Leaving freudian slips aside, we poke a stick at Freud’s theories, achievements and excesses. And we bust some Freud myths just for fun!
If I were to say the name ‘Sigmund Freud’ to you, what would be your first thought? Most likely, the idea of the freudian slip (oh, you know – say one thing, and mean your mother). Because, over the years, Freud has become a figure of ridicule more commonly thought of as a dirty old man than the father of modern psychology. But you know what? Who cares if he was a raving drug addict with a slightly unnerving obsession with all things sexual? The man was still a genius. So here for your perusing pleasure is a whistle-stop tour of the theories of Dr Sigismund Schlomo Freud.
Freud and The Unconscious Mind
This forms the basis of all Freud’s other theories, and still stands as one of the most influential psychological ideas ever. While he didn’t think of it himself, he did popularise it and study all hell out of it. Essentially, Freud’s theory of the unconscious mind states that the mind is split into the conscious (what we know we think) and the unconscious (things we don’t even know we’re thinking, but which affect us every day).
One of the reasons people snigger at Freud is because he took this a little too far. For example, when asked to find out why a boy known as Little Hans was afraid of horses, Freud spoke to the boy and said that Little Hans was actually afraid of his father but subconsciously projected this fear into horses because their white mouths and blinkers reminded him of his father moustache and glasses. Call me a cynic but I’d find that a much more rational explanation if he hadn’t also noted , a few months prior, that Hans had seen a horse have a seizure and die in the street in front of him.
Nevertheless, Freud desperately wanted to find ways of understanding how our subconscious thoughts affect our behaviour. Such as by using…
Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams
You know the one. You’re walking through a dark gothic corridor in the office or the school canteen when you realise everyone’s staring at you. You look down to realise that you forgot to get dressed. You’re standing there, wishing the ground would swallow you up, then it does, and you’re falling, falling, falling…
Then you wake up. You may think this is nothing more than an overactive imagination or too much cheese before bedtime, but not according to our old buddy Sigmund. Dreams, he believes, are “the royal road to the unconscious”. Any objects or experiences in your dreams are really just substitutes for thoughts too painful or embarrassing for you to address directly. So far it sounds good, right?
But then Freud started taking things a little too far in his…
Analysis of Symbols
Dream of ovens? Bet you didn’t know that’s really your womb. According to Freud, so are: Boxes, caves, shoes, gates, paper, suitcases… Basically anything hollow that stores something is bound to be a womb.
Playing games or music symbolise ‘having a lovely’ and spending some ‘quality time’ with oneself, apparently.
Falling, sailing, dancing and virtually any other vaguely rhythmic activities indicate sex.
Absolutely no prizes for guessing what’s symbolised by elongated or dripping objects such as pipes, mountains, cigarettes or umbrellas…
Obviously, this shows Freud to have been more than a little preoccupied with all things kinky, but in all seriousness, these symbols have been used successfully in advertising. In the 1920s, Freud’s nephew Bernays managed to persuade thousands of women to smoke by rebranding cigarettes as ‘Torches of Freedom’. The cigs acted as a symbol for the stamen (that’s a euphemism), the ultimate symbol of men’s power, so by branding them as ‘Freedom’, he paired the ideas of feminism with the idea of smoking. A great day for women’s liberation, not such a good one for women’s health…
Now, let’s see if we can’t bust a few of Freud’s biggest and best myths.
Freud? Wasn’t he a druggie?
Well, yes. Freud had a raging cocaine addiction and wrote extensively about its ‘antidepressant’ qualities. He also prescribed cocaine to his patients, family and friends (sadly causing one to die of an overdose).
Is he the one who says we fancy our mums?
Again, yes. Freud’s most famous theory is called the Oedipus Complex, after the Greek play, and I warn you – it’s a weird one. The Oedipus Complex theory posits that boys between the ages of 4 and 6 explore their sexual desires by turning them on their mother. They then believe their father will castrate them as a punishment for this. They therefore let their sexual desires lie dormant until they hit puberty, when they turn them to more socially acceptable people.
Girls, he thought, were much more complicated. Girls think they’ve already been castrated, so go through a more complicated process sometimes called the Electra Complex. Now, I don’t know about you, but as far as I remember, when I was between the ages of 4 and 6, I was too busy watching Bagpuss and Mr Ben and playing Tiggy Scarecrow to spend time fantasising about my parents. Perhaps that’s why I’m not a psychologist?
Doesn’t Freud believe all women secretly want a stamen (that’s a euphemism)?
Ah yes, the reason feminists have been disregarding Freud for so many years. This is linked to the Oedipus idea, and girls thinking they’ve been castrated. For the rest of their life, women feel that they are somehow worse than men. ‘Sensible’ women will redress this balance by having children and being a good housewife, but maladjusted ones will try and do men’s things, like having jobs and wearing trousers.
The Electra Complex is stupid and gender prejudiced, but it wasn’t really Freud’s fault. He was a product of his time. I suppose having a lady-stamen (that’s a euphemism) would make festival port-a-loo queues and 3 AM stumbles out of nightclubs easier, but the advent of the SheWee has solved those issues.
OK, Freud’s theories are for the most part ridiculous and he’s hardly the poster boy for feminism. However he undoubtedly and singlehandedly fathered modern psychology (unless we count its other daddy, the lovely Jung), so surely we all owe him a little bit of slack?
Even if it does mean you can’t look your mum in the eye for a couple of days.
Sigmund Freud by Andy Warhol
Sigmund Freud posing with a cigar. What is this cigar saying to us? Is it, perhaps, saying he wasn’t allowed to pose with cocaine?
You see an oven. Admittedly a pink oven. Freud saw a womb.