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Psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud

Psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud was a watershed in the exploration of mind, that is to say, Freud is considered to be the father of modern psychology of abnormal behavior. Freud started his career in the field of medicine and later switched over to the treatment of prisoners of war and the victims of war devastations that brought about new insights into the complexity of abnormal behavior. Freud who started the scientific study of unconsciousness in a way brought about the Copernican revolution in psychology (Lothane, 2006).

According to Freud, the roots of behavioral pathology can be traced to traumatic childhood experiences that the individual had in his contacts with the family settings. Psychoanalytic theory places the base of personality on the entire childhood experiences. Libido and fixation are the two important concepts of Freud. Acoording to Freud libido is the instinctual life force that energizes the Id, the unconscious structure of personality and the storehouse of all the primitive urges and instincts. The release and the expression of Libido changes as we move through the psychosexual stages of development.

The inappropriate use of libido and the misdirection of the energy result in problems in later adult life. An excessive amount of energy getting tied up in a particular stage is to lead to fixation. Fixation thus results from inappropriate distribution of libidinal energy. Freudian theory is noted for its depiction of levels of consciousness and the corresponding structure of personality. Freud found that most of the mind lies below the threshold of conscious experience and this layer of mind is known as the level of consciousness. Consciousness thus consists of our current thoughts, feelings sensations and experiences.

Beneath the level of consciousness is the larger arena of the subconscious mind. It refers to memories that can be readily brought to mind by effort. Benaeth the subconscious mind and constituting the major chunk of the mind is the unconscious mind that contains repressed thoughts, painful memories, sexual instinct and aggressive tendencies and all the primitive instincts. Corresponding to the unconscious level of mind is the personality structure called Id, that operates according to the pleasure principle and it seeks immediate gratification without considering the social norms.

In order to act against the urges of Id we have the structure called Ego which is the executive side of the personality. The task of ego is to control the instinctual urges of Id. The Ego acts in accordance with the Reality Principle that is the social norms, standards, beliefs and rules and regulations. The final aspect of personality described by Freud is the super ego. It too controls the inordinate demands of Id and keeps it under check. In contrast to the ego, the superego is concerned with morality. Superego can tell right from wrong given the societal rules.

Superego stands for the internalization of the moral teachings given by parents and authority figures. Intrapsychic Conflict and Ego-defense Mechanisms Intrapsychic conflict refers to the conflict among the three structures of personality-Id, Ego and Superego. It is called intrapsychic because it takes place within the person’s psyche without the full consciousness. The conflict among these structures is truly intrapsychic because it revolves around the unconscious tendencies and the subconscious tendencies.

The appearance of conflict in the consciousness is experienced as anxiety by the person. The unbridled impulses of the Id seek release which is immediately put down by the acts of ego and superego. The experience of anxiety consequent to the unacceptable nature of the impulses is unbearable to ego beyond a point. The threat that ego faces from the surfaced id impulses is to be defended in a socially acceptable way. And the self protecting mechanism used by the ego is known as the ego defense mechanisms.

These mechanisms resorted to by the ego keep the personality intact, and this is an adjustive reaction. It is adjustive because the person continues to adjust with the social and the external environment by keeping the id impulses under check. All of us use defense mechanisms and it is not an indication of behavioral disorder. We may use these mechanisms singly or in combination (Sarason and Sarason, 2005). For example a person may use the mechanism of projection and undoing so as to balance the psychic state. Types of Mechanisms: Repression

Repression is the most common form of defense mechanism used by individuals in their attempt to overcome the neurotic anxiety felt following the conflict among the structures of personality, id, ego and superego. It is a form of forgetting in which the individual actively represses the painful events from the level of consciousness to the unconscious level and there it remains inaccessible to the person. Suppression In suppression also the person forgets the unpleasant event but it is not as intense as it is in repression. In this forgetting the suppressed material can be brought to the level of consciousness by the person’s own effort.

Intellectualization Here the person adopts the position of an intellectual and deals with the anxiety- producing event in an atmosphere of intellectualization thereby citing valid and abstract reasons for the mishap. The playing team that has lost the game justifies the failure by discussing the importance of sports and how it helps us in building our body and mind along with the need to introduce children to the game. Reaction formation Anxiety producing thoughts or impulses is expressed in opposite ways so that the person is able to hide the real emotions behind the facade of opposites.

A boy may conceal his feelings of love towards a girl and react in hatred that is hatred is formed in the ego as the reactive and defensive behavior. Compensation This defense mechanism is used to overcome feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. A physically handicapped person may try to excel in activities like singing, business or studies, whichever is suitable to the person. Identification The individual adopts the traits and mannerisms of other people who are feared or highly superior. The public adopts the behaviors of film stars and popular people in order to achieve some sort of similarity. Undoing

In this mechanism the person tries to correct a mistake in behavior or thought previously done by acts that have some similarity to the mistake. It is symbolic way of undoing the mistake committed so as to reduce the presence of anxiety. Projection Externalization of internal impulses, motives and tendencies implies that the person attributes to others one’s own impulses so that it is shadowed. By projecting to others one is trying to get rid of the negative tendencies. Regression In regression the individual goes back to a previous state of developmental stage, usually the childhood that offered protection and security.

Faced with uncertainty and difficulties in adult life some individuals start regressing to the childhood so that they feel secure now. Sublimation Selecting a socially useful and productive activity so that unacceptable impulses are channelised in a different way. A person may choose to be a social worker in order to channelise the deep negativity felt towards a community. Rationalization The person may resort to self-serving explanations, excuses and justifications in order to overcome the feelings of anxiety following a mistake.

The employee giving excuses for a mistake committed are rationalizing the same. Other forms of ego-defense mechanisms Vaillant (! 994) has identified the clinical utility of ego-defense mechanisms like hypochondriasis, fantasy, dissociation, acting out and passive aggression. These mechanisms help the therapist in identifying the nature of pathology in a patient. Conclusions Defense mechanisms whether singly used or in combination help a person to overcome the anxiety ensuing following the surfacing of unconscious impulses to the level of consciousness.

The excessive use of mechanisms is an indication of pathology whereas the minimum use of defense mechanism helps a person to adjust with the life. References. Lothane, Z. (2006). Freud’s legacy-is it still with us? Psychoanalytic Psychology, Vol. 23 (2), 285-301. Sarason, I. G. and Sarason, B. R (2005). Abnormal Psychology, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Vaillant, G. E. (1994). Ego mechanisms of defense and Personality psychopathology, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol. 103 (1), 44-50.

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