SIGMUND FREUD and UNIVERSAL NEUROSIS
Sigmund Freud defined the goal of psychoanalysis to be to replace unconscious with conscious awareness, where the ‘id was ego shall be,’ and through this an individual would achieve self-control and reasonable satisfaction of instincts. His fundamental ideas include psychic determinism, the power and influence of the unconscious, as opposed to the pre-conscious mind, the tripartite division into id, ego and super-ego, and of course the ideas of universal illusion and universal effects of the Oedipal Complex. The examination of the Oedipal Complex is the most essential to the understanding of Freud’s theories since he claimed that due to the resistance, repression, and transference of early sexual energies the world had developed a universal complex which did not allow for the healthy development of individual’s but lead instead to the neurosis and mass illusion of religion. For his perceivably vicious attacks on religion and his logical and yet totally undermining examination of religion and other vital social issues, Freud has been slandered and his theories criticised simply because of the away he addressed these painful issues. Through the systematic development of the theories of psychoanalysis, all stemming from one another and all tied together into a universal Oedipal Complex and religious illusion, the ideas of the tripartite human psyche and wish-fulfilment that Freud developed came under fire from critics for their controversial messages and analysis.
Briefly stated, the Oedipus Complex is the preservation in the adult individual of the perceptions, strategies and scars of a conflict the individual underwent during his/her pre-school years. According to Freud, these perceptions, etc, later colour and shape the individual’s future experiences. This psychological crisis results when a young child’s sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex collides with the competition, rivalry and overwhelming power of the parent of the same sex. According to Freudian theory, the ghosts of this Oedipal crisis haunt us our entire lives. Psychopathology, slips of the tongue, dreams, and religious experience all were understood to be functions whose origins and energy resulted from this repressed material. In his later work, Freud interpreted the reports of his clients (reports offered under hypnosis, under verbal encouragement and suggestion, and finally, in the later work, reports given through free-associations) as revealing a universal Oedipal drama. Freud found what he took to be evidence for the universal existence of the Oedipus Complex in the testimony of patients, in his analysis of the repressed in dreams, in slips, wit, and the transference phenomenon, as well as in art, philosophy and religion.
As the child develops, he/she identifies with the parent of the same sex and renounces incestual desire. This renunciation is achieved and strengthened by the formation of the super-ego, a section of the child’s ego identified with the childhood image of the parents (the parental Imago) perceived in consciousness as conscience and as the ego ideal. The ego ideal is the self’s conception of how he/she wishes to be and is a substitute for the lost narcissism in childhood when ‘I’ was my own ideal. When projected onto or into the world, the Imago (a word used by Freud to describe unconscious object-representations) is taken by the experience to be a veridical perception of a divine being. Throughout life, these experiences of this childhood conflict are alive and present in the unconscious of the individual. This childish, magically thinking, ever desiring, instinctually driven self is described topographically by Freud in his tripartite division of the person as the ‘id’ (Latin for ‘it’). That part of the individual responsible for maintaining congress and connection with reality and mediating between the id and reality is the ‘ego.’ That part of the ego, largely and usually unconscious, which bears and enforces the ego ideal, is the ‘super-ego.’ An activity is ego-syntonic just in case it strengthens the ego in its function of mediating between the demands of reality, basic instinctual drives (of appetite, aggression, and sexuality), and conscience. As mediator, the ego needs to make adequate contact with both the external and internal demands involved. Thus, one of its main tasks is ‘reality testing’ – making an accurate determination of the limits imposed on the organism by the external world including one’s own body. Illusory beliefs are not ego-syntonic and are thus ultimately destructive if allowed to control individuals and societies, even if they should happen, e.g., by accident, to be true.
Freud has an unusual definition of ‘illusion.’ For Freud, although illusions are usually false, they are not false by definition. According to the definition Freud offers in his paper, ‘The Future of an Illusion,’ what characterises illusions is one’s motivation for believing them. Freud begins by distinguishing illusions from falsehoods. Though illusions ‘are derived from human wishes,’ they, unlike delusions, are not necessarily false. A middle-class child’s expectation of a royal marriage is one example Freud gives of an illusion; the belief in the coming of the Messiah is another. Freud is aware that, ‘whether one classifies this belief as an illusion or as something analogous to a delusion will depend on one’s personal attitude.’ In an attempt to focus on the motivation of the beliefs in question he defines a belief as ‘an illusion when a wish-fulfilment is a prominent factor in its motivation, and in doing so we disregard its relations to reality, just as the illusion itself sets no store by verification.’
In ‘The Future of an Illusion,’ Freud considers that religious ideas are ‘illusions, fulfilments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.’ Further, Freud interprets belief in God as a regressive emotional response to the recognition of human helplessness, namely, ‘the terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood aroused the need for protection – for protection through love – which was provided by the father; and the recognition that this helplessness lasts throughout life made it necessary to cling to the existence of a father, but this time a more powerful one.’ Freud was ‘an enemy of all religions.’ He had no hope for ‘conscience’ based on a repressed part of the personality. Instead, he placed his ‘faith in reason and scientific analysis’ – thinking that beliefs shaped by wishes cannot be good for anyone. For Freud, Religious experience is a function of the subject’s perception of his/her projected parental Imago, the characteristics of which were produced by the inherited trauma of the pre-historic experience of humanity along with the subject’s resolution of the Oedipal crisis. The experience of the projected Imago as real is a function of wish fulfilment; it is tied to illusory beliefs accepted on the basis of their conformity with the subject’s wishes. The resulting condition, religion, may be diagnosed ‘as a universal obsessional neurosis.’ Belief based on illusion undermines the ego’s reality-testing function which is needed to deal with the environment. Such belief is thus destructive for the integration of individual persons and societies. The step from inadequate neurotic response to reality – as a function of transference and illusion – to a blatant and dangerous inadequacy in perceiving reality is a short one. The acceptance of illusions paves the way to living in a world of delusions. Freudian psychoanalysis provides grounds for a pragmatic criticism of both popular argument from religious experience and ‘will to believe’ type arguments. That Freud holds such illusory belief to be destructive is made clear in his work, ‘New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis.’
Through the formation of the Oedipal Complex, an individual sparks the formation of the super-ego in order to combat the id both of which are regulated by the ego itself. The transference of the projected Imago that a child receives through this complex results in the experience of this projected Imago as wish fulfilment latter in life in the aspects of religious illusion. Due to his chastising of religion as a product of a child’s projected Imago, and thereby directly linking it of a child’s sexuality, Freud himself and his ideas were criticised and renounced. His use of his own and patients dreams in order to come to this conclusion about a Oedipal Complex, caused these ideas as well as those of the tripartite id, ego, and super-ego to be ignorantly discredited instead of examined and studied for their useful revelations about the human psyche. Through the systematic development of the theories of psychoanalysis, all stemming from one another and all tied together into a universal Oedipal Complex and religious illusion, the ideas of the tripartite human psyche and wish-fulfilment that Freud developed came under fire from critics for their controversial messages and analysis. These are important aspects of Freud’s legacy.