Sigmund Freud was one of the most influential psychologist, physiologist and philosopher of the mind belonging to the twentieth century. With the help of his colleague Joseph Breuer, he developed the theory of the mind as a complex energy structure. Freud’s most important contribution to humanity in general and psychology in particular is the development of psychoanalysis, a practice devised to treat the mentally ill through dialogue.
The famous theory of Unconsciousness presented by Freud is one of its kind, in which he presents the idea that a large portion of human attitudes can be explained through mental processes and resulting actions which are not clearly visible. Thus the centuries-long approach of deeming the behavior of a neurotic patient as unexplainable is a faulty one, according to Freud. Rather, the odd behavior can be critically observed to draw out the causes explaining it, so as to treat it. Slips of tongue and dreams can act as a doorway through which the hidden causes of his mental ailments can be recognized. This gives rise to the notion that us mortals are not completely free to act according to one’s will, and there are some mental processes running in the background which determine our deeds.
Freud further said that the unconscious consists of the thoughts and feelings which humans have repressed over the years, usually tracing back to events taking place in the childhood. These suppressed thoughts return to the wakeful mind under certain circumstances, such as hypnosis. This leads to the fact that humans are not even unaware of their own thoughts and ideas.
Initially Freud thought that repression was a conscious act, but by his second paper on neuroscience, he had changed his views, and had termed repression as an ‘unconscious defense’. In The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) and Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), he delves further into the topic of the Unconscious.
Freud also classified instincts into two basic types; Eros: the human instinct related to life and sexuality and the Thanatos: the instinct of death and destruction. Irrespective of the two major classifications, the sexual drive termed as libido is the most important motivator of human actions, according to Freud. In fact, he even claimed of discerning sexuality in humans from infancy. He defined sexuality as a form of pleasure derived from the body. Humans throughout their lives act with one motive behind their minds: the gain of bodily pleasure.
In his works Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) and The Ego and the Id (1923), Freud presents the model of the human psyche, dividing it into three parts, namely the Id, Super-Ego and the Ego. Id is entirely the unconscious mind, which operates solely for the gain of pleasures. Id is the source behind all human instincts and motivations. The Super-Ego acts as a filter between the Ego and the Id, and acts entirely on moral principles. The third part called the Ego strives to strike a balance between the moral and immoral aspects of a person’s mind, and is reflected majorly through a person’s actions.
Freud, through his concepts of the Conscious and Unconscious, and through practice of hypnosis, was led to the treatment of psychological disorders through talking, which he termed as psychoanalysis. He attempted relaxing the patient at first and depriving them of sensory stimulations, and then made them speak up their thoughts without any interference or censorship. Through this method he aimed to weaken the forces of the moral guide, the Super-Ego, in order to reach the cause of the disorder hidden somewhere in the Id. This method proved effective as Freud observed a decrease in the symptoms of the patients.
The impact of Sigmund Freud’s contributions in the field of psychology, semiotics creativity, and neuroscience can never be neglected. Even though his concepts have sparked much debate and controversy, Freud has been termed as the father of modern psychology.