Wednesday, 21 December 2011

An introduction to Freud (1)

Here is a summary to the key points in Freud's psychoanalytic theory which provides a foundation for his work on dream theory.

The seminal text on dream interpretation is undoubtedly, Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (published under its original title, Die Traumdeutung, in 1899). The introduction to the first edition states:

In the following pages, I shall demonstrate that there exists a psychological technique by which dreams may be interpreted and that upon the application of this method every dream will show itself to be a senseful psychological structure which may be introduced into an assignable place in the psychic activity of the waking state. I shall furthermore endeavour to explain the processes which give rise to the strangeness and obscurity of the dream, and to discover through them the psychic forces, which operate whether in combination or opposition, to produce the dream. This accomplished my investigation will terminate as it will reach the point where the problem of the dream meets broader problems, the solution of which must be attempted through other material.
Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939)
Freud is commonly referred to as the ‘grandfather’ of the Psychoanalytical Theory. The text introduces Freud’s theory on the unconscious within the framework of dream interpretation. His main premise was that dreaming is a form of wish-fulfilment or attempt by the unconscious mind to resolve some internal conflict. Freud later elaborated his theory of dream interpretation in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (originally, Jenseits des Lustprinzips, published in 1920) which analysed dreams which did not be deconstructed within the parameters his earlier ‘wish fulfilment’ paradigm.

Freud argued that because information in the unconscious is stored in an unruly and often disturbing form, a "censor" in the preconscious will not allow it to pass unaltered into the conscious mind. During dreaming, the preconscious is more lax in its ability to filter, although it is still attentive and therefore it is suggested that in order to ‘bypass’ the preconscious censor, the unconscious must warp and distort information. This explains why dream imagery and events are typically surreal or confusing – Freud believed such dream symbolism required deep interpretation in order for them to be informative on the structures of the unconscious psyche. 

Before considering Freud’s theory on the interpretation of dreams any further, it is worthwhile familiarising oneself with the main elements of Psychoanalytic Theory which provides a useful background to the framework within which Freud developed his theories of dream interpretation. 

Freud, a neurologist and psychotherapist, is credited with establishing the field of verbal psychotherapy by creating psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient (referred to as an "analysand") and a psychoanalyst. Freud postulated the theory that the libido was the primary motivational force in humanity. He developed therapeutic techniques, such as that of dream analysis and ‘free association’ (in which analysands report their thoughts without reservation and make no attempt to concentrate while doing so). His theory also focused on the phenomenon of transference, the process by which analysands transfer/displace thoughts/feelings relating to their experience of other figures in their earlier lives on to the analyst. This was a central aspect of the psychoanalytic approach of psychopathology. 

Early in his career as a neurologist, Freud experimented with the use of hypnosis on neurotic or hysterical patients, but quickly abandoned it, arguing it was ineffective at treating mental illness. Instead, he adopted a form of ‘cathartic’ treatment where the analysand was encouraged to talk through their problems, hence it becoming known in popular culture as the “talking cure”.  The goal was to locate and release power emotional energy, which had initially been rejected or imprisoned within the unconscious mind through repression. Freud argued that repression impeded the normal functioning of the psyche and could in severe cases, prompt physical retardation (psychosomatic symptoms).

Generally speaking, Freud’s theories were founded on the notion that as a civilised society, individuals have a tendency to suppress urges, impulses and desires. However, these impulses must be expressed in some manner. Unresolved or unexpressed impulses which are repressed in the unconscious cause internal conflict and therefore must be ‘released’ – tending to resurface in disguised forms.  One method of release is via dreams, and because the content of repressed urges may be dangerous or detrimental, Freud argued that the unconscious mind communicates by way of symbolic language. Freud proposed that the symbolic language of dreams help to ‘preserve’ sleep by representing as fulfilled, wishes which would awaken the dreamer. The combination of Freud’s psychoanalytical therapy (practiced on himself and recorded in his case notes from a limited sample of anonymised, yet well documented, analysands, all of whom suffered chronic neurotic disturbance) and his dream interpretation form the theoretical basis for his work. 

In late 1895, Freud developed his Seduction Theory – the concept that unconscious memories of sexual molestation in early childhood were a necessary precondition for psychoneurosis (hysteria and obsessional neurosis). However, he soon lost faith in this theory and by 1897 had moved on to develop theories on infantile sexuality, which eventually led to his well-known discourse on the Oedipus Complex. 

 * Freud's tripartite model of the psyche
It was in the later stages of his theoretical development that Freud forwarded his model of the psyche which identifies three separate constructs – the id, ego and super-ego.

This paradigm of the psyche was introduced in his paper, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920). Despite the structural nature of Freud’s model, the id; ego and super-ego do not exist as physiological ‘areas’ located in the brain or somatic structures of any kind, recognised by neuroscience. Instead they are conceptual distinctions which relate to the mind or psychology of the individual.

The id
The id is the unorganised part of the personality structure which contains the basic animalistic drives and urges (typically categorised as sexual or aggressive urges). The id acts according to the pleasure principle and thus, is associated with hedonistic behaviours. The id seeks to avoid pain or displeasure aroused by an increase in instinctual tension. Contrary impulses may exist simultaneously without cancelling one another out – it is a chaotic mass of instinctual drives and excitements, producing no collective will of its own and wholly devoid of moral or value judgments. It is, by definition, unconscious and inaccessible. The id has been defined as the ‘reservoir’ of the libido – responsible for life instincts/impulses and death drives. The ‘Eros’ or ‘life instinct’ is explained as a subconscious drive to recreate and survive (sexual drive; satisfaction of thirst/hunger). Accompanying this, is the ‘death drive’ or ‘Nirvana principle’ – a destructive instinct, (manifesting in aggression), which represents the concept that all the ‘aim’ of all organic matter is to return to an inanimate state – divesting itself of quantity and reducing tension to zero. 

The ego
The ego acts according to the reality principle. It seeks to satisfy the id’s drives/impulses in realistic ways which will be of long-term benefit as opposed to detrimental. The ego attempts to mediate between the id and reality and is often obliged to cloak the ucs (unconscious) demands of the id with its own pcs (preconscious) rationalisations to conceal the id’s conflicts with reality. The ego comprises the organised structure of the psyche and it deals with defensive; perceptual; intellectual-cognitive; and executive functions. Conscious awareness resides in the ego, although not all actions of the ego are conscious. Originally, Freud used the word ego to mean a sense of self, but later revised it to mean a set of psychic functions such as judgment, tolerance, reality testing, control, planning, defence, synthesis of information, intellectual functioning, and memory. The ego, as opposed to the id, is modified by direct influence from the external world – it enables the individual to rationalise and make sense of the world. The ego serves three masters – the external world; the id; and the super-ego. Its task is to find balance between the base impulses and reality, whilst satisfying the needs of the id and the super-ego. The super-ego (see below) seeks to confine the actions of the ego (in allowing expression of the id’s impulses where the consequence for the individual is marginal or non-detrimental) and ‘punishes’ it with feelings of inferiority, moral anxiety and guilt. To overcome this, the ego (unconsciously) employs defence mechanisms which lesson the harm which can be caused by the impulses of the id which conflict with the external world or functioning of the super-ego. Freud identified the following ego defence mechanisms: denial; displacement; intellectualisation; fantasy; compensation; projection; rationalisation; reaction formation; regression; repression; and sublimation. Subsequently, his daughter Anna Freud clarified and identified the additional concepts of undoing; suppression; dissociation; idealisation; identification; introjection; inversion; somatisation; splitting; and substitution.  

The super-ego
The super-ego is often referred to as the ‘conscience’ part of the psyche – imagined as a symbolic internalisation of a paternalistic watchdog (i.e. the internalisation of the ‘father’). In fact Freud argued that the concept of a monotheistic God is an illusion based on an infantile need for an omnipotent, supernatural 'paterfamilias' (father figure) to exercise restraint upon the individual. In his work Totem and Taboo (1913), Freud proposed that society and religion begin with the patricide – the eating of the powerful paternal figure, who then becomes a revered collective memory. In Freud's text, Civilization and its Discontents (1930), he also discusses the concept of a ‘cultural super-ego’ suggesting that the demands of the super-ego coincide with the precepts of the prevailing cultural super-ego and become interlocked. The super-ego aims for perfection - it comprises that organised part of the personality structure, mainly but not entirely unconscious, that includes the individual's ego ideals; spiritual goals, and the psychic agency (‘conscience’) that criticises and prohibits his drives, fantasies, feelings, and actions and punishes with anxiety/shame. The super-ego may be seen as working in polarity to the id – striving to act in a moral, socially acceptable and civilised manner, whereas the id seeks instant gratification.

* Freud’s theory of psychosexual development
In Freudian psychology, psychosexual development is a central element of the psychoanalytic sexual drive theory, that human beings, from birth, possess an instinctual libido (sexual appetite) that develops in five stages. Each stage — the oral; the anal; the phallic; the latent; and the genital — is characterised by the erogenous zone (i.e. mouth; bowels/anus; genitals) that is the source of the libidinal drive. Freud proposed that if the child experienced anxiety, thwarting his or her sexual appetite during any libidinal (psychosexual) development stage, that anxiety would persist into adulthood as a neurosis - a functional mental disorder. In pursuing and satisfying his or her libido, the child might experience failure (parental and societal disapproval) and thus might associate anxiety with the given erogenous zone. To avoid anxiety, the child becomes fixated/preoccupied with the psychological themes related to the erogenous zone in question, which persist into adulthood, and underlie the personality and psychopathology of the adult. 

Below I have set out summaries of Freud’s 5 stages of psychosexual development:

1. Oral stage 
Birth – 2 years - mouth as erogenous zone.
The infant's mouth is the focus of libidinal gratification derived from the pleasure of feeding at the mother's breast, and from the oral exploration of his or her environment, i.e. the tendency to place objects in the mouth. The id dominates, because neither the ego nor the super ego is yet fully developed, and, since the infant has no personality (identity), every action is based upon the pleasure principle. Nonetheless, the infantile ego is forming during the oral stage - two factors contribute to its formation: (a) in developing a body image, he or she is discrete from the external world i.e. the child understands pain when it is applied to his body, thus identifying the physical boundaries between body and environment; (b) experiencing delayed gratification leads to understanding that specific behaviours satisfy some needs - i.e. crying gratifies certain needs. Weaning is the key experience in the infant's oral stage of psychosexual development, his or her first feeling of loss consequent to losing the physical intimacy of feeding at mother's breast. Yet, weaning increases the infant's self-awareness that he does not control the environment, and thus learns of delayed gratification, which leads to the formation of the capacities for independence (awareness of the limits of the self) and trust (behaviours leading to gratification). However, thwarting of the oral-stage - too much or too little gratification of desire - might lead to an oral-stage fixation, characterised by passivity, gullibility, immaturity, unrealistic optimism, which is manifested in a manipulative personality consequent to ego malformation. In the case of too much gratification, the child does not learn that he does not control the environment, and that gratification is not always immediate, thereby forming an immature personality. In the case of too little gratification, the infant might become passive upon learning that gratification is not forthcoming, despite having produced the gratifying behaviour.

Orally aggressive: chewing of objects
Orally passive: smoking, eating, kissing, oral sexual practices
Passive, gullible, immature, manipulative personality traits.

2. Anal Stage
1 – 3 years – bowels/bladder/anus as erogenous zone.
The second stage of psychosexual development is the anal stage, spanning from the age of 15 months to 3 years, wherein the infant's erogenous zone changes from the mouth (the upper digestive tract) to the anus (the lower digestive tract), while the ego formation continues. Toilet training is the child's key anal-stage experience, occurring at about the age of two years, and results in conflict between the id (demanding immediate gratification) and the ego (demanding delayed gratification) in eliminating bodily wastes, and handling related activities (i.e. manipulating excrement/coping with parental demands). The style of parenting influences the resolution of the id–ego conflict, which can be either gradual/psychologically uneventful, or which can be sudden and psychologically traumatic. The ideal resolution of the id–ego conflict is in the child's adjusting to moderate parental demands that teach the value and importance of physical cleanliness and environmental order, thus producing a self-controlled adult. Yet, if the parents make immoderate demands of the child, by over-emphasising toilet training, this may lead to the development of a compulsive personality - a person too concerned with neatness and order. If the child obeys the id, and the parents yield, he might develop a self-indulgent personality characterised by personal slovenliness and environmental disorder. If the parents respond to that, the child must comply, but might develop a weak sense of self, because it was the parents' will, and not the child's ego, which controlled the toilet training.

Anally retentive: obsessively organized, or excessively neat
Anally expulsive: reckless, careless, defiant, disorganized, coprophiliac

3. Phallic stage
3 – 6 years; genitalia as erogenous zone.
The child recognises the biological difference between male and female bodies. In the phallic stage, a boy's decisive psychosexual experience is the Oedipus Complex, his son–father competition for possession of mother. This psychological complex derives from the 5th century BC Greek mythological character Oedipus, who unwittingly killed his father, Laius, and sexually possessed his mother, Jocasta. Despite mother being the parent who primarily gratifies the child's desires, the child begins forming a discrete sexual identity — "boy", "girl" — that alters the dynamics of the parent and child relationship; the parents become the focus of infantile libidinal energy. The boy focuses his libido (sexual desire) upon his mother, and focuses jealousy and emotional rivalry against his father — because it is he who sleeps with mother. To facilitate uniting him with his mother, the boy's id wants to kill father (as did Oedipus), but the ego, pragmatically based upon the reality principle, knows that the father is the stronger of the two males competing to possess the one female. Nevertheless, the boy remains ambivalent about his father's place in the family, which is manifested as fear of castration by the physically greater father; the fear is an irrational, subconscious manifestation of the infantile id.
Gustave Moreau - Oedipus and the Sphinx (1864)
Oil on canvas (206 x 105 cm)
Frederic Leighton - Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon (c. 1868-1869)
Oil on canvas (150 × 75.5 cm)
Analogously, in the phallic stage, a girl's decisive psychosexual experience is the Electra Complex, her daughter–mother competition for psychosexual possession of father. This psychological complex derives from the 5th century BC Greek mythological Electra, who plotted matricidal revenge with Orestes, her brother, against Clytemnestra, their mother, and Aegisthus, their stepfather, for their murder of Agamemnon, their father. Girls develop penis envy that is rooted in anatomic fact - without a penis, she cannot sexually possess mother, as the infantile id demands. Resultantly, the girl redirects her desire for sexual union upon father; thus, she progresses towards heterosexual femininity that culminates in bearing a child who replaces the absent penis. Moreover, after the phallic stage, the girl's psychosexual development includes transferring her primary erogenous zone from the infantile clitoris to the adult vagina. Freud thus considered a girl's Oedipal conflict to be more emotionally intense than that of a boy, resulting, potentially, in a submissive woman of insecure personality.

Psychological defence - in both sexes, defence mechanisms provide transitory resolutions of the conflict between the drives of the id and the drives of the ego. The first defence mechanism is repression (blocking of memories, emotional impulses, and ideas from the conscious mind) yet it does not resolve the id–ego conflict. The second defence mechanism is identification, by which the child incorporates, into his ego, the personality characteristics of the same-sex parent; in so adapting, the boy diminishes his castration anxiety, because his likeness to father protects him from father's wrath as a rival for mother; by so adapting, the girl facilitates identifying with mother, who understands that, in being females, neither of them possesses a penis, and thus they are not antagonists.

Dénouement is the unresolved psychosexual competition for the opposite-sex parent might produce a phallic-stage fixation leading a girl to become a woman who continually strives to dominate men (viz. penis envy), either as an unusually seductive woman (high self-esteem) or as an unusually submissive woman (low self-esteem). In a boy, a phallic-stage fixation might lead him to become an aggressive, over-ambitious, vain man. Therefore, the satisfactory parental handling and resolution of the Oedipus complex and of the Electra Complex are most important in developing the infantile super-ego, because, by identifying with a parent, the child internalises morality, thereby, choosing to comply with societal rules, rather than having to reflexively comply in fear of punishment.

4. Latency stage
6 years – puberty: latent sexual desires.
The fourth stage of psychosexual development is the latency stage that wherein the child consolidates the character habits he developed in the three, earlier stages of psychological and sexual development. Whether or not the child has successfully resolved the Oedipal conflict, the instinctual drives of the id are inaccessible to the ego, because his defence mechanisms repressed them during the phallic stage. Hence, because said drives are latent (hidden) and gratification is delayed - unlike during the preceding oral, anal, and phallic stages  - the child must derive the pleasure of gratification from secondary process-thinking that directs the libidinal drives towards external activities. Any neuroses established during the fourth, latent stage, of psychosexual development might derive from the inadequate resolution either of the Oedipus conflict or of the ego's failure to direct his or her energies towards socially acceptable activities.

Consequences of fixation - sexual unfulfillment.

5. Genital stage
Puberty – adulthood – maturation of sexual desire.
This fifth stage occupies most of the life of a man or woman - its purpose is the psychological detachment and independence from the parents. The genital stage affords the person the ability to confront and resolve his or her remaining psychosexual childhood conflicts. As in the phallic stage, the genital stage is centred upon the genitalia, but the sexuality is consensual and adult, rather than solitary and infantile. The psychological difference between the phallic and genital stages is that the ego is established in the latter; the person's concern shifts from primary-drive gratification (instinct) to applying secondary process-thinking to gratify desire symbolically and intellectually by means of friendships; sexual relationships; family and adult responsibilities.

Consequences of fixation - frigidity, impotence, unsatisfactory relationships.

* Freud & the interpretation of dreams
In The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), Freud incorporated the elements of his theoretical approach to psychosexual development to the analysis of dreams, stating that dreams were a form of wish fulfilment which stemmed from childhood desires and anxieties caused by fixation. He distinguished two layers of dream content: manifest and latent. Manifest (superficial) content had no significant meaning but was a mask for underlying issues of the dream. Latent content was those underlying issues; it expressed unconscious wishes or fantasies. Freud believed most dreams were of a sexual nature and he referred to them as the “royal road to the unconscious”. The manifest content of the dreams – which due to its symbolically coded language often appears bizarre or nonsensical, must be chipped away to reveal the underlying significance of the latent content, using the technique of free association. 
 Karl Briullov - Nun's Dream (19th century)
Henry Fuseli – The Nightmare (1781)
Oil on canvas ( 101.6 × 127 cm)
To further assist in interpreting the cryptic images of our dreams, Freud classified the images into the following five processes:
1. Displacement:
This occurs when the desire for one thing or person is symbolised by something or someone else.  
2. Projection:
This happens when the dreamer propels their own desires and wants onto another person. 
3. Symbolisation:
This is characterized when the dreamer's repressed urges or suppressed desires are acted out metaphorically.
4. Condensation:
This is the process in which the dreamer hides their feelings or urges by contracting it or underplaying it into a brief dream image or event. Thus the meaning of this dream imagery may not be apparent or obvious.
5. Rationalisation:
This is regarded as the final stage of dream-work. The dreaming mind organises an incoherent dream into one that is more comprehensible and logical. This is also known as secondary revision. Freud is particularly preoccupied with sexual content in dreams. He believed that sex is the root cause of what occurs in your dreams. According to Freud, every long slender or elongated object (i.e. knife, cigar, gun, etc) represents the phallus, while any cavity or receptacle (bowl, cave, tunnel, etc) denotes the female genitalia.

* Criticism
Despite the language and substance of Freud’s theoretical work being deeply imbedded in popular western culture, there has been substantial criticism. For example, Freud's theories have been criticised as pseudo-scientific (i.e. emphasis on self-analysis; little concrete quantative/empirical research; lack of credibility in his  methodology; 'data' based on small, select samples) and sexist (notably within feminist discourse), and as a result, have been marginalised within academic psychology, although they remain influential within the humanities. Freud has been called one of the three masters of the "school of suspicion", alongside Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche, while his ideas have been compared to those of Plato and Thomas Aquinas. Parallels have also been drawn between the practical functioning of psychoanalysis and Buddhist practice (the aim of freeing the unconscious mind from human tensions). 

However, with regard to the credibility of his theoretical findings, some critics have accused Freud of fabrication of results in his small number of published case studies, all of which related to analysands suffering from severe and chronic mental disturbances. Further, Freud’s attempts to universalise his results from his limited quantative research have also come under subsequent academic scrutiny. It has also been argued that Freud’s emphasis on sex may be due to the austere and conservative nature of the Victorian society in which he lived, or a result of his personal fascination with the subject.

Due to the focus of my research into the unconscious mind and the interpretation of dreams, I shall be studying the work of Freud (and other notable theorists in the psychoanalytic field) extensively and attempting to harness some of the techniques (suitable for self-analysis) for the purposes of sharing my results. 

Freud's work in dream analysis, despite the criticism has certainly paved the way for the empirical study of dreaming and its  biological and psychological function in human and animal life; in addition to garnering notable artistic and cultural recognition, suggesting that Freud's theoretical paradigm remains influential and valid, if only to a superficial degree within popular culture. Undoubtedly, Freud's use of classical/mythological reference has contributed to the persistance of some of his more conceptual theories within the pop-cultural pysche - such as the Oedipus Complex and it is likely that his legacy will continue to dominate general societal understanding of psychopathology. 

Regardless of whether psychoanalysis exists as a respectable therapeutic option (and it undoubtedly is still used in western medicine, even if not endorsed by recognised authorities), we are familiar with the notion of the 'shrink' and his patient on the leather couch, via the portrayal of psychiatric treatment by popular media. The notion that many adult neuroses (particularly those relating to sexual frustration or aggressive/destructive behaviours) relate to pre-pubescent experience; childhood trauma; dysfunctional parenting etc, during the 'formative years' are widely accepted as fact rather than mere hypothesis.

1 comment:

  1. ego (after Freud)