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Freud At Work _ Part 1

When I first started reading about Freud’s work, there was a lot of resistance in me to accept some parts of his theory. I found a lot of people like me, who had difficulty accepting his concepts, particularly around the root cause of human condition. Having read a lot about his work and having keenly observed all the things around, I realized that unknowingly we put a lot of his concepts to work. Today my views on his work stands completely changed. Resistance has given way to willful acceptance and at places to curious enquiry.

Freud_1I am keen to go to the depth of this change of opinion. And as Freud says, there’s no random behavior. Hence this reaction in me is not random and it has to have some links somewhere. All human behavior is related to something or the other but sometimes those links are missing hence the behavior appears disconnected. According to Freud those links are missing in the consciousness (something that is readily available and that we are aware of) because they are not allowed to be a part of the conscious. Those links exist in the unconscious and when those links are established, the discontinuity in the mental process or behavior can be explained. He developed a method that he called free association by which patients are supposed to go on talking about anything that comes to their mind and invariably in doing so, those unconscious links are established. No material is erased, forgotten from the unconscious and when uncovered it comes back with its full emotional force. The change in my view is linked to the change in my life stage. I see a significant decline in my overall rebellion, making way for patience, empathy and understanding.

One of Freud’s controversial discoveries was that `body is the sole source of all mental energy’. He went on to believe that in the time to come, all the mental activity could be explained with direct reference to the brain physiology. Many people show resistance to accept this thought for reasons best known to them but in my reading and observations, I found great meaning in the following;


He defined impulses as pressures/ drives that force action without a conscious thought towards a particular end. Impulses are a part of unconscious. These impulses are the ultimate cause of all activity. All human activity is aimed at gratification/ tension-reduction. Impulses are the sources/ channels through which the energy flows. Hence behind all activity there is energy of which body is the single source. Physical aspects of impulses are called needs and mental aspects of impulses are called wishes. This understanding really helps us clarify and distinguish. Both can be used differently in human activity.

Impulses have four components as follows;

  • Entire body where all the needs and wishes arise is typically the source
  • Reduce the tension, wish/ need is the aim
  • Energy used to gratify is impetus. More the need higher the impetus.
  • Things used, action taken for gratification is the object

Simply put body is the means to reduce tension by gratification. Don’t we use 2nd and 3rd components in achievement motivation?

Freud explains activity using a four way process of Tension – Activity – Gratification – Relaxation cycle.


Typically energy that flows through impulses is of two types; life supporting and destructive. Life supporting energy is called libido. It is very light and highly mobile, always moving from one object to another. Cathexis is a process by which this energy is blocked in a particular activity.

Catharsis on the other hand is a process by which this energy is unblocked. We have seen many times in behavioral sciences or in coaching participants experience cathartic experience and feel very free after that. Cathartic processes are however very painful. There could also be physiological symptoms to it. Some people who have trapped some secrets in them, have got loose motions, some vomited, some have even gotten fever if they had a lot of anger trapped. However, once done I have often seen their faces glow, in some cases their voice becomes clear, people smile a lot, say things more freely etc. I have used this concept many times in my practice with great results. It pays to find the `cathectic points’ and release them systematically.

Freud’s concept of the structure of personality is very famous. The reason he got around defining this structure was because he was intrigued by the fact that different people have different ways of coping with the same stimuli, there responses are different from one another. According to him there are three components of personality namely; id, ego, superego.

In lay man’s terms, Id is nothing but the animal in us. It is totally unconscious, made of primitive thoughts, suppressed thoughts/ feelings. It is completely cut off from the external world. It’s only purpose of existence is to enhance pleasure, reduce anxiety by ensuring gratification. One process by which id attempts to reduce tension is by hallucination of the object that will remove the tension. Dreams, according to Freud, represent wish fulfillment, the objects and events we make up in our dreams represent attempts to fulfill some impulse of id.

Analogy often given to id is an all powerful, high energy king with animal instinct who is blinded by those, who needs trusted counselors to control.

Ego develops out of id. It is in touch with the external world and the reality. It has the task for self preservation, ensuring health, safety and well-being. Id gets into the process of gratification by imagining, hallucination whereas ego takes the reality into consideration and either postpones gratification, moderates it or completely suppressing it.

Super-ego comprises of moral codes, rule book, values, conscience as internalized by a child in his process of growing up. Superego develops out of parental rewards and punishment.  Super ego judges whether an action is right or wrong according to the standards of society. Main functions of Superego are to inhibit the socially unacceptable impulses of id, to persuade ego to substitute moralistic goals for realistic ones and to strive for perfection.

Personality Development:

Freud believed that the core personality developed during certain fixed stages and ages of growing up and individual differences in adult personality may have arisen out of their difference in coping with the conflicts that may have arisen during the psychosexual development. Problems encountered at any stage, either of deprivation or over-indulgence, produces fixation at that stage. When fixated, libido is cathacted. As an infant becomes child and child becomes adolescent and adolescent becomes adult there’s constant change in what is demanded and how it is satisfied. Shifting modes and physical areas of gratification were the basic elements in Freudian theory. There are the following stages in development;

Oral stage

Anal stage

Phallic stage

Latency period

Genital stage

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