Dismissing Freud 2.0


It happens every few years: historians, psychologists, journalists and investigators find “new” material to dismiss and discredit the work of Sigmund Freud. Since his passing in 1939, the man, who is often mythologized, has undergone numerous character assassinations. Many have said his work is both unscientific and offensive, while others have labeled him a racist and a sexist. Most recently, his work and its lack of empirical research, has been cause (somewhat fairly) for concern about the effectiveness of psychoanalysis. In his new book, the British author and critic Frederick Crews continues his take down of the late Freud. The book, “The Making of an Illusion,”  focuses on Freud’s shortcomings as a man and a professional, and rails against a form of treatment that created a “cult of personality” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Freud’s most notable dissenters have spent years rejecting his theories on penis envy, the Oedipus Complex and the core concept of the sexual drive inherent in all humans. His experimentation with cocaine has poured into mainstream culture. But the main problem with dismissing Freud outright is the lack of understanding of the value of psychoanalysis. At its core, psychoanalysis is a talking cure (coined by Josef Breur in 1895). Patients are able to therapeutically process emotion, content, disturbances and conflicts. The contemporary relational psychoanalyst Susie Orbach said “Psychoanalysis is the study of human subjectivity. It is a clinical practice. It theorises the vicissitudes of human attachment, of the psychological development of mind and body that occur within a relational, cultural field.” She is correct. Furthermore, psychoanalysis proper is rarely practiced today because of the “need” for brief, concrete and managed mental health treatment.

Swept up in the Freudian revisionism is a more common problem, which is the dismissal of the magnitude his ideas have had on the field of psychology for 100 years. Freud’s groundbreaking understanding of transference and countertransference, along with his working model of the mind, are still understood and used today. Psychiatric assessments refer to “attitude toward writer,” which can be linked to a patient’s transferential projection onto the therapist. Because of Freud, we now understand the omnipotence of defense mechanisms and the unconscious motives of our drives.

Freud normalized sexuality for men and women. The ability to relate sexuality to early childhood experiences is a sensitive issue, but one that needs exploration in the therapeutic setting. Today, we have a greater appreciation for attachment theory, psychosocial development and the ego because of Sigmund Freud. The problem with the argument that Freud’s work was not empirical rests on the idea that therapy is strictly a science. Cognitive behavioral approaches, along with other standardized modalities are ubiquitous, but their long-term efficacy remains unknown. Behavioral interventions negate defense mechanisms, unconscious conflicts, inhibition, drive and attachment.

The mind is still a largely unknown construct. Psychoanalysis has allowed therapists, physicians and lay people to inch closer to understanding its processes. Replacing this with psychopharmacology and shallow methodologies of treatment that rely on labels and symptoms fails to grasp the rewards of the subjective therapeutic experience.



Are “selfies” narcissistic?


Is the act of taking a “selfie” narcissistic? This question has come up in newspaper articles, peer-reviewed journals and on your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend’s Facebook page. Despite narcissism’s new-found spot on the top of the pop-psychology charts, it is a complex personality disorder that is often times misunderstood and used too loosely. Before we talk about what it means to be a narcissist and look at the use of “selfies,” it is important to define the characteristics of a true narcissist.

There are nine diagnostic criteria that constitute narcissism. An individual has to present at least five to carry the label. The characteristics are as follows:

1. grandiose sense of self-importance

2. a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love

3. a belief that he or she is special and can only be understood by high-status individuals

4. a requirement for excessive admiration

5. displays a sense of entitlement

6. manipulative

7. lacks empathy

8. displays envy or jealousy, but believes others are envious of him or her

9. shows arrogance

Back when Freud was finalizing his concept of narcissism 100 years ago, he related it to an auto-erotcism, i.e. a sexual gratification from one’s own body. This theory is related to the Greek mythological figure Narcissus, whose own auto-eroticism led to his committing suicide. Ultimately, Freud ruled out labeling narcissism as pathological and saw it as part of human development. Similarly, Karen Horney referred to narcissism as a sense of self-infatuation.

Narcissism can also be seen as deriving from having caregivers (parents, guardians, etc.) who did not validate their child’s “true-self,” thus leading a child to create an inflated sense of self and live and construct a false sense of being. Clinically speaking, a narcissist will use the primitive defense mechanisms of projection, denial and splitting.

With this brief introduction and summation of the narcissistic criteria, where does the “selfie” fit in? Besides a possible link with a sense of grandiosity and a need for admiration, selfies do not merit true narcissism.  A selfie can be viewed in the same light as a Facebook status or tweet. Ultimately, one who takes a selfie is seeking a reaction or approval from others. This is no different than somebody posting a controversial Facebook post or tweeting something obscene. Somebody who takes a selfie is possibly looking for validation. But are all selfies equal? No. A snapchat is different from an Instagram picture due the ability to leave comments and “like” the image.

A “selfie” should be viewed in the context of today’s overall social media obsession. Facebook is now a tool to project one’s life as all good. What we don’t see is as important as what is being displayed.

Not all narcissists take selfies. Not all selfies are taken by narcissists.

In ego psychological terms, a narcissist’s reality testing is lost and retrospective insight is nowhere to be seen. Think Anthony Weiner or Bill Clinton. At the time of their actions, their automatic insight was nonexistent. After having time to think about what they did, both men still did not take responsibility . They denied, projected their feelings outward and split- they were the victims, the women were the culprits. This is narcissism.

How do you view selfies?

Defending Freud (Part 1)

Rebels seldom go with the tide. That is why they are rebels. Their ideas, theories, hypotheses are all formed against the backdrop of  an “it is what it is” mentality. They challenge the status quo, the common perception, the way of thinking that dominates main stream culture. With this, I make the case to keep one rebel’s ideas alive- Sigmund Freud. No, I am not asking that you adopt his views on sexuality, repressed emotion or love. I am asking that his ideas not be forgotten.

Freud, especially in American culture is perceived as a fraud (Freud and fraud are very close in spelling), unscientific and sexist. While some of his original works are questionable, his work and theories should still be studied, debated and not left out of the common discourse when treating patients. Countless theorists have critiqued, altered and enhanced his original work. Great strides have been made in the field of psychoanalysis since the days of Freud.

One of Freud’s greatest accomplishments was his work on dreams. Dreams provide a gateway to our unconscious self where no thought is off limits. As Mark Edmundson wrote, “At night, we discover that nothing human is foreign to us; incest, murder…sexual urges.”  With dreams, we can analyze internal conflict and begin to understand our character. Dreams also allow us to tap into the unconscious mind and explore issues that have been withheld from our awareness.

Next time you have a dream, try to remember the content, and if a recurrent theme persists, ease off Sigmund.