Freud’s Legacy

The process of how human personality is formed has baffled, interested, and drove many scientists into examining humans closely, each of them choosing to focus on either the external or internal factors, in their hopes of formulating a theory of their own. Indeed, the study of how the complicated human being with its complicated thoughts and behavior gradually took shape has caught the fancy of many people, not just scientists. In man’s strong desire to understand their own specie and even their very own selves, the study of human personality formation interested many, its theories well-known, its study encompassing several social sciences.

One of the most famous, albeit controversial theories of personality development of the day is the psychoanalytic theory, proposed by the equally famous and controversial Viennese physician, Sigmund Freud. This theory has sprung followers and critics alike with its controversial yet well-argued observations that aim not only to explain human traits but weed out the causes and motives of these traits (Coon, 2005). Say for example a certain human is observed to be messy and tends to be a delinquent. Psychoanalysts will not simply content themselves in examining how messy and delinquent the person is, or the person’s degree of the trait.

Instead, the psychoanalytic theory endeavors to explain why the person acts as such—the mental processes that goes on in that person’s mind, and the experiences (more focus on childhood experiences) that may have possibly caused such behavior. Sigmund Freud, then practicing medical psychopathology (www. freudfile. org), saw that some of his patients’ ‘problems’ were more of an emotional, rather than that of a physical nature (Coon, 2005). This led him to his more than three decades of studying, formulating and finally polishing his would-be legacy, the psychoanalytic theory.

Under this theory, Freud argued that the personality of a human is made up of three players, all mental processes that compete for greater power over human actions. These players are the: id, superego, and ego. In a nutshell, two of these three players, specifically the id and superego, are two contrasting mental processes, the former focusing on immediate gratification of needs and wants, while the latter focusing on the moral side of every situation—a sort of inhibitor chip that clashes directly with the selfish id.

The ego, then serves as a mediator for the two conflicting players, bowing occasionally (and in its own pace) to the power of whichever of the id or superego holds the more power over the individual. To further explain these concepts without having to resort to repetitions of technical definitions easily to be found in reading materials on this matter, an example will be made use of. For instance, a certain person A sees person B eating away a delicious-looking cake (which of course, person A does not have but wants to have).

The id, seeking for instant gratification and acting on the pleasure principle, will ‘whisper’ to person A to immediately grab the cake of B and eat it right then and there, unmindful of the rudeness of the act. However superego will clash with id, which will whisper also to person A words along this meaning: “You don’t have a right to the cake, it’s not yours—don’t take it, it would be rude to person B”.

Ironically, the clashing of the id and superego could be succinctly compared to those cartoon shows showing both mini-angel and mini-devil perched on the shoulder of a person, whispering opposing advices that often confuses the person much. Luckily, the ego comes to the rescue, the one guided by the reality principle that regulates the whole matter and basically formulates a plan for person A to have a taste of the cake, and shall say to A: “you can just buy one or ask person B for some, you know! ”.

This is commonly depicted as the light bulb that lights up after the skirmish of the little angel and devil on the cartoon character’s shoulder. Among these three processes, it is only that of id which is submerged into the bowels of unconscious thought; the superego and ego, only partly submerged but is also recognized in conscious thought. However, the psychoanalytic theory does not stop with the identification of the structures of personality; Freud also expounded on the dynamics of personality development.

Under this area is Freud’s theory hounded with controversy due to his focus on the shaping of the humans personality core through psychosexual changes (Coon, 2005). Freud argued that erotic childhood urges—their fulfillment or denial—makes lasting imprints on the person the child grows up to be. He believed that human traits can be traced to “emotional hang-ups caused by overindulgence or frustration” (Coon, 2005): the very famous term, fixation, on one or more of Freud’s enumerated stages—the oral, anal, phallic, and genital stages.

People fixated on the oral stage believed to be gullible and attention-seekers that are observed to be gum-chewers or smokers due to lack of or overstimulation of the mouth, which is the erogenous zone for this stage (www. freudfile. org); they also tend to be oral-aggressive, who thrives on using bad language in their speech. Those fixated on the anal stage could either be anal-retentive characterized by compulsive cleanliness or stinginess, or anal-expulsive typified by being disorderly or cruel. Fixation on this stage often occurs due to complications in their toilet training during childhood, their anus being their erogenous zone (www.

freudfile. org). Fixation on the phallic stage usually develop between 3 to 6 years old when the attraction of the child to the parent of the opposite sex and the feeling of rivalry towards the other parent—named Oedipus or Electra complex in the boy and girl child respectively—typically arise. Unless fixated, the feelings of rivalry and anxiety gradually ease up through the years. A short reprieve after the first six tumultuous years of the child is present, and Freud calls this Latency (this is not a stage though).

The advent of puberty marks the sudden awakening of the person’s sexual energies; this is the genital stage. The genitals being the erogenous zones, this stage is marked by the capacity of handling social-sexual relationship—a stage that ends with the realization of full adult sexuality (Coon, 2005). The psychoanalytic theory garnered several followers, the most famous of which is Carl Jung who sought to extend Freud’s findings with his very own studies. However, there are several parts in the theory that many criticize and some even reject on the basis of validity and soundness.

However, what is considered to be the biggest flaw in the theory is its virtual impossibility to be scientifically tested. But whatever criticisms people lay to Freud’s theory, it did not stop its meteoric rise to fame. It is now commonly used to explain the behavior of a person, may it be in the movies or real life; childhood experiences are no longer deemed irrelevant but now has been eyed with great importance in shaping a person, so much so that materials on how to properly raise children are now gaining fame throughout the world.

Indeed Sigmund Freud had hit his legacy meter in his formulation of the psychoanalytic theory. And as long as its arguments and explanations find strong support in its ability to predict well the behavior of an adult person with a certain type of childhood life, then my guess is that it will continue to shape the image of psychology, sociology, and other related social sciences in the years to come.


AROPA. (2008 April 20). Sigmund Freud—life and work. Retrieved April 22, 2008, from http:// www. freudfile. org/. Coon, D. (2005). Psychology: a modular approach to mind and behavior, 10th ed. Thomas Wadsworth.

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