Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

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“Freud was the first person to be able to lift his own defenses, overcome his resistances, and interpret his unconscious,” said M.D. Harold P. Blum, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Psychoanalytic Institute of New York.

Sigmund Freud is the grandfather of psychoanalysis. The main way Freud’s contributions impact everyday people is that psychology and psychiatry, fields he is largely responsible for initiating through his therapeutic methods, help make up a paradigm through which we view the state of our mind and our place in the world.

He conceived of the self as a three-part structure consisting of the ego, the super ego, and the id. Base needs, fears and instincts originate from the id, (often existing within the sub-conscious mind). The super ego acts as its foil: the authoritarian voice, conditioned by society, which makes moral distinctions. The ego is the negotiating element, that part of the self that determines which part leads the way in a given situation. A man of pure id would act upon urges, instinctually, perhaps like a wild animal does. An over developed super ego could manifest itself as a man with a God-complex, one who does not separate his own moral compass from the complex moral universe we all live in.

Such a model gave western civilization a new vocabulary, a new means for discussing problems of the self as it relates to the world. Conflicts in our inner world began to be seen as an essential part of our social existence. How effectively we manage our inner world has a crucial impact on how we do in the outer world. Interplay between the two became recognized as important.

Though some of Freud’s more creative ideas like free association, the interpretation of dreams, and sex as the sole motivator for behaviour, have fallen by the wayside. Freud is the grandfather of a whole branch of the mental health field that continues to evaluate and treat patients in a one on one setting through various forms of talk therapy. For example, psychiatry, psychology and sociology still rely on structural models to address conflicts of the mind and of relationships that science still cannot fully explain.

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