Sigmund Freud: biography and work of the famous psychoanalyst

Sigmund Freud he is perhaps the most famous, controversial, and most charismatic thinker in 20th century psychology.

His theories and work have left an important imprint on how explanations of childhood development, personality, memory, sexuality or therapy have been given for decades. Many psychologists have been influenced by his work, while others have developed his ideas in opposition to him.

Today, scientific psychology is developing outside the ideas of Sigmund Freud. However, this does not detract from the historical value of this researcher. Below we will review his life and work. a biography of Sigmund Freud, In which we will know his vital and intellectual trajectory.

    Brief biography of Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis

    Freud is the father of psychoanalysis, a method of treating mental illness. Freudian psychoanalysis is a theory that attempts to explain human behavior and is based on the analysis of unconscious sexual conflicts that have their origin in childhood.

    This theory maintains that instinctual impulses repressed by consciousness remain in the unconscious and affect the subject. The unconscious is not observable by the patient: the psychoanalyst is the one who must make these unconscious conflicts accessible through the interpretation of dreams, failed acts and free association.

    The concept of “free association” is a technique that seeks to the patient to express, during therapy sessions, all of his ideas, emotions, thoughts and images as presented, without restrictions or regulations. After this opening, the psychoanalyst must determine which factors, within these manifestations, reflect an unconscious conflict.

    Early childhood and university education

    Sigmund Freud was born in Freiberg, Austrian Empire, in 1856, In a Ukrainian family of Jewish origin and in a modest economic situation.

    Arrived in 1860, his family moved to Vienna and settled in this city for the following years. At the age of 17, the young Freud entered the University of Vienna to study medicine and graduated shortly thereafter. Then, around 1877, specialized in the study of the nervous system in fish, An area in which he excelled as a researcher.

    Then, in 1882, he started working as a doctor at the Vienna General Hospital. In 1886 he married Martha Bernays and began to practice privately, specializing in disorders related to disorders of the nervous system. However, he soon became interested in the purely psychological. Around 1889 he began to develop psychoanalytic theory.

    Sigmund Freud’s relationship with Charcot and Breuer: origin of psychoanalysis

    To understand his theory, you have to know that it all started in Paris, where Sigmund Freud was thanks to a scholarship. There he spent a lot of time in the group of Jean-Martin Charcot, A famous neurologist studying the phenomenon of hypnosis, and thus begins his interest in the suggestion and study of hysteria. After the scholarship, Freud returned to Vienna and shared Charcot’s theories with other doctors, but all rejected him except Josef breuer, One of his friends.

    Outraged, Breuer played a very important role in Sigmund Freud’s life as a father figure, Advise on the different aspects of the race they shared, support him financially to establish his private doctor’s office, create the cathartic method and write with him the inaugural work of the history of psychoanalysis.

    The famous case of Anna O.

    The case of Anna O. (her real name was Bertha Pappenheim) marked a before and an after in the career of a young Freud. Anna O. was Breuer’s hysterical patient, but they both took care of her problem. The patient was a young woman who fell ill in the fall of 1880. At the age of 21, her father fell unexpectedly ill and was forced to take care of him. It was so much the attention she paid to her father that the great carelessness she gave herself led her to anemia and weakness. But these problems; who soon laid her in bed, were followed by even more alarming ailments: paralysis, severe speech disorders and other symptoms that appeared after the death of her father, and for which she was diagnosed as hysterical.

    Breuer’s treatment was aimed at inducing the patient into a hypnotic state and persuading her to remember the circumstances before the first onset of each of the symptoms experienced. On coming out of the hypnotic trance, these hysterical symptoms disappeared one by one. The doctor performed this treatment twice a day, and Anna O. used to call it “word care”. Breuer baptized it as a cathartic method. In Anna O.’s case, it was concluded that she had been sexually abused as a child by a family member, and although therapy seemed to be working, a sexual transfer between patient and doctor emerged. Then there were problems with the patient’s false pregnancy, in love with her therapist, and Breuer left whipped by his wife’s jealousy.

    Breuer and hysteria

    Breuer concluded that the patients who exhibited symptoms of hysteria did not have any physical ailments but, in reality, their symptoms were the result of the continuing action of some traumatic experiences of the past and that they had been suppressed., Although not forgotten, and more so, that by releasing these repressed thoughts, by externalizing them and by consciously accepting them, the symptoms disappeared.

    At first, Breuer did not make his findings public, but shared them with Freud. The latter used this method, but put aside hypnosis and instead established the procedure of “free association”.

    Later, the relationship between Breuer and Freud began to wane due to various discussions in the field of what was scientific. Breuer clung to a classical scientific conception which did not accept the total separation between physiology and psychology., While Freud advocated the creation of a whole new theoretical system for psychology and absolute independence from any other branch of medicine.

    On the other hand, Breuer designed the cathartic method with hypnosis, but without the adoption of “free association” or other modifications and extensions suggested by Sigmund Freud. The friendship ended up breaking definitively the year of a joint publication.

    The unconscious

    Sigmund Freud developed a topographical map of the mind in which he described the characteristics of the structure and functioning of the mind. In this model, the conscious mind is only the tip of the iceberg. In the unconscious lie many of our primitive impulses and desires which have arisen through the preconsciousness.

    Freud developed the theory that certain events and desires caused so much fear and pain in his patients, that they remained hidden in the dark subconscious, Affect behavior negatively. This was due to the process he called “repression”.

    In his theory, he attaches great importance to the unconscious, because the goal of psychoanalysis is to make conscious what disturbs the unconscious.

    However, there was still a lack of knowledge about the mechanisms by which unconscious psychological processes take place. As we will see, it did not take long to develop a series of concepts created to understand how, hypothetically, the unconscious dominates the conscious.

    Psychic instances

    Later, Freud developed a model of the mind which was composed of THIS, SELF and SUPER-SELF, and called it “the psychic apparatus”. both the THIS, el JO I SUPER-JO they are not physical areas, but hypothetical conceptualizations of important mental functions.

    • the THIS it operates at the unconscious level. respond to principle of pleasure and consists of two types of instincts or biological impulses to which he called Eros and Thanatos. Eros, or life instinct, helps people survive; directs vital activities such as breathing, eating or having sex. The energy created by the impulses of life is known as libido. In contrast, Thanatos or death instinct are a series of destructive forces present in all living things. When energy is directed towards others, it is expressed through aggression and violence. Freud believed that Eros had more power than Thanatos and that it was easier for people to survive than to destroy themselves.

    • the JO (Or the ego) develops during childhood. Its objective is to meet CE requirements within the framework of social acceptance. Unlike THAT, the SELF follows the principle of reality and operates in the conscious and subconscious.

    • the SUPER-JO (Or the superego) is responsible for ensuring that moral standards are met, so that it acts with the principle of morality and motivates us to act with socially acceptable and responsible behavior. SUPER-I can make a person feel guilty for not following the rules. When there is a conflict between the goals of THIS and the SUPER-SELF, SELF acts as a mediator. The OJ has defense mechanisms to avoid the anxiety of these conflicts. These levels or instances overlap, that is, fit together and so the human psyche functions. It is a process that continues from the moment a person is born.

    When one is born it is ALL THAT, his needs for food, hygiene, sleep and contact must be met immediately, because he does not have the capacity to wait, that is to say that he is governed by a principle of pleasure, he is impatient. Little by little he learns to wait, he perceives that someone is encouraging you, he distinguishes the situations, it is the moment when the OJ arises and as he grows, he continues his learning.

    Between these learnings, he distinguishes that there are things that he cannot do and others that he can, it is then that the SUPER-I begins to be formed. A child directs his or her behavior as dictated by the adults who have awarded him or her rewards or punishments based on whether he or she responds to the rules or instructions they give.

    Defense mechanisms

    Freud tells us about defense mechanisms, such as the techniques of the unconscious, responsible for minimizing the consequences of too intense events. In this way, thanks to these mechanisms, the individual is able to function normally. It is a response from the JO, which defends itself both from the excessive pressure of CECI, when it demands the satisfaction of impulses, and from the excessive control of the SUPER-JO; thanks to them, the OJ is also protected from the presence of past traumatic experiences.

    Defense mechanisms are incorrect means of resolving psychological conflicts and can lead to disturbances of the mind, behavior and, in the most extreme cases, the somatization of psychological conflict and the physical dysfunctions that express it. Here are some of the defense mechanisms:


    It refers to the redirecting of an impulse (usually aggression) towards a person or object. For example, someone who gets frustrated with their head and kicks their dog.


    It’s similar to displacement, but the momentum is channeled into a more acceptable form. A sexual drive is sublimated towards a non-sexual goal, pointing to socially valued objects, such as artistic activity, physical activity, or intellectual research.


    This is the mechanism that Freud first discovered. It refers to the OJ erasing events and thoughts that would be painful if kept at the consent level.


    It refers to individuals who attribute their own thoughts, motivations, or feelings to another person. The most common projections can be aggressive behaviors that cause feelings of guilt and sexual fantasies or thoughts.


    It is the mechanism by which the subject prevents external events from becoming part of consciousness and treats the obvious aspects of reality as if they do not exist. For example, a smoker who refuses to smoke can cause serious health problems.

    • If you want to know more about this subject, you can consult the article “Defense mechanisms”

    The stages of Freud’s theory

    The time in which the author of the psychosexual theory lived, and in which the strong repression of sexual desires was usual, mainly in the female sex, Sigmund Freud understood that there was a connection between neurosis and sexual repression. Therefore, it was possible to understand the nature and variety of the disease by knowing the patient’s sexual history.

    Freud believed that children are born with a sexual desire that they must satisfy and that there are a number of stages in which the child seeks pleasure from different objects. This is what I bring to the most controversial part of his theory: the theory of psychosexual development.

    oral stage

    It begins at birth and continues for the first 18 months of life. This step emphasizes the pleasure in the mouth, it is the erogenous zone. The child sucks whatever he finds because he likes it and therefore he knows his surroundings. Therefore, at this stage, the child is already experiencing his sexuality. If the adult, for example, forbids him to suck his finger, his hand, etc. this hinders his ability to explore and explore his environment. Which can lead to future problems for the child.

    anal stage

    The anal developmental phase occurs between 18 months and three years old. At this stage, the preoccupation of the child and his parents revolves around the anus, it is the stage of the control of the sphincter. The sexual enjoyment of the child is in defecation. He feels that he is thus delivering, a production of his body, a part of himself and that is why it is so important to him.

    This is a very important step and it is essential that the control of the sphincter be done gradually, without pressure. Improper use of this step will have a negative impact on future behaviors.

    phallic stage

    The phallic phase of Sigmund Freud’s theory begins at the age of three and extends up to six years. At this stage, the genitals are the object of pleasure and there is interest in sex differences and genitals, so it is very important not to suppress and handle this stage well, as it may hamper the ability research, general knowledge and learning. Freud says that men begin to have sexual feelings towards their mother and see their father as competitors, so they fear being castrated, a process that results in the Oedipus complex. Later, children identify with their parents and suppress feelings towards their mother to leave this phase.

    Latency step

    Freud’s latency phase takes place between the age of six and the onset of puberty, it coincides with the school stage and for a long time it was mistakenly believed that sexuality was dormant, latent. What happens is that during this period the best interests of the child are focused on knowledge, learning and research. A good grip of the preceding stages, contributes very favorably to the academic success.

    genital stage

    This phase occurs during puberty, and again, the focus is on the genitals. People show curiosity about genital sex and it is essential that they find openness and availability in their parents and in the adult world to talk about sex and to clarify and answer their doubts.

    Dream analysis

    Freud considered that dreams were important in order to be able to explain what was happening in the unconscious, because while we are dreaming the defenses of the OJ are not present. Because of this, much of the repressed material becomes conscious, albeit in a distorted way. Recalling fragments of dreams can help uncover buried emotions and memories. Therefore, dreams play an important role in the subconscious and serve to give clues about the way it works.

    Sigmund Freud distinguishes between Manifest content (What we remember about sleep) i latent content, The symbolic meaning of sleep (what you are trying to say). The first is superficial and the second manifests itself through the language of dreams. The author of “Dream Interpretation Theory” mentions that all dreams represent the fulfillment of a wish by the dreamer, even nightmares. According to his theory, the “censorship” of dreams produces a distortion of their content. So what may appear to be a set of meaningless dream images, through analysis and its method of “deciphering”, really it may be a set of cohesive ideas.

    His legacy in Western thought

    Freudian ideas had a great impact, and his work gathered a large group of followers. Among them: Karl Abraham, Sandor Ferenczi, Alfred Adler, Carl Gustav Jung, Otto Rank and Ernest Jones. Some, like Adler and Jung, have strayed from Freud’s principles and created their own psychological conception.

    There is no doubt that psychoanalysis was revolutionary for psychology and served as the basis for the development of a large number of psychological theories and schools. In its early days, and even today, it was a doctrine that awakened great passions, for and against. Perhaps one of the main criticisms, it refers to the lack of objectivity in the observation and the difficulty of deriving specific testable hypotheses from this theory, but no matter how much they criticize it, in the development of psychology, there is a before and an after of this famous character.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Arlow, B. (1964), Psychoanalytic Concepts and Structural Theory. New York: International University Press.
    • Borch-Jacobsen, M. (1996). In memory of Anna O .: A century of mystification. London: Routledge.
    • Chapman, CN (2007). Freud, religion and anxiety. Morrisville.
    • Crews, F., et al. The wars of memory: the contested legacy of Freud. New York: The New York Book Review. pages 206 to 212.
    • Edmunson, M. (2007). The death of Sigmund Freud. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
    • Grünbaum, A. (1984). The foundations of psychoanalysis: a philosophical critique. University of California Press.
    • Jones, E. (1953). Sigmund Freud: Life and Work, vol. 1. London: Hogarth Press.
    • Neu, J. (2003). Guide to Freud. Mario Santana translation. Madrid: Akal Cambridge.
    • Webster, R. (2005). Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis. Oxford: The Orwell Press.

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