The structural theory the dualdrive theory and the Oedipus complex The id infantile sexuality and the Oedipus complex

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The id is the mental structure that contains the mental representatives of the 'drives', i.e. the ultimate intrapsychic motivations that Freud (7) described in his final 'dual-drive theory' of libido and aggression, or metaphorically, the sexual or life drive and the destruction or death drive to be examined below. Behind this categorical formulation lies a complex set of discoveries regarding the patients' unconscious experiences that Freud came across in the course of the application of the psychoanalytic method to the treatment of neurotic and characterological symptoms. In exploring unconscious mental processes, what at first appeared to be specific traumatic life experiences turned out to reflect surprisingly consistent, repetitive intrapsychic experiences of a sexual and aggressive nature.

Freud(4) was particularly impressed by the regularity with which his patients reported the emergence of childhood memories reflecting seductive and traumatic sexual experiences on the one hand, and intense sexual desires and related guilt feelings on the other. He discovered a continuity between the earliest wishes for dependency and being taken care of (the psychology, as he saw it, of the baby at the mother's breast) during what he described as the 'oral phase' of development; the pleasure in exercising control and struggles around autonomy in the subsequent 'anal phase' of development (the psychology of toilet training); and, particularly, the sexual desire towards the parent of the opposite gender and the ambivalent rivalry for that parent's exclusive love with the parent of the same gender. He described this latter state as characteristic of the 'infantile genital stage' (from the third or fourth to the sixth year of life) and called its characteristic constellation of wishes and conflicts the positive Oedipus complex. He differentiated it from the negative Oedipus complex, i.e. the love for the parent of the same gender, and the corresponding ambivalent rivalry with the parent of the other gender. Freud proposed that Oedipal wishes came to dominate the infantile hierarchy of oral and anal wishes, becoming the fundamental unconscious realm of desire.

Powerful fears motivated the repression of awareness of infantile desire: the fear of loss of the object, and later of the loss of the object's love was the basic fear of the oral phase, directed against libidinal wishes to possess the breast; the fear of destructive control and annihilation of the self or the object was the dominant fear of the anal phase directed against libidinal wishes of anal expulsion and retentiveness; and the fear of castration, 'castration anxiety', the dominant fear of the Oedipal phase of development, directed against libidinal desire of the Oedipal object. Unconscious guilt was a dominant later fear, originating in the superego and generally directed against drive gratification (see under superego). Unconscious guilt over sexual impulses unconsciously equated with Oedipal desires constitute a major source of many types of pathology, such as sexual inhibition and related character pathology.

Prototypical intrapsychic infantile experiences linked to the Oedipus complex were phantasies and perceptions around the sexual intimacy of the parents (the 'primal scene'), and unconscious phantasies derived from experiences with primary caregivers ('primal seduction'). In all these phases of infantile development of drive motivated wishes and fears, powerful aggressive strivings accompanied the libidinal ones, such as cannibalistic impulses during the oral phase of physical dependency on the breast and psychological dependency on mother, sadistic phantasies linked to the anal phase, and parricidal wishes and phantasies in the Oedipal stage of development.

Freud described the oral phase as essentially coinciding with the infantile stage of breast feeding, the anal phase as coinciding with struggles around sphincter control, and the Oedipal stage as developing gradually during the second and through the fourth years, and culminating in the fourth and the fifth years of life. This last phase would then be followed by more general repressive processes under the dominance of the installation of the superego, leading to a 'latency phase' roughly corresponding to the school years, and finally, to a transitory reactivation of all unconscious childhood conflicts under the dominance of Oedipal issues during puberty and early adolescence.

The id: drives

The drives represent for human behaviour what the instincts constitute for the animal kingdom, i.e. the ultimate biological motivational system. The drives are constant, highly individualized, and developmentally shaped motivational systems. Under the dominance of the drives and guided by the primary process, the id exerts an ongoing pressure towards gratification, operating in accordance with the pleasure principle. Freud initially equated the drives with primitive affects. After discarding various other models of unconscious motivation, he ended up with the dual-drive theory of libido and aggression.

He described the libido or the sexual drive as having an 'origin' in the erotogenic nature of the leading oral, anal, and genital bodily zones; an 'impulse' expressing the quantitative intensity of the drive by the intensity of the corresponding affects; an 'aim' reflected in the particular act of concrete gratification of the drive; and an 'object' consisting of displacements from the dominant parental objects of desire.

The introduction of the idea of an aggressive or 'death' drive, arrived at later in Freud's writing, (78) stemmed from his observations of the profound self-destructive urges particularly manifest in the psychopathology of major depression and suicide, and of the 'repetition compulsion' of impulse-driven behaviour that frequently seemed to run counter to the pleasure principle that supposedly governed unconscious drives. He never spelt out the details of the aggressive drive as to its origins. This issue was taken up later by Melanie Klein,(9) Fairbairn/10 Winnicott,(11) Edith Jacobson,(12) and Margaret Mahler and her colleagues/.13) Freud described drives as intermediate between the body and the mind; the only thing we knew about them, Freud suggested,(14) were 'representations and affects'.

The structure and functions of the ego

While the id is the seat of the unconscious drives, and functions according to the 'primary process' of the dynamic unconscious, the ego, Freud proposed, (5) is the seat of consciousness as well as of unconscious defence mechanisms that, in the psychoanalytic treatment, appear as 'resistances' to free association. The ego functions according to the logical and reality-based principles of 'secondary process', negotiating the relations between internal and external reality. Guided by the reality principle, it exerts control over perception and motility; it draws on preconscious material, controls 'attention cathexes', and permits motor delay as well as selection of imagery and perception. The ego is also the seat of basic affects, particularly anxiety as an alarm signal against the danger of emergence of unconscious, repressed impulses. This alarm signal may turn into a disorganized state of panic when the ego is flooded with external perceptions that activate unconscious desire and conflicts, or with overwhelming, traumatic experiences in reality that resonate with such repressed unconscious conflicts, and overwhelm the particularly sensitized ego in the process. The fact that the ego was seen by Freud as the seat of affects, and that affects had previously been described by him as discharge phenomena reflecting drives (together with their mental representations) tended to dissociate affects from drives in psychoanalytic theory, in contrast to their originally being equated in Freud's early formulations. As we shall see, this issue, the centrality of affects in psychic reality and interactions, has gradually re-emerged as a major aspect of contemporary psychoanalytic thinking.

Freud originally equated the 'I', i.e. the categorical self of the philosophers, with consciousness; later, once he established the theory of the ego as an organization of both conscious and unconscious functions, he at times treated the ego as if it were the subjective self, and at other times, as an impersonal organization of functions. Out of this ambiguity evolved the contemporary concept of the self within modern ego psychology as well as in British and American object relations and cultural psychoanalytic contributions. (1.5) An alternative theory of the self was proposed by Kohut,(16) the originator of the self-psychology approach within contemporary psychoanalysis.

Nowadays, an integrated concept of the self as the seat of subjectivity is considered an essential structure of the ego, and the concept of 'ego identity' refers to the integration of the concept of the self: because of developmental processes in early infancy and childhood better understood today, an integrated self concept usually goes hand in hand with the capacity for an integrated concept of significant others. An unconscious tendency towards primitive dissociation or 'splitting' of the self concept and of the concepts of significant objects runs counter to such integration: we shall return to this process later. Already Freud, (17) in one of his last contributions, described a process of splitting in the ego as a way of dealing with intolerable intrapsychic conflict, thus opening up the road for considering splitting processes of the ego as an alternative, pathological defence against intolerable intrapsychic conflict (alternative, that is, to the repression of that conflict and to drawing important related ego functions into repression as well).

Character, from a psychoanalytic perspective, may be defined as constituting the behavioural aspects of ego identity (the self concept) and the internal relations with significant others (the internalized world of 'object relations'). The sense of personal identity and of an internal world of object relations, in turn, reflect the subjective side of character. It was particularly the ego-psychological approach—one of the dominant contemporary psychoanalytic schools—that developed the analysis of defensive operations of the ego, and of pathological character formation as a stable defensive organization that needed to be explored and resolved in the psychoanalytic treatment. In the process, ego psychology contributed importantly to the psychoanalytic treatment of personality disorders.

Personality disorders reflect typical constellations of pathological character traits derived from abnormal developmental processes under the influence of unconscious intrapsychic conflicts. The description of 'reaction formation' as one of the defences of the ego led Freud to the description of the 'oral', 'anal', and 'genital' characters, particularly to the description of the obsessive-compulsive personality as a typical manifestation of reaction formations against anal drive derivatives. This was followed by the description by Abraham(1.8) of the hysterical personality as a consequence of multiple reaction formations against the female castration complex. Over the years, psychoanalytic explorations led to the description of a broad spectrum of pathological character constellations, which today are a part of the spectrum of personality disorders.

Perhaps the most important psychoanalytic contribution to character pathology and the personality disorders is the clinical description of the narcissistic personality disorder. While Freud provided the basic elements that led to its eventual description, psychoanalytic understanding, and treatment, it was not he who crystallized the concepts of normal and pathological narcissism. Freud(19) conceptualized narcissism as the libidinal investment of the ego or self, in contrast to the libidinal investment of significant others ('objects'). In proposing the possibility of a withdrawal of libidinal investment from others with an excessive investment in the self as the basic feature of narcissistic pathology, he pointed to a broad spectrum of psychopathology, and thus first stimulated the contribution of Abraham, (20) and later those of Melanie Klein,(21) Herbert Rosenfeld,(22) Grunberger,(23) Kohut,(l6) Jacobson,(12) and Kernberg.(24) Thus crystallized the description of the narcissistic personality as a disorder derived from a pathological integration of a grandiose self as a defence against unbearable aggressive conflicts, particularly around primitive envy.

The superego in normality and pathology

In his analysis of unconscious intrapsychic conflicts between drive and defence, Freud regularly encountered unconscious feelings of guilt in his patients, reflecting an extremely strict, unconscious infantile morality which he called the superego. This unconscious morality could lead to severe self-blame and self-attacks, and particularly, to abnormal depressive reactions, which he came to regard as expressing the superego's attacks on the ego. It was particularly in studying normal and pathological mourning that Freud(6) arrived at the idea of excessive mourning and depression as reflecting the unconscious internalization of the representation of an ambivalently loved and hated lost object. In unconsciously identifying the self with that object introjected into the ego, the individual now attacked his or her own self in replacement of the previous unconscious hatred of the object; and the internalization of aspects of that object into the superego reinforced the strictness of the individual's pre-existing unconscious infantile morality.

Freud traced the origins of the superego to the overcoming of the Oedipus complex via unconscious identification with the parent of the same gender; in internalizing the Oedipal parent's prohibition against the rivalry with him or her and the unconscious death wishes regularly connected with such a rivalry, and against the incestuous desire for the parent of the other gender, this internalization crystallized an unconscious infantile morality. The superego, thus based upon prohibitions against incest and parricide, and a demand for submission to, and identification with, the Oedipal rival, became the guarantor of the capacity for identification with moral and ethical values in general. In simple terms, the little boy renounces mother out of fear and love of father, takes father's phantasized prohibition against the little boy's sexuality into the superego as a fundamental prohibition, and establishes an identification with his father in the consolidation of his character structure. The little boy thus enacts the unconscious phantasy that, in identifying with father, he will gradually grow into his role, and satisfy his sexual desire in the distant future by choosing another woman who, unconsciously and symbolically, will represent mother. The superego thus introduces a new time perspective into the functioning of the psychic apparatus.

Freud also described the internalization of the idealized representations of both parents into the superego in the form of the 'ego ideal'. He suggested that the earliest sources of self-esteem, derived from mother's love, gradually fixated by the baby's and small child's internalizations of the representations of the loving mother into the ego ideal, led to the parental demands becoming internalized as well. In other words, normally self-esteem is maintained both by living up to the expectations of the internalized idealized parental objects, and by submitting to their internalized prohibitions. This consideration of self-esteem regulation leads to the clinical concept of narcissism as normal or pathological self-esteem regulation, in contrast to the theoretical concept of narcissism as the libidinal investment of the self.

The superego, in summary, is a mental structure constituted by the internalized demands and prohibitions from the parental objects of childhood, the 'heir to the Oedipal complex'. This unconscious structure is of fundamental importance in determining unconscious 'fixations' to infantile prohibitions against drive derivatives and the corresponding unconscious motivation for the activation of a broad spectrum of ego defences against them, thus preventing the ego from re-examining and reintegrating unresolved pathogenic conflicts from early childhood. In health, this internal sense of unconscious morality is the underpinning of moral and ethical systems. Excessive superego severity, usually derived from excessive parental strictness, determines excessive repressive mechanisms and ego inhibitions, irrational moralistic behaviour, or pathological activation of depression and loss of self-esteem.

Having thus summarized the basic psychoanalytic theory of motivation (drives), of development (the stages of development from the early oral phase to the dominance of the Oedipal complex), of structure (the tripartite model), and their implications for psychopathology, I shall now describe more specifically the contemporary psychoanalytic theory of psychopathology and of psychoanalytic treatment.

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