Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Criticisms of Freud

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Sigmund Freud, a renowned psychologist, was the founder of many controversial theories used to analyze and explore human personality and development. Many of them, for example the Oedipus complex or repression, are questionable in their validity. Despite the many arguments and attempts to prove or disprove Freud's theories, there is no assured evidence as to whether or not his theories are true.

The Oedipus complex is a concept based on an ancient story of Oedipus Rex who killed his Father to marry his Mother. Freud divided this complex into three stages Love/Hate where the young boy wants sexual satisfaction from his Mother, but has realized his Father is an obstacle and wants him to die; fear and renunciation, where the boy sees his Father as a threat and fears him (Projection has led to him believing his Father hates him and wants to castrate him); Renunciation and final victory, where the boy renounces his feelings, identifies with his Father and wants to emulate him instead of envying him. (It is similar to the Electra complex in women).

A common criticism of the Oedipus complex is that it does not apply to all situations. Freud stated that the Oedipus complex is present in all environments despite the living situation, and everyone experiences it. However, for example, in a household where there is no father or paternal figure present, who does the boy envy? One belief is that the absence of the father creates an unhealthy situation where the desires are satiated and the boy has the attention craved from his mother. Incest is supposedly a result of this situation. With the absence of the mother or the inability to identify with the father, homosexuality is said to be the result. Another criticism is the effect of cultural differences on the individual. Cultures where the male holds the maternal relationship and the female is the disciplinary figure, there was no observed hatred or conflict between the son and father. Freud said that the father still should be the sexual villain, but this situation did not exemplify that theory.

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In my own analysis of the Oedipus complex, my views are not completely parallel with the neo-Freudians, however there are some similarities. In our common culture, divorce rates and single parent families have increased since Freud's time. If the Oedipus complex were in fact true, wouldn't there be a higher rate of incest? It is less likely during our generation that the circumstances favorable for a successful completion of the complex can be fulfilled now, due to the different family arrangements. As said by Glietman, (pg. 57) "The Oedipus conflict is not universal but depends upon cultural variations in the family constellation." I agree, and believe that the Oedipus complex varies with the situation and does not necessarily occur in every person. However, if it does occur, it does not always have to follow through the way Freud described, and yet a person can still become sexually and emotionally stable. I don't think it is an essential aspect in the psychosexual development. For example, homosexuality is not based on your living situation; a person living with both parents could be homosexual. Freud indirectly proposed that all of our thoughts are driven by repressed sexual urges, which is a quite farfetched idea. Not everything can be based on psychosexual development, therefore not every aspect of the Oedipus complex can be a direct reflection of our future lives. Perhaps the Oedipus complex would have been a valid explanation for behavior during Freud's time, but his reasoning in this era is now obsolete.

According to Freud, The state in which the ideas existed before being made conscious is called by us repression and we assert that the force which instituted the repression and maintains it is perceived as resistance during the work of analysis (Freud, 1/161). In other words, repression is the temporary "hiding" of painful information in the subconscious that can potentially be dangerous when dealt with in the conscious state. Repression often leads to anxiety and sometimes so hard to handle, leading a normal life becomes nearly impossible.

Neo-Freudians argue that repression may not always be a defense mechanism to prevent the mind from something bad, it is just often misplaced and takes certain triggers to bring them up again. Our constant unconscious conflict does not always use repression to store away the harmful memories, it can store away insignificant details such as the street you lived in that you have now forgotten. Revisiting where you lived can remind you of the street name you have forgotten. Neo-Freudians also say that instead of anxiety being a result of repression, repression occurs to prevent anxiety. But then how can one be sure that the thought is really associated with anxiety?

Although, like most of Freud's theories, there is no substantial evidence proving they exist, I agree with the theory of repression. When we touch a burning stove, it is our body's natural reaction to pull away. This is comparable to repression where our mind senses an unsafe situation and represses the memories in order to protect the individual. Perhaps the reason there is conflict about repression is because it was never clearly defined. "Forgetfulness" and "Repression" are two different things, but are often confused with each other. In my perspective, repression is the storing away of unbearable and harmful memories that are too much for the person to deal with, and is brought forth at catharsis. Forgetfulness is when the mind misplaces information, but easily can be brought up again without painful feelings. I believe that the mind and body work together to protect the human being from being hurt, using repression, reflexes or other mechanisms.

To conclude, Freud's theories in psychoanalysis is often debatable among neo-Freudians and Freudians, however, the reliability of his theories can only be determined by the time period and the specific instance that is given. There is no universal statement that can be said about the personality development of all individuals; it varies from person to person. Freud attempted to make a general analysis of people, but his ideas were often rejected because there was no proof. In order for the Oedipus complex to be proven true, there would have to be a complete study on the childhood personality and the adulthood development of each person living for it to be completely accurate. Likewise with repression, various studies must be done. Many neo-Freudians can argue about the lack of proof confirming Freud's theories, however there is still an almost equal lack of proof confirming whether his theories aren't true.

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