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Who Was Sigmund Freud?

By Katharine Swan
Updated May 23, 2024
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Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 in Moravia, an area located in the modern-day Czech Republic. When he was just a small boy, his family moved to Vienna, where he grew up, studied, and spent most of his career. Late in life, Freud immigrated to England in order to avoid the growing hostilities against Jews in Vienna. He died shortly afterward, in 1939.

Freud started out in medical school, but psychology was in his blood, and he was constantly trying to draw a connection between physiology and psychology. In his early years, these efforts were expressed by his adherence to the reductionist theories popular at the time: the attempt to reduce all mental functions to neurology or physiological responses. One might consider his later theories, those that connected virtually everything in human psychology to sexual impulses and instincts, as being along the same lines.

He is best known for his theory of the unconscious. Freud theorized that the conscious mind — the part of the mind that people are aware of — made up only a minuscule proportion of the mind. Much more important was the unconscious mind, which determines people's feelings and actions without them even being aware of it. Although the idea was brand-new, Freud was able to popularize it.

Freud theorized that many of the psychological problems people face were related to memories or experiences that have been repressed by the unconscious. Because people are not even aware of the unconscious, they are unable to deal with what the unconscious has repressed — and are unaware of how the repressed memories and experiences are damaging their psychological health. Freud developed psychoanalysis as a way to deal with the unconscious. He theorized that a mixture of hypnosis and talking about the repressed memories could help the conscious mind come to terms with it, and thereby relieve the patient of his or her psychological difficulties.

The psychologist is also well known for his development theories and their focus on sex. Freud was highly interested in how men and women developed male and female identities. In the most famous part of his stage theory, the Oedipal complex, he theorized that, during early childhood, boys fall in love with their mothers, but they develop masculine personalities by modeling themselves after their fathers out of fear of castration.

Likewise, he developed some very famous — and very lingering — theories about women. He theorized that women develop feminine personalities because they believe that they have been castrated; out of what he called “penis envy,” they imitate their mothers in order to win a man, and the power his penis represents.

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Discussion Comments
By anon311027 — On Dec 28, 2012

Some people are geniuses true enough, but some are destructive geniuses like Hitler, etc. Also just because someone does some things that amaze others does not make them infallible.

By serenesurface — On Sep 01, 2012

Is it true that Sigmund Freud came up with the concept of libido?

It's such a well recognized concept now, both in the medical field and in general. I hear people talking about how they have a low libido or a high libido.

But I wonder if Sigmund Freud's libido concept is the same as the concept we refer to now? I take libido to mean sexual energy. But considering that Freud was always trying to find a connection between our body and our psychology, I wonder how he might have described the concept of libido?

Any psychology majors here who can enlighten me?

By donasmrs — On Aug 31, 2012

I like Sigmund Freud's quote about love. He said that "infatuation is only an attraction between male and female and is a state of being completely carried away by unreasoned passion, foolishly extravagant feeling and unappreciated, often completely unwarranted emotion."

By ysmina — On Aug 31, 2012
@jeancastle00, @wesley91-- Oh wow. I have never read the biography of Dr. Sigmund Freud. So I am only familiar with some of his theories that I've heard from professors in my various courses. It sounds like he was dealing with some psychological issues himself although I'm sure there is a logical explanation about his fears.

From what I know about Freud, I think he was a genius. His theories might seem basic or even silly to us now. But during that time, most of this was unheard of. And I do agree with Freud about the subconscious and its impact on our psychology. I really admire him.

By anon130496 — On Nov 28, 2010

yes, modern scientists can offer more precise and accurate conclusions and theories on the human mind and its abilities but without the work of Freud, they would not be as far as they are today. He might have had multiple theories shot down and even proven wrong, but they just eliminated steps for today's scientists to give them the opportunity to offer such "valid" evidence.

Being a psych major myself, i have studied Freud, and no, i do not agree with half of the proposals he presented, but that does not mean that his work and accomplishments are not worthy of my time. People who dismiss his views because they feel they are wrong are simply ignorant. Knowledge is knowledge. Absorb it, expand it, and live by it.

By wesley91 — On Sep 27, 2010

I did a report on Sigmund Freud and found some interesting facts. One is that Freud had a morbid fear of ferns. Also, he was deathly afraid of the number 62 and would not book a room in a hotel that had more than 62 rooms for fear that he could be assigned to room 62.

Freud was 83 years old when he asked his doctor to end his life. His doctor “assisted” Freud in this task by helping him with a morphine overdose on September 23, 1939 in London.

By jeancastle00 — On Sep 23, 2010

I always giggle when I hear people reference Freud and his works in psychology. This is after all a man that was a known cocaine user and intoxicated theorist.

While Freud might have had some very revealing and cutting-edge thoughts on the subject of the human mind and ego, I think more modern scientists have valid and provable evidence for the complicated inner-workings of the human head.

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