Healthy Living

The Effects of Sigmund Freud’s Theories to the Modern World

The Effects of Sigmund Freud’s Theories to the Modern World

Key Takeaways

  • Freud’s research has greatly influenced the mindset, its analysis, and the philosophies of our mind.
  • The way in which Charles Darwin had perceived humans as superior survivors of the animal kingdom influenced the way Freud's line of thinking.
  • The work that Freud has done, although it is among those that has received mixed reactions from both extremes, is among the best that has guided the appreciation of knowledge based on the functions and characteristics of the human mind.

On May 6, 1856, Sigmund Freud was born in the Czech Republic, which was formerly known as Freiberg. Freud came up with the method of psychoanalysis, which is used by modern day psychoanalysts to understand unconscious conflicts after getting some revelation from what their patients desired and imagined.

Freud also played a part in coming up with some major academic details of the 20th century, especially aspects that guided the understanding of early childhood development regarding personality, libido, and sexuality.

Freud's word-hoard has become part of the Western society by some of his vocabularies, which were coined from his work. These words are currently used by people in their everyday life such as "denial", "libido", "anal" referring to "personality", "repression", "Freudian slip", and "cathartic".

According to Freud, when we strive to elaborate what motivates some of our mental or physical behavior to ourselves or others, most of the time, we are far from the truth. Often, the way we reason is usually according to what influenced our flawed conduct. Thus, we are lying to ourselves as we hide the real reasons.

All throughout Freud’s life work, he mainly based his study on various attempts on finding ways of probing this often hard to grasp and complex disguise that help shape our personalities.

Freud, the first person to have the know-how in psychoanalysis (also known as talking cure), used this method in treating patients with mental ailments. What this method would do is that it would make his patients more open and would, therefore, open up their hearts to him.

The case of Anna O.

"Anna O." was the pseudonym of a patient named Bertha Pappenheim. Her case marked the turning point for Sigmund Freud in his career as a young Viennese neuropathologist.

Anna O. suffered from hysteria, which was the condition she was treated from by Dr. Josef Breuer, an Austrian physician and physiologist. Dr. Breuer helped her after she exhibited manifestations such as hallucinations, convulsions, loss of speech, and paralysis without apparent cause. Dr. Josef Breuer managed to help her remember past events that she had forgotten, especially stressful and traumatic events.

Much of her symptoms developed from some form of phobia. For example, she started to hate drinking after the dog she abhorred drank from her cup. She also developed additional symptoms from taking care of her sick father. Initially, she did not clearly express her fears about her father's illness, but with prolonged psychoanalysis, she was able to successfully open up.

Dr. Josef Breuer consulted with Sigmund Freud in the year 1895 concerning Anna O. and her case has led Freud to make a statement by publishing the book Studies in Hysteria in 1895. Freud suggested that much of the external symptoms were as a result of tension that was building up from mental conflicts. This theory brought a better understanding of the human psyche and proposed the existence of three stages of the mind.

Why Freud still matters

Despite Freud’s long departure, his theories are irreplaceable in the formation of the framework for neuroscience, psychology, and culture, even though the ideas have no scientific basis or evidence.

Freud’s research has greatly influenced the mindset, its analysis, and the philosophies of our mind.

Freud’s Century

Often, the 20th century is referred to as Freud’s century, as most of his books are the hallmark of psychoanalysis with influential titles such as:

  • The Interpretation of Dreams (1900)
  • Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901)
  • Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1915-1916)

Freud’s science has a high impact, especially on the Western culture, where a day rarely passes before a word from Freud’s work is lifted and used.

As a psychologist and a critic of Freud’s work, John Kihlstrom openly admitted that information from other psychologists has influence, but those of Freud's has a long-term influence on people.

An outdated paradigm

Despite Freud’s lasting influence on people, he has completely been locked out in the field of academics since much of his work is considered to be false and can neither be proven by scientific evidence or even human experience. The research model used by Freud cannot be applauded by many in this century.

Most theories that Sigmund Freud formulated have proven to be catastrophic, as his ideologies and methods of gaining a tangible conclusion were rather rusty and undependable. Moreover, at some point, it was revealed that he based some of his writings on some aspects of feminine sexuality causing massive chaos and disagreements on his writings, especially by feminists.

Nonetheless, all of his critics have a solid point in poking holes in his research. Most of Freud’s work has been rendered outdated, even though much of today’s practice is based on his initial insights. Despite all of this, Freud has to be uplifted for his splendid work that has increased the knowledge and outlook on the human mind. Some theories will be dismissed while some like Freud's will stand for life. This is how scientific knowledge is appreciated.

Knowing where Freud went wrong is a huge encouragement in understanding what he did right.

Freudian fallacies

The main issue that most people find with Freud’s ideas is that although they appear to be convincing and quite interesting, there can be very little attestable evidence drawn from experience or backed by scientific facts to prove that they actually work.

A perfect example is when he said that boys are more attracted to their mothers and can treat their fathers with contempt. There is no factual knowledge to support this idea, and he might have also been wrong on the gender. Moreover, the idea of "penis envy" is awfully pitiful.

The evidence for "id", "ego", or "superego" is minimal to none. The stages of human development that Freud had pointed earlier on cannot be supported either by science or human experience. It says that an interruption in one of the stages can impair human development and will be manifested through various signs.

Freud suggested that homosexuality develops because one does not put to rights the "anal" or the "Oedipal phase", which is just pathetic to some of his critics. He also stated that only "mature" women reached sexual peak through vaginal sex only, and those who had an orgasm by any other stimulation such as clitoral stimulation, were somewhat stunted and trapped at a latent phase. 

Lili Hsieh, a feminist, pointed out that Freud had some awkward ideas concerning sexuality and gender. Freud had made somewhat bias comparisons regarding masculinity, feminity, and libido. By making "masculinity" refer to "libido", he had obviously made the female gender "non-existent" or "a state of passivity".

Males have an impending danger of castration. However, females have already been castrated and face grave impairment by feeling immensely wronged by the "penis envy" theory. Freud then gives two suggestions that can help women to overcome this "resentment toward the penis" theory. Other than the more tasking methods such as neurosis or masculine intricacies, the first way is the "capacity to have an intellectual profession", while the other is "having the ability to bear children". All these can be a perfect substitute for the penis.

No evidence can support Freudian methods of psychotherapy to be far superior to the current ones including the therapies of behavior such as the Skinnerian, which is basically the opposite of Freudian ideologies, methodical soothing, or confidence education.

The unconscious mind

Although Freud might have deviated in some aspects, in others, he was spot-on.

For instance, Freud stood accurate in attesting that we do not control what we think. He demonstrated that individual involvement, reasoning, and actions are hinged on unfounded potencies outside our physical reach and control--forces that can be manipulated and understood through psychoanalysis.

Of course, Freud did not unearth the unconscious mind. It was done by a French psychologist named Pierre Janet. Freud remained inspired by his instructor Jean-Martin Charcot, a well-known neurologist, who tried his hand in hypnosis. Nonetheless, it was Freud who ensued this idea to a much higher status by employing it in psychotherapy and “free associating”, where patients were expected to openly converse what they were thinking and of not keeping in mind how absurd or irrelevant they were.

There can be very few people who can dispute the impression of the unconscious mind. Freud’s statement on how the unconscious mind molds human activities was compiled to form the essays called as Frontiers of Consciousness after in-depth exploration by well-studied psychologists.

The existence of the unconscious mind in the manner that Freud suggested is untrue, however, the unconscious mind does exist. The brain performs many important tasks at once, and also controls our autonomous actions, influences our conscious mind, intellectual functions, and how we perceive our environment.

Michael S. Roth, an academic administrator, who has extensive knowledge relating to Freud’s work, commented the following:

“He says (Freud) human beings can keep no secret. They reveal their innermost beings through their clothing, twitches, unconscious mannerism; that whatever we do, we’re expressing things about us, for people who can see and hear. And I think this is the basic orientation of Freud.”

The mind comprises of parts

Another mind-blowing discovery by Freud is that the brain can be segmented into compartments. The function of the brain can be attributed to individual parts. His approach to this subject was crude. Personality, identification, and morality, are the main ideas that Freud zeroed in on, but they are obsolete nowadays.

However, this idea has influenced many cognitive scientists, who make cases on the idea that there exist several modules of consciousness working in tandem.

Memories, mechanisms of defense, and dreams

Freud’s take on memory, especially suppressed memory, is intriguing. It is known that memories tend to be selective and are constantly rewritten each time they are remembered. It is easier to remember something that included a lot of activity, and not in the sequence it occurred.

Another aspect of Freud’s theories that still stands is the "mechanisms of defense". A majority of psychologists accept that we all employ defense strategies, which include denial, holding back, projection, deep thinking, and rationalization. This unchanged idea is relatable in his ideas concerning the shifting of emotional stress.

Regarding Electra and Oedipal complexes, few would deny the existing truth that most people have paternal and maternal disputes. Mental study about man is a very difficult topic and is furthermore tasking even to have scientific support to substantiate something that feels right.

Even if some of Freud’s arguments on dream interpretation are obsolete, some dreams experienced are solely dependent on our conscious and subconscious longings and fears, proving that Freud had a solid point. It would be absurd to deny this allegation, and even unfair to his heritage.

Context matters

It is vital not to deviate from Freud's main point.

Borrow from homosexuality, for instance. If you consider the period in which Freud came up with this theory, his efforts were quite impeccable. Freud believed that homosexuality resulted from delayed growth, and not an ailment. Therefore, it should not be discriminated.

A mother worried about her son’s homosexuality got the following reply from Freud:

"Homosexuality is never an advantage, and should not be looked upon, it is not wrong and can’t be put in the same level as an illness. We look at it as arrested development, which brings about variation in sexual function development. There are numerous great people in ancient and modern times who were homosexual. It would be unfair to discriminate and persecute homosexuals as though it were a crime."

Tell me about your mother

Freudian psychology still lives on, although very few people still apply it (1 in 20,000 Americans). However, it does not prove that it does not work or has a much lower value. A famous professor in law, Elyn Saks, testified that the policies that make up Freud’s theories are what determine her mental health since she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The Prozac age is the one that we live in, and it is much simpler to give a patient pills to take home as compared to having a session, where the patient talks about the problem.

The aim of psychoanalysis is not to cure patients or to make them feel "normal" again. Rather, it is about getting deeper insights in one's psyche. Being equipped with such information is the only requirement for the patients to make favorable changes.

The following explanation was made by Psychologist Drew Westen regarding his encounter with psychotherapy:

Most people often explain emotions or behaviors in a manner that is similar to some components in Freud’s psychological-sexual theories (which includes a patient of mine who had erectile problems brought about by a horrific sexual encounter and the image of having sex with his mother, and even horrendous anal imagery). Nevertheless, psychotherapists who base their practice on Freud’s theories do not lie in wait for manifestation of phallic signs. They have to be keen on sexuality, since it is an important aspect of human relations and is regularly filled with conflict.

Westen, in summary, pointed out five diverse areas where the exertion of Sigmund Freud remained relevant to modern psychology:

  1. The existence of processes by the unconscious mind
  2. The significance of discord, plus uncertainty in behavior
  3. Adult personality from childhood roots
  4. Mental depiction in social behavior
  5. All stages involved in mental development

Critical evaluation

Freud’s theory cannot foresee behavior (one of the aims of science), but can adequately explain some aspects of it. For this reason, Freud’s theories can neither be argued for or against. For instance, the unconscious mind is problematic to be tested or quantified. Freud’s theory is entirely unscientific.

Despite all the doubt of the unconscious mind, cognitive psychology has identified inanimate sequences including in the human mind:

  • Procedural memory (Tulving, 1972)
  • Automatic processing (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999; Stroop, 1935)
  • Social psychology have shown the usefulness of unspoken processing (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995).

Such empirical conclusions have demonstrated the role that unconscious processes play in shaping human behavior.

However, much of the evidence used in Freud’s theories are drawn from an unrepresentative sample. He mainly conducted on himself, very few patients, and just one child. What is implied here is that Freud did his research giving into consideration a minor scale of people. According to Freud, the people who participated were just middle-aged Viennese women, which makes it difficult for his theories to be applicable in a much larger population. However, Freud did not see this to be important as he only believed that there were only variations in qualities among people.

Furthermore, Freud may have discriminated some aspects of his interpretations. He might have only included specific data, which gave credit to his studies and disregarded anything that went contrary to his explanations.

Fisher and Greenberg (1996) supported the work of Freud saying that it should be considered in terms of precise propositions and not in one piece. They also pointed out that there was concrete evidence to support his concepts, which involved the anal and oral stages of development, and even some aspects that back-up his suggestions regarding paranoia and despair. Nonetheless, there was still very little proof of the Oedipal conflict and even no evidence that there is a difference in the development of male and female sexualities.

Lasting heritage

The theories that Freud had made concerning the psyche, the Oedipus complex, and the usefulness of dreams, were all from what he encountered in the past. Moreover, the way in which Charles Darwin had perceived humans as superior survivors of the animal kingdom influenced the way Freud's line of thinking. Helmholtz, a German physicist, stated that energy in any physical state remains constant. This theory also shaped how Freud came to understand the mental capacities of humans. The work that Freud has done, although it is among those that has received mixed reactions from both extremes, is among the best that has guided the appreciation of knowledge based on the functions and characteristics of the human mind.

Freud later killed himself in England on September 23, 1939 at age 83, after requesting for a higher dosage of morphine from his doctor due to an enduring battle with oral cancer.