Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) had significant education in the biological sciences, and was in fact a neurologist. The intellectual atmosphere of the time favored the influences of biological factors as the prime, or even sole influences and motivating factors in human behavior. Biology, in other words dictated a fixed and immutable set of qualities, potentials, and behavioral outcomes for humans. The assumption was also that all humans shared the same fixed and immutable set of biologically determined qualities and potentials. Freud took this to mean that personality development in early childhood was not affected by social and cultural dynamics in any significant way.
Freud insisted on instinct as the determinant of behavior, and focused on the Oedipus complex, latency, the libido and the stages of development as biological entities and systems, and not as influenced by the environment that the individual lived in.
Freud made major breakthroughs in the areas of psychoanalysis, with face to face discussion and treatment of psychopathology through dialogue. His theraputic innovations included dream interpretation, the concept of transference, and free association. He was also a researcher in the field of Cerebal Palsy. He innovated theories of the ideas of unconscious desire, sexual desire and repression as a defense mechanism, and the unconscious mind as biological entities and compelling forces.
The problems with Freudian theory and focus came when anthropologists came back from their studies with news that some of Freuds assumptions about the universality of biological imperatives for humans were simply not proven. Societies where latency never occured, for example, and where other standards of “normality” were established and worked just fine offered proof that other social environments existed and did have a major effect on the individual’s personality and behavior. Sociologists were also discovering the far greater impact of environment and society on the individual, and that fixed, universal, and immutable personality qualities and behavioral potentials did not exist in all humans.
Alfred Adler and Karen Horney are the two most well known proponents of the neo Freudian school of psychological thought. Both believed that the biological basis for human personality and behavior should be replaced with far more attention to social conditions, in relation to causing anxiety and conflict, striving for superiority through self perfection and and in striving to work for the public good.Rather than serving as functions of our biological imperatives when we reach maturity, we direct our activities toward specific endeavors toward social ends that give us feelings of superiority. Adler, (1930)
Adler naturally looked into inferority and developed the theory of the “Inferority Complex”, where in early childhood, there are things that some can do, but we cannot, creating the internal construct that we are inferior. In more pathological situations, the anxiety and conflict can continue without healthy resolution throughout life, and even when the actions of the individual to achieve superiority result in great accomplishment. To the individual, the accomplishments are never enough.
While some, or many, of Freud’s theories have been modified or disproven, his work remains a viable, powerful, and major part of our education and understanding of psychoanalysis, the biology of the mind, psychotherapy and psycopathology.
Wikipedia “Sigmund Freud”
Bukisa, “Neo Freudian Theorists”