Freud’s Psychodynamic Theory of Personality Development

Sigmund Freud was a leading-edge psychiatrist who pioneered some of the most groundbreaking work regarding the human psyche.

After attempting to use hypnosis as a way to access the inner workings of the mind, Freud developed a technique referred to as psychoanalysis — a treatment intended to illuminate the unconscious activity of an individual by making them consciously aware of it.

Freud would have his patients get comfortable and lay down on their back and instruct them to talk freely about whatever comes to mind, almost as if they were talking to themselves. He would listen attentively, take notes, and attempt to trace patterns by analyzing what they say.

This treatment is also referred to as free association, which examines the unconscious mental process — a therapeutic technique traditionally used to treat hysteria and neurosis.

To this day the approach founded by Freud is used as a way to track human behavior and help people release pent-up emotion and negative experiences that typically result in anxiety and depression.

Fueled by his earlier influence concerning the unconscious and conscious levels of the mind, Freud’s theory of personality development remains the center of discussion, modification, and debate in modern psychology. Although his theories have seen a lot of change within the last 120 years, Freud remains a significant contributor in understanding the various aspects of the human mind.

Sigmund Freud Psychodynamic Theory of Personality

To understand the complexities of what makes us human Freud describes the human psyche as the result of an interaction taking place between 3 parts of the mind. The components of Freud’s theory of personality include the id, superego, and ego.

3 Components of Personality

The id is the personality that requires instant satisfaction and is often driven by external motivation. This is our primitive instincts, which also comprise sexual impulse and aggression. Driven by impulse, the id is completely immersed in the subconscious mind.

The superego can also be referred to as our conscience. It is influenced by what society or people who influence us view as right or wrong. If the impulses of your id wanted something so bad that you would pretty much be willing break the bank or even risk your life for it, your superego would bring this into your conscious awareness in an attempt to remind your ego that such behavior may not be the right approach for acquiring what you want.

The ego, in the Freudian sense, is what balances the id and the superego so that you know how to handle such conflict. When you are compelled to follow through on your initial impulse, and your superego steps in to let you know that there might be another option, your ego will have the final say in whether or not you follow through.

If your desires can then be satisfied through more practical and rational means, your ego becomes your conscious guiding system.

People who have a weak ego tend to satisfy their id by all means; this behavior is often driven by instant gratification. These personalities can become ruthless, and greedy in their pursuit.

People with a strong ego will tend to be reasonable when it comes to satisfying their desires.

Freud’s Psychodynamic Theory of the Conscious, Unconscious and Pre-conscious

According to Freud, the behaviors, perceptions, and decisions we make can be observed consciously by the ego, and are recognized as a given result of cause and effect, but are often driven by the unconscious processes of the mind.

The 3 levels of awareness described by Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theory include the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious.

Conscious Mind: where you have all the information of what is happening around you at that particular time. Examples of a conscious state include objects you are seeing, the sounds you can hear, the images in your mind and what you feel at the moment.

Preconscious: located between the conscious and unconscious. The information is stored just below the level of attention and can be retrieved quickly. Examples of a preconscious state include memories such as your last holiday trip, your residential address and mobile phone number among other things.

Unconscious Mind: contains feelings and thoughts you may not be aware of, but still play a very significant role in the thoughts and feelings that dictate your behavior. Trauma from the past and exposure to negative experiences can manifest as deep-rooted fears or limiting beliefs about yourself or the reality of your life situation.

Sigmund Freud believed that the energy of the human psyche would build up in the subconscious. If this energy was tied to a negative emotion such as anger, despair, trauma, or fear, it would cause an increasing inner tension until it was addressed. Eventually, these repressed emotions would manifest in the conscious as negative assumptions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Freud’s psychodynamic theory states that the conscious thinking patterns and the actions of an individual, though not necessarily an accurate representation of the entire problem, can always be traced back to the source, hidden in the deepest depths of the human mind.

The vast realm of the subconscious mind would come to be known as the foundation of Freud’s theories and the underpinnings of modern psychology.

Here are some more of Freud’s fascinating theories and controversial works.

  • In his book, “The Interpretation of Dreams” (1900), Freud named the mind’s energy libido and said that the libido needed to be discharged to ensure pleasure and prevent pain. If it wasn’t released physically, the mind’s energy would be discharged through dreams.

  • He concluded that there were two parts to a dream. The “manifest content” was the obvious sight and sounds in the dream and the “latent content” was the dream’s hidden meaning.

  • In 1901, he published “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life,” which gave life to the saying “Freudian slip.” Freud theorized that forgetfulness or slips of the tongue are not accidental. They are caused by the “dynamic unconscious” and reveal something meaningful about the person.

  • In 1905, Freud developed the theory of the “Oedipus complex.” This theory states that boys have sexual attractions toward their mothers that can create jealousy toward the father. This became one of Freud’s most controversial theories and was published as “Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie (Three Contributions to the Sexual Theory).”

  • Another controversial sexual theory was explored in Freud’s 1933 lecture titled “Femininity.” The theory, which he called “penis envy,” stated that females become envious of penises as children, and this envy manifests as a daughter’s love for her father and the desire to give birth to a son because those are as close as she would ever get to having a penis of her own.

Since his death in 1939, There has been much debate and arguing in modern psychology about Freud’s theories.  Which may just prove his ideas, according to some.

“Freud discovered and taught about the unconscious mind and psychological defenses, including denial and repression,” said Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist who studied under Anna Freud at her London clinic and practices Freudian psychoanalytic therapy. “So, in fact, in trying to deny Freud’s insights, people are actually affirming them.”

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Kelly Stiles

I love publishing topics on meditation and mindset development. While providing you with the tools and resources to live vibrantly and consciously, Mind Body Vortex is your modern guide to an exhilarating lifestyle of personal growth.


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