Freud’s theories not only applied to his neurotic patients, but every human being. A way of trying to explain this, as well as a way of reinforcing his idea of repression, came in the way of his theories on disparate behavior such as dreaming, joking, parapraxes and symptoms. Though his observations are novel, we have to seriously question these theories on a structural level. The circularity, omnipotence and subjectivity of Freud’s work renders his theories as lacking in a solid argumentative stance.
There is often questions concerning the validity of Freudian theories. Freud constructs elaborate theories that seem to explain everything, yet are constantly wanting in rigorous foundations. Instead of focusing on whether Freud’s theories are right or wrong, we will be concerned with the solidity of his theoretical construct.
Explaining disparate events such as dreams, symptoms, jokes and parapraxes becomes a central in Freudian theory. It establishes a link between psychopathology and general psychology, which supports Freud’s belief in universality of libidinal drives and the repression by the ego and super ego (Wollheim, 1991). The analysis of these instances of repression also served Freud as a tool into the unconscious mind. By applying psycho analytic principles, dreams, jokes, symptoms and parapraxes can be deciphered by the therapist to try and discover the underlying repression working to manifest the phenomena.
Freud looks at these disparate occurrences as having distinctly different purposes and manifestations. Dreams, for example, are censor repressed thoughts from the conscious to avoid anxiety that would lead to waking up. This is different from the symptom, which serves to satisfy the repressed drive in a way more acceptable to the conscious. However, what they all share in common is that they are all manifestations that have a sense (Freud, 1916), and they are all wish-fulfillment. Freud states that the mechanism of parapraxes and chance actions “aˆ¦.. can be seen to correspond in it’s most essential points with the mechanism of dream-formation” (Freud 1901, p. 277). Here, his theories on dreams will be discussed, as they can be applicable to the other forms of everyday behavior we are concerned with.
Freud talks about the dream-formation as consisting of two parts: the dream content and the dream thought. The dream thought is the unfulfilled wish, which is driven by it’s own gratification. The dream content, or manifest content of the dream is the end product, that which we consciously register and remember in a dream. The latent dream content is transformed into the manifest content by three distinct phases : condensation, displacement and representation (Monte, 1999). Condensation is when several wishes or thoughts are condensed into a smaller ideal. Displacement takes these ideals and replaces them with other elements, to disguise them from the conscious. Representation, which Freud deems as the most “psychologically interesting” (Wollheim, p.70), is the converting these disguised thoughts into a series of images, which become the “dream” that is remembered in the morning. Although this process is used by Freud to explain dreams, we see a similar process with the other psychic phenomena. In summary, they all poses a latent content and a manifest content, the latter being a more acceptable (or less stressful) version of the former.
Freud provides clinical evidence for his theories. As stated before, Freud believed that dreams served to keep us asleep. Evidence of this can be seen with Freud’s observation that his patients dreams seemed to be getting more and more complex as therapy went on. Freud interprets this as the dream work having to become more and more complicated due to the patients making a conscious effort to try and decipher the dreams (Freud, 1911). Theories of symptoms arose from Freud’s observation that the symptoms of his neurotic patients where connected indirectly with their repressed thoughts. This suggests that symptoms are not just random, but are reliant on repressed material.
However, a problem with psychoanalysis is that it is very hard to equate these things past a therapist’s own observation. Psycho-analysis is not easily tested by laboratory standards. How does one device an instrument to test for the repressed? Flavell (1955) tries to look at the repressed in his experiment, but his results cannot be conclusive. From his data, we cannot conclude that the results were caused by the repression of materials, or whether the overall performance of the experimental group lies in the anxiety that they experienced. Eysenck et al (1973) also proposes experiments to try and test psycho analysis, with varying results, but nothing that conclusively supports Freudian theory.
One of the strongest criticisms made against Freud is the circularity in his argument. This circularity is what makes his theories so hard to test. By circularity, we mean that his theories can only be proved by relying on themselves. A dream is the manifest content of a repressed thought. How do we know that repressed thoughts exist? They are shown in the manifest content of a dream. This kind of circularity means that in order to believe his theories we must do so blindly, there is no real outside empirical evidence that we can look back on. To accept Freud’s theories of Dreams, and his later theories on other disparate occurrences, we must believe his theory that dreams and parapraxes have a sense that drives them (1916). If you doubt this statement, the theory becomes null.
Another problem with the idea of the “return of the repressed” is that although it provides a very good ad hoc explanation of events, it is very poor at predicting behavior. Psycho-analysis works by a patient re telling a dream to a therapist, whereby the therapist and the client try to decipher the dream work. However, this does not work in the reverse order. If we know the client’s repression, there is no way of predicting which way it will manifest itself. From Freud’s work, we are not clear why a repressed thought might wish to manifest itself in a certain way rather than another. Why do certain patients tend towards dreams rather than symptoms? How strong must the repressed drive be before it even manifests itself at all? These are all questions that put into doubt the validity of Freudian therapy.
To further compound the problem, Freud states that not all dreams, symptoms and parapraxes are repressed thoughts disguised. Sometimes the repressed thought is very clearly stated (such as infantile dreams and certain “slips of the mouth”, in which the manifest content is blatantly the same as the latent content). So some of the time the content is hidden from the conscious, and sometimes it isn’t. The psychoanalyst must know when the repressed is in disguise and when it isn’t. This can only be done if the actual repression is known. This can obviously be seen as a subjective measure, where the psychologist must “guess” at the problem.
Freud’s research on dreams and parapraxes an other phenomena in everyday life has to be considered as very important work. Freud is responsible for bringing to light the possibility that our behavior can be dictated by thoughts which are unbeknownst to us. Behind our actions, there is psychological motivation that is empowers them. Freud’s works on the psychology of everyday life show that his theories of personality can be applied universally, not just to his psychotic patients. However, this contribution to science doesn’t save his work to be theoretically corrupted. The circularity in his argument, his ad hoc modifications and his untestable theories that encompass all possibilities put into question most of his work. In later writings, even Freud had to go to a metaphysical plane to try and describe and correlate his dreams theory (1915, p.223). This puts grave doubts on the validity of Freud’s theories of the “return of the repressed”.