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Psychodynamic Approach

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Psychodynamic Approach

In the late nineteenth century, Sigmund Freud started developing the theory of personality by conducting a range of theoretical studies about human nature. He aimed to understand the relationship between an individual’s emotions and behavioural patterns concerning their childhood experiences. He emphasised the importance of conscious and unconscious motivations behind someone’s behaviours, feelings, and emotions and how early life experiences interact with adult behaviour. This is the foundation of the psychodynamic approach.

Let's first define the psychodynamic approach in psychology. We will then examine the psychodynamic approach assumptions and make an evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses.

Psychodynamic approach conscious and unconscious motivations behind behaviours, feelings, and emotions StudySmarterConscious and unconscious motivations behind behaviours, feelings, and emotions, Bruna Ferreira, StudySmarter Originals

What is the psychodynamic approach?

Psychodynamic means 'mind energy' or 'mind in conflict'. It is based on the idea that every person has different personality parts (psyche), conflicting interests, and they may not be consciously aware of what they want. The psychodynamic approach brings us a different perspective.

Freud believed that the reasons behind our behaviour could be explained by decoding our unconscious mind. This is the area where some of our deepest feelings hide, yet they still actively interact with our daily lives. He proposed The metaphor of an iceberg when describing the different parts of our mind; the conscious mind is the visible part, and its hidden larger part in the larger area is the unconscious mind.


Psychodynamic Approach Freud's iceberg model of the mind StudySmarterFreud’s metaphor of the iceberg model theory, Bruna Ferreira, StudySmarter Originals

There are conflictual dynamic interests between these parts, as the conscious and unconscious mind and these memories might cause anxiety, and therefore, the mind uses defence mechanisms to prevent the person from becoming aware of them.

Freud advocated for interpreting dreams, as that’s how we can get a glimpse into these deep, hidden, conflictual feelings. The psychodynamic approach emphasises the importance of our childhood experiences and how they impact a person’s future. Changing the direction of how we interact with the world will also change how we develop and behave in adult life.

What is the structure of personality according to Freud?

Freud divided personality into three parts as follows:

  • The id: operates in the most primitive parts of our personality and is also related to the unconscious mind. The id is based on the pleasure principle and demands immediate gratification regardless of the circumstances. It contains the libido and is unconscious.

  • The ego: mediates between the impulsive demands of the id and the reality of the external world. For example, it may delay gratifying the id until a more appropriate time. It must also compromise between the impulsive needs of the id and the moralistic demands of the superego. The ego is part of the conscious mind.

  • The superego: this is shaped by societal values and morals. It is characterised by the ‘inner voice’ that lets us know when we have ‘broken the rules, causing feelings of guilt. It is both conscious and unconscious.

What is the Freudian psychosexual stage model?

Freud stressed that the first five years of life is crucial to the formation of adult personality. Freud claimed that children go through a development process sequence of five stages generally referred to as the psychosexual stage model:

Oral stage

This happens between birth and two years old. The focus at this stage is the experience of pleasure perceived through the mouth.

Anal stage

This is an important period for ego development. For example, this is the stage by which the child becomes aware of reality outside the home. It’s when the child stops using nappies and starts going to the toilet. It is also the phase when they become aware of societal rules. The focus at this stage is the anus, and it happens between two and three years old.

Phallic stage

This is when the superego develops. This was also when Freud believed the child goes through the Oedipus and Electra complex. It is an important moment for overcoming unconscious desires directed to the mother for boys, father for girls, and identifying with their father for boys or mother for girls. The focus at this stage is the genitals, and it happens between three and six years old.

Latency stage

The sexual energy drive from the previous stage becomes latent so that the child can focus on the world around them. The focus of this stage is hidden, and it starts around six years old and lasts until puberty.

Genital stage

This is the final stage, and it culminates with the psychosexual energy taking place in the genitals to be directed towards the formation of adult relationships. The focus of this stage is about forming romantic relationships. It happens after puberty.

The ego and superego are created during this process, and the child experiences conflicts between frustrated wishes and social norms. An individual may fail to resolve those conflicts at each psychosexual stage. In that case, they could later develop psychological problems due to a fixation on a particular stage.

These stages are the driving force in child development.

This energy is vital to expressing our sexual energy or libido. Freud believed that living is about being in between tension and pleasure. There exists a tension when one experiences the changes of sexual energy, and then there is the pleasure of liberation. Freud stressed that the first five years of life is crucial to the formation of adult personality. The Id must be controlled so that the child can satisfy social demands.

Below you can find an illustrative graphical representation of the psychosexual stages, co-relating it to unresolved adult conflicts which co-relates them, or fixations.

Defence mechanisms

Defence mechanisms are activated when triggered by the ego. To deal with the conflict, it needs support from the other two parts of the personality: the id and superego.

These mechanisms tend to operate unconsciously and work by distorting reality. The ego has to deal with the natural world and all its problems. By using defence mechanisms, the person stops themselves from becoming aware of any unpleasant thoughts and feelings associated with traumatic events.

There are lots of defence mechanisms, but here are the most common and easy ones to understand:

REPRESSION

The unconscious mind blocks the information, keeping it repressed in the unconscious mind. Unwanted thoughts and impulses continue to influence the person’s behaviour, leaving them unaware of the reasons behind their toxic behaviour. For example, a child who has experienced abuse may have no recollection of these events but has trouble forming or keeping relationships.

DENIAL

This occurs when a person is not keen on accepting reality. Avoiding reality will protect the person from suffering painful feelings associated with a specific event.

DISPLACEMENT

This arises when a person feels unable to express difficult or hostile feelings due to the presence of a particular person and therefore might transfer them to a helpless person or object. For example, a person harassed by their boss could return home and transfer their anger to family members.

Psychodynamic approach assumptions

Psychodynamic Approach Freud and patient StudySmarterSigmund Freud examining the patient’s feelings, Bruna Ferreira, StudySmarter Originals

The first assumption is the primacy of the unconscious, which is related to the fact that most psychological processes start from unconscious stimuli.

The second assumption is the critical importance of early experiences. This assumption emphasises that early childhood events have an essential role in shaping the child’s personality.

The third assumption is psychic causality. The psychodynamic theory believes that all behaviour originates in a group of psychic processes.

What are the psychodynamic theory examples?

Freud believed that an individual could develop a fixation on a particular psychosexual stage. This could lead to behaviours such as:

  • Obsessive hand-washing or counting footsteps after experiencing childhood trauma.

  • Smoking, nail-biting, and sarcasm can be a manifestation of anxiety caused in childhood.

  • Agoraphobia.

  • Hoarding.

  • Sexual compulsions or other issues could also be related to trauma during the psychosexual process.

Psychodynamic theory uses hypnosis, dream analysis, and psychoanalysis to work on this behaviour.

Psychodynamic theory and other branches of psychology

Carl Jung, Freud’s successor, has also contributed immensely to the psychodynamic approach. He introduced concepts such as the archetype, the collective unconscious and individuation.

The vast majority of psychologists who work with the psychodynamic approach use talking therapy to investigate maladaptive functions developed in childhood.

Evaluation of the psychodynamic approach

Nowadays, Freud’s theories are considered the foundation for developing the practice of psychology and for a deeper understanding of how cultures operate socially. The evidence for his theories is based on clinical research rather than empirical.

However, its scientific trustworthiness is questionable. Not many people would deny the existence of unconscious drives and defence mechanisms. In fact, psychoanalysis is still being used to treat patients with profound psychological issues. The existential concepts behind the Freudian approach have allowed it to maintain some hold on psychotherapeutic techniques.

Along with Freud’s theory, he has shared with the world a new style of therapy: psychoanalysis. He applied a series of techniques designed to access the unconscious mind.

What are the strong and weak points of the psychodynamic approach compared to the behavioural approach in psychology?

Weaknesses: Freud established the psychodynamic approach highlighting the importance of the unconscious mind related to behaviour. However, the psychodynamic approach is not considered scientific. It examines many concepts/theories that cannot be empirically tested—relying on subjective interpretation.

In comparison, Watson and Skinner established the behaviourist approach in 1913. They criticised Freud, arguing that true scientific psychology should restrict itself to studying phenomena observed directly and measured. They believed that behaviour is environmentally determined by conditioning, meaning that behaviour is something we can learn. The behaviourist approach utilises scientific methods of investigation such as laboratory experiments and animal research. Behaviourists have been ignoring alternative explanations for the level of emotional influences on behaviour because of the lack of scientific research.

Strengths: The manner that Freud had related to childhood experiences and adult characteristics is globally accepted. Freudian psychoanalysis is still in contemporary use.

In response to the more reductionist biological, structural, and functional approaches, the psychodynamic approach ranges between holistic, systemic, and abstract concepts, influencing more concrete behaviours and actions.

Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis assumes that much of mental life is unconscious and that past experiences, especially in early childhood, shape how an individual feels and behaves throughout life.

Psychodynamic Approach - Key takeaways

  • Freud’s psychoanalysis was the first approach to psychodynamic theory. However, the psychodynamic approach includes all theories founded on his ideas, and it includes Carl Jung (1912), Melanie Klein (1921), Alfred Adler (1927), Anna Freud (1936), and Erik Erikson (1950).

  • The term psychodynamic relates to any theory that emphasises the change and development of the individual. It describes theories where the drive is a central concept in this development. Both of these uses of the term stress the importance of change, i.e. the person is seen as dynamic or constantly changing as they develop. Although many theories fit this psychodynamic profile, they emphasise unconscious motives and desires and the importance of early childhood experiences in moulding the personality. The best known psychodynamic theory is Freudian psychoanalysis.

  • The psychodynamic approach emphasises the importance of our unconscious psychological processes. Freud believed that different parts of our personalities conflict, mainly because they desire different things. This led Freud to theorise a psychic structure of the human mind to describe the interactions between a person’s personality, namely the id, ego, and superego. These interactions evolve through life stages, passing through the psychosexual stages of development from infancy through puberty. When these conflicts are triggered, the mind reacts protectively. This is called a defence mechanism. Freud developed practices that aid individuals.

  • Freud believed that most of our everyday actions and behaviours are not controlled consciously but are the product of the unconscious mind, which can reveal itself in many different ways, including dreams, fantasies, slips of the tongue (Freudian slips), in creativity and neurotic symptoms. The unconscious extended its influence into every part of our waking and sleeping lives. These are the signs of traumatic memories actively preventing the unconscious mind from reaching conscious awareness.

Frequently Asked Questions about Psychodynamic Approach

The psychodynamic approach emphasises the importance of our childhood experiences that will impact their future. Changing the direction of how we interact with the world will also change how we develop and behave in adult life.

It is mostly nature, as it sees behaviour as the product of our innate motivations guided or directed by our early experiences in life.

The psychodynamic approach explains that human behaviour is a consequence of unresolved desire conflicts in childhood.

There have been experiments done in order to confirm its accuracy, and many have come out with a different result than expected according to Freud. So, no. It is not scientifically proven.

The strengths of the psychodynamic approach are that it deeply investigates human feelings, and it tries to understand how our childhood memories interact with adult life. The weakness is that none of the theories can be proven right or wrong because of the lack of scientific evidence.

Final Psychodynamic Approach Quiz

Question

What was Freud’s aim when developing psychodynamic theory?



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Answer

Sigmund Freud conducted a series of theoretical studies and writings about human nature to understand the relationship between an individual’s emotions and behavioural patterns.

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Question

Could you summarise one of the theories applied to the psychodynamic approach?




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Answer

The psychodynamic approach includes theories that see human behaviour based on the individual’s drives and forces. The idea is that, in every person, different parts of the personality conflict with each other, desiring different things.

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Question

What are the aims of the psychodynamic approach?

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Answer

  • To acknowledge an individual’s emotions.


  • To identify repeating or toxic behavioural patterns.


  • To improve interpersonal relationships.

  • To recognise and address avoided issues.

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Question

What are the assumptions of the psychodynamic approach?


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Answer

  • Human behaviours have a root cause.


  • Human behaviour originates from conflicting desires experienced back in early life.


  • Internal processes and the external environment contribute to adult personality.

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Question

Who, other than Freud, developed 

the psychodynamic approach?




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Answer

The theories around the psychodynamic approach to therapy originated from Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. In the mid-1940s and 1950s, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Melanie Klein, and others further developed psychodynamics by the general application of the psychodynamic approach.

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Question

What does the term 

psychodynamic mean?



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Answer

It means mind energy or mind in conflict.

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Question

What are defence mechanisms?




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Answer

When the mind is triggered by unpleasant events, it finds ways of protecting itself from the effects of these conflicts. Examples include repression, displacement and denial.

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Question

How does the psychodynamic 

approach explain adult behaviour? 



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Answer

 The psychodynamic approach sees human functioning based upon the interactions of drives and forces within the individual, this explains why they behave in a certain way. Some of these may be rooted in childhood.


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Question

What led Freud to divide the 

mind into three different parts?



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Answer

Freud observed the conflicts between different parts of the personality wanting different things. 


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What did Freud name the three different parts of the mind?




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Answer

 Id, ego and superego.

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Question

What are the psychosexual 

stages of development?



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Answer

The psychosexual stages of development are:

Oral stage

Anal stage

Phallic stage

Latency stage

Genital stage

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Question

What are “unconscious conflicts in the psyche”?



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It refers to unresolved conflicting feelings and behaviours that we might not be aware of.


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What is the psychodynamic perspective of the unconscious mind?

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Answer

The psychodynamic perspective proposes that psychological drives emphasise human behaviour, feelings, and emotions. Based on these energies at play, Freud proposed the notion of the unconscious mind. 



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What is the unconscious mind known for?



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The unconscious mind is known as the place that stores feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories outside of our conscious awareness.



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Question

What kind of information does the unconscious mind hide from our 

conscious mind?

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Answer

The unconscious mind keeps the information 

that is unacceptable or unpleasant, such as pain, 

anxiety, and conflict. Overall, traumatic experiences 

can reveal themselves in many different ways.



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Question

Was Jung’s view on the unconscious mind different from Freud?



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Answer

The unique unconscious concept did not differ from Freud’s idea. However, he proposed the unconscious to be divided into the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. However, the collective unconscious theory believes it is the deepest level of the personality (psyche). It contains inherited ancestral memories and archetypal experiences of an entire human species rather than one individual.



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Question

What is the metaphor of the 

iceberg proposed by Freud?

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Answer

Freud used the analogy of an iceberg when describing different levels of the mind. 



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Question

From (1900 - 1905) Freud developed the topographical model of the mind; what was he describing?



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Answer

Freud developed a topographical model of the mind. He was describing the 

features of the mind structure and functioning, the ego, superego and id. 



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What is one example of the conscious mind?



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Answer

Suppose you feel hungry at this moment and decide to eat. This is a feeling you are aware of and can act on with clarity. 



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What is one example of the preconscious mind?

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You are not presently thinking about your email address, but now as mentioned, you can easily recall it.

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Are negative emotions or traumas readily available in the preconscious mind?


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No. Negative emotions or traumas are repressed and not readily available in the preconscious mind.

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True or False: The unconscious mind compartmentalises mental processes that are not accessible to the consciousness, but it affects behaviour, feelings, and even judgements.

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Answer

True!

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What is the id? 



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The id is the primitive or instinctive part of the mind 

containing aggressive, sexual drives and hidden memories.



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True or False: The ego does not use the reality principle.



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Answer

False!

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What is the superego?



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The superego controls our moral conscience.



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How many systems and what are the 

systems related to the superego?


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The superego has two systems: 

The conscience and the ideal self. 



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What is one example of the superego?



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For example, if the ego surrenders to the id’s demands, the superego will enlighten a person’s feelings of guilt.



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When and who did write first about the concept of defense mechanism?

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Sigmund Freud first mentioned the concept of defence mechanisms in his 1894 essay, 'The Neuro-Psychoses of Defence'.

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What is the definition of a defence mechanism in psychoanalytic theory?

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Answer

In Freud's psychoanalytic theory, the ego employs defence mechanisms to cope with the conflicting demands of the other two parts of the personality: the id and the superego.

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How does the ego operate in the defence mechanism?

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Answer

The ego regulates conflicting demands between the id and the superego through a defence mechanism.

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What happens when we rely on defence mechanisms too often?

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Answer

Relying on specific mechanisms too often can lead to unhealthy and undesirable psychological problems.

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Is it normal to have ego-defence mechanisms?



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Ego defence mechanisms are natural and normal. However, if used frequently, the person may develop neuroses such as anxiety, phobias, compulsions, or hysteria.

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What is the role of the passive mechanisms?

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The passive mechanism's role is to support conflicted feelings and manage developmental fears. It can also be called a discrete defence mechanism.


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How do defence mechanisms perceive reality?

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The defence mechanism is the distortion of reality, and it extends to many levels.

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When does the denial defence mechanism occur?

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It occurs when the conscious mind confronts an imposed stressful memory, such as traumatic or painful memories.

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What is denial?

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Denial is the refusal to accept reality.

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 Is denial a healthy defence mechanism?

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No, it is considered a narcissistic and immature defence because its functioning rejects reality.

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What is an example of denial?

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A wife refuses to see that her husband is no longer interested in sharing his life with her and that it is time for her to divorce him.

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When does repression happen?

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Repression happens when a traumatic memory is forced outside of conscious awareness into the subconscious, i.e., forgetting it.

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 Can we use the Oedipus complex as an example of repression?

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Yes. Repression also occurs when a child is going through psychosexual development at the stage of the Oedipus complex. For example, the boy develops aggressive ideas about his father, and these feelings are repressed or forced into the subconscious.

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When does displacement occur?

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When we have a certain feeling about someone and cannot express it, we transfer it to another person or even animals or objects. Displacement is also considered a defence mechanism against anxiety.

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What happens when someone goes through regression?

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Regression is a form of refuge. The person reverts to a moment in the past when they felt safe.

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Who has developed the psychosexual development stages?

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Freud claimed that children go through five stages in their personality development, commonly referred to as the psychosexual stage model.

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What are the personality developments a child goes through during the psychosexual stages?

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The psychosexual stages are a period that a child goes through in its development, from birth to six years of age. During these stages, the personality develops, such as the id, the ego, and the superego.


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Does the child have to deal with the same conflict from birth until six years of age or older?

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No. A new conflict will be part of the child's dynamics, looking for positive solutions during the different stages.

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What happens if those conflicts are not resolved?

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The conflicts that are not well resolved will affect future development.

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What are the different stages associated with?

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The different stages are associated with the driving force in child development or libido.

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How is the libido expressed?

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The libido is expressed in different ways and in different parts of the body.

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How are the psychosexual development stages represented?


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Various fixations of sexual urges or instinctual drives represent the psychosexual development stages.

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Why did Freud use the term sexual?

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Freud used the term sexual to describe pleasurable actions and thoughts.

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