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Summary: Freud's Theory

Freud is one of the most influential figures in the history of psychology. Citation analyses consistently show Freud among the most-cited figures in psychology. However, many of those citations are negative. Psychologists frequently refer to Freudian theory in the process of criticizing it.

The word psyche refers to the mind as a whole. Freud believed much of the psyche was unconscious. He compared it to an iceberg, which was nine/tenths under water. In his 1923 theory, Freud distinguished between three divisions or functions of the psyche.

One part was entirely unconscious: the id. Freud conceived of this as a primitive, animal-like part of the mind. To Freud it was the source of the libido, the energy currency of the psyche. Freud's concep­tion of libidinal energy may have been influenced by 12 years of cocaine use.

The ego was, to Freud, the agent of adaptation in the psyche, mostly conscious, but subject to unconscious defense mechanisms operating under the surface. The super-ego (literally "above ego") was the internalization of parental and social values. It, too, was partly unconscious, resulting sometimes in surprising surges of pride or guilt.

Freud described the phenomenon of repression, in which forbidden impulses of the id are prevented from erupting into possibly dangerous or unacceptable behavior by simply turning away. Forbidden urges do not always stay repressed, however, and may require libidinal energy to suppress.

Freud described a variety of defense mechanisms, by which the ego defended itself against unpleasant thoughts, memories, or wishes. The reality of defense mechanisms is widely accepted by today's psychologists.

Freud thought his most important contribution was the sexual theory. He placed great importance on the events of childhood and the forbidden impulses they involved. Scientific research fails to support those ideas.


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