The Legacy of Sigmund Freud


Sigmund Freud is noted for the founding of Psychoanalysis, having started out as a medical doctor or clinical neurologist. His most important theories for Psychology and Psychoanalysis were The Structural Theory of Personality, Ego Defense Processes, and the Theory of Psychosexual Development. He is also noted for developing psychoanalytic assessment techniques.


Freud came up with the Structural Theory of Personality that stated that every human being is made up of the Id, the Ego, and the Superego.

The Id is the part of the Human Being that wants to do anything he thinks of doing. It is an uncontrollable urge. He will do it no matter what. There are no boundaries. If he wants to dance he dances. If he wants to drink he drinks. If he feels like robbing a bank he will rob a bank. There are no inner controls. Freud felt that the Id was purely biological and instinctual and contained our most primitive urges and desires and was based on the “pleasure principle” with the immediate aim of “complete discharge and satisfaction.”

The Superego is exactly opposite of the Id. The Superego wants to do things but is controlled by the inner voices of what his parents or religion taught him or societal moral values. If he wants to drink inspired by the Id, the Superego will say no you should not drink because it is not good for you. If he thinks of robbing a bank the Superego will remind him of what he learned in church such as “Thou Shalt not Steal.”

The Ego is the true personality of a person that has integrated both the Id and the Superego so that one is not dominant. He can have fun inspired by the Id, but not go to extremes. He can control his baser instincts prompted by the Id with a mild dose of his Superego saying no you should not do that. The ego is totally integrated. He is a healthy human being that accepts that some things he can not do and some things are okay to do. The person with a well-defined and integrated Ego is a mature person. The Ego dominated person is concerned with reality and logical and rational thinking. The Ego functions to carry out the aims of the Id (having fun) but to keep the impulses of the Id in check. It is okay to have fun and enjoy life but not at the expense of society or your own character.

The problem in pathology lies in either the Id or Superego personality types taking over in the person. Either the person is total Id with no Ego, or total Superego with no Ego.

If the person is totally Id, he might develop a Sociopathic lifestyle and become the worst type of criminal or delinquent. If he is totally dominated by the Superego he would also become a pathological type who cannot function in society because all things are bad and he can’t do them.

The Superego type would develop out of harsh upbringing and rigorous church activities. To the outside world the family developing a Superego type human being might look like a healthy and decent family but the structure of discipline is too rigorous.

The Id type is the type who never had any controls – no discipline by parents or the church. This type of family is a totally dysfunctional family type with inconsistent discipline. Maybe harsh discipline at times for the wrong reasons with parents using drugs or alcohol, so that the child never understands right from wrong and begins to suspect all authority figures and does what he pleases. He begins to be totally controlled by the baser instincts.


Related to the Structural Theory of Personality, Freud also came up with Defense Mechanisms that he believed people used when their Ego was threatened with impulses from the Id or Superego causing anxiety. Some of them are:

Reaction Formation


Freud also believed that people often get stuck in a stage of development such as the following stages:

Oral Stage
Anal Stage
Phallic Stage
Genital Stage

These stages are related to the different stages a baby goes through while developing. The Oral Stage refers to the period the baby goes through when he is nursing or needing food. A lot depends on how the child was nursed and fed. Was the child neglected? Did the child’s will conflict with the parent’s will such as the child is hungry but the parent makes the child wait for his feeding? It also depends on how the baby at this stage internalizes his care by the parents. The baby may also be overindulged with too much pampering.

The Anal stage refers to the potty-training stage where the child is concerned with the anal functions. Has the parent been a harsh potty-trainer, etc?

The Phallic Stage occurs during the fourth and fifth years where the child begins to recognize sexual differences and the relations between his parents; and here is the stage where Freud thought the Oedipus Complex begins to occur.

The Genital Stage occurs during puberty where teenage boys and girls begin to mature with regard to reproduction.

The pathology occurs when persons become fixated at any one of these stages.
The Oral Fixated Character is very dependent on other people and is overly trusting, accepting, and gullible if he has been overindulged at the Oral Stage. If underindulged he may be manipulative, sadistic, and exploitative in interpersonal relations. The Anal Character is stingy, orderly, and obstinate. The Phallic Character is for a man usually of the Don Juan type who likes to have many affairs with different women. The female Phallic Character is immersed in what Freud characterized as penis envy.

According to Freud, the Genital Character is the Ideal. These people are usually mature and have found appropriate love objects. Freud felt that the “key to happiness was the ability to love and be loved.”


Freud’s main assessment techniques were Free Association and Dream Analysis. He also used Transference.

Freud’s first attempts on unraveling the psyche through the use of hypnosis were not that successful. He therefore came up with his unique process called Free Association. In Free Association, the person would divulge all thoughts and memories no matter how disturbing. This would bring out problems that needed to be worked on by the patient, which helped to bring about solutions. While performing this analysis Freud would also watch facial expressions and gestures.

Freud also used Dream analysis to pinpoint repressive thoughts and feelings of his patients through the use of symbolism. The dream content was not always indicative of the meaning and Freud would attempt to get to the source of the meaning to help the patient solve his problem.

Freud used Transference to effect a cure in his patients. What is meant by Transference is that patients would direct there positive and negative feelings toward him that were actually past feelings they held regarding their problem situation which was usually the parents. In most cases the patient would first feel positively toward him and then negatively toward him. When the negative feelings came out he could give them explanations which would help them correct their ineffective behavior if they accepted his explanations.


Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 in Moravia or what is today called Czechoslovakia to a strict authoritarian father and a protective loving mother. There were eight children. Freud seemed to excel more in his studies than the other children so his parents indulged him with an oil lamp whereas the other children had to use candles. He was an avid reader and could repeat verbatim pages of books and entire scientific lectures. He entered the Gymnasium one year earlier than usual and graduated at 17. He was a brilliant student. In 1883 he graduated from the University of Vienna with a medical degree. It took him eight years however since he branched off into other areas such as Philosophy, Biology, and Physiology. During his early years engaged and then married to Martha Bernays they were both very poor. but had a very happy and long-lasting marriage of over 50 years.


Much of Sigmund Freud’s analytic theory was based on his own subjective analysis of his own childhood. Out of his childhood came the Oedipus Complex idea. Some of his ideas seem outdated today such as the Oedipus Complex and Penis Envy, but however, the mold for Psychoanalysis was begun and still functions as a clinical model for psychoanalysis. And there are cases of the Oedipus Complex and Penis Envy that do occur however much society might reject these ideas. Although there is more proof today that the opposite of the Oedipus Complex idea is more prevalent, which during Freuds time he could not accept.

Many disciplines today make use of Freudian concepts such as literature, sociology, history, anthropology, religion, philosophy, and political science. Also novelists and other writers often quote Freud or base their writings on some of his ideas.

His Structural Theory of Personality still works well today at explaining phenomena of the mind; and his theories of defense mechanisms are almost always used in clinical psychology.

Rickman, Richard, Theories of Personality, Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, Belmont, CA, 1989, pgs. 27-60.
Schultz, Duane P., Schultz, Sydney Ellen, A History of Modern Psychology, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., 1992, pgs. 412-457.