Sigmund Freud: His Life And His Work Essay

This essay has a total of 2990 words and 12 pages.

Sigmund Freud: His Life And His Work

Sigmund Freud was born on May 6th 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia, which is now in Czech
Republic. He is the eldest of eight children born to Jacob and Amalie Freud. Because of
the anti-semetic riots who were ragging in Freiberg , Freud's father, who was a wool
merchant, lost his business and the whole family had to move to Leipzig (1859) and shortly
after to Vienna where Freud spend most of his life. When he lived in Vienna, Freud had,
once more, to come accross anti-semetism : jewish people had been persecuted in Europe for
hundreds of years and they would often be attacked on the streets or called names.


Freud was a very intelligent and hard working student, but when he left school, he was not
sure of what he wanted to do. At first, he decided to become a lawyer. Then, he decided to
study medicine and to become a doctor, for this reason, he enrolled in the medical school
of the University of Vienna (1873) and he often came top of the class. To the eyes of
Freud, working hard and wanting to find out about things were the two most important
qualities in life. In his 3rd year at the University, he started a reasearch work on the
central nervous system in a phisiological laboratory under the direction of Ernst Wilhelm
von Brucke. During this period of reasearch, Freud neglected his courses and as a result,
he remained in medical school 3 years longer than it was normally required to qualify a
physician. He received his medical degree in 1881 .


He spend three years working at the General Hospital of Vienna - working successively to
psychatry, dermatology and to nervous diseases -. In the year 1885, he is given a
government grant enabling him to spent 19 weeks in Paris to work with French neurologist
Jean Charcot - director of the mental hospital, The Salpetriere - who tried to understand
and treat nervous disorders, and most especially hysteria. Charcot used hypnosis to prove
that the real problem of his patients was a mental one. From this demonstration, Freud
realised the power that the mind had on the body, and he came back from Paris, determined
to make a name for himself in this new field of study. When he came back from Paris, Freud
immediately married his sister's friend Martha Bernays. At first, the other doctors
laughed at him and noboby baught his books. He was therefore very poor and in addition, he
had a growing family to support. His only friend, Wilhelm Fliess, lived far away in
Berlin. Freud called that time his "period of splendid isolation". Like many others at
that time, the Freud family had to suffer many hardships, firstly during World War I, and
then during the economic depression, when Austrian money became worthless. Often, Freud
had to analyse people wearing his overcoat because he could not afford to heat the
consulting room. Gradually, more and more people came to see Freud and with each patient
he tried to learn something new about his work. He also tried to analyse himself !!!
During the period from 1895 to 1900, Freud developed many of the concepts that were later
incorporated into the psychoanalytic practice and doctrine (free association...) and he
abandonned the use of hypnosis. After many years of existence, the increasing recognition
of the psychoanalytic movement made possible the creation of a worldwide organisation
called "The International psychoanalytic Assotiation" (1910).


In 1923, Freud was told he had a cancer of the jaw and that he only had a short time to
live. The cancer was brought up by Freud's abussive smoking. He did not really care and he
said that he was addicted to smoking like he was addicted to the collection of thousand of
antiquities. But meanwhile, an even great threat was on the horizon, the anti-semetism,
which civilized countries thought they had put behind them, was coming back in Germany.
Hitler came to power in 1933 and in this same year, Freud's books were burned on the
streets, along with other books written by jewish authors. When the Germans occupied
Austria in 1938, Freud was persuated by a friend to leave his native country. He escaped
to England with his family on June 6th of this same year. He moved in his famous house in
Maresfield Gardens. Late in life, Freud knew what it was like to be famous. He died on
September 23rd 1939.


As said previously, Freud was a medical doctor who was interested in charting how the
human mind affected the body, particularly in forms of mental illnesses, such as neurosis
(1) and hysteria (2) , and in finding ways to cure those mental illnesses. For his
purpose, Freud created a new form of therapy which was called "psychoanalysis". It is
based on the observation of many of the factors which determine the emotion and behaviour
of an individual. These factors are unconscious and they are the basis of a certain
unhappiness, sometimes in the form of recognizable symptoms and at other times as
troubling personnality traits, difficuties in work or in love relationships, or
disturbances in mood and self-esteem. A psychoanalytic treatment demonstrates how these
unconscious factors affect current relationships and patterns of behaviour, traces them
back to their historical origins, shows how they have changed over time and helps the
individual to deal better with the reality of adult life. Psychoanalysis is an intimate
partnership between the patient and the analyst, in the course of which the patient
becomes aware of the underlying sources of his or her difficulties not only
intellectually, but emotionally, by re-experiencing them with the analyst. Freud explains
his theories, about how the human mind works, in many books. He believed, and many people
after him also believed, that his theories about the mind uncovered some basic truths
about how an individual is formed, and how culture and civilization operate on this
particular person. We will now look at Freud's theories on the formation of a "normal"
heterosexual adult from the beginnig .


When Freud looks at civilization ( in his book Civilization and its Discontents ), he sees
two fundamental principles at work. He calls them the "reality principal" and the
"pleasure principal" and according to him, the pleasure principle tells us to do whatever
we like to do, and the reality principle tells us to surbordinate pleasure to what really
needs to be done. To subordinate the pleasure principle to the reality principle, the
individual has to go through a psychological process which Freud calls "sublimation",
where you take desires that can not be fulfilled, or should not be fulfilled, and turn
their energy into something usefull and productive (eg: work, play sports...). But the
desire for pleasure never truely disappears, even when it is sublimated into something
else. The desires that can not be fulfilled are repressed into a particular place in the
mind , which Freud labels "the unconscious". Because it contains repressed desires, things
that our conscious mind is not supposed to want, and is not even supposed to know about,
nobody can get to his or her unconscious just by thinking about it directly. Indirect
routes can therefore be taken to get to the content of one's unconscious .


The first one is dreams, and according to Freud, they are symbolic fulfillement of wishes
that can't be fulfilled in real life because they have been repressed into the unconscious
( The Interpretation of Dreams ). These forbidden wishes are disguised by various images,
this is why dreams are, most of the time, very strange. Dreams use two processes to hide
the unconscious wishes : "condensation" and "displacement". Condensation is when a whole
set of images is packed into a single image or statement, when a complex meaning is
condensed into a simpler one. Displacement is when the meaning of one image or symbol gets
pushed onto something associated with it, which then displaces the original image .


The second way into the unconscious besides dreams, are slips of the tongue, also called
"parapraxes" by Freud ( he discusses these in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life ). He
says that errors in speech, reading and writting are not accidents or coincidences : they
reveal something that has been packed into the unconscious .


A third way into the unconscious is jokes, which Freud says that are always indicative of
repressed wishes ( he discusses this route into the unconscious in his book Jokes and
Their Relation to the Unconscious ). Whatever route is taken to get to the unconscious,
what you find there is almost always about sex .The content of the unconscious consists
primarily of sexual desires which have been repressed. Freud says that sexual desires are
instinctual, and that they appear in the most fundamental acts in the process of
nurturing, like in a mother nursing an infant. The instincts for food, warmth and comfort,
which are survival values for a child, also produce pleasure which is also, according to
Freud, sexual pleasure. The discovery of our body is organized through our first
experiences of sexual pleasure. Freud symbolicaly divides the body in "erotogenic zones"
to explain the development of the experience of a child's discovery of his or her body.
These zones are the "oral", the "anal", and the "phallic". They correspond to three major
stages of childhood development which take place between the ages of 2 and 5 years old.
The oral stage is associated with incorporation, with taking in things, with knowing no
boundaries between self and others and between the inside and the outside. The anal stage
is associated with expelling things, with learning boundaries between inside and outside.
The phallic stage leads a child to the gateway of adult sexuality ( genital masturbation
). Freud emphasizes the fact that, during the phallic stage, there is no distinction of
any kind between the penis and the clitoris as this stage is common to boys and girls. The
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