One could argue that to truly understand the dynamics between men and women, one must be well versed in the theories of Sigmund Freud. When you understand Freud, the mysteries of the opposite sex seem to make a lot more sense.

Freud is the father of psychology. If it were not for his considerable and prolific influence, the profession of psychology would not exist today. Freud’s philosophy of the mind is reified in the practice of psychoanalysis. To accrue a rudimentary understanding of Freud, one must comprehend psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is based primarily on the conception of the unconscious. Prior to Freud, knowledge of the unconscious was virtually nonexistent. When Freud began his medical career, psychiatric patients were viewed as essentially incurable social parasites; psychological symptoms were viewed as nothing more than automatic consequences of biological disturbances.

Through observing fellow physician Jean-Martin Charcot’s hypnosis of such patients, Freud began to conceptualize his ideas of the unconscious. Freud observed that Charcot’s patients received relief from their psychiatric symptoms when they were in a hypnotic state. This relief, however, was temporary. Freud theorized that in order for psychiatric patients to receive permanent relief from their symptoms, the patients would have to be made aware of the process.

Freud’s observation of hypnosis patients was the genesis of the “talking cure,” the progenitor to psychoanalysis. Anna O., one of Charcot’s patients, came to see Freud and, during one of their sessions, something strange occurred. Anna told Freud that, through their verbal excavation of her childhood memories, she felt better. Through simply talking, she experienced psychiatric relief, which led her to label this the “talking cure.” Freud then conceived that mental distress could be relieved through the purging of childhood memories hitherto repressed — memories outside of the awareness, in the unconscious. From this, Freud posited an unconscious, a repository where a person’s basal drives, desires, internal conflicts, and repressed mental material is stored.

The unconscious, in Freud’s conception, makes up the majority of the mind. The conscious (what one is aware of) and the preconscious (memories that are not in one’s immediate awareness but can be accessed) make up a smaller portion of the mind. Since the unconscious is the largest section of the mind, it follows that it has the largest degree of control over one’s behaviors, mentations, and feelings. The unconscious is composed of various elements, called complexes. These various elements are dynamic, meaning they work together, and this interaction leads to an individual’s mentation, emotions, and behaviors. When an internal conflict is repressed by the unconscious (e.g. something traumatic or unpleasant occurs during childhood and, as a result, the memory of that occurrence remains in the unconscious), symptoms inevitably arise.

Conglomerations of symptoms arise in the body as a result of repressed material. These physical distresses range from nausea to headaches to general physical weakness, to countless other ailments. These repressed conflicts can also manifest in emotional forms, such as anxiety, depression, etc. It was through Freud’s work with women suffering from hysteria that he came to the idea that hysteria resulted from repressed sexual situations, either outright sexual abuse or uncomfortable sexual desires of some sort. It is then through understanding the etiology of these repressed memories that relief — true, permanent relief — of symptoms becomes possible.

Therefore, the primary role of the analyst is to bring these unconscious memories, desires, and conflicts into awareness. Assuming Freud’s theory of the unconscious is true, how do we actually put psychoanalysis into practice? How can we actually bring the patient’s unconscious into their awareness in order to bring them mental relief? There are three tools commonly used associated with psychoanalysis: free association, dream interpretation, and transference.

Free association involves the patient verbalizing whatever immediately comes to mind in regards to a particular topic, without censoring themselves. The idea is that what a patient spontaneously says reveals their unconscious thoughts. Dream interpretation posits that individual’s dreams are not the unconscious, rather, they are a substitution for the unconscious and through an exploration of a patient’s dreams via a variety of techniques, the actual unconscious material can be inferred.

Transference entails a patient projecting thoughts, feelings, and behaviors onto their analyst that actually relate to their parents. In essence, the analyst becomes a stand-in for their parents, and the patient will project whatever anxieties they have in regards to their parental figures onto their analyst. Take a case where a patient was constantly belittled by his father. The patient might then accuse their analyst of belittling them, even if they did no such thing. Or assume a middle-aged patient has an unhealthy emotional attachment to his mother, the patient might become very disturbed by the thought of psychotherapy ending, for they are losing their substitute emotional attachment. An analyst is supposed to be a tabula rasa and is not supposed to encourage this transference in any way; therefore, when a patient has an inappropriate reaction to their analyst, it reveals an unconscious conflict, or at least a portion of it.

The art of bringing issues to light has the effect of making someone healthier, stronger, and more aware. A healthy sense of self-awareness, in turn, leads to stronger relationships, be it in dating or marriage. Knowing where your issues come from allows you to have a sense of control over them. When you understand a situation, you can more effectively manage it. That is the crux of a good relationship.

Remember, all is well.

 

Simone is pursuing her master’s degree in psychology and serves on the Commission for the Senior Community. She prides herself on having had more marriage proposals than shoes. She can be reached at sgordon1@uoregon.edu. In her inner circle, Limor, a screenwriter, is known as the “wing woman” and her cell number has become the hotline for dating advice. You can reach her at limorygottlieb@gmail.com

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