Sigmund Freud belongs to a group of select few who have generated work so creative and provocative that it has had a revolutionary impact on the course of human values, thought and behavior. Freud’s fundamental assumption about mental life is that it is divided into three parts: the conscious, the preconscious, and the unconscious. The conscious operates merely on the surface of personality and plays a relatively minor role in personality development and functioning.
While it is true that psychologically healthy people have a greater awareness of their experiences than do unhealthy ones, still Freud believed that even relatively mature people are governed by unconscious needs and conflicts. Unconscious can consist of repressed memories of which we are not aware and bringing them to awareness can cause tremendous anxiety. A key point in his theory is that such repressed memories seek expression in various defensive, disguised and distorted ways. Unconscious ideas, memories, and experiences may continually interfere with conscious and rational behavior.
Traditions of Western thought which emphasized human rationality and the virtues of ethical conduct, were shocked to learn that human beings are often irrational and that they continually engage in internal struggles to keep their sexual and aggressive impulses in check. Freud removed humans from their narcissistic pedestals and forced them to examine the dark side of their natures. At first he was publicly reviled and scorned but eventually investigators in many disciplines started taking his ideas seriously. Today Freud’s influence is world wide. Scholars in literature are fond of using psychoanalytic constructs to explain motives of fictional characters, and many Freudian concepts such as Oedipal conflicts, “ego trips,” “Freudian slips,” denial, repression, regression etc., have been adopted by laypeople. Whether we ultimately reject or accept his view of human personality, Freud has clearly earned his place in history.
Discsussion Questions: Freud thought that the major conflict experienced by individuals was between their needs to gratify their impulses (id), and society's need to control (superego) the expression of such individual needs. What do you think can be the best possible solution to this problem?
Do you agree with Freud that psychologically healthy people are adjusted satisfactorily in two major areas of life--love and work? Can you think of any other areas in which satisfactory adjustments must be made if people are to be psychologically healthy?