Concept of Humanity

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In Chapter 1, we outlined several dimensions for a concept of humanity. Where does Freud's theory fall on these various dimensions?

The first of these is determinism versus free choice. On this dimension Freud's views on the nature of human nature would easily fall toward determinism. Freud believed that most of our behavior is determined by past events rather than molded by present goals. Humans have little control over their present actions because many of their behaviors are rooted in unconscious strivings that lie beyond present awareness. Although people usually believe that they are in control of their own lives, Freud insisted that such beliefs are illusions.

Adult personality is largely determined by childhood experiences—especially the Oedipus complex—that have left their residue in the unconscious mind. Freud (1917/1955a) held that humanity in its history has suffered three great blows to its narcissistic ego. The first was the rediscovery by Copernicus that the earth is not the center of the universe; the second was Darwin's discovery that humans are

62 Part II Psychodynamic Theories quite similar to other animals; the third, and most damaging blow of all was Freud's own discovery that we are not in control of our own actions or, as he stated it, "the ego is not master in its own house" (p. 143).

A second and related issue is pessimism versus optimism. According to Freud, we come into the world in a basic state of conflict, with life and death forces operating on us from opposing sides. The innate death wish drives us incessantly toward self-destruction or aggression, while the sexual drive causes us to seek blindly after pleasure. The ego experiences a more or less permanent state of conflict, attempting to balance the contradictory demands of the id and superego while at the same time making concessions to the external world. Underneath a thin veneer of civilization, we are savage beasts with a natural tendency to exploit others for sexual and destructive satisfaction. Antisocial behavior lies just underneath the surface of even the most peaceful person, Freud believed. Worse yet, we are not ordinarily aware of the reasons for our behavior nor are we conscious of the hatred we feel for our friends, family, and lovers. For these reasons, psychoanalytic theory is essentially pessimistic.

A third approach for viewing humanity is the dimension of causality versus teleology. Freud believed that present behavior is mostly shaped by past causes rather than by people's goals for the future. People do not move toward a self-determined goal; instead, they are helplessly caught in the struggle between Eros and Thanatos. These two powerful drives force people to compulsively repeat primitive patterns of behavior. As adults, their behavior is one long series of reactions. People constantly attempt to reduce tension; to relieve anxieties; to repress unpleasant experiences; to regress to earlier, more secure stages of development; and to compulsively repeat behaviors that are familiar and safe. Therefore, we rate Freud's theory very high on causality.

On the dimension of conscious versus unconscious, psychoanalytic theory obviously leans heavily in the direction of unconscious motivation. Freud believed that everything from slips of the tongue to religious experiences is the result of a deep-rooted desire to satisfy sexual or aggressive drives. These motives make us slaves to our unconscious. Although we are aware of our actions, Freud believed that the motivations underlying those actions are deeply embedded in our unconscious and are frequently quite different from what we believe them to be.

A fifth dimension is social versus biological influences. As a physician, Freud's medical training disposed him to see human personality from a biological viewpoint. Yet Freud (1913/1953, 1985) frequently speculated about the consequences of prehistoric social units and about the consequences of an individual's early social experiences. Because Freud believed that many infantile fantasies and anxieties are rooted in biology, we rate him low on social influences.

Sixth is the issue of uniqueness versus similarities. On this dimension, psychoanalytic theory takes a middle position. Humanity's evolutionary past gives rise to a great many similarities among people. Nevertheless, individual experiences, especially those of early childhood, shape people in a somewhat unique manner and account for many of the differences among personalities.

Chapter 2 Freud: Psychoanalysis 63

Key Terms and Concepts

• Freud identified three levels of mental life—unconscious, preconscious, and conscious.

• Early childhood experiences that create high levels of anxiety are repressed into the unconscious, where they may influence behavior, emotions, and attitudes for years.

• Events that are not associated with anxiety but are merely forgotten make up the contents of the preconscious.

• Conscious images are those in awareness at any given time.

• Freud recognized three provinces of the mind—id, ego, and superego.

• The id is unconscious, chaotic, out of contact with reality, and in service of the pleasure principle.

• The ego is the executive of personality, in contact with the real world, and in service of the reality principle.

• The superego serves the moral and idealistic principles and begins to form after the Oedipus complex is resolved.

• All motivation can be traced to sexual and aggressive drives. Childhood behaviors related to sex and aggression are often punished, which leads to either repression or anxiety.

• To protect itself against anxiety, the ego initiates various defense mechanisms, the most basic of which is repression.

• Freud outlined three major stages of development—infancy, latency, and a genital period, but he devoted most attention to the infantile stage.

• The infantile stage is divided into three substages—oral, anal, and phallic, the last of which is accompanied by the Oedipus complex.

• During the simple Oedipal stage, a child desires sexual union with one parent while harboring hostility for the other.

• Freud believed that dreams and Freudian slips are disguised means of expressing unconscious impulses.

Feist-Feist: Theories of Personality, Sixth Edition

II. Psychodynamic Theories

3. Adler: Individual Psychology


Adler: Individual Psychology

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