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Eric Fromm and the Social Unconscious

Eric Fromm and the Social Unconscious

The truth is often realized through balance, found in the middle ground between opposing extremes—a reality Fromm embraced when developing his theory of the unconscious. Fromm blended the ideas of both Freud and Marx, creating a compromise between the Freudian emphasis on the unconscious, biological drives, repression, etc. (the belief that the character is determined by biology), and Marx’s belief that people are a product of their society (particularly the economic systems therein).
Fromm’s theory was no mere derivative, however; he added the revolutionary concept of freedom to these deterministic systems, granting people the ability to transcend the various determinisms described by Freud and Marx. To Fromm, freedom was central to human nature.

Humans, according to Fromm, actually try to escape from this freedom through the following ways:

  1. Authoritarianism. Freedom, for all its promise of excitement, is also a lonely prospect; true freedom is associated with having no commitments, and nothing to lose—it is marked by a profound separateness. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that we seek to escape this freedom by fusing ourselves with others. One of the more primitive ways in which we do this is by becoming a part of an authoritarian system, either by submitting to it (joining an existing structure) or by becoming authoritarian (applying structure to others). Regardless of your chosen method, the result is the same: you escape your separate identity.

Fromm used the terms masochism and sadism to denote the extreme versions of authoritarianism, and observed that the sadist, no matter his apparent power, feels as compelled to act out his role as the masochist, and is thus not free to choose his actions.

Authoritarianism is by no means limited to dictatorships and other extreme examples, however; mild versions of it are found in many places—think of the relationship between students and professors, for instance: Students seek structure, and the professor adheres to his notes. As harmless and natural as this interaction may seem, for the students, it’s a means to avoid taking any responsibility for their learning, and for the professor, it’s a way of eschewing the real, challenging, and perhaps controversial issues of his field.

  1. Destructiveness. Authoritarians respond to a painful existence by effectively erasing themselves via the systems they inhabit; destroyers, on the other hand, try to erase the world around them so it cannot cause pain. Many seemingly random acts of brutality, vandalism, humiliation, crime, terrorism, and so on, can be accounted for by this manner of escape from freedom.

Alfred Adler’s Personality Theory and Personality Types

Alfred Adler’s Personality Theory and Personality Types

The question of what drives us—what great force underlies our motivation as individuals, propelling us forward through all manner of trying circumstance—was a matter of longtime fascination for psychologist Alfred Adler. He eventually came to call this motivating force the “striving for perfection”, a term which encapsulates the desire we all have to fulfill our potential, to realize our ideals—a process strikingly similar to the more popular idea of self-actualization.

Self-actualization is perhaps the less problematic of the two terms, as one cannot process Adler’s ideas without immediately bumping up against the troublesome nature of the words “perfection” and “ideal”. While the idea of striving to be the best version of one’s self is an obviously positive goal, the concept of perfection is, in psychology, often given a rather negative connotation. After all, perfection likely does not exist, and therefore cannot be reached, meaning that efforts to do so are invariably frustrating and can come full circle to create an extreme lack of motivation (i.e., giving up).

Indeed, Adler himself balked at using “perfection” to describe his single motivating force, beginning instead with phrases like aggression drive (to describe the frustrated reaction we have when our basic needs, such as the need to eat or be loved, are not being met)—yet even this term had obvious negative connotations; aggression is, after all, seldom seen as a good thing, and using the term “assertiveness” may have served Adler better.

(Interestingly, Freud himself took exception to the term “aggression drive”, though not on the basis that it was overly negative in connotation; instead, Freud felt that it would detract from the pivotal position of the sex drive in psychoanalytic theory. Freud may have had a change of heart in later years, however, as his idea of a “death instinct” bore a great deal of similarity to Adler’s theory.)

Another, perhaps better, descriptor used by Adler to refer to basic motivation was compensation, which in this case was meant to denote the process of striving to overcome one’s inherent limitations. Adler postulated that since we all have various issues and shortcomings as people, our personalities develop largely through the ways in which we do (or do not) compensate for or overcome these inherent challenges. Adler later rejected this idea in part (though it still played an important role in his theory; more on that later), as he decided it was inaccurate to suggest one’s problems are the cause for who one eventually becomes.

The Quest for Self-Actualization

The Quest for Self-Actualization

Terms like self-actualization and validation are thrown around a lot today; as our culture steadily moves more and more toward the celebration of the individual, these phrases are often used as catchy descriptors for the realization and affirmation of the self… But where do they come from, and what processes truly underlie self-actualization?

The term self-actualization owes its origins to the Humanistic psychological theory, most notably the theories of Abraham Maslow. Maslow coined the term self-actualization to describe the growth of an individual toward fulfillment of their highest needs, those most advanced concepts and “big questions” humans struggle with, such as the pursuit of the meaning of life.

Maslow believed in, and created, a psychological hierarchy of needs (many of us are already familiar with Maslow’s pyramid of needs), the fulfillment of which culminates in the realization of a person’s “being values”, the very top of the pyramid which symbolizes meaning.

Maslow believed that individuals who managed to become self-actualized people were able to resolve common ideological conflicts, such as that between determinism and free will, due to their enhanced creativity and psychological robustness.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ascends in the following order:

  1. Physiological needs (physical, survival-based needs), such as the need for food, water, sleep and air. These are on the bottom of the pyramid and represent our most basic needs.
  2. The need for safety, security, and protection; the need for a stable and secure environment free from strife is next on the pyramid; human growth cannot progress beyond this stage without safety, as feeling safe allows people to cease thinking about their survival-based needs and move on to more intangible desires.
  3. The need for love and belonging comes next, love from family and partners, peer acceptance, etc. This love sets the stage for the next level of the pyramid:
  4. The need for self-esteem, self-respect, and respect from others; the fundaments of self-love, in essence.
  5. The “being” needs of creativity and the pursuit of meaning.

The Jungian Model of the Psyche

The Jungian Model of the Psyche

Few people have had as much influence on modern psychology as Carl Jung; we have Jung to thank for concepts like extroversion and introversion, archetypes, modern dream analysis, and the collective unconscious. Psychological terms coined by Jung include the archetype, the complex, synchronicity, and it is from his work that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was developed, a popular staple of personality tests today.

Among Jung’s most important work was his in-depth analysis of the psyche, which he explained as follows: “By psyche I understand the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious,” separating the concept from conventional concept of the mind, which is generally limited to the processes of the conscious brain alone.

Jung believed that the psyche is a self-regulating system, rather like the body, one that seeks to maintain a balance between opposing qualities while constantly striving for growth, a process Jung called “individuation.

Jung saw the psyche as something that could be divided into component parts with complexes and archetypal contents personified, in a metaphorical sense, and functioning rather like secondary selves that contribute to the whole. His concept of the psyche is broken down as follows:

The ego

To Jung, the ego was the center of the field of consciousness, the part of the psyche where our conscious awareness resides, our sense of identity and existence. This part can be seen as a kind of “command HQ”, organizing our thoughts, feelings, senses, and intuition, and regulating access to memory. It is the part that links the inner and outer worlds together, forming how we relate to that which is external to us.

How a person relates to the external world is, according to Jung, determined by their levels of extroversion or introversion and how they make use of the functions of thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. Some people have developed more of one or two of these facets than the others, which shapes how they perceive the world around them.

The origin of the ego lies in the self archetype, where it forms over the course of early development as the brain attempts to add meaning and value to its various experiences.

The ego is just one small portion of the self, however; Jung believed that consciousness is selective, and the ego is the part of the self that selects the most relevant information from the environment and chooses a direction to take based on it, while the rest of the information sinks into the unconscious. It may, therefore, show up later in the form of dreams or visions, thus entering into the conscious mind.

The personal unconscious

The personal unconscious arises from the interaction between the collective unconscious and one’s personal growth, and was defined by Jung as follows:

“Everything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking; everything of which I was once conscious but have now forgotten; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind; everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want, and do; all the future things which are taking shape in me and will sometime come to consciousness; all this is the content of the unconscious… Besides these we must include all more or less intentional repressions of painful thought and feelings. I call the sum of these contents the ‘personal unconscious’.”

Unlike Freud, Jung saw repression as just one element of the unconscious, rather than the whole of it. Jung also saw the unconscious as the house of potential future development, the place where as yet undeveloped elements coalesced into conscious form.

Processing Information with Nonconscious Mind

Processing Information with Nonconscious Mind

The concept of nonconscious processing is not exactly new, Sigmund Freud introduced his model of the human mind in the essay “The unconscious” published in 1915. Yet, Freud’s view was that the principal purpose of unconscious and subconscious layers is storing the information rather than information acquisition and processing. Apparently, Freud underestimated nonconscious mind. According to a large body of psychological and neuropsychological research conducted in the past two decades (composed of data collected by 100+ independent researchers all over the world), what happens in our conscious minds is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg; our conscious thinking, perceiving, and learning accounts for only a small fraction of our total mental activity, with the rest being entirely nonconscious. This idea was first presented 35 years ago in “Cognitive Psychology and Information Processing” book by Roy Lachman, Janet Lachman, and Earl Butterfield:

            “Most of what we do goes on unconsciously. It is the exception, not the rule, when thinking is conscious, but by its very nature [i.e., because we cannot experience anything else], conscious thought seems the only sort. It is not the only sort; it is the minority.” (page 207)    

Our minds, as it turns out, really do function like the computers of the body; but the role of conscious mind is much more modest than thought before. It is certainly not a central processor (or CPU) but rather a set of peripheral devices, presenting an interface that interacts with the outside world. The actual bulk of the processing occurs in the nonconscious mind, which is the real CPU of our body. Our minds are also similarly proficient at multitasking; while we are busy experiencing a portion of what is going on around us, our minds are busy absorbing much of the rest of what is present in our environment.

Our conscious minds work much more slowly than our nonconscious minds, and are overall less adept at processing information, less efficient at the task. The nonconscious mind therefore can be said to be more intelligent than the conscious mind.

Revisiting Carl Rogers Theory of Personality

Carl Rogers Theory of Personality

A recent study collected information from surveys conducted among the members of the Association for Psychological Science and the American Psychological Association. The study identified the top 100 eminent psychologists of the 20th century. Not surprisingly, Skinner, Piaget, and Freud are the top three. What may be of interest is that Carl Rogers is ranked number 6.

Among the reasons cited is Rogers’ groundbreaking work in the development of humanistic or client centered therapy. What made it groundbreaking was his insistence that the model be subject to scientific inquiry and clinical trial. One result of his work was a psychological theory. In that work Rogers advanced a complex set of 19 propositions describing his theory. In this article we will make an effort to provide a brief overview of it.

To provide theoretical legitimacy to his clinical work, Rogers wrote 16 books and even more articles explaining how these 19 propositions worked on understanding the human personality. Among the most significant key points of Rogers’ approach is its redefining of the therapeutic relationship. Traditionally that relationship was defined by the theories of Freud and others where the therapist role was that of a leader and the patient as the follower.

Rogers argued that for the therapist/patient relationship to be effective, it must include an intentional relationship built on mutual trust and respect. In the later years of his work Rogers expanded his model to apply to other applications including a theory of personality, interpersonal relations, education, nursing, cross-cultural relations and other “helping” professions and situations.

Is Freud’s Personality Theory Still Relevant?

is Freud still relevant?

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.

Jung and his Individuation Process

Jung and his Individuation Process

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.

The Freudian Theory of Personality

Freudian Theory of Personality

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.

Your Hidden Unconscious Mind

Your Hidden Unconscious Mind

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
  • Automatic
  • Instinctive
  • Intuitive
  • The Id
  • Involuntary

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.