Sigmund Freud has weaved his way into so many aspects of our lives. It’s like once you hear all about his theories, they sneakily make their way into your brain and you’ll hear that little voice in your head saying “Freud predicted this, didn’t he?” After learning about the Oedipus complex and Freud’s dream theory, and still having trouble differentiating the id, ego, and superego, I’m here to break down some of his theories in a comprehensible way.
First, it’s important to talk about psychoanalysis as a field. Psychoanalysis is defined by Google as “a system of psychological theory and therapy which aims to treat mental disorders by investigating the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the mind and bringing repressed fears and conflicts into the conscious mind by techniques such as dream interpretation and free association.”
The field of psychoanalysis has grown in numerous ways from when the term was first coined by Freud in the 1890s. Freud developed many of its theories like talk therapy and psychosexual development, but I will be discussing his theory of dreams and the psychic apparatus.
In 1931, Freud published his final edition to The Interpretation of Dreams (the first edition was published in 1899). In his interpretation of dreams, Freud claims that our dreams are disguised, hallucinatory fulfillments of repressed wishes from the unconscious mind. Dreams, according to Freud, not only represent current wishes, but also include expressions of wish fulfillment from our early childhood. So basically, our dreams are our subconscious desires, many of which we develop at a very young age. Freud believed that symbolically, the ego slips in unconscious thoughts in our dream, also known as the manifest content of the overall dream story. Freud describes these dreams as “multi-layered phenomena that needs to be worked with to be read.” Material in these dreams helps us connect present-day events in our life and current concerns to events deeply buried in the psyche of the unconscious mind.
Now, with this theory specifically, I think Freud was on to something (not that he needs my validation, but still). I can actually draw on my own experiences to support this Freudian interpretation of dreams. When I was younger, I was terribly frightened by roller coasters. I loved going to amusement parks, but I never rode on the roller coasters with dramatic heights and loops, because I was afraid I would get stuck upside down on a loop. So I would just have my cup of Dippin’ Dots ice cream and watch my older siblings ride the big, scary roller coasters.
A few years back, my friends and I made plans to go to Six Flags, and I hadn’t been to an amusement park in years. The night before, I had a dream that I was stuck upside down in a car accident, which I interpret as a representation of my childhood fear of being stuck upside down on a roller coaster loop. To this day, I’m scared of heights and being upside down for a long period of time. Overall, I would say Sigmund Freud’s interpretation of dreams is accurate in connecting our current events to past childhood fears or experiences. (Oh, by the way, I did manage to get myself on a few roller coasters. It turns out, the loops are the easy part. The initial height drop is what really scares me.)
Finally, Freud’s theory of the psychic apparatus is one of my personal favorites, and it is what made me want to research more about Freud and his other theories. Freud’s obsession with the unconscious mind and the three parts that make up an individual’s psyche (the id, ego, and superego) was inspired by his need to understand himself and humans more. Freud believes that in order to truly “know” ourselves, we need to recognize our unconscious processes and thoughts more. Freud asserts that the id, ego, and superego work together to create the human psyche, and the unconscious (or the superego) is the core of psychoanalysis.
The trio of the psychic apparatus is Freud’s model of the mind, with the id defined as the oldest part of the mind from which the other structures are derived. So this id is the most primitive, emotional, illogical side of us. Next, the ego is seen as the part of the mind that represents the conscious. It is the most reasonable, adaptive part of the mind that acts as a mediator between the id and superego, and it is known to have the most reasonable approach and common sense. It’s basically the voice in your head telling you “don’t do it.” Lastly, we have the superego, which ultimately represents the moral demands and limits coming from parents or society, especially norms and criticisms derived from an individual’s early childhood. The superego has the most repressed emotions and desires, and Freud describes it as the leading force of unconscious guilt that leads to the “self-sabotage of success.”
I hope some of this made the daunting task of understanding the complexities of the unconscious mind a little bit easier. It’s also important to note that several of Freud’s theories have been debunked, critiqued, and altered to be more specific and accurate. Despite the revisions to his studies, I think Freud as a person is incredibly interesting, and his theories are no less fascinating. I definitely recommend this book if you’re interested in learning about Freud’s life and how he came to develop the field of psychoanalysis!