Sigmund Freud, after all these years, continues to be one of the most debated and talked about figures in the field of psychology. His research and findings were a turning point in our understanding of the human mind and paved the way for the development of further research that would ultimately lead to better life quality.
Born with Austrian roots into a Jewish family, Freud lived in Austria for most of his life. But when the Germans annexed his country in 1938, he fled to save himself from the ruthless genocide.
Sigmund Freud began his career as a licensed medical practitioner in 1886. He specialized in neuropathology and had excellent knowledge of the happenings in that field. Furthermore, he became an affiliate professor for the same in 1902.
Neuropathology is the study of diseases in the brain. It requires extensive knowledge of the brain and its functioning, as neurology and neurosurgery specialties depend largely on neuropathology for patient diagnosis.
Since Freud was already an expert in the brain’s working and functioning, developing a correlation between this functioning and certain ‘erratic’ human behaviors could have been a little easier. Nonetheless, the work he did was very unusual for his time.
Initially, anyone with a mental disorder was labeled an outcast. They were shunned by society and seen as a nuisance to a community otherwise bound by rules and regulations. Their troubles were never seen as treatable problems but as the ‘evil doings of something sinister.’
Due to such distorted perceptions about mental health issues, the most unreasonable conclusions were made and ‘solutions’ found. Those who believed that mental disorders were doings of the Devil often drilled holes in the skulls of those affected, hoping that the ‘evil’ in their minds would find an escape from there. Others performed rituals that they believed would help.
However, they all remained oblivious to what could have caused these issues. Here is where Freud’s research and findings came in. Before his findings, Wilhelm Wundt, a German psychologist, was the first to ever introduce the idea of psychology as an experimental science to the world. Wundt, along with Freud, is known as one of the fathers of modern psychology.
Simply put, Freud’s theories state that the human mind is primarily influenced and affected by our unconscious memories, egos, urges, and desires. He was the first to classify our memories and reasons into conscious, sub-conscious, and cold.
This theory was called Freud’s Iceberg theory, wherein the conscious is the tip of the iceberg, and the unconscious is at the bottom. This means that while we know all the memories, thoughts, emotions, and feelings in our conscious, we know next to nothing about our unconscious. It becomes superficially non-existent in our everyday lives. However, this level of consciousness affects our behavior the most.
While Freud contributed to psychology significantly and was one of the first to do so, Neo-Freudians criticized his work and research highly. They draw upon the basics of his theories, but most all Neo-Freudians have created ideas that differ strongly from those of Freud.
Sigmund Freud created psychoanalysis as a way of therapizing patients, wherein he would tap into their unconscious minds and try to figure out exactly what was affecting them. This created a safe space for people to vent and let their feelings out while potentially being cured of whatever plagued them.
However, this wasn’t true for all his patients. Freud was known to be incredibly sexist and biased. He viewed women as individuals with high libidos and sexual frustration with nowhere to go. He believed that all their problems stemmed from these issues. Moreover, his interpretation of dreams was primarily based on this irrational belief.
When he was conducting experiments for his research and theory development, all his test subjects were male. The irony here stands to be that while he tested on men, he developed theories to treat women. But how do you treat women without conducting psychological experiments on them?
His theories were based entirely on what and how men thought and how their unconscious affected their behavior and lives. How they went about dealing with these problems, and what their coping mechanisms were. He assumed most things about women by observing their behaviors in uncontrolled, everyday settings.
Freud’s granddaughter, Sophie Freud, stated openly that his theories were outdated and misogynistic. He believed that women were secondary and affected only by their constant desire for the primary – i.e., men.
Neo-Freudians came up with some brilliant and unbiased – to some extent – theories that work with the ideals of our world today and positively impact those undergoing therapy based on these theories. Some such schools of psychology include Humanism (where the patient is allowed to talk freely to such an extent that they might end up sub-consciously concluding an issue themselves) and Behaviorism (which believes that all human behavior is learned and can thus be unlearnt through specific processes).
Sure, psychoanalysis and some of Freud’s theories about consciousness levels were a step ahead of their time, but what brought them down was his focus on sex and aggression. Today, if these theories can be contextualized and tweaked according to unbiased findings, I am sure they will fare well in terms of psychological treatment and benefits to the human mind.
Edited by Whitney Edna Ibe
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