Sigmund Freud believed himself to be a scientist. He believed that he was not a philosopher, just a scientific thinker. Freud carefully thought everything through and always backed up his views. Before any idea went into print, Freud worked hard to make sure that he covered his theories from all angles and that he himself could not disprove one of his theories. As a scientist, Sigmund believed that he must continue to test his theories. While continuing to investigate the workings on the human mind, Freud realized that his views of anxiety tended to contradict each other. In Freud’s later years he takes the flipside of his initial view on anxiety. Why does this happen? Well, it is a complicated process in which the complete reversal of ideas seems to shock even Freud.
In Freud’s book The Interpretation of Dreams, he comes to the conclusion that anxiety arises from forced repression.
It is perfectly true that unconscious wishes always remain active. They represent paths which can always be traversedIndeed it is a prominent feature of unconscious processes that they are indestructible.
Since wishes remain active, Freud thought that repression of certain wishes in the id by the superego results in a level of nervousness and indecision in the ego, called anxiety. He believed that since the wish was being repressed, it fought harder to come to the surface causing an internal struggle, which heightened sensitivity to danger.
However this early work on the source of anxiety was accomplished using only anxiety-dreams and seems rushed when compared to other topics in The Interpretation of Dreams. It becomes obvious that Freud rushed his initial thoughts on anxiety in his first book, when one reads Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety, one of Freud’s later works. The book is full of new ideas, thoughts and research.
Freud begins this book by delving into the source of neurotic symptoms. He says that symptoms are:
a sign of, and a substitute for, an instinctual satisfaction which has remained in abeyance; its is a consequence of the process of repression. Repression proceeds from the ego when the ego which has been swayed by the superego refuses to associate itself with an instinctual cathexis which has been aroused in the id.
In order to understand this, one must first have knowledge of the id, ego, and superego. Briefly, the id is the human instinct; it is self-centered and seeks complete and instant gratification at any expense. The superego begins to develop later in life (5-8years of age) and is influenced by society. Think of the superego as your conscience. Society and the person create right and wrong. So, it might be said that, the superego is a person’s moral character. That leaves the ego, which is the mediator of arguments, in the form of impulses and wishes, from the id and superego. It is responsible for a person’s actions. It has the ability to choose which impulses from the id are satisfied. The superego can communicate why a certain action could be harmful to oneself or other people, and the ego must choose if satisfying the wish of the id is worth the risk. Coming back to the previous quote, Freud believes that symptoms arise when the ego decides not to allow correct satisfaction of an impulse from the id. However, since the ego realizes that something must be done to stop the impulse, it creates a symptom, which indirectly satiates the id. While this seems to work in the short term, problems eventually arise as the id realizes it has been fooled.
An example of this process begins with idea of an Oedipus Complex. This is a strong sexual attraction towards one’s own mother during early childhood. Freud explains this process by use of a phobia of ‘Little Hans’. The young lad had an overwhelming fear of horses, especially horse-bites. Freud relates this fear to a fear of castration by the father. Freud believes that since ‘Little Hans’ is attracted to his mother, he resents his father and the power associated with his father. However, the boy cannot truly resent his father, without out causing more pain, because of the closeness in the quarters they reside. The ego of ‘Little Hans’ then made the decision to fear horses instead because it already witnessed horses hurting ‘Little Hans’s’ friends. Fear of being eaten by their parents for one reason or another is common amongst children. ‘Little Hans’ needs power and recognizes his father’s genitals as power and therefore the boy fears castration from a horse bite.
Freud begins to agree, at least partially with Rank’s theory of birth trauma. Life’s initial trauma leads to the creation of anxiety. This initial anxiety leads to the formation of newer and bigger anxieties. Therefore, anxiety comes from birth and exists in all humans. It is around this time that Freud begins to recognize a change in his general theory. He writes:
If I had contented myself earlier with saying that after the occurrence of repression a certain amount of anxiety appeared in place of the manifestation of libido. the description would be correct.I can now no longer maintain this view. And, indeed, I found it impossibleto explain how a transformation occurred.
He now begins to try to explain his new point of view by going on about further causes of symptoms. He explains that symptoms may arise when repression fails to suppress impulses, when a person tries to undo a traumatic experience, or the auto-erotic impulse is suppressed. Also, the destruction of the Oedipus Complex is a way of overcoming the fear of castration, but creates other symptoms in the fact the it the Oedipus Complex is important to the id.
Freud now states that anxiety arises directlyfrom a libidinal cathexis whose processes have been disturbed. He believes that anxiety is the result of disturbed processes in the brain. For example, a traumatic experience greatly upsets every ongoing process in the body. Emotions are stirred and internal chaos results. After the initial incident, a fear arises and a person feels great anxiety when near the place or people involved in the initial traumatic experience. This anxiety causes the need for repression in order to calm the anxious feeling. The repression causes the need to create a symptom in order to take away any connection to the initial trauma. This symptom is generally a phobic one. This is Freud’s explanation for the creation of phobias.
All of the aforementioned ideas led Freud to the conclusion that:
Anxiety is a reaction to a situation danger. It is obviated by the ego’s doing something to avoid that situation or to withdraw from itsymptoms are created so as to avoid the generating of anxiety.
Now that Freud has come to a conclusion on anxiety, he begins to try to theorize why different symptoms come about. Basically, childhood neurosis is blamed for later development of symptoms. Everyone is slightly neurotic and will develop phobias, or symptoms relating to past traumatic experiences. Those who have many symptoms and are obsessional neurotics have problems stemming form childhood neurosis, which was never overcome. Signs of childhood neurosis can be found in all adult neurotics without exception It is evident that Freud attributes failed repression to obsessional neurosis.
Freud was a scientist. He wanted to make sure that all of his theories could not be disputed. Therefore, he needed to cover his point from every possible angle and continue to further develop it. While doing this, he realized that his theory was incorrect and needed to be changed. Instead of dismissing any possible criticisms he changed his idea in favor of one that is more suitable in light of new evidence. This is why Freud was obsessed with making the change correctly. He wanted to be correct, as we all do, and when he witnessed his mistake, he sucked it up and made anew. Its good practice.
Freud, Interpretation of Dream