Sigmund Freud


Compiled by Himmat Rana (May 1997)

Freud Biography
Time Line

Sigmund Freud was one of the trailblazers of modern-day psychology. As the originator of Psychoanalysis, Freud distinguished himself as an intellectual giant. He pioneered new techniques for understanding human behavior, and his efforts resulted in the most comprehensive theory of personality and psychotherapy ever developed. Freud was the firstborn in a Viennese family of three boys and five girls. He was born in Freiberg, a rural town near Ostrau in northwestern Moravia. Even though Freud's family had limited finances and were forced to live in a crowded apartment, his parents made every effort to foster his obvious intellectual capacities.

From a very early age he had many interests, unfortunately his career choices were limited because of his Jewish heritage. He attended school at "Leopoldstädter Communal-Real-und Obergymnasium" and took his leaving exam in July 1873. This was also the year that Freud registered at the faculty of Medicine at the University of Vienna. In 1881 he obtained his doctorate in medicine. From 1876 to 1882 he worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Physiology under Ernst Brücke, with neurology as his main focus. In 1885 Freud received a One-year scholarship with Charcot at the "Salpetriere" in Paris. In 1886 Freud opened his first neurologist's office in Vienna, Rathausstrasse 7. Under Jean-Martin Charcot, Freud practiced and observed hypnosis as a clinical technique, and began to formulate the beginnings of his theory on the mind.

Freud went on to make nervous ailments his speciality, concentrating on hysteria. By 1895, the year he published Studies on Hysteria with Josef Breuer, he had made significant progress in mapping out and defining his own theory of the mind. A period of intense work and self-analysis, further inspired by the death of his father, led Freud to his publication of The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900 and of Psychopathology of Everyday Life in 1901. The latter work, offering amusing and easily applicable anecdotes of Freudian slips, found a wide audience for his theories of the mind. By 1902 he finally gained the position of associate professor at the University of Vienna. In 1908 Freud established a Psychoanalytic society in Vienna, and thus his new field began to gain wider acceptance. Also in this period Freud published papers on religion, literature and more importantly his introductory lectures, which secured him a wide and popular audience. In 1920, inspired by the death of his daughter Sophie, Beyond the Pleasure Principle was published. Soon after in 1923 The Ego and the Id was published. This work contained a final formulation of his structural theory of the mind. In late 1923 Freud suffered from cancer and had surgery. However he continued to publish his work and in 1927 he published a series of papers on female sexuality.

Freud died in 1939. Today he falls under criticism from most sides, as his speculative theories fail to find support. However, Freud's work presented a new way of thinking about human nature, and his legacy lives on in the vocabulary and beliefs of millions.


Sigmund Freud is the father of Psychoanalysis. He continued to modify his theory over a period of nearly half a century. Psychoanalysis focuses on the unconscious aspects of personality. According to Freud the human mind is like an iceberg. It is mostly hidden in the unconscious. He believed that the conscious level of the mind was similar to the tip of the iceberg which could be seen, but the unconscious was mysterious and was hidden. The unconscious also consists of aspects of personality of which a person is unaware. The conscious on the other hand is that which is within our awareness. The preconscious consists of that which is not in immediate awareness but is easily accessible.

In 1923 Freud described his constructs of the id, ego and the superego. The id is the most primitive part of our personality. It operates according to the pleasure principle and it simply seeks immediate gratification. Freud believed that every human had a life and death instinct. The life instinct is called eros while the death instinct is called thanatos. Both are integral parts of the id. And the energy for this mechanism is libido, a flowing, dynamic force.

The ego is different from the id as it is extremely objective. It operates according to the "reality principle" and deals with the demands of the environment. It regulates the flow of libido and keeps the id in check, thus acting as a "control center" of the personality. It is the superego which represents the values and standards of an individual's personality. It acts as an internal judge, it punishes the ego with feelings of guilt or it rewards, which lead to feelings of pride and heightened self esteem. The superego is a characteristic of the personality which strives for perfection. According to Freud, the disparity and development of the id, ego and the superego, determines an individuals behavior in a given situation, which in turn results in the development of the personality. Freud placed great importance on the early years of a child as he believed that what we are as adults is determined by childhood experiences. Freud called these early years of development the psychosexual years of development. These early years proceed through a number of stages. Each child undergoes the different stages. These stages are the oral stage (first year of life), the anal stage ( second year), phallic stage (third through fifth year), a period of latency (from 6 to 12), and the genital stage (after puberty). Freud believed that as every child passes through these stages there might be a likely possibility that a child may spend more time in a particular stage then they aught to. This condition can lead to a fixation or an incomplete development of the personality. A critical event during the first five years of life is the experience of Oedipus and Electra conflicts. Freud believed that both sexes encounter and must deal with these turmoils, which result from boys developing sexual attraction toward their mothers, and girls developing sexual attraction towards their fathers. A boy may have feelings of jealousy towards his father as he is an obstacle between him and his mother. And, they fear retaliation by their fathers if they are caught (fear of castration). Since the boy loves his father, these feelings are repressed and he begins to identify with the father, adopting his values. Similarly girls develop hostility towards their mothers, unconsciously blaming their mothers for not being equal with boys. They assume that something is missing and feels inadequate (penis envy).

Another major aspect of psychoanalysis is the development of defense mechanisms. According to the theory defense mechanisms are used by the ego to protect the person from anxiety. Repression is when information is pushed down into the unconscious. This information is either unpleasant or undesirable and may cause anxiety. Very often this information is pushed so deep down into the unconscious that is hard to retrieve. Reaction formation is when due to anxiety feelings are replaced by the extreme opposite. For instance a person feeling hate will be replaced by love. Undoing is when the ego completely changes actions which lead to feelings of anxiety. In this mechanism the truth may be drastically distorted. Projection is when an individual tends to assign one's own shortcomings on to someone else. Rationalization is when an irrational act is made to appear rational. Denial occurs in cases where the ego is threatened and a person refuses to acknowledge the reality or seriousness of the situation. Identification involves empathizing with the qualities or characteristics of another favorable person. Fixation and Regression are related mechanisms which occur during psychosexual development.

Psychoanalysis is also a therapy. It is based on the observation that individuals are often unaware of many of the factors that determine their emotions and behavior. Psychoanalytic treatment demonstrates how these unconscious factors affect current relationships and patterns of behavior, traces them back to their historical origins, shows how they have changed, and helps individuals to deal better with the realities of adult life.

Time Line
1856 Born in Freiberg (Pribor), northwestern Moravia
1859 Family moved to Vienna's "Leopoldstadt", or second district
1865 Attended high school at "Leopoldstadter Communal-Real-und Obergymnasium"
1873 Registered at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Vienna
1878 He changed his first name "Sigismund" to "Sigmund"
1881 Obtained his doctorate in Medicine
1882 Worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Physiology under Ernst Brücke
1885 One-year scholarship with Charcot at the "Salpetriere" in Paris
1886 Opened up his first neurologist's office in Vienna, Rathausstrasse 7
1886 Married Hamburg-born Martha Bernays (1861-1951)
1887 Birth of his elder daughter Mathilde (1887-1978)
1889 Birth of his son Martin (1889-1967)
1889 Scholarship in Nancy, with Liébault and Bernheim: hypnosis studies
1891 Birth of his son Oliver (1892-1970)
1891 Freud family moved to the house Berggasse 19 in the 9th Viennese District
1892 Birth of his son Ernst (1892-1970)
1893 Birth of his daughter Sophie (1893-1920)
1895 Birth of his daughter Anna (1895-1982)
1895 Publication of his studies on hysteria together with Josef Breuer
1896 Freud called his new therapeutical treatment Psychoanalysis
1900 Publication of the book "Traumdeutung"/ "The Interpretation of Dreams"
1901 Publication of "Psychopathology of Everyday Life"
1902 Appointed associate professor of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Vienna
1905 Publication of "Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewußten" und "Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie"
1908 Founding of the "Viennese Association of Psychoanalysis"
1909 Guest lectures in the United States, University in Worcester, Massachusetts
1910 Founding of the "International Association of Psychoanalysis"
1912 Publication of "Yearbook of Psychoanalysis"
1913 Publication of the "International Magazine for Psychoanalysis"
1917 Freud comes out with "Lectures introducing Psychoanalysis"
1919 Publication of "The International Journal of Psychoanalysis"
1920 Publication of "Beyond the Pleasure Principle"
1920 Freud is finally appointed Professor of the University of Vienna
1923 Falls ill with palatine cancer
1923 Publication of "The Ego and the Id"
1924 Appointed "Citizen of Vienna" by the City of Vienna
1930 Freud is awarded the Goethe Prize for Literature honoring his "clear and impeccable style"
1930 Publication of "Civilization and its Discontents"
1930 Death of Freud's mother
1933 Freud's book burnt in Berlin
1936 First recurrence of cancer
1938 Nazi Invasion and thus decision to leave Vienna
1938 Journey to London
1939 Inoperable recurrence of cancer
1939 Freud dies on September 23

Hothersall, D. 1995. History of Psychology, 3rd ed., Mcgraw-Hill:NY
Sachs, Hanns. 1945. Freud Master and Friend. Harvard University Press, London.
Jones, Ernest M.D. 1957. The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 3. Basic Books Incorporated, New York.
Holland, N. Norman. 1990. Holland's Guide to Psychoanalytic Psychology and Literature-and-Psychology. Oxford University Press, New York.
Nye, D. Robert. 1996. Three Psychologies: perspectives from Freud, Skinner, and Rogers, 5th Edition. International Thomson Publishing Company, New Paltz.

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