#6 – Sigmund Freud: Who was he?

Most have heard the name Sigmund Freud, but who was he?

Freud was an Austrian neurologist who lived between 1856-1939.  He was the pioneer of psychoanalysis – that is, the process of analysing human behaviour and how it is affected by the subconscious mind.  Consequently, Freud is nicknamed the ‘father’ of mental health.

Freud’s observations and subsequent theories were ground-breaking.  Even today, his theory of psychic structure underpins modern analytical psychiatry, such as defence mechanisms.

Freud postulated that we all have 3 inherent psychic structures: the id, the ego and the superego.  The id describes our primitive instincts and drives, and can be thought of as our self-centred, egocentric self – “I want this, I want it now”.  It is present from birth and becomes supressed over time as the superego evolves from around age 5.

The superego, contrary to the id, is our ultimate moral compass.  It is that selfless voice in our head telling us what we should do, rather than what we want to do.  The superego is shaped by our experiences and conforms with what is socially acceptable, even if it results in personal deprivation.

Then comes the interesting one – the ego.  This is the arbitrator, trying to accommodate and negotiate the tensions between the id and the superego.  The ego weighs up the evidence and essentially decides whether the id or the superego will win in a situation.  So when you see that delicious cake (containing more than 5000 calories) and your first thought is to eat the whole thing immediately, your ego quickly steps in to rationalise with your primary instinct to find a happy medium.  (Perhaps you will have a small slice???)

Of course, there are a number of other pioneers who deserve mention when it comes to modern-day theories of development, psychoanalysis and neuropsychology.  Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget and Carl Jung are but a few of these individuals.  However, Freud’s ground-breaking theories paved the way for behavioural scientists to better understand the human mind and the relation to behaviour.


Links to previous blogs in this series:

#1 – Introduction to series
#2 – Why do dogs wag their tails?
#3 – The developing newborn: What is normal?
#4 – Does my child have autism?
#5 – Toddlers, tantrums (and training!)