind allowing for the onset of healthy sexual feelings and behaviors.
It is during these stages of development that the experiences are filtered through the three levels of the human mind. It is from these structures and the inherent conflicts that arise in the mind that personality is shaped. According to Freud while there is an interdependence among these three levels, each level also serves a purpose in personality development. Within this theory the ability of a person to resolve internal conflicts at specific stages of their development determines future coping and functioning ability as a fully-mature adult.
While some doubt its existence for others the unconscious mind is considered to be a cornerstone of the psychoanalytic process. Within the unconscious mind is the processes believed to occur automatically in the mind. By definition the use of the term unconscious suspends introspection about them, while including related behaviors, thought processes, memory, affect, and motivation.
Much of the current empirical research into the unconscious mind, or automatic thoughts strongly suggests that theorists such as Freud, Schelling, and Coleridge were on the mark in their inclusion of this phenomenon into the analytic lexicon.
With the names of more modern era thinkers attached to its ideology it would be easy to overlook the importance of the idea of the unconscious mind on the views of the world held by much of humankind. For some cultures it has served as a way of explaining ancient ideas of temptation, divine inspiration, and the predominant role of the gods in affecting motives, actions. evil, bad dreams, or other catastrophes of life.
Dating back to between 2500 and 600 BC the experience of the unconscious mind can be found in Hindu texts. Whatever name is attached to it, the idea of unspoken thought as an integral part of the functions of the mind continues to be important in the psychoanalytical world.
In the 21st century any definition of the unconscious mind must rely on language, and in particular the metaphor to be valid. There are so many words and phrases used interchangeably with the unconscious mind that one can easily lose track of what it is being must discussed. Among these words and phrases are:
- The subconscious
- The Id
Of equal importance is to distinguish between unconscious process (psychoanalytic stimuli) and the unconscious mind (the reaction to that stimuli). Recent studies seem to support that while unconscious processes occur as though they were in a vacuum the human reaction to them is measurable and real. How is this explained? Let’s look at these three approaches.
Understanding the human mind is at the core of psychoanalytic theory. Since the introduction of the theory of Sigmund Freud in the early 1900’s and despite the many advancements in the study of psychoanalytic theory Freud’s basic thoughts retain a strong hold on the shaping of views regarding the theory of the human mind.
At the center of Freud’s theory are psychopathologies that result in a mental illness within a subject. It is Freud’s premise that within the human mind is contained in three levels of awareness or consciousness. It is the introduction of these psychopathologies that affect people, thus requiring more than simply talking about them. The effective treatment of these deep seated psychopathologies is psychoanalysis.
In the illustration below is Freud’s division of these three levels and the estimated usage of each level. They are the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. Working together they create our reality.
Although acceptance of Freud’s psychoanalytical theory has ebbed and flowed over time few professionals would suggest dismissing it. Within it is a model or concept that has withstood the many tests of time.
The origin of the meaning of the mind offers a long and rich history. Unlike many other words and phrases there is no clear evolution given for its use. Its meaning was more dependent on the context of its usage rather than any single meaning.
If spoken of by a philosopher the mind may well mean one’s personality, identity, and their memories. For the religious the mind houses the spirit, an awareness of God, or to the scientist the mind is the generator of ideas and thoughts. The mind has carried with it many diverse labels. In its infancy references to the mind truly were metaphoric.
It was not until the 14th and 15th centuries that the generalization of mind to include all mental faculties, thought, volition, feeling, and memory gradually developed.
In the late 19th and early 20th century brought psychology to the forefront as a respected science. Due in no small part to the work of Freud and others, the popular focus on the human mind, its role in the behavioral sciences, and the mind/body question solidified. Today, the concept of the mind and its functions is almost always discussed from a scientific point of view.
Fasten your seat belt and join me as we take a trip through the history of psychology. I spent over three decades as a clinician, a researcher, and an educator. As a part of my ongoing professional interest in mental health, or as it is often called today behavioral health, I looked into the history, the contemporary work, and the introduction of up and coming approaches. It became apparent that the field of psychology has three distinct eras.
Pre-Modern Psychology: This era takes us back many centuries to a time when psychology was viewed as a philosophy and not a science. The transition from the pre-modern to the modern was slow in coming, but come it did.
Modern Psychology: In the late 19th century, this transition from pre-modern to modern psychology took on a life of its own. The speed at which this change occurred was dramatic. The stamp of approval for psychology to move from a philosophy to a science was given. With it came the hope of providing a more meaningful life to those suffering mental deficiencies.
Post-modern Psychology: With new theories, energy, and vision, there were those in the psychological community that sought clarity to what had gone on before them. In particular was the search and research for a more integrative understanding of the human mind than those offered by Freud and others who remained committed to the psychoanalytic view of the mind.