Who Was Sigmund Freud

A Paper On History

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Sigmund Freud is perhaps the most popular name in psychology. Looking at the effects of his childhood, the relationships with his parents, and his aspirations to do research on human behavior, it is apparent that he had much to pull from when forming his ideas. From his theory of defense mechanisms to his psychosexual stages theory, Freud’s ideas were groundbreaking for his time. There are however limitations to his theories and their validity for today’s world are questionable. Even so, it is evident that much of his early work had a profound effect on the theories that had been developed after his and though there is much criticism of his work, there is no debating that he was the father of psychology.

Sigmund Freud is a name that most people, both professional and layman, have heard during their lifetimes. This paper will give insight into who the man was as a person, son, brother, husband, father, and psychologist. By addressing his own person, it will become clearer where he got his ideas on psychology and human behavior and how they applied to him directly. His theories will be explored and limitations discussed, including how his ideas are or are not valid in today’s society as they were in this day in age.

Family of Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud is one of the most famous names in psychology and also one of the most controversial. Born in 1856 in what is now the Czech Republic, Freud was just one of eight children. “His mother was a lively woman, her husband's second wife and 20 years younger. She was 21 years old when she gave birth to her first son, her darling, Sigmund. Sigmund had two older half-brothers and six younger siblings.” (Boeree, 2009). It was however, clear that Sigmund was the favored child in the eyes of his mother and he was adoring of her as well which would be a topic of great interest in his later work. At the age of 4, Freud moved with his family to Vienna where he spent the majority of his life.

Freud’s father was a Jewish merchant and was not a man of good financial means. He married Amelia who was his second wife and Freud’s mother. “She was at least twenty years younger than her husband, and was in fact close in age to Freud’s two stepbrothers -- part of Jacob's numerous offspring from a previous marriage. Amelia.” also bore several children, eight including her first born and favorite, Sigmund.” (Boeree, 2009). From an early age, it was quite apparent that Sigmund was highly intelligent and this was something his parents recognized. He excelled in his school subjects and his parents provided all the education that they could within their means. Freud was a sensitive child which comes with being highly intelligent in many cases and was very sensitive to any criticism from his father. He was also ashamed of his father in a way as his father would not speak up when someone spoke badly of Jews. Freud saw this as a disappointment and a weakness. He also viewed his father as competition for his mother’s love which caused deep seated psychotically issues for him later in life. These issues helped him to create many of his theories.

Sigmund had a special relationship with his mother. As he got older and more informed about psychological things, he analyzed his feelings and relationship dealing with his mother. “. He came to realize that, as a boy, he had wanted to marry his mother, and saw his father as a rival for her love. Freud understood his own wishes to be universal among all boys in all cultures.”(Grubin, 2002). This was later known as the Oedipus Complex.(the wanting to kill your father and marry your mother) Looking at this relationship now, some may say that it was unhealthy and contributed to Freud’s own personal psychosis. He always enjoyed his mothers doting and unconditional love. “This unconditional love will make Freud notice: "When you were incontestably the favorite child of your mother, you keep during your lifetime this victor feeling, you keep feeling sure of success, which in reality seldom doesn't fulfill.” (Chiriac, 1998). Though his life, his mother was the one constant thing that he could depend upon and depend upon her he did. As for his siblings, they were all younger then himself and from what research this writer has found, he was not particularly attached to anyone of them to any degree. He did mention some love and regard for a few of his sisters which died in Nazi concentration camps during the war.

Freud’s Marriage and Children

In 1882 at the age of 26 Freud met the woman he would later refer to as the love of his life. Her name as Martha Bernays and he spent four years courting her before he came to the decision that he could not take her as his wife due to his inability to care for a wife and family on the salary he was making. Finally, not being able to stay away from her and his want to marry her, he gave up on his dream and became a doctor so as to be in a better position to support a family. “Freud would spend three lonely years at Vienna General Hospital, trying his hand at surgery, internal medicine, and psychiatry, not knowing which might become his specialty. He rarely saw Martha.” (Donegan, 2002).Between his heavy schedule at the hospital and his depression of not doing the work he loved to do, Freud’s happiness was waning. Not being able to have time to spend with his Martha only added to the tension in his life. When they finally married, being a wife agreed with her and she found solace in her housework and child rearing. “For the next nine years, she would be almost constantly pregnant, giving birth to six children. She raised their children and managed their household while Freud attended to his medical practice and researched his theories.” (Donegan, 2002). However, with Freud’s busy schedule and Martha caring for their family and household, their passions for each other dimmed.” Domestic duties had replaced the passion Freud and Martha had expressed for each other. Settled comfortably in the routines of daily life, he was consumed by his work, but the ardor had disappeared from his marriage.”(Donegan, 2002). They stayed married till Freud’s death in 1939. Martha herself died 12 years later in 1951.

Freud’s Aspirations

Freud loved research and at one point in his young life he aspired to become a medical doctor although this was not what he truly wanted to do with his life. (Though as previously mentioned, he did practice medicine in order to become a fit husband for Martha) “He was interested in science above all; the idea of practicing medicine was slightly repugnant to him. He hoped to go into neurophysiological research, but pure research was hard to manage in those days unless you were independently wealthy.” ("A science odyssey" 1998). Neurology was of utmost interest to Freud and he pursued it was a passion. In 1886 he opened up a private practice that catered to treating patients who suffered from nervous and brain disorders. “He tried hypnotism with his hysteric and neurotic patients, but gradually discarded the practice. He found he could get patients to talk just by putting them in a relaxing position (the couch) and encouraging them to say whatever came into their heads (free association).” ("A science odyssey" 1998). By doing this he was able to give analysis of past events and what was currently bothering them. Thus was the beginning of Freud as the psychologist we know today.

Freud’s Work

“Sigmund Freud’s work and theories helped shape our views of childhood, personality, memory, sexuality and therapy.

Other major thinkers have contributed work that grew out of Freud's legacy, while others developed new theories out of opposition to his ideas.”(Cherry, 2011). Freud’s major theories included the id, ego, and super ego, the conscience and unconscious, psychosexual development, and defense mechanisms.

Id, Ego, and Superego

The id, ego, and superego are what are known as the three components to the personality. The id shows itself from the moment one is born. It is the spoiled brat of the personality and driven by the pleasure principle. The id wants what it wants and it wants it immediately. While this aspect of personality is quite important during the years directly after birth so as the baby can get his or her needs met, if it is not overcome it can become socially crippling as the person grows into an older child and the an adult. The ego deals with reality.” According to Freud, the ego develops from the id and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world.” (Cherry, 2011). The id and the ego are related but the ego tries to satisfy the needs of the id in more mature and acceptable ways. The superego is the final part of personality. “The superego is the aspect of personality that holds all of our internalized moral standards and ideals that we acquire from both parents and society--our sense of right and wrong. The superego provides guidelines for making judgments.”(Cherry, 2011). The superego is also connected to the id and the ego by suppressing the wants, needs, and behaviors the first two crave. All three components work together to make a functioning and healthy personality.

Conscience and Unconscious

According to Freud there is conscience and the unconscious. The conscience mind is the knowing mind and includes everything that humans are aware of. “This is the aspect of our mental processing that we can think and talk about rationally. A part of this includes our memory, which is not always part of consciousness but can be retrieved easily at any time and brought into our awareness.” (Cherry, 2011). The unconscious mind includes things that are out of our immediate awareness. These can include dreams, repressed feelings and events. The mind keeps things unconscious because they are painful or stressful and the mind does not want to deal with these things. “According to Freud, the unconscious continues to influence our behavior and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences.” (Cherry, 2011). Take the Freudian slip for instance. This is a slip made by the unconscious mind such as calling someone by the wrong name or mixing up a word in a conversation. “These misstatements are believed to reveal underlying, unconscious thoughts or feelings.” (Cherry, 2011).

Psychosexual Development

Freud postulated that personality is developed by the age of 5 and early experiences shaped who a person is and becomes. The theory developed on this aspect of his thinking is psychosexual development. According to Freud “the sex drive is the most important motivating force. In fact, Freud felt it was the primary motivating force not only for adults but for children and even infants.” (Boeree, 2009).To Freud, sexuality did not just mean intercourse but anything that felt good to the skin. There are five stages to the psychosexual theory. First is the oral stage which runs from birth to 18 months of age. During the oral stage pleasure is found in the mouth. (Sucking, eating, and biting). The next stage is anal stage which last from age 18 months to 4 years. During the anal stage the main focus is on the anus and how it feels. The next stage is phallic stage which last from age 4 to 7 and focus is on masturbation and pleasure found in the genitals. The next stage is the latent stage which lasts from age 7 till puberty. “During this stage, Freud believed that the sexual impulse was suppressed in the service of learning.” (Boeree, 2009).Lastly is the genital stage which is from puberty till adulthood. This stage represents the sex drive and the focus is on sexual intercourse and the pleasure it brings. “This is a true stage theory, meaning that Freudians believe that we all go through these stages, in this order, and pretty close to these ages.” (Boeree, 2009).

Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are used as a way to protect humans from things that they would rather not deal with or perhaps are emotional unable to deal with. The ego is the part that deals with personality while at the same time it also has to deal with the conflicts dealing with the id and the superego. Sometimes the ego can suffer from overload and thus anxiety is created. Defense mechanisms are they way that this overload of anxiety is dealt with. There are many types of defense mechanisms. “Because of anxiety provoking demands created by the id, superego and reality, the ego has developed a number of defense mechanisms to cope with anxiety. Although we may knowingly use these mechanisms, in many cases these defenses work unconsciously to distort reality.”(Cherry, 2011). One example of a defense mechanism if denial. Most lay people are familiar with this mechanism and most people have even accused someone of being in denial over a situation. Denial is basically the refusal to admit a reality. For instance, a drug user may claim that they are not addicted to the drug and can stop at any time they wish. This is denial in its most classic form. Another defense mechanism is repression and is generally one that operates out of conscience awareness. For instance, if a person is molested as a child this memory may be too painful for their conscience to deal with and therefore their mind works to repress the memory so as not to have to deal with the pain of the reality. One last example of a defense mechanism is rationalization. By rationalizing a painful or stressful event or situation the person can distance themselves from the seriousness of the situation in order to protect their minds from feeling fear, stress, or anxiety. A classic example of this would be a person finding out that they have cancer. The patient may set out to learn all they can about their illness and look at it from a clinical point of view in order to keep themselves from actually feeling the pain of the reality.

Criticisms and Limitations of Freud’s Theories

One major criticism of Freud’s work deals with the limited sample group he gathered his data and did his research on. “Almost exclusively upper-class Austrian women living in the sexually repressed society of the late 19th cent. Such a sample, many psychologists contend, made Freud's focus on sex as a determinant of personality too emphatic.”(Infoplease, 2011). Had the sample been broader then the results may have been taken more seriously and as more valid as time went on,

Another thing some have had against Freud’s work was that many felt that his use of cocaine affected his research and tainted the results as well as the actual research. Finally, sex had been such a high focus of his work that many thought that he himself was obsessed with sex and sexuality therefore having his own psychological demons to contend with.


Like many families, Freud’s was complex. The relationships he had with his mother and father played a obvious and significant role in who he became and the conclusions he drew in his work in psychotherapy. Freud’s work was groundbreaking for its time. While it still plays a valid role in psychology and has been used to expand upon new theories, much of it is outdated and no longer valid for the people living in the present time. However, no matter how invalid some of his ideas are now, his theory on defense mechanisms are quite valid and can be seen every day in various people. Also, his work dealing with the conscience and unconscious is highly valid as it has been subjectively proven time and again in patients suffering from a number of different mental and emotional disorders. While Freud’s work is very interesting, what are even more interesting are the man itself and the issues he struggled with that brought about his ideas and theories to begin with.


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Infoplease, (2011). Criticisms of and Changes in Freudian Psychoanalysis. The columbia electronic encyclopedia. Retrieved July 31, 2011, from http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/sci/A0860566.html

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