Psychoanalysis – 1. Theories


Psychoanalysis was originated as a series of psychological and psychotherapeutical theories and techniques by Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) and developed into a school of psychology with the contributions of Freud’s successors including Carl Jung (1875 – 1961), Anna Freud (1895 – 1982), and Erik Erikson (1902 – 1994).



1.1. The Apparatus of the Mind

The theory of mental apparatus presents the human psyche as a working system of three components.

Mind apparatus 2.png

Image 1. A visualization of mind apparatus based on Freud’s description (1938).


  • Id: the oldest component, holding all the biological instincts that the person inherits from birth.
  • Ego: stemming from Id, developing on the person’s psychological growth.
  • Super-ego: sprouting from ego; growing on social standards, especially parental influences in the person’s early life.

    Out of the three parts, ego functions with the present while the others are strongly linked with the past – Id with nature, and super-ego with nurture. While the roles of Id and super-ego seem as simple as storing biological and social inheritance, ego is described to have a more proactive function. Firstly, it reconciles the contrast between the motivations from Id (desires) and from super-ego (ethics) in dealing with the person’s urges and wishes. Secondly, it acts as an agent between the person’s inner world and the outer world: saving external experiences into memory and retrieving them as the situation requires, making decisions by considering both the person’s need and the situation, and taking actions in order to protect the self from harm (by flight) as well as to optimize pleasure and advantages (by adaptation and activities).


    1.2. The Theory of Instincts

    With what forces and energies does the mental apparatus operate?

    The theory of instincts

    Image 2. The two instincts depicted as two wheels which generate respective energies to create and loosen bonds.

    So pondered Freud, and he answered: there are two fundamental forces underlying our mind, love instinct and destructive/death instinct. The former, also named as Eros, goes with an energy of love called libido, uniting things to preserve the self and the species. The later goes with an energy of destruction, breaking things apart and causing chaos.

    It can be seen that the two instincts represent the contrasting forces which co-exist in all aspects of the universe: peace and aggression, union and separation, attraction and repulsion. Despite being opposites, they complement each other in the movements of our lives. For example, the act of eating itself means not only the destruction of what we eat (separation), but also the incorporation of it into our body (union).  The ultimate aims of the two instincts, as understood from Freud’s view, are two sides of the life cycle, in which one continues the survival of the species into the future, and the other reduces the species into their earlier inanimate states.


    1.3. Sexual Development

    Freud’s theory of sexual development challenged many traditional views about sexuality in children. First of all, he drew a distinction between the concepts “sexual” and “genital”. While traditional thinking equals “sexual” with genital desire, which is only aroused at puberty, Freud viewed sexual desires simply as urges that bring us bodily pleasure, and believed that they exists in us since infancy in various forms rather than just genital. The sexual desires develop over five stages as followed.

    Psyschosexual stages

    Image 3. Key activities across the five stages: sucking (oral), defecation (anal), masturbation (phallic), non-sexual                          activities (latency), and sexual engagement (genital).

    • Oral stage. Starting with birth, the sexual need of this period links to the act of breastfeeding, which is originally for pure survival but gradually becomes a desire of possession. When the child is no longer breastfed, they develops the habit of sucking things, especially their thumb as this is the most convenient object, as an attempt to revive their first impression of pleasure.
    • Anal stage. In this period, the child is given bowel training. They find the pleasure in releasing the content of his bowel, which can be seen as their first possessions to offer to the external world. Sometimes they choose to withhold defecation for a while in order to enjoy the pleasure of this act later to its best.
    • Phallic stage. The child initiates an interest in their own sex and their genital organ. According to Freud, boys at this stage enjoy playing with their penis and experience oedipus complex, in which they feel an attraction to their mother and envy against their father, unconsciously finding the former an object of sexual desire and the later a rival of masculinity. Carl Jung, one of Freud’s students, later proposed the term “electra complex” for the comparable phenomenon in girls at phallic stage (feeling attracted by their father and envious of their mother).
    • Latency stage. Sexual urges become inactive; the child’s interest is shifted toward other activities outside their body.
    • Genital stage. The final sexual urge awakes at puberty and leads to activities of mating and reproduction.


    1.4. Mental Qualities

    The theory of mental qualities assumes that our mental activities evolve between three different states: conscious – our ongoing thought, preconscious – our past thought and memory which we can easily retrieve to consciousness, and unconscious – our buried thought and memory which only reveal themselves in our dreams or through a special therapeutic process. While the conscious activities seem most relevant to our life, Freud argued that they only remain conscious for a brief time before all becoming preconscious and/or unconscious, and hence the conscious occupies a very small portion of our mental world. Specifically, he posited that only peripheral processes in the ego are conscious, while most activities of the ego and all of the super ego are preconscious and unconscious, and the entire Id is governed by the unconscious.

    Mental qualities

       Image 4. The mental processes are symbolized as an ice berg: only a small peak is seen (conscious), while the                                       rest is hidden under water (preconscious and unconscious).

    Also according to Freud, exploring the unconscious would help uncover a lot of unresolved emotional issues which are responsible for mental disorders and crises in people. This thought was actually applied into his therapeutic practice, in which the psychiatrist managed to trace his patient’s current problems to repressed feelings of the past. And in exploring the unconscious, one of the sources Freud turned to was dreams.


    1.5. The Theories of Dreams

    Freud was one of the first people to inspect human dreams as a form of psychological manifestation, and furthermore, to build a system of theories about them based on his actual practice of dream analysis. These dream theories and dream analysis experiences are elaborated in his two books The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and On Dreams (1914). Generally, his view is that dreams are unconscious expressions of desires, but since most of these desires are repressed by the person in real life, they are disguised under irrelevant or chaotic dream stories.

    A dream, according to Freud, consists of three layers. The core, latent content, holds the dreamer’s desire, fed from their Id (unconscious desires) or ego (conscious or preconscious desires). The middle layer is a complex mechanism called dreamwork, which create a disguise for the latent content by condensation – concentrating the intricacy of the desire into simplistic events, displacement – replacing the desire with a different event, and representation – producing events or images that symbolize the desire in an abstract manner. From the dreamwork generates the outer layer of manifest content, which, typically in adults’ dreams, often misleads us from the true, latent content. Freud believes that in order to understand one’s dream, special dream analysis techniques are required to interpret the condensed stories and symbols into the person’s concealed desires.

    Obviously, not all desires are disguised in dreams. Freud noticed that small children’s dreams often manifest their true, childlike wishes, likely because these dreamers tend not to conceal or repress their desires. Such dreams, in which manifest content and latent content are similar, make up Class 1 – dreams of meaningful stories and undisguised desires, reflecting the person’s life of the day. Class 2 includes dreams of meaningful stories as well but these stories appear weird and inconsistent with the person’s thought and feelings, and Class 3 includes dreams of incoherent content which are incomprehensible without a systematic dream analysis. The dreams of both Class 2 and Class 3 have their latent content disguised under a manifest content by dreamwork.


    Image 5. A diagrammatic summary of Freud’s conceptualization of dreams: 1) The structure of a dream (left), and 2) Three classes of dreams.


    If dreams are indeed so complicated, how did Freud decode his patients’ dreams and even thereby resolve emotional issues? The next part of PsychonalysisApplications will look into Freud’s techniques of dream analysis, as well as other therapeutic methods that the psychiatrist employed in his days.



    Freud, S. (1913). The Interpretation of Dreams (3rd Ed., A. A. Brill, Trans.). New York, NY: The Macmillan Company. Retrieved from

    Freud, S. (1914). On Dreams (M. D. Eder, Trans.). New York, NY: Rebman. Retrieved from

    Freud, S. (1940). An outline of psycho-analysis.  International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 21. 27-84. Retrieved from

    Freud, S. (2000). Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (J. Strachey, Trans.). New York, NY: Basic Books.


    2 thoughts on “Psychoanalysis – 1. Theories

    1. Len Bergantino

      Loved the page! There in this manner gives off an impression of being a reverse relationship amongst recuperation and psychotherapy; the more psychotherapy, the more modest the recuperation rate.


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