Sigmund Freud Terms and Concepts

Sigmund Freud in his office
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Although it has been nearly 80 years since the passing of Sigmund Freud, his work and theories continue to leave a mark on psychology today. He is often described as one of the most influential thinkers in psychology history as well as one of the most controversial. While many of his theories have not stood the test of time, students continue to learn about his work and the influence that it had on psychology and current approaches to the study of human behavior.

In this study guide, explore some key questions about Freud and his psychoanalytic theories, learn some of the important terms and definitions, and take a quick quiz to test your understanding.

Components of the Conscious Mind

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud divided the conscious mind up into three components: the conscious, the preconscious, and the unconscious. The unconscious mind includes all the things we are unaware of, but it can be revealed through things such as dreams and Freudian slips.

The Three Parts of Personality and How They Interact

  • The three parts of personality are the id, the ego, and the superego.​
  • The id operates based on the pleasure principle.
  • The ego operates based on the reality principle.
  • The superego serves as the source of moral anxiety and contains both the ego ideal and the conscience.
  • The purpose of the ego is to mediate between the demands of the id, the superego, and reality. Because of the conflict between these three forces, ego anxiety can occur. In order to cope with this anxiety, the ego relies on defense mechanism.

Stages of Personality Development

  • Freud suggested that personality is the result of five stages of psychosexual development, which are: the oral stage (dominated by the id), the anal stage (the ego is formed), the phallic stage (the superego emerges), latency (a phase marked by sexual repression), and the genital stage (sexual feelings reemerge).
  • When a person becomes "stuck" at a certain stage of development, a fixation can result. As a result, the adult personality is marked by inadequacies that were never resolved during childhood.
  • During the phallic stage of development, the Oedipal complex and Electra complex generate anxiety. These complexes are marked by sexual feelings toward the opposite-sex parent. In order to resolve this anxiety, children then identify with their same-sex parent.

The Neo-Freudians and How Their Theories Differ from Freud's

  • The Neo-Freudians included Karen Horney, Alfred Adler, and Erik Erikson.
  • Horney rejected Freud's notion of penis envy and presented her own theory that was centered on basic anxieties and neurotic needs
  • Adler developed a theory based on the presumption that feelings of inferiority were the driving force behind human behavior.
  • Erikson created a theory of development that spanned the whole lifespan and that centered on social relationships.

Freudian Terms You Should Know

Before you take that important exam in your personality psychology class, there are a number of terms related to Freud and psychoanalysis that you should understand. Some of the major ones include:

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  1. Wolitzky DL. The theory and practice of traditional psychoanalytic treatment. In: Gurman AS, Messer SB, editors. Essential Psychotherapies: Theory and Practice. (p. 24–68). Guilford Press; New York: 2003.