Psychoanalysts focus on unconscious drives as the source of our behavior, thought and motivation. Forces and energy are understood mechanistically in terms of libidinal energy which determine everything. These forces are powerful and irrational and are usually embodied in drive conflicts related to aggression and sexuality. The psychoanalyst traces the source of these conflicts to early childhood traumas. It is through self-knowledge, resulting from understanding the origin of these conflicts, usually related to one’s relationship with one’s parents, that symptoms find their resolution.
Freud makes five core assumptions about humans:
a. Conscious experiences – We are aware of these thoughts.
b. Preconscious Experiences – We can voluntarily recall these events but are not currently conscious of them.
c. Unconscious experiences – These are the primary determinants of one’s psychic life but one does not have access to them without the help of psychoanalysis. These are largely understood, in psychoanalysis, in terms of unresolved conflicts centering around one’s childhood relationship to one’s parents and the sexual and aggressive drives related to it.
2) Genetic – This refers to Freud’s belief that behavior and experience are to be understood as products of prior events. For example, conflict with one’s boss is to be understood as resulting from an unconscious expression of past conflict with one’s parents. This contributes to its deterministic nature, since acts are not understood as spontaneous and free, but as resulting from prior events.
3) Dynamic – This refers to the notion that behavior is to be understood in terms of two fundamental drives. One is erotic and sexual, and lies behind the desire to create, maintain intimacy, love others and oneself, and so on. The other drive has to do with aggression. As Stanton L. Jones notes, “Both drives have creative or destructive potential. Both drives can be understood as deterministic at the intrapsychic, interpersonal or societal levels. These “life instincts” and death instincts” are at the core o fthe Freudian view of human nature.”
4) Structural – This dimension comprises Freud’s well-known distinction between ego, superego and id. The id is the realm of primitive, animalistic sexual and aggressive drives. These are present upon birth and are unconscious and relentless. It operates according to the pleasure principle, according to which pursuit of pleasure takes precedence. The ego, on the other hand, is reality-based and develops in order to interact with one’s external world. This is conscious and mediates one’s id urges, cordoning it off from reality. The superego restricts the demands of both. It comes from the ego and comprises the standards and cultural norms one has internalized. It is a partially conscious “conscience.”
5) Economic – According to this dimension, the human is understood as a kind of hydraulic system. Energy is introduced as a set of basic drives and this energy must be released. This comes in the form of either being discharged or transformed.
Freud believed that the contents of the unconscious could be inferred by means of various signs such s material obtained from free association, dream experiences and slips of the tongue. He thought that stored memories and repressed experiences can be found in this unconscious repository. This material is first unearthed and then worked through. Failure to deal with this unconscious material results in symptom formation. The ego can sometimes control anxiety rationally, but sometimes defense mechanisms must be used in order to neutralize the anxiety.
The psychoanalytic model of health involves being sufficiently aware of the source of one’s neurosis that one is able to keep destructive urges in check. “Earlier painful and traumatic experiences have largely been “worked through” and are no longer denied or distorted. To a meaningful and significant degree, aspects of the unconscious have been made conscious. Important dimensions of the personality structure have been reconstructed as neurotic processes have been done, thereby facilitating greater movement toward maturity.”
Such a healthy person is said to have good “ego strength.” Destructive impulses no longer exert the kind of strength they did before when it comes to determining how one makes one’s decision. Although there is still the clashing of social reality and biological urges, appropriate commitments and compromises have been made. Inability or unwillingness to relive and deal with early childhood traumas, usually having to do with sexual or aggressive urges.