Freud really did make some major contributions to the field of psychology. He was the first one to suggest that psychological problems might have their roots in how children were treated. Freud believed that most of our personality is formed by early childhood, much of it so early that we don’t even have conscious memories. For example, people who were toilet-trained strictly and at an early age grow up to be intolerant of mess, disorder and anything that doesn’t go by the rules of how things are supposed to be.
In the summer of 1929, one of Freud’s patients, Herman Kleirman, wrote a letter to him in order to be able to understand a dream he had. The symbolism and depiction of this dream represents the different stages of Freud’s theory of development.
The first thing the patient remembers is that he was in a very dark and uncomfortable space. Soon after, he fell down a tunnel and ended up in a lake.
This is the suggestion of the moment of birth, when the baby is still inside the mother (the dark spot). The tunnel he talks about is the birth canal through which he will come out and see the light for the first time. Up to that moment, the baby has been in water for nine months. So, once he is outside (in the lake), he starts to take oxygen. This is why he felt that “the lake was filled with more than water”, which is air.
Next, the patient grasped onto something to save himself in the dream. This is the representation of the beginning of the oral stage for the baby. Now, the mouth is his only connection with the world. Grabbing and sucking are two of the only things that the baby can do at this point. As Freud indicates in his theory, little kids have the desire to
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suck all the time. They grab the mother’s nipple for milk, as the man grabbed and ate that thing in the dream to save his life. He tasted something bitter and acidic. This is similar to the taste of the first milk the baby has from the mother when he starts sucking. During the oral passive stage, the EGO, the rational and conscious part of our minds, starts to develop.
After getting to the edge of the lake, Mr. Kleinman describes a horrible and disgusting feeling caused by thick and stinky mud that he was into up to his waist. This compares to the stage of the toilet training in the baby’s development, called the anal-retentive stage. Here, the child starts to recognize internal sensations. Subsequently, the guy felt very uncomfortable and overwhelmed by the feeling and odor of the mud, which makes reference to the feces. Next comes the anal-expulsive stage, when the baby wants to get rid of the “mud”. In this stage, kids are very interested in the products of their own bodies. They are rebellious and out of control. In the dream, the patient suddenly started feeling much better because the mud was converted into silver-white sand. He loved that feeling as much as the baby does when he has the diaper changed and feels clean and comfortable again. This also happens when little kids are finally able to go to the toilet by themselves. Like Mr. Kleinman, they feel on “dry land”.
Moreover, the clean sand made a path going into the distance. This path takes the baby to the next stage: the phallic stage. This is called the Oedipal conflict, which happens when the child falls in love with his mother. At this point, the SUPEREGO develops. It is governed by the morality principle and it is the last part of the personality to be formed. Besides, the father is his opponent in the battle for his mom’s attention. In
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the dream, we find a representation of this stage in the part when the man gets to a large tower. This tower is the symbol associated with the father’s penis. As we know, the penis is the representation of the source of a man’s power. The baby gets jealous and hates his dad for the power he has over him. Likewise, the man wanted to destroy the tower in the dream: “I wished I had an axe to chop it down or matches to set in on fire.” This is similar to the internal feeling the baby has for his father when he cannot get enough consideration from the mother. The man found no way to enter the tower, as the kid has no way to compete with his dad.
Mr. Kleinman goes on in his dream. He follows the path that takes him to a tangled and dense forest. This forest has a cave that makes reference to a woman’s vagina. The baby is not a baby anymore. He is now an adolescent in the puberty stage ready to have sex for the first time. It is a frightening experience as the man explains in the dream. He felt terrified. However, he felt a force pulling him closer and closer to the cave. This force is the sexual desire that helps every man overcome the awful fear to enter “the cave”. In the dream, he feels like he is being sucked in to be devoured, which is the fear to lose his sexual power if he enters the cave. This is the genital stage.
To sum up, Mr. Kleinman’s dream illustrates the different psychosexual stages of a person’s first years of life. These are the oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages. As we have seen, we become sexual individuals since the day we are born. At birth, we acquire the ID structure of the personality, which is the primitive animal instinct controlled by the pleasure principle; the other two, the EGO and the SUPEREGO, develop within the five first years of life. Besides, these stages determine every person’s
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personality. For example, gamblers and people with other addictions go back to any kind of problem in the anal expulsive stage. As Freud pointed out, all the energy of the “psyche” is concentrated at birth, and by the time we are five, our personality is practically shaped.
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