Sigmund Freud


I.          Background

II.         Philosophy

            A.        Phase I

1.         Hypnosis & the Cathartic Method

                        2.         Oedipus and Electra Complex

            B.         Phase II: Free Assessment

                        1.         Id

                        2.         Ego

                        3.         Superego

            C.        Libido

                        1.         The New Revelation – Psychoanalysis

2.         The New Salvation – Psychotherapy


            Background. Sigmund Freud was a Jew born in Freiberg, Austria in 1856. Freud had an unusually strong memory of his childhood experiences. He grew up with siblings 20 years his elder and had no sibling his age against which to compete for his mother’s love. He recalls that these early childhood experiences tremendously shaped his development of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. In education he pursued a medical career as a doctor. It took him three years longer than normal to complete his degree because he regularly got off track studying other issues. During this time he developed a vain self-confidence which stayed with him throughout his life. He didn’t really care what others thought about his conclusions. He was really not interested in conforming or fitting in with the world around him. Though he was Jewish, Freud never had predilections toward the personal God. After his medical school he studied under Charcot and soon opened his own medical practice. It was during this time that Freud experimented with cocaine as a neurological drug and became convinced that it answered some questions of psychotherapy. In 1886 he married Martha Bernays and they lived a rather uneventful life together.

            Phase 1: Hypnosis. Soon Freud became the head of the Institute of Pediatrics in Austria. With the added responsibility of seeing so many patients, Freud began the first phase of his therapy; hypnosis. Initially, Freud was convinced that hypnosis enabled him to peer into the subconscious of a person, revealing the real problem. Over time, Freud came to believe that the “cathartic method” was the proper method of determining the origin of aberrant behavior. The “cathartic method” involved asking the patient about childhood experiences with family, friends, and playmates while they were under hypnosis. He believed that what his patients recounted when stimulated by his questions provided true accounts of their lives which gave the reason for the aberrant behavior. The surfacing of such experiences enabled him to diagnose the real problem and help the person. Initially he realized that many of the accounts of his patients under hypnosis were “sexual” in content. It seemed that most patients had undergone some kind of aberrant sexual abuse as a child and this stimulated the later problems. During his day this suggestion was disgusting to his peers and consequently he was ostracized by many of his contemporaries. Nevertheless, he followed this therapy rigorously until he realized that the accounts told him by his patients were not true occurrences.

            Oedipus and Electra Complex. After Freud gave up on hypnosis he stumbled across what he called the Oedipus and Electra complexes. The Oedipus Complex is a label that describes the attraction between a male child and his mother. The Electra Complex labeled the attraction between a female child and her father. The essence of these discoveries was the sexual attraction to the opposite sex and the hostility toward the same sex. He maintained that the Oedipus Complex was much more common than the Electra Complex.

            Phase 2: Free Assessment. Later, Freud moved from hypnotism to what is called Free Assessment. Free Assessment allows the patient to interact and comment freely on certain phrases or words introduced in the session by the interviewer. This resulted in Freud’s definition of the human personality, his “doctrine of man”. Freud defined the human personality as consisting of three parts, the id, the ego, and the superego.

            Id. The id was defined as the unrelated collections of thoughts, contradictions, desires, and impressions collected in the unconsciousness of a person. The id provided the data reservoir for what a person may become.

            Ego. The ego was defined as the personality, that which shows itself to the world. It is the aspect of human personality through which the id communicates with the world around it.

            Superego. The superego is defined as that entity of human personality that stands as judge over the concepts of the id and the activities of the ego. It stands as the moral standard for determining whether an action is right or wrong. Freud taught that the superego was developed under the auspices of the Oedipus Complex, mimicking either the father or the mother, and forming hostility toward the other. Thus, Freud was successful at giving the world a “doctrine of man”. A doctrine of man that has affected the thinking of millions of people. His system of the id, ego, and superego is a tripartite man, just as the man of Christianity, but wholly different. The man of Christianity is body, spirit, and soul (Gen. 2:7) and in essence the soul is intellect, will, and emotion created in the image of God.

            Libido. Libido, was for Freud, the sexual drive. This sexual drive was the prime mover of all reality. Libido was the sine qua non, the bottom line of reality. Everything could be traced back to one’s libido. Libido could be both personal and corporate as many nations would discover later. Everything could be traced back to one’s libido. One’s submission to or inhibition of the libido would either liberate or stunt one’s growth. It was taught that any and every sexual act was not only possible, but moral. Men should act as their animal ancestors, having sex in public or in sadistic or masochistic ways. Libido, to Freud, was the primary motivator behind any and every action.  In all this, Freud developed a new revelation, psychoanalysis, and a new salvation, psychotherapy. Dr. Breese comments on how Freud rules the world from the grave;

Freud drew the picture of man as consisting of id, ego, and superego, pressed by libido and influenced by the life instinct and the death instinct. Freud, in his concept of the id, would cause us to believe that the id is the essential component of man and that it exists in an autonomous fashion. Perhaps the most critical influence Freud has upon society lies in his invention of a new determinism by which man does what he does and becomes what he becomes. Freud is interpreted as believing that libido is the prime mover, the reason that everything exists. One succeeds or fails because of his cooperation with or opposition to the forces of libido that course within his life.[1]



[1] Dave Breese, Seven Men Who Rule the World From the Grave, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1990), pp. 139-142.