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1.3: The Freudian Revolution

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    1.3 The Freudian Revolution

    Psychodynamic theory (sometimes called psychoanalytic theory) explains personality in terms of unconscious psychological processes (for example, wishes and fears of which we’re not fully aware), and contends that childhood experiences are crucial in shaping adult personality. Psychodynamic theory is most closely associated with the work of Sigmund Freud, and with psychoanalysis, a type of psychotherapy that attempts to explore the patient’s unconscious thoughts and emotions so that the person is better able to understand him- or herself.

    Freud’s work has been extremely influential, its impact extending far beyond psychology (several years ago Time magazine selected Freud as one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century). Freud’s work has been not only influential, but quite controversial as well. As you might imagine, when Freud suggested in 1900 that much of our behavior is determined by psychological forces of which we’re largely unaware—that we literally don’t know what’s going on in our own minds—people were (to put it mildly) displeased (Freud, 1900/1953a). When he suggested in 1905 that we humans have strong sexual feelings from a very early age, and that some of these sexual feelings are directed toward our parents, people were more than displeased—they were outraged (Freud, 1905/1953b). Few theories in psychology have evoked such strong reactions from other professionals and members of the public.

    Controversy notwithstanding, no competent psychologist, or student of psychology, can ignore psychodynamic theory. It is simply too important for psychological science and practice, and continues to play an important role in a wide variety of disciplines within and outside psychology (for example, developmental psychology, social psychology, sociology, and neuroscience; see Bornstein, 2005, 2006; Solms & Turnbull, 2011). This module reviews the psychodynamic perspective on personality. We begin with a brief discussion of the core assumptions of psychodynamic theory, followed by an overview of the evolution of the theory from Freud’s time to today. We then discuss the place of psychodynamic theory within contemporary psychology, and look toward the future as well.

    Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) is probably the most controversial and misunderstood psychological theorist. When reading Freud’s theories, it is important to remember that he was a medical doctor, not a psychologist. There was no such thing as a degree in psychology at the time that he received his education, which can help us understand some of the controversy over his theories today. However, Freud was the first to systematically study and theorize the workings of the unconscious mind in the manner that we associate with modern psychology.

    In the early years of his career, Freud worked with Josef Breuer, a Viennese physician. During this time, Freud became intrigued by the story of one of Breuer’s patients, Bertha Pappenheim, who was referred to by the pseudonym Anna O. (Launer, 2005). Anna O. had been caring for her dying father when she began to experience symptoms such as partial paralysis, headaches, blurred vision, amnesia, and hallucinations (Launer, 2005). In Freud’s day, these symptoms were commonly referred to as hysteria. Anna O. turned to Breuer for help. He spent 2 years (1880–1882) treating Anna O. and discovered that allowing her to talk about her experiences seemed to bring some relief of her symptoms. Anna O. called his treatment the “talking cure” (Launer, 2005). Despite the fact the Freud never met Anna O., her story served as the basis for the 1895 book, Studies on Hysteria, which he co-authored with Breuer. Based on Breuer’s description of Anna O.’s treatment, Freud concluded that hysteria was the result of sexual abuse in childhood and that these traumatic experiences had been hidden from consciousness. Breuer disagreed with Freud, which soon ended their work together. However, Freud continued to work to refine talk therapy and build his theory on personality.


    To explain the concept of conscious versus unconscious experience, Freud compared the mind to an iceberg (Image 1.13). He said that only about one-tenth of our mind is conscious, and the rest of our mind is unconscious. Our unconscious refers to that mental activity of which we are unaware and are unable to access (Freud, 1923). According to Freud, unacceptable urges and desires are kept in our unconscious through a process called repression. For example, we sometimes say things that we don’t intend to say by unintentionally substituting another word for the one we meant. You’ve probably heard of a Freudian slip, the term used to describe this. Freud suggested that slips of the tongue are actually sexual or aggressive urges, accidentally slipping out of our unconscious. Speech errors such as this are quite common. Seeing them as a reflection of unconscious desires, linguists today have found that slips of the tongue tend to occur when we are tired, nervous, or not at our optimal level of cognitive functioning.

    Freud believed that we are only aware of a small amount of our mind’s activities and that most of it remains hidden from us in our unconscious. The information in our unconscious affects our behavior, although we are unaware of it.

    According to Freud, our personality develops from a conflict between two forces: our biological aggressive and pleasure-seeking drives versus our internal (socialized) control over these drives. Our personality is the result of our efforts to balance these two competing forces. Freud suggested that we can understand this by imagining three interacting systems within our minds. He called them the id, ego, and superego (Image 1.13).

    The mind’s conscious and unconscious states are illustrated as an iceberg floating in water. Beneath the water’s surface in the “unconscious” area are the id, ego, and superego. The area above the water’s surface is labeled “conscious.” Most of the iceberg’s mass is contained underwater.

    A chart illustrates an exchange of the Id, Superego, and Ego. Each has its own caption. The Id reads “I want to do that now,” and the Superego reads “It’s not right to do that.” These two captions each have an arrow pointing to the Ego’s caption which reads “Maybe we can compromise.”

    Image 1.13


    Perhaps one of the most influential and well-known figures in psychology’s history was Sigmund Freud. Freud (1856–1939) was an Austrian neurologist who was fascinated by patients suffering from “hysteria” and neurosis. Hysteria was an ancient diagnosis for disorders, primarily of women with a wide variety of symptoms, including physical symptoms and emotional disturbances, none of which had an apparent physical cause. Freud theorized that many of his patients’ problems arose from the unconscious mind. In Freud’s view, the unconscious mind was a repository of feelings and urges of which we have no awareness. Gaining access to the unconscious, then, was crucial to the successful resolution of the patient’s problems. According to Freud, the unconscious mind could be accessed through dream analysis, by examinations of the first words that came to people’s minds, and through seemingly innocent slips of the tongue. Psychoanalytic theory focuses on the role of a person’s unconscious, as well as early childhood experiences, and this particular perspective dominated clinical psychology for several decades (Thorne & Henley, 2005).

    Remixed from:

    Allen, Chris, "The Balance of Personality" (2020). PDXOpen: Open Educational Resources. 26 CC BY-NC SA 4.0.

    “Psychology, Personality, Freud and the Psychodynamic Perspective.” OER Commons, Commons: Open Educational Resources, Accessed 1 May 2021. CC BY-NC 4.0.

    Rice University. “Psychology, Introduction to Psychology, History of Psychology.” OER Commons,

    Commons: Open Educational Resources, 13 Aug. 2019, CC BY-NC 4.0.


    Carl Jung brought an almost mystical approach to psychodynamic theory. An early associate and follower of Freud, Jung eventually disagreed with Freud on too many aspects of personality theory to remain within a strictly Freudian perspective. Subsequently, Jung developed his own theory, which applied concepts from natural laws (primarily in physics) to psychological functioning. Jung also introduced the concept of personality types, and began to address personality development throughout the lifespan. In his most unique contribution, at least from a Western perspective, Jung proposed that the human psyche contains within itself psychological constructs developed throughout the evolution of the human species.

    Jung has always been controversial and confusing. His blending of psychology and religion, as well as his openness to different religious and spiritual philosophies, was not easy to accept for many psychiatrists and psychologists trying to pursue a purely scientific explanation of personality and mental illness. Perhaps no one was more upset than Freud, whose attitude toward Jung changed dramatically over just a few years. In 1907, Freud wrote a letter to Jung in which Freud offered high praise:

    …I have already acknowledged…above all that your person has filled me with trust in the future, that I now know that I am dispensable like everyone else, and that I wish for no one other or better than you to continue and complete my work. (pg. 136; cited in Wehr, 1989)

    In 1910, hoping that others would also support Jung, Freud wrote to Oskar Pfister:

    I hope you will loyally support Jung, I want him to acquire the authority that will entitle him to leadership of the whole movement. (pg. 136; cited in Wehr, 1989)

    However, in a dramatic shift just three years later, Freud wrote to Jung:

    I suggest to you that we completely give up our private relationship. By this I lose nothing, since for a long time I have been bound to you emotionally only by the thin thread of previously experienced disappointments. … Spare me the supposed “duties of friendship.” (pg. 136; cited in Wehr, 1989)

    Later, in 1922, Freud thanked Oskar Pfister for his help in trying to eliminate Jung’s influence on the psychoanalytic community:

    With your ever more thorough and ever more clearly demonstrated dismissal of Jung and Adler, you have for a long time given me great satisfaction. (pg. 136; cited in Wehr, 1989)

    Who was this man who inspired such profound confidence from Sigmund Freud, only to later inspire such contempt? And were his theories that difficult for the psychodynamic community, or psychology in general, to accept? Hopefully, this chapter will begin to answer those questions. As evidence of his character, and in contrast to Freud, Jung did not turn his back on his former mentor. Following Freud’s death in 1939, and later in 1957, Jung wrote the following:

    [Freud’s work was]…surely the boldest attempt ever made on the apparently solid ground of empiricism to master the riddle of the unconscious psyche. For us young psychiatrists, it was a source of enlightenment… (pg. 29; cited in Wehr, 1989)

    …Despite the resounding censure I suffered at the hands of Freud, I cannot, even despite my resentment toward him, fail to recognize his importance as a critical analyst of culture and as a pioneer in the field of psychology. (pg. 39; cited in Wehr, 1989)

    In order to distinguish his own approach to psychology from others that had come before, Jung felt that he needed a unique name. Freud, of course, had chosen the term “psychoanalysis,” whereas Alfred Adler had chosen “individual psychology.” Since Jung admired both men and their theories, he chose a name intended to encompass not only their approaches, but others as well. Thus, he chose to call his approach analytical psychology (Jung, 1933).

    Analytical psychology, as presented by Jung, addresses the question of the psyche in an open-minded way. He laments the overly scientific approach of the late 1800s and efforts to explain away the psyche as a mere epiphenomenon of brain function. Curiously, that debate remains with us today, and is still unanswered in any definitive way. Jung did not accept the suggestion that the psyche must come from the activity of the brain. This allowed him to consider the possibility of a collective unconscious, and fit well with his acceptance of the wisdom of Eastern philosophers. Indeed, Jung suggests that psychology will find truth only when it accepts both Eastern and Western, as well as both scientific and spiritual, perspectives on the psyche (Jung, 1933).

    At the beginning of his autobiography, entitled Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung (1961) described his life as “a story of the self-realization of the unconscious.” Jung believed that our personality begins with a collective unconscious, developed within our species throughout time, and that we have only limited ability to control the psychic process that is our own personality. Thus, our true personality arises from within as our collective unconscious comes forth into our personal unconscious and then our consciousness. It can be helpful to view these concepts from an Eastern perspective, and it is interesting to note that “self-realization” was used in the name of the first Yoga society established in America (in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda).

    Carl Gustav Jung was born on July 26th, 1875, in the small town of Kesswil, Switzerland, into an interesting and notable family. His grandfather of the same name had been a physician, and had established the psychiatric clinic at the University of Basel and the “Home of Good Hope” for mentally retarded children. At an early age he had been imprisoned for over a year, for the crime of having participated in a demonstration supporting democracy in Germany. Rumored to be an illegitimate son of the great Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, though there is no convincing evidence, the elder Carl Jung died before his namesake grandson ever knew him. Nonetheless, Jung was greatly influenced by stories he heard about his grandfather. His maternal grandfather, Samuel Preiswerk, was the dean of the Basel (Switzerland) clergy and pastor of a major church. He was one the first people in Europe to suggest a restoration of Palestine to the Jews, thus establishing himself as a forerunner to the Zionists. Samuel Preiswerk also believed that he was regularly surrounded by spirits (or ghosts), something that likely had quite an influence on Jung’s theories (Jaffe, 1979; Wehr, 1989).

    Common Archetypes in Jung’s Theory

    of the Collective Unconscious


    Integration and wholeness of the personality, the center of the totality of the psyche; symbolically represented by, e.g., the mandala, Christ, or by helpful animals (such as Rin Tin Tin and Lassie or the Hindu monkey god Hanuman)


    The dark, inferior, emotional, and immoral aspects of the psyche; symbolically represented by, e.g., the Devil (or an evil character such as Dracula), dragons, monsters (such as Godzilla)


    Strange, wraithlike image of an idealized women, yet contrary to the masculinity of the man, draws the man into feminine (as defined by gender roles) behavior, always a supernatural element; symbolically represented by, e.g., personifications of witches, the Greek Sirens, a femme fatale, or in more positive ways as the Virgin Mary, a romanticized beauty (such as Helen of Troy) or a cherished car


    A source of meaning and power for women, it can be opinionated, divisive, and create animosity toward men, but also creates a capacity for reflection, deliberation, and self-knowledge; symbolically represented by, e.g., death, murderers (such as the pirate Bluebeard, who killed all his wives), a band of outlaws, a bewitched prince (such as the beast in “Beauty and the Beast”) or a romantic actor (such as Rudolph Valentino)


    A protective cover, or mask, that we present to the world to make a specific impression and to conceal our inner self; symbolically represented by, e.g., a coat or mantle


    One who overcomes evil, destruction, and death, often has a miraculous but humble birth; symbolically represented by, e.g., angels, Christ the Redeemer, or a god-man (such as Hercules)

    Wise Old Man

    Typically a personification of the self, associated with saints, sages, and prophets; symbolically represented as, e.g., the magician Merlin or an Indian guru


    A childish character with pronounced physical appetites, seeks only gratification and can be cruel and unfeeling; symbolically represented by, e.g., animals (such as Brer Rabbit, Wile E. Coyote or, often, monkeys) or a mischievous god (such as the Norse god Loki)

    Jung’s Eight Personality Types

    Introverted Thinking

    Focused on own internal thoughts and ideas, do not communicate well, can be highly conflicted and will lash out at critics, generally stubborn and do not get along well with others

    Introverted Feeling

    Tend to be silent, inaccessible, and melancholy, have deep emotions but hide them and appear cold and reserved on the surface, tend to be suspicious of others, most are women

    Introverted Sensing

    Guided by subjective impression of real-life objects, often express their sensations through artistic endeavors, the objective world may seem make-believe and comical

    Introverted Intuitive

    Tend to be peculiar and lack contact with reality, may be completely misunderstood even by those who are close to them, may seem like a mystical dreamer and seer on one hand but just a cranky person on the other, may have vision but lack convincing power of reason

    Extraverted Thinking

    Seek intellectual conclusions based on objective reality, seek to influence others, suppress emotion, can be rigid and dogmatic (tyrannical when others penetrate their power province)

    Extraverted Feeling

    Feelings harmonize with objective situations, can be highly emotional, will avoid thinking when it proves upsetting, most are women

    Extraverted Sensing

    Immersed in realism and seek new experiences, whole aim is concrete enjoyment, most are men

    Extraverted Intuitive

    Always seek new opportunities, may seize new opportunity with enthusiasm and just as quickly abandon it if not promising, has vision, often found among business tycoons and politicians, but have little regard for welfare of others


    As a child, Jung was introduced to a wide variety of cultural and religious perspectives from around the world. As a result of these experiences, he was open to many different perspectives throughout his career.

    Jung had extremely vivid dreams, many of which he interpreted as visions (or unconscious communications) intended to guide his actions.

    Jung called his approach “analytical psychology” in order to distinguish it from Freud’s “psychoanalysis” and Adler’s “individual psychology.”

    An important starting point for Jung’s theories was the concept of entropy, which proposes an eventual balance of all energy. Jung applied this concept to the psychic energy present in the conscious and unconscious psyches.

    Jung proposed two distinct realms within the unconscious psyche, the personal and the collective.

    According to Jung, the personal unconscious is revealed through its complexes.

    Jung advanced the Word Association Test as a means of examining the complexes contained within the personal unconscious.

    The collective unconscious communicates through archetypal images. Jung believed the most readily observed archetypes are the shadow, the anima, and the animus.

    Another important archetype is the self, the representation of wholeness and the completed development of the personality. The self is often symbolically represented by mandalas.

    Jung developed a framework for recognizing particular personality types. He proposed two attitudes, introversion and extraversion, and four functions, thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuition.

    Jung’s type theory provided the basis for some practical personality tests. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter are both well-known in the field of psychology.

    Jung believed that everyone’s ultimate goal is to fully develop the potential of their personality. Jung called this process individuation.

    Development during the first half of life involves the natural aims of survival and procreation. The second half of life offers the opportunity to seek cultural development and the fulfillment of one’s self.

    Jungian analysis follows a basic series of stages, involving confession, elucidation, education, and transformation. However, Jung suggested it was better to avoid being locked into a rigid procedure. As a result, he utilized many different techniques, based on each individual patient.

    As Freud had before him, Jung developed a grand vision of how analytical psychology might help society as a whole. One unique proposition was that the Western world had much to learn from Eastern cultures.

    Jung’s interest in topics such as alchemy and extrasensory perception did not sit well with colleagues seeking to establish psychology as a scientific discipline. This opposition to Jung remains quite strong today, though Western psychology is broadening its perspective.

    Remixed from:

    Kelland, Mark. "Personality Theory". OER Commons. Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, 07 Jul. 2017. Web. 28 Jun. 2022. . CC BY 4.0.