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Summary: Freud's Theory

Freud is one of the most influential figures in the history of psychology, but not necessarily because modern psychologists accept his ideas. Freud is one of the most frequently cited names in psychology, but many of the citations are critical in nature. Many other personality theories were formed as a direct reaction to Freud's theory, branching off in directions neglected by Freud, or using portions of his ideas while rejecting others.

The word psyche refers to the mind as a whole. Freud believed much of the psyche was unconscious; he compared it to an iceberg, which was nine/tenths under water. In his 1923 theory, Freud distinguished between the id (the primitive, animal-like part of the mind, supposedly the source of energy for the psyche), the ego (the "agent of adaptation" in the psyche, mostly conscious) and the super-ego (the source of self-evaluation, guilt and pride, an internalization of parental values). The id was totally unconscious, Freud believed. The super-ego was partly unconscious, and the ego was mostly accessible to consciousness.

Freud described the phenomenon of repression, in which the conscious mind turns away from a painful thought or memory, pushing it down into the unconscious. The thought does not go away, however, and energy from the libido (life energy) is consumed by keeping it repressed. This energy can be released, Freud thought, when a repressed memory is re-admitted to consciousness.

Freud described a variety of defense mechanisms, by which the ego defended itself against unpleasant thoughts, memories, or wishes. This is probably the part of Freud's theory that is most acceptable in today's psychology. However, Freud himself put the most emphasis on his sexual theory, especially the sequence of events in early childhood that he labeled the "family drama." Scientific research fails to support many of Freud's ideas, with the notable exception of the defense mechanisms.

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