Sigmund Freud freud.jpg

(1856 - 1939), the founder of psychoanalysis - a theory of the human psyche, a therapy for the relief
of its ills, and a lens for the interpretation of culture and society.

Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in Freiberg, Moravia, then part of the Habsburg empire. His father
was a Jewish wool merchant who had been married once before he wed Freud's mother, Amalie
Nathansohn. The father, 40 years old at Freud's birth, was a relatively remote and authoritarian
figure, while his mother was more nurturing and emotionally available. Although Freud had two older
half-brothers, his strongest if also most ambivalent attachment seems to have been to a nephew,
John, one year his senior, who provided the model of intimate friend and hated rival that Freud
reproduced often at later stages of his life.

In 1860 the family moved to Vienna, where Freud remained until the Nazi annexation of Austria 78 years later. Despite Freud's
dislike of Vienna, in part because of its citizens' frequent anti-Semitism, psychoanalysis reflected in significant ways the cultural
and political context out of which it emerged. For example, Freud's sensitivity to the vulnerability of paternal authority within the
psyche may well have been stimulated by the decline in power suffered by his father's generation, often liberal rationalists, in the
Habsburg empire. So too his interest in the theme of the seduction of daughters was rooted in Viennese attitudes toward female

In 1873 Freud was graduated from the Sperl Gymnasium and, inspired by a public reading of an essay by Goethe on nature,
turned to medicine as a career. At the University of Vienna he worked with one of the leading physiologists of his day, Ernst von
Brücke, an exponent of the anti-vitalism of Hermann von Helmholtz. In 1882 he entered the General Hospital in Vienna to train
with the psychiatrist Theodor Meynert and professor of internal medicine Hermann Nothnagel. In 1885 Freud was appointed
lecturer in neuropathology, having concluded important research on the brain's medulla. At this time he also developed an
interest in the pharmaceutical benefits of cocaine, which he pursued for several years. Although some beneficial results were
found in eye surgery, which have been credited to Freud's friend Carl Koller, the general outcome was disastrous. Not only did
Freud's advocacy lead to a mortal addiction in another close friend, Ernst Fleischl von Marxow, but it tarnished his medical
reputation for a time.

Freud's scientific training remained of cardinal importance in his work. In such writings as his Project for a Scientific Psychology (1895) he affirmed his intention to find a physiological and materialist basis for his theories of the psyche. Here a mechanistic neurophysiological model vied with a more organismic, phylogenetic one in ways that demonstrate Freud's debt to the science of his day.

In late 1885 Freud left Vienna to continue his studies of neuropathology at the Salpêtrière clinic in Paris, where he worked under the guidance of Jean-Martin Charcot. His 19 weeks there proved a turning point in his career, for Charcot's work with patients
classified as "hysterics" introduced Freud to the possibility that psychological disorders might have their source in the mind
rather than the brain. Charcot's demonstration of a link between hysterical symptoms, such as paralysis of a limb, and hypnotic
suggestion implied the power of mental states rather than nerves in disease. Although Freud was not successful in hypnosis, he
returned to Vienna in February 1886 with the seed of his revolutionary psychological method implanted.

Several months after his return Freud married Martha Bernays, the daughter of a prominent Jewish family. She was to bear six
children, one of whom, Anna Freud, was to become a distinguished psychoanalyst in her own right.

Shortly after his marriage, Freud began his friendship with the Berlin physician Wilhelm Fliess. Throughout the 15 years of their
intimacy Fliess provided Freud an invaluable interlocutor for his most daring ideas. Freud's belief in human bisexuality, his idea
of erotogenic zones on the body, and perhaps even his imputation of sexuality to infants may well have been stimulated by their

A somewhat less controversial influence arose from the partnership Freud began with the physician Josef Breuer. Freud turned
to a clinical practice in neuropsychology. During the early 1880s, Breuer had treated a patient named Bertha Pappenheim who
was suffering from a variety of hysterical symptoms. Rather than using hypnotic suggestion, as had Charcot, Breuer allowed her
to lapse into a state resembling autohypnosis, in which she would talk about the initial manifestations of her symptoms. The very
act of verbalisation seemed to provide some relief, acting cathartically to discharging the pent-up emotional blockage at the root
of the pathological behaviour.

Freud, still beholden to Charcot's hypnotic method, did not grasp the full implications of Breuer's experience until a decade later, when he developed the technique of free association, announced in the work Freud published jointly with Breuer in 1895,
Studies in Hysteria. By encouraging the patient to express any random thoughts that came associatively to mind, the technique
aimed at uncovering hitherto unarticulated material from the realm of the psyche that Freud, following a long tradition, called the
unconscious. Difficulty in freely associating - sudden silences, stuttering, or the like - suggested to Freud the importance of the
material struggling to be expressed, as well as the power of what he called the patient's defenses against that expression. Unlike
Charcot and Breuer, Freud came to the conclusion that the most insistent source of resisted material was sexual in nature and
he linked neurotic symptoms to the struggle between a sexual feeling or urge and the psychic defenses against it. Being able to
bring that conflict to consciousness through free association and then probing its implications was thus a crucial step, he
reasoned, on the road to relieving the symptom, which was best understood as an unwitting compromise formation between the
wish and the defence.

At first, however, Freud was uncertain about the precise status of the sexual component in this dynamic conception of the
psyche. His patients seemed to recall actual experiences of early seductions, often incestuous in nature. Freud's initial impulse
was to accept these as having happened. But then, as he disclosed in a now famous letter to Fliess of Sept. 2, 1897, he
concluded that, rather than being memories of actual events, these shocking recollections were the residues of infantile impulses
and desires to be seduced by an adult. What was recalled was not a genuine memory but a fantasy hiding a primitive wish.
Rather than stressing the corrupting initiative of adults, Freud concluded that the fantasies and yearnings of the child were the
root of later conflict. This was central in the subsequent development of psychoanalysis, in attributing sexuality to children, and
emphasising the causal power of fantasies.

Freud's work on hysteria had focused on female sexuality and its potential for neurotic expression. To be fully universal,
psychoanalysis - a term Freud coined in 1896 - would also have to examine the male psyche in a condition of what might be
called normality. It would have to become more than a psychotherapy and develop into a complete theory of the mind. To this
end Freud accepted the risk of generalising from his own experience, but his self-analysis was both the first and the last in the
history of the movement he spawned; all future analysts would have to undergo a training analysis with someone whose own
analysis was ultimately traceable to Freud's of his disciples.

Freud's self-exploration concerned the death of his father in October 1896. Emotions were released in the son that he
understood as having been long repressed, emotions concerning his earliest familial experiences and feelings. Freud attempted
to reveal their meaning by deciphering his own dreams.

In The Interpretation of Dreams, he interspersed evidence from his own dreams with evidence from those recounted in his
clinical practice. Freud contended that dreams played a fundamental role in psyche. The mind's energy - which Freud called
libido, principally identified with the sexual drive - was a fluid and malleable force capable of excessive and disturbing power.
Needing to be discharged to ensure pleasure and prevent pain, it sought whatever outlet it might find. If denied the gratification
provided by direct motor action, libidinal energy could seek its release through mental channels: a wish can be satisfied by an
imaginary wish fulfilment.

More precisely, dreams are the disguised expression of wish fulfilments. Like neurotic symptoms, they are the effects of
compromises in the psyche between desires and prohibitions in conflict with their realisation. Although sleep can relax the power
of the mind's censorship of forbidden desires, such censorship, nonetheless, persists in part during sleep. Dreams, therefore,
have to be decoded to be understood.

Dreams defy logic and narrative coherence, mingling the residues of immediate daily experience with the deepest, often most
infantile wishes but they can be decoded by attending to four basic activities of the dreamwork.

The first, condensation, operates through the fusion of several different elements into one. The second , displacement, refers to
the decentring of dream thoughts, so that the most urgent wish is often obliquely or marginally represented. The third Freud
called representation, by which he meant the transformation of thoughts into images. The final function of the dreamwork is
secondary revision, which provides some order and intelligibility to the dream by supplementing its content with narrative.

In 1904 Freud published The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, in which he explored such seemingly insignificant errors as
slips of the tongue or pen ("Freudian slips"), seen to have symptomatic importance. But unlike dreams they need not betray a
repressed infantile wish but can arise from more immediate causes.

In 1905 Freud extended the scope of this analysis by examining Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Invoking the idea
of "joke-work" as a process comparable to dreamwork, at once consciously contrived and unconsciously revealing. The
explosive response often produced by jokes, Freud contended, owes its power to the release of unconscious impulses. But
insofar as jokes are more deliberate than dreams or slips, they draw on the rational dimension of the psyche that Freud was to
call the ego as much as on what he was to call the id.

In 1905 Freud also published Three Contributions to the Sexual Theory which established Freud as a pioneer in the serious
study of sexology. Here he outlined in greater detail than before his reasons for emphasising the sexual component in the
development of both normal and pathological behaviour. Although not as reductionist as popularly assumed, Freud nonetheless
extended the concept of sexuality beyond conventional usage.

To spell out the formative development of the sexual drive, Freud focused on the progressive replacement of erotogenic zones in the body by others. An originally polymorphous sexuality first seeks gratification orally through sucking at the mother's breast, an object for which other surrogates can later be provided. Initially unable to distinguish between self and breast, the infant soon
comes to appreciate its mother as the first external love object. After the oral phase, the child's erotic focus shifts to its anus,
stimulated by the struggle over toilet training and the demands of self-control. The third phase, he called the phallic.

The phallic stage can only be successfully surmounted if the Oedipus complex with its accompanying castration anxiety can be
resolved. According to Freud, this resolution can occur if the boy finally suppresses his sexual desire for the mother, and
internalises the reproachful prohibition of the father, making it his own with the construction of the superego or the conscience.

The blatantly phallocentric bias of this account was supplemented by a controversial assumption of penis envy in the already
castrated female child. Freud, however, always maintained the intrapsychic importance of the Oedipus complex, whose
successful resolution is the precondition for the transition to the mature sexuality he called the genital phase, where the parent of
the opposite sex is conclusively abandoned in favour of a more suitable love object able to reciprocate reproductively useful
passion. In the case of the girl, disappointment over the nonexistence of a penis is transcended by the rejection of her mother in
favour of a father figure instead. In both cases, sexual maturity means heterosexual, procreatively inclined, genitally focused
behaviour. Sexual development, however, is prone to troubling maladjustments preventing this outcome if the various stages are
unsuccessfully negotiated. Fixation of sexual aims or objects can occur at any particular moment.

In addition to the neurosis of hysteria, Freud developed complicated explanations for other typical neuroses, such as
obsessive-compulsions, paranoia, and narcissism. These he called psychoneuroses, because of their rootedness in childhood
conflicts, as opposed to the actual neuroses such as hypochondria, neurasthenia, and anxiety neurosis, which are due to
problems in the present.

Although Freud's theories were offensive to the Vienna of his day, they began to attract a cosmopolitan group of supporters in
the early 1900s. In 1902 the Psychological Wednesday Circle began to gather. Alfred Adler and Wilhelm Stekel were often joined  by guests such as Sándor Ferenczi, Carl Jung, Otto Rank, Ernest Jones, Max Eitingon, and A.A. Brill. In 1908 the group was  renamed the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and held its first international congress in Salzburg. In the same year the first branch society was opened in Berlin.

As might be expected of a movement whose treatment emphasised the power of transference and the ubiquity of Oedipal
conflict, its early history is a tale rife with dissension, betrayal, apostasy, and excommunication. The most widely noted schisms
occurred with Adler in 1911, Stekel in 1912, and Jung in 1913; these were followed by later breaks with Ferenczi, Rank, and
Wilhelm Reich in the 1920s.

If the troubled history of its institutionalisation served to call psychoanalysis into question, so too did its founder's penchant for
extrapolating his clinical findings into a more ambitious general theory. As he admitted to Fliess in 1900, "I am actually not a man  of science at all. . . . I am nothing but a conquistador by temperament, an adventurer." Freud's so-called metapsychology soon
became the basis for wide-ranging speculations about cultural, social, artistic, religious, and anthropological phenomena.
Composed of a complicated and often revised mixture of economic, dynamic, and topographical elements, the metapsychology
was developed in a series of 12 papers Freud composed during World War I, only some of which were published in his lifetime.
Their general findings appeared in two books in the 1920s: Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) and The Ego and the Id
(1923). In these works, Freud attempted to clarify the relationship between his earlier topographical division of the psyche into the unconscious, preconscious, and conscious and his subsequent structural categorisation into id, ego, and superego. The id was defined in terms of the most primitive urges for gratification in the infant, urges dominated by the desire for pleasure through the release of tension and the cathexis of energy. Ruled by no laws of logic, indifferent to the demands of expediency, unconstrained by the resistance of external reality, the id is ruled by what Freud called the primary process directly expressing somatically generated instincts. Through the inevitable experience of frustration the infant learns to adapt itself to the exigencies of reality. The secondary process that results leads to the growth of the ego, which follows what Freud called the reality principle in contradistinction to the pleasure principle dominating the id. Here the need to delay gratification in the service of
self-preservation is slowly learned in an effort to thwart the anxiety produced by unfulfilled desires. What Freud termed defence
mechanisms are developed by the ego to deal with such conflicts. Repression is the most fundamental, but Freud also posited
an entire repertoire of others, including reaction formation, isolation, undoing, denial, displacement, and rationalisation.

The last component, the superego, develops from the internalisation of society's moral commands through identification with
parental dictates during the resolution of the Oedipus complex. Only partly conscious, the superego gains some of its force by
borrowing certain aggressive elements in the id, which are turned inward against the ego and produce feelings of guilt. But it is
largely through the internalisation of social norms that the superego is constituted, an acknowledgment that prevents
psychoanalysis from conceptualising the psyche in purely biologistic or individualistic terms.

Freud's understanding of the primary process underwent a crucial shift in the course of his career. Initially he counterposed a
libidinal drive that seeks sexual pleasure to a self-preservation drive. But in 1914, he came to consider the latter instinct as
merely a variant of the former. Unable to accept so monistic a drive theory, Freud speculated that there is in the psyche an
innate, regressive drive for stasis that aims to end life's inevitable tension. This striving for rest he christened the Nirvana
principle and the drive underlying it the death instinct, which he could substitute for self-preservation as the contrary of the life
instinct, or Eros.