Freud’s psychoanalytic theory focused on the development and the dynamics of the personality. It challenged notions of human nature and human development by proposing that individuals are driven by motives and emotional conflicts of which they are unaware and are shaped by their earliest experiences (Sigelman & Rider, 2011). Personality is seen to develop through a series of stages.
This theory is that humans have basic biological urges that must be satisfied (Sigelman & Rider, 2011). He viewed children as a creature driven by instincts or inborn biological forces that motivate their behavior. These biological instincts, he believed, were the source of mental energy that fuels human behavior and that can be channeled in new directions throughout human development (Sigelman & Rider, 2011).
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Freud strongly believed in unconscious motivation which were the power of instincts and other inner forces to influence our behavior without us being aware (Sigelman & Rider, 2011). His theory emphasizes the nature side of the nature vs. nurture debate, that biological instincts guide human development (Sigelman & Rider, 2011). To this day, there is still a debate on nature vs. nurture. However, I believe that both sides of the debate influences our human behavior.
Drawing from this theory, children are driven by inborn motives and instincts rather than their environments. Freud maintained that inborn biological instincts drive behavior and that biological maturation guides all children through the five psychosexual stages (Sigelman & Rider, 2011). He strongly believed that the first five years of an individual’s life are the most crucial.
According to Freud, each individual has a fixed amount of psychic energy that can be used to satisfy instincts and allows them to grow psychologically (Sigelman & Rider, 2011). This energy is divided into three components of the personality: the id, the ego, and the superego (Sigelman & Rider, 2011). The id is considered to be impulsive, irrational, and the selfish part of the personality whose main mission is to satisfy their instincts (Sigelman & Rider, 2011).
The second component is the ego, which is the rational side of the individual that tries to find more realistic ways of gratifying the instincts (Sigelman & Rider, 2011). For example, a hungry toddler may be able to do more than cry when she is hungry. She may be able to hunt down mom or dad and get their attention or she even may be able to say what she wants (Sigelman & Rider, 2011).
The third part is the superego, the individual’s internalized moral standards (Sigelman & Rider, 2011). It develops from the ego as 3 to 6 year olds take the moral standards and values of their parents as their own. As this component emerges, children have a parental voice in their heads that keep from violating society’s rules and makes them feel guilty if they do (Sigelman & Rider, 2011).
When examining the major assumptions of this theory, it shows children are actively involved in shaping their characters due to the three main components of their personality. It provides a certain timeline that shows what stage they should be in and if they have successfully accomplished what they need to in order to move to the next stage. However, Freud also viewed nurture, early experiences within the family, as an important contributor to individual differences in adult personality (Sigelman & Rider, 2011).
When it comes to children presenting with disorders, Freud saw this as an individual’s supply of psychic energy being unevenly distributed among the id, the ego, and the superego (Sigelman & Rider, 2011). For example, a child diagnosed with conduct disorder who constantly lies and cheats to get their way may be seen to have a weak superego.
Freud’s theory reveals some strengths and some weaknesses. It is hard to pin down and test hypotheses that require studying unconscious motivations and the workings of the unseen components of personality. Freud himself offered little evidence to support his theory. When the theory itself had been tested, many of its specific ideas were not supported (Sigelman & Rider, 2011).
Some of his general insights have been seen to stand up well. When we understand how Freud revealed how the unconscious becomes conscious, we can better appreciate the extent to which this process covers greater territory than he initially proposed. He never failed to emphasize this importance (Knafo, 2009).
Many of Freud’s critics did not think that his theory was supported by any actual real evidence. While his theories had many advantages and opened up our minds about the unconscious, he also failed to incorporate the impact of environment, sociology, and the different types of culture that can be seen as factors. His main factor was that of human sexuality.
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Many parts of this theory are still relevant, but it is important remember they were devised during an era in which ethical standards were at a minimum. Freud strongly believed that individuals suffered from either an Oedipus complex, a boy who loves his mother fears that his father will retaliate by castrating him. Or the Electra complex, where a girl is said to desire her father and view her mother as a rival (Sigelman & Rider, 2011).
Boys and girls do identify with the same-sex parent because it helps them understand all the changes in their development they are going through. However, it seems highly unlikely that they identify with their same-sex parent due to a sexual attraction towards them. This part of his theory of child development never saw much support and was heavily criticized.
Freud’s theory of psychoanalytic theory highlights the idea that children are driven by inborn motives and instincts rather than being products of their environments. Their three main components of their personality help to establish their characters and their personality. In today’s society, a lot of Freud’s research has been highly discredited.
- Knafo, D. (2009). Freud’s memory erased. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 26(2), 171–190. https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.1037/a0015557
- Lothane, Z. (2006). Freud’s legacy–is it still with us? Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23(2), 285–301. https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.1037/0736-9722.214.171.1245
- Sigelman, C. K., & Rider, E. A. (2011). Life span human development(7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
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