Sigmund Freud

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Sigmund Freud


Austrian Psychiatrist

Sigmund Freud forever altered the ways humankind looked at its own thought processes. His groundbreaking work in psychology aroused intense feelings and controversy. Though some of his theories have been disputed, no one questions his influence on civilization. Many of his concepts—such as Oedipus complex, sibling rivalry, libido, transference, death wish, and telling speech blunders (dubbed Freudian slips)—have become part of popular culture and psychological understanding.

Freud was born in Morovia (now Czechoslovakia). His father was a wool merchant. His family moved to Vienna when he was four years old, and he considered himself an Austrian. His family was Jewish.

When he was nine years old, Freud entered high school, which was usual in Austria. He graduated at the top of his class, and soon entered medical school in Vienna in 1881. Ironically, he was not interested in medicine. There were, however, a limited number of fields open to Jews. He chose medicine so that he could "gain knowledge about human nature." Due to his photographic memory, medical school was rather easy for him. He passed his exams with top scores.

Shortly thereafter Freud met Martha Bernays. The two wanted to marry but he was too poor. In 1885 he traveled to Paris to study with the famous neurologist Jean Martin Charcot (1825-1893), who was working with patients suffering from a mental illness known as hysteria. Freud returned to Austria in 1886, married Martha Bernays, and began his own work with hysterical patients. He began to use the word pyschoanalysis to describe his treatment of patients. At first his work met with hostility from other doctors.

By 1910 Freud's theories about the human mind were gaining recognition. Two of his students—Alfred Adler (1870-1937) and Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961)—abandoned Freud's philosophies to develop their own theories of psychology. Freud's ideas were constantly evolving; he was continually revising his theories and writings, the most important of which include The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), and The Ego and The Id (1923).

Freud's theories of behavior stemmed from a connection between the conscious and the unconscious. He believed that ideas in the unconscious mind controlled behavior, and that dream interpretation was a key to unlocking the unconscious mind. He was controversial because of his beliefs that sexual feelings affected behavior from an early age. Some of his philosophies seem to stem from personal experience. He experienced intense sibling rivalry when his younger brother was born, and later extreme guilt when the infant died. He later realized that his unconscious feelings of being neglected by his mother led to his actions of contempt for his brother. Freud also experienced sexual feelings for his mother as a child, and recurring dreams of his own inadequacy. These personal feelings are mirrored in his psychological philosophies.

The same year The Ego and The Id was published, Freud noticed a growth in his jaw. He was diagnosed with cancer of the mouth. Although his condition was extremely painful, he continued his work. He underwent over 30 operations for his cancer. When the Nazis took control of Austria in 1938, Freud, his wife, and six children fled to safety in England. A year later, in London on September 23, with the help of a compassionate physician who provided "adequate sedation," Freud died.