Erich Fromm: Biography of the Father of Humanist Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is generally associated with a pessimistic view of the human being, according to which our behavior and our thoughts are driven by unconscious forces which we cannot control and which anchor us in our past.

This idea has to do with the psychoanalytic conception of Sigmund Freud, but it is not the only one.

Once psychoanalysis is installed in Europe, other proposals of this psychological current emerge, some of which underline our capacity to become free and to decide on our life trajectory. Erich Fromm’s humanist psychoanalysis is an example. Today in this biography we will explain who this important psychoanalyst was.

Who was Erich Fromm? This is his biography

Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt in 1900. He belonged to a family linked to Orthodox Judaism, which led him to begin his Talmudic studies during his youth, although he later preferred to train in both Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis and theoretical heritage. of Karl Marx, Which brought him closer to the ideas of socialism and a doctorate in sociology.

During the 1930s, when the Nazis took control of Germany, Erich Fromm moved to New York City, where he opened a psychoanalysis-based clinical practice and began teaching at Columbia University. From that moment on he popularized a psychoanalysis with strong influences from humanist philosophy, which emphasizes the ability of human beings to become more free and autonomous through personal development.

Humanist psychoanalysis

When psychology was born in the second half of the 19th century, the first efforts of this first generation of researchers were aimed at understanding the basic workings of mental processes. This involved asking questions about topics such as the origin of mental illness, the functioning of thresholds of consciousness or learning processes.

Until the consolidation of psychoanalysis in Europe, psychologists put aside questions related to how we approach our life trajectory, our past and our possible future affects us emotionally and in our decision-making.

Discover the importance of the unconscious

Psychoanalysis, in a way, had introduced a more metapsychological (or close to philosophy) approach to psychotherapeutic practice. However, the initial stream of thought from which he started strongly emphasized the power of the unconscious over the individual, on the one hand, and was very focused on explaining traumas and mental disorders, on the one hand. somewhere else.

Erich Fromm started from the approach of psychoanalysis to turn it towards a much more humanistic vision of the human being.. For Fromm, the human psyche could not explain simply by offering ideas on how we do it to conjugate our unconscious desires with the pressure of the environment and culture, but to understand it we must also know how we do it. made to find the meaning of life. , as the existentialists have proposed.

Life is not made to suffer.

Erich Fromm did not stray from the disease-centric perspective of other psychoanalysts because he believed that life could be lived apart from discomfort and suffering. The optimism of his humanistic view of things was not expressed through denial of pain, but through a very powerful idea: that we can make it bearable by giving it meaning. This idea, moreover, he shared with other humanist psychologists of the time such as Viktor Frankl.

Life, Fromm said, is inextricably linked with times of frustration, pain and discomfort, but we can decide how to make it affect us. The most important project of each one would be, according to this psychoanalyst, to make enter these moments of discomfort in the construction of ourselves, that is to say in the personal development.

Erich Fromm, on the capacity to love

Erich Fromm believes that the main source of human discomfort comes from friction between the individual and others.. This constant tension starts from an apparent contradiction: on the one hand, we want to be free in a world in which we live with many other agents, and on the other hand we want to form emotional ties with others, to be linked to them.

Expressed in its terms, you could say that a part of ourselves is made to be in union with others. However, by our very nature as beings with a different body than others, we see ourselves separated from the rest and, to some extent, isolated.

Erich Fromm believed that this conflict can be resolved by developing our ability to love. Loving others the same way and all those things that make us unique, with all their imperfections. These ambitious missions were, in fact, a single project, consisting in developing the love of life itself, and this was reflected in the famous book The Art of Loving, published in 1956.

Psychoanalysis to explore human potential

In short, Fromm devoted his work to examining the range of possibilities that the humanistic conception of life could bring not only to techniques for reducing suffering in specific situations of discomfort, but also to strategies to interrupt these episodes of suffering in a meaningful life project.

Their psychoanalytic proposals thus move away from the first psychoanalysis aimed at making people suffer as little as possible, and prefer to focus on the development of the full potential of people in a process that, in itself, we could call “happiness”. This is why, even today, reading the works of Erich Fromm is very popular to be considered inspirational and with a rich philosophical baggage.

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