Being a student of psychology for 4 years now, I will definitely know something about “Psychoanalysis.” Literary theory is basically a huge area which shares its field with a lot of other theories making psychoanalytical theory our focus in this paper.
Psychoanalysis is a form of therapy which aims to cure mental disorders by investigating the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the mind. This method was given by a pioneer in the field of Psychology – Sigmund Freud. He believed that it was the conflict between internal forces leads to disorders and hence psychoanalysis can be used to bring out this repressed memory, thoughts and beliefs out in an individual’s conscious. Although this method is flawed and has been subjected to lot of criticisms, it still is beneficial.
At first Freud divided the mind into conscious and unconscious. He points out the importance of unconscious in our lives.
However, later on, he focused on ‘structures of personality’ – id, ego and super ego. Id here is impulsive and works on pleasure. Ego is more practical and works on reality while super ego has a moral, authoritative touch to it.
Freud gives a list of ego defense mechanism which helps an individual to cope with a stressful event or to cope with anxiety inducing events. I will be talking about a few of them here:
- Sublimation – the repressed material is promoted into something grander or is disguised as something noble. For example, a person who has a lot of sexual urges will show this energy in the form of intense religious practice.
- Projection – the method where an individual projects his/her attributes in others. For example, a person who is short-tempered will look at other people as short-tempered.
- Displacement – one person or event is represented by another which is in some way linked or associated with it, perhaps because of similar sounding words or by some form of symbolic substitution.
- Condensation – where a number of events, thoughts, situations are expressed in a single image in one’s dreams.
The purpose of devices like condensation and displacement is two-fold. Firstly, they disguise the repressed feelings, fears and desires contained in the dream so that they can get past the censor which prevents their surfacing in the conscious mind. Secondly, these repressed memories are presented in the form of an image or symbols and metaphors which can be represented in a dream.
Next comes the psycho-sexual stages given by Freud which is Oral stage, anal stage, phallic stage, Genital stage and Latency stage. According to him, each child goes through it. The trouble occurs when an individual gets ‘fixated’ to one of the stages and does not resolute the problem or goes through ‘regression’ where an individual goes back to a previous stage.
Peter Barry focuses on the first three stages. He mentions about Oedipus complex which occurs during Phallic stage, where a male child has feeling of love towards his mother while hostility and fear of castration towards his father. As the child grows up, there is a resolution of problem and the child looks up to his father as a role model. The same thing happens in girls called Electra complex, where they symbolically marry their fathers and have feeling of hostility towards mother but as they grow up, there is a resolution of this problem.
Freud’s theory focuses on sex and aggression, stating that, when these feelings are suppressed, it will affect us in a negative way. This is where the idea of ‘libido’ – energy drive associated with sexual desire comes into the picture. The libido in the individual is a part of a more generalized drive called ‘Eros’ which means life instinct, while the opposite of this is ‘Thanatos’ which means the death instinct.
Freud followed two process for his therapy – Dream interpretation and Free association.
Free association is a method where the individual is allowed to talk about anything and everything without any interruptions by the therapist. In this process, the individual will soon start giving hints that indicate the problems in his life or will just talk about it. However, the patient under analysis also redirects his emotion towards the therapist. For example, if the patient has negative feelings towards his father, then he will project this behavior towards the therapist as the patient as associated the therapist as a father figure. This process is called transference.
Dream interpretation is another important method where the individual is allowed to talk about their dreams without any interruptions. According to Freud, dreams are very important as they are an image or symbols of the unconscious mind. Thus any dream that we have, actually has a very deep meaning to it symbolizing our unconscious mind. He believed that “dreams are an escape-hatch or safety-valve though which repressed desires, fears or memories seek an outlet into the conscious mind.” So one dream can have many interpretations.
Peter Barry goes on to explain this theory using Freud’s book “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.” This book is about “forgetting, slip of tongue, bungled actions, superstitions and errors.” It says that whenever we have a desire or wish or thoughts that are unacceptable, we try to eliminate it from our unconscious mind but it ends up going into the unconscious mind and slowly succeeds to slip out in the conscious mind.
He focuses on the act of forgetting which is considered as a way to prevent the unacceptable thoughts from coming into the conscious part of the mind. Secondly, slip of tongue which has been given the name “Freudian slip” also shows a part of one’s unconscious brain.
Hence, one can see how Freud has given importance to internal forces and the conflict between them. His main focus is on conscious and unconscious part of the brain and on the structures of personality (id, ego and super ego) and on his two methods which is dream interpretation and free association.