Sigmund Freud (Psychologist Biography) | Practical Psychology

Biography on sigmund freud

A 2002 empirical survey endorsed by the American Psychological Association (APA) ranked Freud as the third most eminent psychologist of the 20th century.

who is sigmund freud?

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founding father of psychoanalysis. he believed that childhood experiences can impact adult life and help shape our personality. Despite proposing a number of controversial theories throughout his career, Freud’s influence on the field of psychology is profound.

family background of sigmund freud

Sigmund (originally Sigismund) Freud was born on May 6, 1856 in the small Moravian town of Freiberg (now Pribor, Czech Republic). He was the eldest of eight children born to Jewish parents Jakob Freud and Amalia Nathansohn. Freud’s father worked as a wool merchant and had two adult children from a previous marriage. At the time of Freud’s birth, the family was relatively poor, living in a single rented room. Due to increasing financial difficulties, they left Freiberg in 1859, finally settling in Vienna when Freud was four years old.


Freud was taught to read and write by his mother and displayed superior intellectual ability from an early age. she loved literature and began reading shakespeare’s works when she was eight years old. he had a talent for languages ​​and learned to speak Latin, Greek, English and French as a child. he also taught himself Spanish and Italian.

Freud had a close and positive relationship with his mother and is said to have been her favorite child. he was given a room of his own so that he could concentrate on his studies, a privilege none of his other siblings received. his mother often served him food in his room.

early schooling

Freud’s first exposure to formal education came in 1865 when he entered a major secondary school at age nine, a year ahead of most of his peers. he was an excellent student and was constantly at the top of his class. he graduated with honors at age 17.

educational background

In 1873, Freud enrolled at the University of Vienna to study medicine. He completed his studies and received his medical degree in 1881. Between 1882 and 1885, Freud worked in various departments at the Vienna General Hospital, including the department of psychiatry. He was appointed privatdozent (professor) at the University of Vienna in 1885. That same year, he received a scholarship to study in Paris under neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, who trained him in the use of hypnosis to treat the condition. known as hysteria.

on his return to vienna, freud began his private practice, specializing in brain and nervous disorders. During the 1890s, he became dissatisfied with hypnosis as a method of treatment for hysteria and began to focus more on an approach that he had previously learned from the respected Viennese physician Josef Breuer. While Freud was still in medical school, Breuer began treating a young woman named Anna O as a pseudonym. for the symptoms of hysteria. Breuer found that if he hypnotized the woman and asked her to recall events that occurred around the time a particular symptom first appeared, that symptom would disappear.

free association

Freud adapted Breuer’s method by having patients lie on a sofa with their eyes closed and encouraging them to talk freely about the first time they experienced a particular symptom. Unlike Breuer, Freud did not hypnotize his patients, but he found this method, which he called free association, to be quite effective. Freud later coined the term “psychoanalysis” to describe his approach to treatment, as well as the theory underlying his approach.

In 1902, Freud and a small group of academics formed the first organized group of psychoanalysts, which was called the Wednesday Psychological Society (later known as the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society). That same year, he was promoted to the rank of full professor at the University of Vienna, a position he held until 1938.

Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is both a theory that attempts to explain human behavior and a form of talk therapy. Freud believed that childhood experiences help shape one’s personality and can impact a person as an adult. The goal of psychoanalysis is to release repressed or repressed memories and emotions so that the individual in treatment can heal. this form of therapy involves bringing events that are in the unconscious or subconscious to the conscious.

Freud developed psychoanalysis over several years. as the theory evolved, he eventually covered a number of different concepts and mechanisms. To gain a better understanding of what psychoanalysis entails and how the theory developed, it may be best to start with Freud’s view of the human mind.

Freudian model of the human mind

One of Freud’s most significant contributions to psychology was his model of the human mind. he believed that the mind was divided into three regions:

  • the conscious – this is the part of the human mind that contains current thoughts and feelings. whatever you are aware of and focusing on right now is in the conscious part of your mind.
  • the preconscious (also called the subconscious) : This region of your mind houses emotions and experiences that you are not currently aware of, but can easily retrieve from memory.
  • The Unconscious: This is the largest and deepest level of your mind and contains all the instinctual desires, primitive desires, hopes and memories that are outside of your awareness. According to Freud, things in your unconscious play a big role in driving your behavior. as mentioned above, psychoanalysis aims to bring unresolved material from your unconscious into your consciousness so that you can fully process it and heal.
  • Freud later suggested that human personality also fell into three main categories. these are:

    • the id – this is the most primitive part of your personality and focuses on satisfying your most basic impulses and instincts. the id develops during the early stages of childhood. it resides in your unconscious mind and is the source of libidinal energy. It is made up of two biological drives called eros (this is your survival instinct) and thanatos (this is your destruction instinct). Eros helps you survive by directing processes like eating, breathing, and having sex, which are essential to sustain life. since eros is stronger than thanatos, people tend to have a stronger drive to live than to self-destruct. when thanatos is directed towards other people, it can be interpreted as aggression or violence.
    • the ego: This part of your personality deals with reality. ensures that the basic drives and instincts of the id are satisfied in a safe, realistic, and socially acceptable manner. freud believed that the ego develops from the id during the later stages of childhood. the ego resides in your conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind.
    • The Superego: This part of your personality develops during childhood and focuses on morality and higher principles. it contains all the standards and morals that you have learned from your parents, family members and society in general. the superego encourages social responsibility. resides in your conscious, subconscious, and unconscious mind.
    • Pleasure Principle

      According to Freud, the id, ego, and superego interact to create complex human behavior. How is that possible? Consider the id, which is driven by the pleasure principle and seeks instant gratification from primitive drives like hunger and thirst. Identification is vital to infant survival, as it ensures that the baby’s needs are quickly met. Since only the id is present during the early stages of infancy, the baby will cry until her primitive needs are met. it just doesn’t make sense to try to negotiate a later feeding time with a hungry baby.

      However, as the baby gets older, you may realize that meeting all of their needs right away may not be realistic or socially acceptable. For example, she may get in trouble if she is hungry and decides to eat a box of cookies before dinner. Freud claimed that the id tries to resolve this tension using primary process thinking. this implies forming a mental image of the desired object (in this case it would be cookies or another type of food) that helps to satisfy the primitive need temporarily.

      The ego develops from the id during the latter part of childhood and operates on the reality principle. it tries to satisfy the desires of the id in a socially appropriate way. this means that the child will weigh the pros and cons of a particular behavior rather than acting impulsively. in this case, a hungry child who is stuck in class may think about pizza (primary process thinking) until he finally has a chance to eat during his lunch hour and satisfy his craving in a socially acceptable way.

      The superego is the last part of the personality to develop. Freud stated that the superego begins to emerge when an individual is around five years old. The superego contains a person’s sense of right and wrong, and contains all the ideals and moral standards that have been learned over time. provides guidelines for decision making.

      the goal of the superego is perfect behavior. because it wants the individual to behave in a civilized manner, it works to restrain the id’s unacceptable desires and tries to get the ego to act to standards that are more idealistic than realistic.

      Freud believed that a good balance between the id, the ego and the superego results in a healthy personality. if someone has an id that is too dominant, he can become an impulsive or uncontrollable adult. Since that person wants all of her wishes fulfilled immediately, he is more likely to get involved in criminal activities than the average person. on the other hand, an individual with a dominant superego can be extremely self-righteous and critical. as a result, this individual may hold himself or others to standards that are unattainable.

      defense mechanisms

      The term “defense mechanism” was first used by Freud in his psychoanalytic theory. According to Freud, the id, the ego, and the superego are in constant conflict with each other because each part of your personality has its own goal. A defense mechanism is a strategy used by the ego to protect itself against the anxiety of unacceptable thoughts and feelings. it is an unconscious response that shields the individual from emotions or experiences that are too difficult to handle at the moment. in some cases, one or more defense mechanisms can prevent unacceptable thoughts and impulses from entering the conscious mind.

      common types of defense mechanisms include:

      Repression: The ego pushes disturbing thoughts out of awareness and prevents them from returning to the conscious mind. for example, a person who experienced sexual abuse as a child may have repressed memories of the abuse.

      Denial: Overwhelming external events are blocked from awareness so that the individual refuses to believe or is unaware of what is currently happening. for example, people addicted to alcohol may refuse to believe that they have a drinking problem.

      Rationalization: The individual explains difficult feelings or unacceptable behavior in a rational or logical way while avoiding the real reason for the feelings or behavior. for example, a student who fails a test may think that the instructor did a poor job of teaching the topic.

      displacement: the individual satisfies an urge or impulse by using a substitute object in a socially inappropriate way. For example, a man who is angry with his boss may come home and abuse his partner.

      sublimation: the individual satisfies an urge or impulse by using a substitute object in a socially acceptable way. For example, an athlete who is booed by the crowd may use his emotions to enhance his performance during the game.

      Projection: The ego takes unacceptable thoughts or feelings and attributes them to other people. For example, you may hate your teacher but you know that these feelings are socially inappropriate. so that you can convince yourself that it is your teacher who hates you.

      regression: the individual regresses in their psychological development to cope with stress. for example, an adult who is stressed at work may start having tantrums as a child.

      the 5 stages of psychosexual development

      Freud suggested that children develop through five distinct stages of psychosexual development. he believed that children focus on a different part of the body as a source of pleasure at each stage. This is one of Freud’s best known and most controversial theories. the five stages he proposed include:

      • the oral stage (from birth to 18 months): the child seeks pleasure in the mouth (for example, sucking or feeding)
      • the anal stage (18 months to 3 years): the child seeks pleasure in the anus (for example, to expel or retain feces)
      • the phallic stage (3-6 years): the child seeks pleasure from the penis or clitoris (for example, masturbation)
      • the latent stage (6 years to puberty): there is little libidinal energy as the child has no sexual motivation
      • the genital stage (from puberty to adulthood): the boy seeks pleasure from the penis or vagina (for example, sexual intercourse).
      • oedipus complex

        Freud also proposed that an oedipal complex occurs during the phallic stage when children are approximately 3-6 years old. she stated that children at this stage of development have an unconscious desire for their opposite-sex parent and feel jealous of their same-sex parent.

        The Oedipus complex manifests as an Oedipus complex in boys or an Electra complex in girls. According to Freud, a young child will develop an Oedipus complex, become sexually attracted to his mother, and view her father as a rival. while his mother shows affection for her father, the boy fantasizes about ditching her father and taking her place. however, the boy also develops a fear that his father will castrate him (castration anxiety) so he begins to identify with his father and adopts his attitudes, behaviors, roles, and values. this ultimately results in the father becoming a role model for the boy as the boy develops his superego and learns his roles as a man in society.

        penis envy

        Freud stated that a girl in the phallic stage will develop an oedipal complex, be sexually attracted to her father, and treat her mother with hostility. the complex begins when the girl realizes that she does not have a penis and develops “penis envy”. she also blames her mother for castrating her. however, the fear of losing her mother’s love moves the girl to identify with her mother and adopt her attitudes, behaviors, roles, and values. this leads to the development of the girl’s superego as she learns her roles as a woman in society.

        Interestingly (and controversially), Freud suggested that a girl’s identification with her mother is less complete than a boy’s identification with his father. as a result, she stated that the female superego is weaker and less developed than the male superego.

        Freud believed that an individual must successfully complete each of the five psychosexual stages to become a healthy adult. if there is a conflict during any stage that remains unresolved, the individual may be stuck at that stage of development. for example, children who did not successfully complete the oral stage may demonstrate an overreliance on oral behaviors such as nail biting, eating, or smoking as adults.

        analysis and interpretation of dreams

        Freud described dreams as “the royal road to the unconscious”. he believed that analyzing a person’s dreams could provide a lot of information about the thoughts, feelings, and memories that are buried deep within the mind. Freud saw dreams as a way of seeing how the unconscious mind works. he also used dreams to peek into inappropriate thoughts that lie outside of a person’s consciousness.

        Freud believed that the content of dreams could be separated into two categories called manifest content and latent content. manifest content refers to all the sights, sounds, and events that the dreamer remembers once she wakes up. Latent content refers to the underlying symbolic meaning or desire that is hidden in the dream.

        According to Freudian theory, the main purpose of dreams is to fulfill wishes. Freud believed that dreams transform forbidden desires into less threatening forms. This transformation takes place through condensation (putting two or more ideas together), displacement (changing the person or thing we are interested in into someone or something else), and secondary elaboration (putting all the pieces together to form a coherent narrative). once this is done, the anxiety caused by the forbidden desire is significantly reduced in sleep.

        applications of psychoanalysis

        There are three main applications of psychoanalysis. used for:

        • exploring the human mind
        • explain human behavior
        • treat psychological or emotional problems during talk therapy
        • Psychoanalysis helps people in treatment to better understand the unconscious forces that influence their current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. this approach often involves eliciting emotional responses and helping people overcome negative defense mechanisms. Psychoanalysis also teaches coping techniques so that people can deal with problems that arise in the future instead of resorting to sick defenses. people in therapy develop deep personal insight and learn to deal with feelings that are difficult to process.

          Although fewer therapists are now using psychoanalysis to explore human behavior or diagnose and treat mental health problems, the approach remains well known and hotly debated in the field of psychology. Freud’s work also influenced many young psychologists who would help develop the field, including Carl Jung, Erik Erikson, Alfred Adler, and Anna Freud.

          criticism of psychoanalysis

          one of the main criticisms of psychoanalysis is that the theory is very unscientific. while freud suggested explanations for human behavior, he could not predict behavior because his methods were not based on objective measurements. Freud developed most of his theories while working with a small sample of people. as a result, his theories may not be applicable to the general population.

          Some people who need mental health counseling may avoid psychoanalysis because it can be a very intense and personal treatment approach. Critics argue that the approach is too time-consuming (treatment can take years), too expensive, and generally ineffective. Notable researchers such as Karl Popper and Noam Chomsky have repeatedly asserted that psychoanalysis is not based on empirical evidence. Some critics have suggested that Freud may have focused on the information that supported his theories and ignored the data that did not fit.

          books, awards and achievements of sigmund freud

          Sigmund Freud was a prolific writer and published several books on his theories. some of his most important works include:

          • the interpretation of dreams, 1899
          • the psychopathology of everyday life, 1904
          • jokes and their relationship with the unconscious, 1905
          • three essays on the theory of sexuality, 1905
          • five lectures on psychoanalysis, 1910
          • introductory lectures on psychoanalysis, 1917
          • beyond the pleasure principle, 1920
          • the ego and the id, 1923
          • inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety, 1926
          • the future of an illusion, 1927
          • civilization and its discontents, 1930
          • new introductory lectures on psychoanalysis, 1933
          • personal life

            In 1886, Freud married Martha Bernays after a four-year engagement, and the couple had six children: three boys and three girls. One of her daughters, Anna, later became a famous child psychoanalyst and was instrumental in leading the Freudian movement after her father’s death.

            Although Jewish by birth, Freud did not practice Judaism as an adult. he developed a nicotine addiction at age 24 and smoked approximately 20 cigarettes a day. he tried several times to quit smoking but was unsuccessful. he was diagnosed with cancer of the palate and jaw at age 67, which resulted in a series of more than 30 operations. he experienced chronic pain for the last 16 years of his life.

            Following the Nazi occupation of Austria in 1938, Freud fled Vienna, taking his wife and daughter, Anna, with him. The last 16 months of his life were spent in London, where he died on September 23, 1939, at the age of 83.


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            Hergenhahn, b. r. (2009). an introduction to the history of psychology (6th ed.). belmont, ca:wadsworth.

            rudnytsky, p. I (2002). Freud, Siegmund. (1856-1939). jan. Erwin (ed.), The Freud Encyclopedia: Theory, Therapy, and Culture. new york: routledge.

            sheehy, n. (2004). fifty key thinkers in psychology. new york: routledge.

            Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). (North Dakota.). retrieved from

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