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      Freud, Jung, dreams, ebook

 Freud and the Unconscious



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.

Freud and Cultural Conditioning

 First we 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.

Freud then 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.

Freud and Basic Impulses

Freud saw 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 activities. 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.

To Freud then, "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.

Freud 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 Thorne Person-centred 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.

Take 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.

Lasting Legacy

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!

For an excellent appraisal of Freudís work see Greatness and Limitations of Freud's Work by Erich Fromm

For more on Freud see Sigmund Freud - Life and Work



see also Freud's Theories on Dreams

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