Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sigmund Freud on Life

A friend in the Internet, a Zoology teacher in a College,asked me recently a brief on Freud.The gist of my reply on two emails is this blog.

Stimuli,both internal and external,impinge on the organism always.Stimuli creates tension.The goal of life is to mediate among these stimuli and maintain a relatively tension free state:this is the Principle of Constancy,very similar to the concept of homeostasis.Claude Bernard,a physiologist, applied homeostasis to 'milieu interior', whereas Freud referred to the whole of the organism including psychological and social processes.Freud calls this processes of tension free state as governed by Principle of Nirvana also.

There are two major set of stimuli to which mediating and warding off tension is not that easy thanks mainly to varieties of psychosocial factors and hence they remain within the system controlling and determining behavior. They act as Basic Urges,Psychological Instincts, the driving force of behaviour. They are Life and Death Instincts ( also known as Eros and Thanatos,Libido and Destrudo,Love and Hate Instincts ).

Personality of the individuals is formed to handle the above urges during the first five years of life consisting of three main components representing the three major realm of our existence : biological reality (consisting of body needs) named as ID, the physical/environmental reality, named as EGO and the sociocultural reality, named as SUPEREGO. The urges are tossed around among these domains. Id is a Latin word meaning literally 'that'very similar to the word 'tat' in Samskrit used in Upanishads.It refers to very basic,fundamental,all powerful and embracing reality. For Freud,it represents all that one inherits,the basic instincts and urges.It resides in the deepest core of the Unconscious.It always seeks immediate gratification and is governed by pleasure (relief from tension) principle.Whereas Ego is governed by reality principle and is for delayed gratification of the urges in the sense that although it is in the service of the Id only,it needs 'objects'in the actual environment to satisfy and hence beckons the Id to wait until such a time when it is available and feasible.Ego has no moral qualms.The Superego,the moral and sociocultural representation in us reckons not just availability out there but its long term consequences and the experiences of generations of people with those objects of satisfaction. Accordingly,often,the Superego may not allow (or forbid) the Id impulses the gratification.When such forbidding (repression) becomes too much the individual may break down.The whole scenario may be presented thus :

1. Ego > Id + Superego = Normal.Healthy person as he is able to exercise control on bodily urges as well as on moral cumpulsions.In other words, Ego being the master of the situation is able to manipulate the environment to satisfy the Id without hurting the Superego. This is the art of living!

2. Superego > Id + Ego = mild mental disorders,called Neuroses as basic urges are left unsatisfied because of over imposition of mores and morals.

3. Id > Ego + Superego = severe mental disorders,called Psychosis as urges are running riot without wherewithal with no rationality (weak Ego) working towards objective satisfaction of needs.

Id's crave for immediate gratification of needs , often at any cost and without any wait make it indulge in a activity called Primary Process governed fully by Pleasure Principle wherein the need gets an momentary hallucinatory wish fulfillment by daydreaming or through creative process such as writing fiction,poetry and painting.Whereas Ego follows Realty Principle governed by Secondary Process characterised by logic,reasoning and reality testing to get the needs gratified.

The interplay of the above dynamic forces may take place at any one of the three Levels of mental state : Conscious, Pre-Conscious and Unconscious. Conscious part in any individual at any given time is very little, only a "tip of the iceberg",quite a lot of it is hidden in the Unconscious as they are forbidden impulses by Superego/Ego.The domain of Pre-Conscious also consists of forbidden things but not so strongly,they may be recollected to Conscious with little effort.The Unconscious material can never be retrieved to conscious except by a special process such as Hypnosis or Psychoanalysis involving Free Association Technique,Dream Analysis,Behavior Interpretation and Catharsis.Psychoanalytical Therapy is all about these technique and processes.

The Unconscious forces (forbidden and unfulfilled wishes) represented mostly in Id can not wait for psychoanalysis or indulge in Primary Process alone. It must find its expression somehow and find some sort of fulfillment without hurting Reality (Ego) or society (Superego).Hence the Ego often employ different degree of deviant measures such as Repression,Denial,Suppression,Reaction Formation,Projection, Displacement, Insulation and Sublimation to defend itself from the onslaught of Unconscious forces - it is called Defense Mechanisms - wherein a 'temporary,momentary,hallucinatory wish fulfillment' takes place and wards off the accumulated tension for a while. When these mechanisms also fail or these mechanisms are exclusively depended upon without taking recourse to reality testing measures the mental disturbances set in.

Lastly, the most controversial and misunderstood aspect of Freud's thought is Psychosexual Stages.For Freud, sex (he used the term 'trieb' in German) meant all those relations where any two or more human beings come in close physical contact and as such it involves parent-child relationships and friends or those involved in sexual contacts.Freud also pointed out that body has several erogenous zones other than genitals such as lips,breasts, anal regions and urinary processes all of which gives pleasure when stimulated.Hence when the child sucks breast it is "sexual"(close physical contact). Psychosexual Stages of development involve five stages : 1. Oral Stage ( 0 - 1&1/2 years of age ), Anal Stage ( 1&1/2 - 3 years ), Phallic Stage ( 3 - 5 years ), Latency Stage ( 5 - 12 years ) and the Heterosexual Stage ( 12 - 15 years ). Fixation to any one of these stages before the year 12 during development poses serious problems for personality and mental health later on. Child is the father of the adult,the first five years - formative years - determines the whole of life.For instance, fixation at the oral stage make people dependant,anal-rigid, phallic-doubting and uncertain and latency-homosexual intents.

The famous Oedipus Complex occur around the age of three in the phallic stage.Male child stimulated on the body by opposite sex including the mother gets excited "sexually" and would 'dream' sexual relations with mother. The Complex was named after a Greek tragedy Play where King marries his own mother without of course being aware of it. Similarly, in the female sexual excitement by the touch of opposite sex is known as Electra Complex. Parents should handle them delicately by neither overindulging or under indulging but through moderation wean the child away from such desires to other useful pursuits.Both over protection and under protection would contribute to fixation and hamper the child development seriously.

Freud also has definite views on God ( Moses and Monotheism ), Religion ( Totem and taboo ), art and culture ( Leonardo DaVinci / Hamlet ); for Freud, they are essentially defense mechanisms,a momentary-hallucinatory-wish fulfillment, a futile attempts to ward off tensions.

People mistake Psychology as all Freud! Psychology as a discipline in the Universities was there much earlier to Freud. In fact Psychology did not accept Freud even after fifty years of his work and practice as it had all sort of unverified and unverifiable hypotheses. It is only in the 1950's psychology begin to experiment and was able to accept only some of his theory such as Unconscious,Personality Structure ( Id, Ego, Superego ), defense Mechanisms but never, even now, the Psychosexual Stages.


gel said...

hi. just want to ask you this. can can i overcome/control a rigid superego?

Prof.M.S.Thimmappa said...

Sorry for the delay,I did not open this till now!
Surely, you can relax the rigid superego.Have a positive mindset to your inner impulses,whatever it may be ,won't be harsh on it,everything inside is to be understood,faced,accepted,loved and perhaps with little adjustment it can be made to work ,that is the only real solace-these shall be the content of that mindset!

Thanks for contacting me.Feel free to do it again if you feel like,I will be opening it more regularly!