Friday, 23 February 2007

Freud & personality notes 2

I went through my last set of notes before doing any more reading and tried to set out the questions in my mind before this study session. Then I looked for reference books that seemed to have answers to them. The questions were:

  1. What exactly are the respective functions of ego, superego and id?
  2. I tried to read the article about repression as a coping style but didn’t really understand repression. So, I need to clarify that.The books keep talking about libido. What is it exactly? I mean, in this context?
  3. Ditto fixation.How literally did Freud mean us to take his structural model?
  4. Did Freud think latency was purely the product of sexually repressive culture? Or is there more to it?

Notes taken from chapters 2&3 of Beneath the Mask –
an introduction to theories of personality
(7th edn, 2003) by
Christopher F Monte and Robert N Sollod. Published by John Wiley & Sons.

Browsing in the ‘personality’ section of the library, I chose this book because it devotes a relatively large amount of space to Freud’s case studies and theory. It’s also dead simple and quite enjoyable to read. For those with time and interest, the authors explain the rationale
behind the development of Freud’s theory and show how it evolved from clinical practice. Usually I do my reading and note-taking in short bursts, but I ended up spending a solid four hours with this book, despite the fact that it has a strange odour. I have a feeling I’ll be going back to it.

Structure of personality (from p110):

(except, from p97) Freud’s final structural model, which did not include the concepts of the unconscious and preconscious. [1923 The ego and the id. In Vol XIX of The Standard Edition. London: Hogarth 1961]

The Id – where drives and instincts reside, ‘a cauldron of fury’, the Id strives to gain immediate satisfaction of its urges (three doughnuts! Now!)

The ego – actually a specialized portion of the id! Its role is to steer a safe course through reality and to maintain satisfactory relations with the world (how about one doughnut followed by a session on the stairmaster? That way your hipsters won’t look gross.) Looking at my first set of notes, I can see that ego supposedly arises during the anal phase, so probably along with parental demand for potty training.

From p104: when the ego recognizes its own weakness (hello? Is the ego sentient, then? confusing) in carrying out its often overwhelming task, anxiety results.

  • Realistic anxiety – the result of fear of the external world
  • Neurotic anxiety – fear of being overwhelmed by the id
  • Moral anxiety – fear of the superego’s disapproval

The superego – ‘the heir of the Oedipal complex’. Arises by the age of five or six (during phallic phase) from renounced Oedipal desires (dad, I can’t have you because you belong to mum by rights). Is the moral or ethical arm of personality, and is the definitive arbiter in matters of ego-id relations.

From p111: “The power of the id expresses the true purpose of the individual organism’s life.” [Freud, 1940, p148 of An outline of psychoanalysis. In Vol XXIII of The Standard Edition. London: Hogarth, 1964.]

Libido (p 57) – the sexual/sensual energy which motivates our passage through the psychosexual stages.

Repression (of libido) from p40. Active amnesia with the purpose of avoiding the intense anxiety caused by the experience of wishes/impulses/thoughts unacceptable to the individual’s
conscious ethical standards. Resistance to recall is cited as evidence for the motivation of this kind of forgetting. Of course, even though they’re out of conscious awareness, these responses continue to exert an influence – the return of the repressed. [Freud 1910 p24 of The psychoanalytic view of psychogenic disturbance of vision. In Vol XII of The Standard Edition. London: Hogarth 1957]

Repression is one of a range of defences (p 67) or psychological mechanisms by which anxiety-provoking material is kept out of awareness. So I guess the anxiety is caused by the superego’s ‘disapproval’ of our id-feelings and the ego aims to intervene to spare us that anxiety.

Fixation (of libido) p60 may occur at any of Freud’s psychosexual stages. One lags behind the normal developmental calendar, stuck in one of the psychosexual stages. Smooth progression through the stages towards maturity involves the timely renunciation of the dominant pleasures associated with each phase, eg. smearing and playing with faeces in the anal
stage. A child may submit to toilet training while still harbouring a libidinal connection with these pleasures, and may therefore exhibit ‘anal’ characteristics in adulthood.

The anal personality in adulthood is characterized by orderliness thriftiness and obstinacy (or perhaps their polar opposites?). Freud hypothesised that a common pattern of experiences occurred during the anal stage of all adults who exhibit exaggerated versions of these traits. NB: he didn’t observe potty training at first hand, but based his theory on the patients’ own accounts, which strikes me as something of a potential flaw.

Hard science bit: (p109) Freud’s anal personality type is apparently supported by factor analysis. Also, apparently is the concept of an orally dependent personality type prone to the use of repression and denial as dominant defence mechanisms. [Fisher, S & Greenberg, RP
(1996) Freud scientifically reappraised: Testing the theories and therapy.
New York: John Wiley and Sons]

Regression (of libido) p60 is a return to an earlier stage’s predominant mode of response, a primitivisation of behaviour in order to avoid anxiety. For example, a child beginning school may resort to the long-abandoned behaviour of thumb-sucking. Fixation and regression are related;
the more intense the libidinal investment at early stages of development, the more susceptible that individual will be to regression. [Freud, S (1916) p. 339-341, Introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. In Vols XV and VI of The Standard Edition. London: Hogarth, 1961 & 1963]

The structural model (p97) Freud saw personality as a composite, with the different processes operating as separate entities, sometimes functioning autonomously, even while interacting. (p112) “Persons are partitioned systems powered by biological energies.” So we can see these partitions as functional categories which were reified to a greater or lesser extent to aid the communication of Freud’s ideas.

Latency (p 57) Freud thought it was biologically determined, but strengthened by the kind of social prohibition which was the norm at the time. [1905, p177-178, Three essays on the theory of sexuality. In Vol VII of The Standard Edition. London: Hogarth, 1953]


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