Models of abnormal behavior: Freudian psychoanalysis

Models of abnormal behavior: Freudian psychoanalysis

The Freudian psychoanalysisAs a psychopathological model of abnormal behavior, it has a series of main characteristics:

  1. The disorders are usually the result of early traumatic experiences
  2. These traumas operate at unconscious level
  3. The symptoms would be nothing more than "superficial or visible" manifestations of such traumas.
  4. Therefore, to achieve healing diving into the unconscious is required to reach the primary causes of the disorder.

The model assumes that, once the cause is conscious, through a long and extremely complex analysis process, the symptoms will be reduced or disappear. The therapist's mission is to achieve this insight in the patient

Personality in Freudian psychoanalysis

Personality in Freudian psychoanalysis is composed of 3 main elements: the it, the I and the surpassed, being all behaviors the result of their interactions.

  • The it would be the oldest instance of personality, which represents the instincts and which operates under the pleasure principle (seeking the immediate gratification of these instincts)
  • On the other hand, the I it is the structure that mediates between the id and the superego, and represents the rational part of the personality (operates under the principle of reality)
  • By last, the superego would be the voice of conscience, responsible for moral judgments and personal ethics

The intrapsychic conflict in Freudian psychoanalysis

When he I cannot control the conflict between the it and the surpassed, anxiety arises. Therefore the I it has to defend itself, starting up defense mechanisms, to reduce anxiety, this activation being unconscious.

These mechanisms can be adaptive or maladaptive. Freud says that what happens with phobias and obsessions is that when the internal conflict is very large, the anxiety that is generated is very high. The defense that the self will use will be to reduce anxiety.

The most important defense mechanisms

  • Negation: It is the rejection, by the person of recognizing or accepting reality. Eg refusing to believe that one has an illness.
  • Displacement: It is to transfer to another person the feeling that generates discomfort. Eg aggression against the opposing football team.
  • Projection: Attributing falsely to other feelings that are unacceptable in us. Eg when a person says that someone is attracted to her, when it is she who is attracted to that person.
  • Rationalization: Hide the true motivations of something by applying logic, explaining it. Ex. Telling yourself "as everyone does, I don't have to feel guilty."
  • Reactive training: A behavior that is not accepted is replaced by its opposite. Ex. Treat someone who dislikes us in a very friendly way.
  • Repression: Block something that someone wants to do but it disturbs him so he blocks it. Eg forgetting traumatic events.
  • Sublimation: Order maladaptive feelings and turn them into adaptive social behavior. Eg Sexual impulses displaced in activities such as painting or childcare.

As soon as they become aware they cease to be defense mechanisms.

The role of instincts in Freudian psychoanalysis

Freud also emphasized the role of instincts as a source of human motivation. For example, libido (of sexual origin), and aggressive instincts required strong social and cultural restrictions to prevent chaos.

He also talked about the drives, as a source of behavior: the Eros, or the drive of life and love, and the Thanatos, or the death drive (the individual's desire to return to an inorganic state).

The confrontation between the powers of both instincts can determine human behavior to a large extent.

Personality development in Freudian psychoanalysis

Personality development occurs through the achievement of a series of stages or phases of psychosexual development.

If the individual successfully completes each phase at the time he should, it will result in a mature personality. On the contrary, stagnating in one of these phases can generate neuroses and other important mismatches.

  • Oral phase It lasts from birth until the first year of life. The individual interacts with the world through the mouth, making it the main erogenous zone.
  • Anal phase It is the second phase of libido evolution. It goes from the first to the third year. In this phase, the subject obtains pleasure through the sensations of tension-distention of the anus (for example, during defecation).
  • Phallic phase It is the third stage of psychosexual development, which comprises from 3 to 6 years old. The child's genitals are his main erogenous zone and satisfaction. In this phase he will give the Oedipus complex, in which the child will repress his carnal desires with the opposite sex parent and identify with the same sex parent. After the resolution of the Oedipus, the superego will be formed.
  • Latency period. It extends from 6 years until puberty. The child will keep his sexual impulses at bay and prefer to focus on external activities, such as study, hobbies, etc.
  • Genital phase The last phase of psychosexual development, which includes from puberty to adulthood, in which the subject is prepared to give and obtain pleasure and love to others. The main erogenous zones are found in the genitals.


  • Freud, S. (2017).The malaise in the culture (Vol. 328). Akal editions.
  • Freud, S. (2013).The interpretation of dreams (Vol. 267). Akal editions.
  • Freud, S. (2015).Psychopathology of everyday life. FV Éditions.
  • Freud, S. (2015).Three tests for a sexual theory. FV Éditions.