At the dawn of the 20th century, the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud began laying the foundations of psychoanalysis, a novel approach to the human psyche that is both a theory of personality and a method of treatment for patients with disorders. Freud’s main contribution to psychology would be his concept of the unconscious.

Freud expressed that repressed thoughts, desires, and memories deeply determine by a person’s behavior; According to his theory, the painful experiences of childhood are emerged from consciousness and become part of the unconscious, from where they can influence powerfully in behavior.

As a method of treatment, psychoanalysis seeks to bring these memories to consciousness in order to free the subject from its negative influence.

There are many objections and even sarcasm that he received to psychoanalysis already in his time and still in our days. For the same years in which Wilhelm Wundt tried to strengthen psychology as an independent science applying an experimental methodology, Freud started from clinical observation to build discipline with important speculative nuclei and, consequently, it was too difficult to verify his therapeutic efficacy that would also be the target of criticism.

In spite of this, the disagreement of psychoanalysis ended up revolutionizing the vision of the human being; his influence immediately surpassed the scope of psychology to extend to philosophy, literature and arts, and notions such as the unconscious were instilled in Western culture to the point of having been assumed, even in regard to perception of his own mind, by contemporary man.


Sigismund Freud, who at twenty-two years of age was to change that name to Sigmund, was born in Freiberg, in ancient Moravia (today Príbor, Czech Republic), on May 6, 1856. His father was a wool merchant who, at the time of his birth, he was forty-one years old and had two children in a previous marriage; the oldest of them was about the same age as Freud’s mother-twenty years younger than her husband and was, in turn, the father of a one-year-old child.

In his mature age, Freud had to comment that the impression caused by this somewhat tangled family situation had as a consequence to awaken his curiosity and sharpen his intelligence.

In 1859, when the economic crisis put paid to the main commerce, his family moved to Vienna following year, where he lived long years of difficulties and hardships, and during the rest of his long life (his father died in October 1896), his father would find himself without work.

Although he always detested Vienna, Sigmund Freud would reside in this city until a year before his death: despite the intercession of Roosevelt and Mussolini , in June 1938 he would be forced by his condition as a Jew (his works had been burned in Berlin in 1933 ) to embark on the path of exile to London as a result of the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria to the pan-Germanist project of Greater Germany, prepared by the Nazis with the help of the Austrian Chancellor Arthur Seyss-Inquart and his proselytes.

The family remained faithful to the Jewish community and its customs, although it was not especially religious; the father can be considered close to freethinking, and Freud himself had lost religious beliefs as early as adolescence. In 1873, the young Freud finished high school with excellent grades.

He had always been a good student, corresponding to the sacrifices made for his education by his parents, who promised themselves a brilliant career for their son, which shared his expectations. After considering the possibility of pursuing law studies, he decided on medicine, although not with the desire to do it, but he had moved by a certain intention to study the human condition with scientific rigor.

Between Medicine And Research

Halfway through his career, he decided to devote himself to biological research, and from 1876 to 1882, he worked in the laboratory of the physiologist Ernst von Brücke, interested in some of the animal’s nerve structures and in the anatomy of the human brain.


In 1882, he met Martha Bernays, his future wife, daughter of a family of Jewish intellectuals; The desire to marry, his limited financial resources and the few prospects of improving his situation working with von Brücke made him give up his research career and decided to make a living as a doctor, a title he had obtained in 1881.

Without any vocation for the practice of general medicine, he resolved nevertheless to acquire the necessary clinical experience to achieve a certain prestige; from July 1882 to August 1885, he worked as a resident in several departments of the General Hospital of Vienna, deciding to specialize in neuropathology.

In 1884 he commissioned a study on the therapeutic use of cocaine and, not without some imprudence, he experienced it on himself . He did not become a drug addict, but it caused a big mess, as the push to the addiction to his friend Von Fleischl to try to cure him of his morfinomanía, exacerbating, in fact, his case. In medical circles, some criticisms were heard, and his reputation was somewhat overshadowed.

In 1885, he was named Privatdozent of the Faculty of Medicine of Vienna, where he taught throughout his career (first neuropathology, and, later, psychoanalysis), although without access to any chair.

Obtaining a scholarship for a study trip took him that same year to Paris, where he worked for four and a half months in the neurology service of the Salpêtrière under the direction of Jean-Martin Charcot, at that time as most important French neurologist. There, he had occasion to observe the manifestations of hysteria and the effects of hypnosis and suggestion in the treatment of it.

Returning to Vienna, he married in September 1886, after a long courtship marked by ruptures and reconciliations as a result, in particular, of the jealousy that Freud felt towards whoever could be the object of Martha’s affection (including his mother).

In the ten years following the wedding, the couple had six children, three boys, and three girls, the youngest of whom, Anna Freud, born in December 1895, was to become a child psychoanalyst. Shortly before getting married, Freud opened a private practice as a neuropathologist, using electrotherapy and hypnosis for the treatment of nervous diseases.

Towards Psychoanalysis

His friendship with Josef Breuer would be crystallized, at that time, in a closer collaboration, which would ultimately fructify in the creation of psychoanalysis, although their relationship would break.


Between 1880 and 1882, Breuer had treated a case of hysteria (that of the patient who would later be referred to as “Anna O.”); when he interrupted the treatment, he told Freud how the symptoms of the patient (intermittent paralysis of the extremities, as well as speech and vision disorders) disappeared when the latter found the origin or explanation by itself, in a hypnotic state.

In 1886, after checking the operability of hypnosis in Paris, Freud forced Breuer to talk about the case again and, overcoming his initial resistance, to consent to the joint development of a book on hysteria.

During the gestation of this work (appeared in 1895 with the title as studies on hysteria ), Freud sketched his first ideas on psychoanalysis. Breuer participated to some extent in the development, although holding back the scope of later speculations, the characteristic of Freudian doctrine and refusing, finally, to subscribe to Freud’s growing conviction about the role played by sexuality in the etiology of psychic disorders.

In 1896, after breaking with Breuer in a somewhat violent way, Freud began to transform the therapeutic methodology that he had described as “cathartic”, based on hypnosis, on what he himself called the method of “free association”. Working alone, the victim of the contempt of other doctors, the treatment of his patients led him to forge the essential elements of the psychoanalytic concepts of “unconscious”, “repression,” and “transference”.

In 1899, he published his famous treatise The Interpretation of Dreams, although with an edition date of 1900, and in 1905 and he published Three Contributions to Sex Theory, the second in importance of his works. These two were the only books that Sigmund Freud punctually reviewed in each of his successive editions.

Until 1905, and although by that time his theories had already crossed definitively the threshold of the beginnings and were solidly established, he counted on few disciples.

The following year, Freud and Jung traveled to the United States, invited to give a series of lectures at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and were surprised to see the enthusiasm that the thought of Freud had aroused in America much earlier than in Europe. In 1910 the International Society of psychoanalysis was founded in Nuremberg, led by Jung, who held the presidency until 1914. That year, he was forced to resign as a corollary of the rupture promoted in 1913 by Freud himself, declaring the Jungian extension of the concept of “libido” is inappropriate beyond its strictly sexual significance.

In 1923, he was diagnosed with jaw cancer and had to undergo the first of a series of interventions. From then, until his death in London on September 23, 1939, he was always ill, although his energetic activity did not decrease. His great contributions to the diagnosis of the state of civilization date from that period: The future of an illusion (1927), Civilization and Its Discontents  (1930), Moses and monotheism (1939). Previously, through works such as Totem and Taboo (1913), inspired by the biological evolutionism of Charles Darwin and the anthropological and social evolutionism of James George Frazer, he had testified to the extent to which he considered that the primary importance of psychoanalysis, beyond a therapeutic efficacy that he always deemed restricted, lay in its capacity as an instrument to investigate the determinants in the thought and behavior of men.

Theories Of Sigmund Freud

It would be impossible to summarize all his theories in a small article. However, we will highlight the most important ones.


Unconscious Mind

Psychoanalysis consists of allowing the patient to talk about their symptoms and discover, through the word, his healing. He also said that beyond consciousness, there was the unconscious mind, that which we secretly desire, but we cannot obtain.

In this way, accessing the unconscious would be the key to solving mental disorders. But how do you gain access to the unconscious mind?

Freud stated that dreams, lapses, and jokes would be ways to reveal what we really want, but we do not admit it on a conscious level. Therefore, once the individual had the ability to live with his or her innermost desires, consciously, his or her neurosis could be understood and cured.


Freud attached fundamental importance to childhood because he said that the negative experiences experienced in this period could become a trauma in adult life.

Therefore, he studied how the way to deal with sexual energy and libido during childhood would mark the adult individual.

The child would go through three phases of discovery:

  • Oral: when pleasure would always come through the mouth, through suction.
  • Anal: the child learns to control the sphincters and feels satisfaction in doing so.
  • Phallic: When the child realizes that touching his genitals get feels a pleasure.

He also considered that the Oedipus Complex was fundamental to organizing the personality of the individual.

Freudian Subject

It is important to state that the Freudian subject is always a subject in conflict. The mind is always an unrepeatable product as everyone deals with their unconscious desires. This is a need to function within a collaborative relationship and in accordance with shared reality.

Thus, he describes that conflict is the result of the struggle between Id, Ego, and Superego.

It represents the most primitive of our personality: instinct and impulses. The ego is the result of the confrontation of the Id with the environment that the human being lives.

The Superego acts as an advisor to the Ego, warning it about what is morally and socially accepted.

Sigmund Freud Works

  • Study on hysteria (1895)
  • The interpretation of dreams (1899 )
  • Three essays on The Theory of sexuality (1905)
  • Totem and taboo (1913)
  • The Unconscious (1915)
  • Introduction to psychoanalysis (1917)
  • Mass psychology and ego analysis (1923)
  • Psychoanalysis and libido theory (1923)
  • The Ego and the Id (1923 )
  • Neurosis and psychosis (1924)
  • The future of an illusion (1927)

Quotes Of Sigmund Freud

  • We could be a lot better if we didn’t want to be so good.
  • Intelligence is the only way we have to master our instincts.
  • The thought is the rehearsal of action.
  • The dream is the satisfaction of the desire to come true.


Sigmund’s youngest daughter, Anna Freud (1895-1982), followed in her father’s footsteps and was also a prominent psychoanalyst.

Ernst Ludwig Freud (1892-1970), Freud’s fourth son, was an architect with important works in modern styles and Art Deco.

Lucian Freud became a renowned painter in the 20th century.

The Freud Museum is located in London, England, where Freud lived until his death.

Surrealism was the artistic movement that took the most advantage of Freudian ideas.


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