Freud's grestest achievement was in making it publicly known that the
question WHO AM I is not nearly as easily answered as we once thought.
Far from being who we think we are, a great deal of our psychic
activity goes on, on an unconscious level.
and Cultural Conditioning
must look at Freud within the culture he was born. Each and every person
born into this world is conditioned by the society she or he is born
into and Freud was no exception. Who we are is very definitely
modified, not only by our needing to be acceptable to the people we
come into contact with, but by the particular way in which our
particular society lives. What was acceptable in Roman Times would be
unlikely to be so now. Freud seemed to be a bit blind to this, possibly
because most of his clients came from the same social class as him. The
culture he was born into was bourgeoisie capitalist society and there
is no doubt that his work is limited by his largely uncritical
acceptance of it. He directly experienced this when he discovered
that many of his "hysterical" patients had suffered from incest or
other sexual abuse as children. When he tried to get this recognized by
society, the pressure from his peers became so unbearable, that he
turned this into his well known "Oedipus complex" - very much an idea
related to his time. Women being regarded as little better than
children would be quite sane to envy menís position in society. SeeThe Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory by Jeffrey Masson, if you want to know more about this.
was concerned with individual psychology. Although he accepted that
people would be affected by the people with whom they associated, he
nonetheless did not concern himself with the collective psychic forces,
which affect us all. Jung of course took this up.
and Basic Impulses
humans as having two basic impulses. The first being for pleasure, the
second being self-preservation. He believed that all of our impulses
are sexually motivated although we may redirect this energy into other
He was the first person to talk about the unconscious and I think this
is his greatest legacy. He discovered that as well as our conscious
activity, each person has a great deal of psychic activity going on, of
which he or she is largely unaware. He believed that the pleasure
principal and largely sexual pleasure was the motivating force behind
the activity going on in the unconscious.
"Man" had two primary motivations, self-preservation and sex. He saw
people as primarily motivated by biological motivations, which he
called the Id, A baby would be 100% Id. However within a very
short time the child would discover that it was not safe to follow its
basic impulses as these frequently lead to psychic and physical pain.
Here Freud has tapped into what is universally found within depth
psychology and Eastern Religions, that is that at some point we
recognize that it is not safe to be spontaneously who we are. Freud saw
the young child then developing what he called a "Superego". This is a
part of oneself that accepts as real what one has been taught from
one's parents and society. A person will integrate this and act as if
this is what they themselves really believe. This he called the Reality
Principle. Again, another good idea, sounds similar to Carl Rogers
view of "false self concept". If Freud had not thought society were so
good he could have come up with some good healing, not to say political
ideas here! Freud however believed that this process was necessary for
civilization. An advantage was that people could direct the unfulfilled
pleasure principle into other activities such as intellectual pursuits,
the arts, music and so on which create culture. The disadvantage he saw
was that if it was impossible to come to a workable compromise in one's
psyche all kinds of problems would happen. These could range from
anxiety to psychosomatic illnesses to much more serious problems.
There is a difference between who we
are and who we think we are.
showed that there is often a great difference between what we feel and believe and
what we think we feel and believe! There is a great difference between who a
person really is and who they think they
are. We have a need to rationalize unconscious
processes to keep the self-image that we have built in tact. For example, a person may
go to watch porn movies claiming he wants to
see what is going on so that he can stop it and protect our morals when
really, sometimes even unbeknown to himself, he is really going because he
enjoys the porn. Our motivations can often be quite different to our awareness.
Freud showed that there is a great difference
between who we are in our instinctual selves and who we need to become
in order to function effectively in society. We are far less aware of
our own thoughts and inclinations than we once believed. He believed
that by becoming more aware of our unconscious through dreams and being
analyzed we could become more conscious, mature and independent.
There is no
question that Freud's work was revolutionary for his time. However it
suffers both from his inability to see how he himself was affected by
his culture and from the fact that he believed the Id was mainly full
of nasty things. He also, I believe makes a mistake in seeing the
pleasure principle as primarily sexual, although at the same time I think he was
very near the truth. Many people are coming to recognize that
spirituality and sexual feelings are very closely linked (see for instance Brian
Counselling: Therapeutic and Spiritual Dimensions (Counselling &
Psychotherapy Series). There is definitely a link which possibly in our over
eagerness to express on a sexual level we
sometimes miss. Apparently in past
times it was not uncommon for people involved
in spiritual quests to welcome feeling love
including sexual love, particularly
if that person was in a commited relationship
and so completely off limits. The spiritual
aspirant then would allow themself to
move past the sexual element of their
love and so become more in touch with
their own love and spirituality. I think it
is far more our own spirit than our sexuality which we are forced to hide. We are hiding
our genuineness and that is what causes the problems. However it is understandable
given the sexual repression within the culture
Freud was born into that he could have mistaken
this for sexuality.
care when dealing with the unconscious
There is also
obviously a danger when ideas about an unconscious come up and people
need to be very careful if they wish to get help along these lines that
the therapist who is helping them does not put ideas into their head.
It is not a good idea to allow anyone else to claim they know more
about what is going on in your unconscious than you do. They almost
certainly do not and even if they did it would be of no use to you
until you yourself recognized it. Cults and therapists who create false
memories use Freud's ideas on the unconscious in a damaging way.
Freud's lasting legacy was to have it publicly accepted that it is very
difficult for us to be who we are in this world and that we all have
a part of us which is unconscious, which has a mind of its own unless
we make it conscious!