What are Freud’s Theories of Self-development? – You Can Fly Mate! (2023)

When researching for content on this website, I often find myself reading up on psychology and behavioural science research. Sigmund Freud might be the most famous psychologist of all time, and I wanted to spend some time looking at his theories in more depth. So I’ve done some reading. This article will give straightforward, plain English explanations of Sigmund Freud’s most famous theories of Self-Development.

What are Freud’s main theories of self-development?

Being so fundamental in his field, a search of the name Sigmund Freud yields over 700,000 published works. It would be an absolute mission to detail much of Freud’s literature in this article, so I will summarise what I consider to be Freud’s 3 most important theories relevant to self-development. These are:

  1. The Conscious/Unconscious Mind
  2. The Psychic Apparatus: Id, Ego, Superego
  3. Psychosexual Stages of a Child’s Development

The Conscious/Unconscious Mind

Amongst Freud’s first work was his model of the mind, being split into 3 distinct sections. He likened this split to an iceberg, as shown in the image below:

What are Freud’s Theories of Self-development? – You Can Fly Mate! (1)

The Conscious Mind is depicted as the tip of the iceberg visible above the surface of the water. This is defined as the thoughts and feelings that we are aware of. This includes memories, rational decisions and perceptions. Interestingly, Freud’s diagram shows this part of the mind as only a tiny portion of the total iceberg.

The Subconscious Mind, or the preconscious mind, is depicted as the part of the iceberg that is just underwater but can still be seen from above the surface. It is comprised of thoughts, feelings and memories that you might not be conscious about right now, but can easily be drawn up to the surface with little effort.

The Unconscious Mind forms the bulk of the iceberg and is absolutely not visible from above the surface. This is comprised of a number of different suppressed memories and emotions, including:

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  • Irrational wishes
  • Immoral urges
  • Memories of shameful, or traumatic experiences (from the recent past or childhood)
  • Primal needs
  • Unacceptable sexual desires

Ultimately, Freud believed that this Unconscious portion of the mind had a lot more influence over human behaviour than we gave it credit for.

The psychic Appuratus: Id, Ego, Superego

Around 20 years after this initial theory, Freud published another model to explain human behaviour which fleshed out these initial ideas. In this case, the human personality can be broken down into three hypothetical “sections”:

The Id is understood to be at the very heart of the unconscious mind. It is driven by the basic survival instinct present in all life forms, along with seeking pleasure and also destruction. Freud split the Id into Eros,(concerned with basic life function), and Thanatos (a lesser set of destructive forces present in all of us, in varying amounts).

The Ego develops from the Id when a child is socialised. The role of the ego is to satisfy the Id in a way that is socially acceptable. It operates in the conscious, unconscious and subconscious mind and is the part of a person that deals with reality.

The Superego, In a way, mediates between the id and the ego. It is comprised of all of the moral principles and guidelines for behaviour that are picked up from parents and society. The superego works to suppress the dangerous desires of the Id and to drive the ego in a moral direction.

Psychosexual stages of a child’s development

This last theory is a bit wild but bear with it. It was a different time!

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Freud wrote of sexual energy (libido) often, although he seemed to mean it in a much more general way than you or I might. He posited that a child’s personality develops in 5 distinct psychosexual stages, with the child expressing their libido through different body parts at each stage of the process.

The idea is that a person must go through all of these stages completely in order to develop their personality properly. Failure to complete any stage will result in some form of personality deficiency later in life.

  1. The Oral Stage takes place in the first year of a babies life. In this stage, the libido is centred in the babies mouth, and a baby takes pleasure in stimulating its mouth by sucking and chewing things.
  2. The Anal stage occurs up to the age of around 3. The libido becomes centred in the anus, and the child releases tension through defecating. A child’s ego also develops at this stage.
  3. The Phallic stage occurs from age 3 to 6, when the libido becomes centred around the genitalia. Children start to become aware of the differences between boys and girls at this stage. You might have heard of an oedipal complex (an incredibly controversial idea about children developing sexual feelings for their own parents). It is the phallic stage where this was said to occur.
  4. The Latency stage occurs from age 6 until puberty, where the libido seems to become dormant. Play is somewhat restricted to the same sex, and children in this stage are preoccupied with learning new skills and acquiring knowledge.
  5. The Genital stage is the last stage of psychosexual development, taking place at puberty. It is a time of adolescent sexual experimentation. If it goes well, according to Freud, it would end with people seeking heterosexual 1 on 1 relationship in their twenties. (These were different times!)

How were Freud’s theories revolutionary for psychology?

Obviously, not all of Freud’s theories hold much weight today. Some of them, for example, oedipal complexes, come across as extremely eccentric and are more or less outright rejected by many psychologists.

Despite this, it is undeniable that Freud contributed an incredible amount to the field of psychology. Here are 2 ways in which he changed things:

The impact of upbringing and cultural factors on a person’s mental health. Freud was one of the first psychologists that supported the idea that not all mental health issues have physiological causes. What is taken as obvious by most of us today, was actually at one time a major breakthrough in our understanding of personality.

Talk therapy or psychoanalysis. Talk therapy, one of the first forms of counselling, was hugely revolutionary at the time of development. The idea was to use techniques like free association, and dream analysis, to better understand a patient’s unconscious mind and try to make unconscious trauma conscious.

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What do other great researchers think of Sigmund Freud and his theories?

Freud is a man who divides opinion among researchers. I have come across a debate into whether he is still relevant, a debate into whether he deserves his legacy and even a debate into whether he was actually a scientist! Here are a few quotes from some prominent psychologists which give some different perspectives:

“So we have a lot to thank Freud for. He also introduced and developed the idea of psychotherapy as something distinct from medical treatment for mental disorders…I think all of the psychotherapeutic fields that are practically applied, I think have Freud to thank for their founding”

Jordan Peterson, 2014 Personality Lecture 06: Carl Jung

“Freud is blind to the dualism of the unconscious. He does not know that the thing that wells up has an inside and an outside and that if you talk only of the latter you speak of the shell alone.”

Carl Jung

“More than Einstein or Watson and Crick, more than Hitler or Lenin, Roosevelt or Kennedy, more than Picasso, Eliot, or Stravinsky, more than the Beatles or Bob Dylan, Freud’s influence on modern culture has been profound and long-lasting.”

John Kihlstrom

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Some great resources for people interested in the work of Sigmund Freud

The Interpretation of Dreams (Link to Amazon)

Freud put a lot of work into understanding peoples dreams, as he believed they could be used to explore peoples unconscious minds. Freud also started to develop the idea of the oedipal complex in this book. He said of this work “Insight such as this falls to one’s lot but once in a lifetime.”

Civilisation and its discontents (Link to Amazon)

Probably the second most famous work of Freud, the book talks of the difference between the individual needs and desires of the self, and the restrictive expectations of society. He notes that people seem to be least fulfilled, in societies that are most civilized.

Knowledge in a nutshell: Sigmund Freud (Link to Amazon)

This is a short, straightforward summary of all of Sigmund Freud’s ideas and theories. It’s still Freud, but it’s a bit easier on the brain!

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What are Freud's theories of development? ›

Freud proposed that personality development in childhood takes place during five psychosexual stages, which are the oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages. During each stage sexual energy (libido) is expressed in different ways and through different parts of the body.

How are Freud's theories applicable to Lord of Flies? ›

William Golding's novel, Lord of the Flies, showcases Sigmund Freud's personality theory. This theory states that there are three major personalities that everyone can fit into. Three characters from Lord of the Flies: Jack, Ralph, and Piggy, fit into Freud's personalities of id, ego, and superego respectively.

What are the theories of self development? ›

According to developmental self-theory, the optimal sequence of personality development is based on stages of self-development. At birth and during the first year, there is no awareness of self. Children have not learned to differentiate the self from others.

What are 5 main ideas of Freud's personality theory? ›

Psychosexual development: Freud's theory of psychosexual development posits that there are five stages of growth in which people's personalities and sexual selves evolve. These phases are the oral stage, anal stage, phallic stage, latent stage, and genital stage.

What was Freud's main theory? ›

Sigmund Freud emphasized the importance of the unconscious mind, and a primary assumption of Freudian theory is that the unconscious mind governs behavior to a greater degree than people suspect. Indeed, the goal of psychoanalysis is to make the unconscious conscious.

What is an example of Freud's theory? ›

Freud believed that during our childhood, certain events have great influence on how our personality is shaped, which carries over into our adult lives. For example, if a child experiences a traumatic event, the event would be suppressed, As an adult, the child reacts to the trauma without knowing why.

What is the theory behind Lord of the Flies? ›

Throughout the novel Lord of the Flies is used as an example of Sigmund Freud's theory of Id, Ego, and Superego. His theory refers to a person's mind as having three different ideas fighting one another with one winning in the end.

Why is Freud's theory important? ›

Considered the father of modern psychology, his theories and ideas on the connections that exist between the conscious mind, the subconscious mind, the body, and the world around us are still as widely known as they were when he first espoused them at the turn of the 20th century.

How does id, ego, and superego apply to Lord of the Flies? ›

Ego is the angel and devil together, where there is balance of good and bad. Lastly, superego is shown as the angel with good behavior and morals. In Golding's book Lord of the Flies, he uses Jack, Ralph, and Piggy to represent Sigmund Freud's theory of the three personalities: id, ego, and superego.

What Did Sigmund Freud say about self development? ›

He divided the maturation process into stages, and posited that people's self-development is closely linked to their early stages of development. According to Freud, failure to properly engage in or disengage from a specific stage results in emotional and psychological consequences throughout adulthood.

What is Freud concept of self? ›

Freud's view of the self was multitiered, divided among the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. He explains his psychological model in the following passage from his An Outline of Psychoanalysis . Read Sigmund Freud, from An Outline of Psychoanalysis.

What are the three main theories of development? ›

The main objective of this document is to synthesize the main aspects of the four major theories of development: modernization, dependency, world- systems and globalization. These are the principal theoretical explanations to interpret development efforts carried out especially in the developing countries.

What are Freud's 3 theories? ›

Freudian theory postulates that adult personality is made up of three aspects: (1) the id, operating on the pleasure principle generally within the unconscious; (2) the ego, operating on the reality principle within the conscious realm; and (3) the superego, operating on the morality principle at all levels of ...

What are the 3 parts of Sigmund Freud's theory of personality development? ›

Id, Ego, and Superego. Freud proposed that the mind is divided into three components: id, ego, and superego, and that the interactions and conflicts among the components create personality (Freud, 1923/1949).

What is Freud's personality theory called? ›

In his famous psychoanalytic theory, Freud states that personality is composed of three elements known as the id, the ego, and the superego. These elements work together to create complex human behaviors.

What of Freud's theories are accepted today? ›

While many of Freud's theories are regarded with skepticism nowadays, his theory of the unconscious mind is probably the most widely accepted, though many question his proposed methods for accessing it.

What does Lord of the Flies say about human psychology? ›

Golding contends that human nature, when free from the constraints of society, draws people away from common sense to savagery. His fundamental arguments are that human beings are savage by nature, and are moved by urges toward brutality and dominance over others.

What are the 3 main themes in Lord of the Flies? ›

Three themes in 'Lord of the Flies' are civilization vs. savagery, the impact of humankind on nature, and the nature of humanity.

How does Lord of the Flies relate to real life? ›

Though the novel is fictional, its exploration of the idea of human evil is at least partly based on Golding's experience with the real-life violence and brutality of World War II. Free from the rules and structures of civilization and society, the boys on the island in Lord of the Flies descend into savagery.

What are the pros of Freud's theory of development? ›

Pros: Unlike other theories of the time, this theory relied on, and was based off of, experimental psychology. This theory has been able to explain aspects of the human personality, and as such, has led to more theories such as Erikson's theory on psychosocial studies.

What is id, ego, and superego with examples? ›

According to Freud's psychoanalytic theory, the id is the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that contains sexual and aggressive drives and hidden memories, the super-ego operates as a moral conscience, and the ego is the realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego.

Why does Ralph represent the ego? ›

Ralph represented ego, which was a self serving person who had flaws. Ralph was self centered because all he cared about was being rescued, “we want to be rescued; and of course we shall be rescued.” (37). That quote demonstrated Ralph's focus on being rescued.

Who represents superego in Lord of the Flies? ›

Piggy, who is a character in Lord of the Flies constantly represents superego, always turning the other cheek and doing the right thing. Piggy is a perfect example of superego in Lord of the Flies written by William Golding.

Who is Sigmund Freud in personal development? ›

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)created a psychoanalytic theory of personality which suggests human behaviour is the outcome of interactions and conflicts between three hypothetical component parts of the mind: the id, ego, and superego.

What are the main elements in Freud's view of the self? ›

Freud believed that the mind is responsible for both conscious and unconscious decisions that it makes on the basis of psychological drives. The id, ego, and super-ego are three aspects of the mind Freud believed to comprise a person's personality.

What are the 4 main theories of development? ›

Four main theories of development: modernization, dependency, world-systems, and globalization. / Reyes, Giovanni E.

What are the 5 theories of development? ›

They are (1) maturationist, (2) constructivist, (3) behaviorist, (4) psychoanalytic, and (5) ecological. Each theory offers interpretations on the meaning of the children's development and behavior. Although the theories are clustered collectively into schools of thought, they differ within each school.

What is the best theory of development? ›

Piaget's Cognitive Developmental Theory

Cognitive theory is concerned with the development of a person's thought processes. It also looks at how these thought processes influence how we understand and interact with the world. Theorist Jean Piaget proposed one of the most influential theories of cognitive development.

What are the 3 main goals of personality theorists? ›

The three major assumptions of psychodynamic theory are: (1) everyone is somewhat neurotic; (2) the goal of life is to overcome one's neurosis; and (3) the goal of personality assessment is to identify the sources of one's neurosis.

What are the 3 theories of development? ›

Roughly speaking, these theories can be categorized as emotional, cognitive and moral.

What are the 4 theories of development in psychology? ›

One of the four major theories which talk about the human development are: 1- Freud's Theory of Psychosexual Development 2- Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development 3- Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development OR the Cognitive Theory 4- Lawrence Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development Freud's Theory of Psychosexual ...

What are the 5 Theories of Development Studies? ›

Rostow identified five stages through which developing countries had to pass to reach an advanced economy status: (1) Traditional society, (2) Preconditions for take-off, (3) Take-off, (4) Drive to maturity, (5) Age of high mass consumption.

What is the most important developmental theory? ›

1. Bowlby's attachment styles. The seminal work of psychologist John Bowlby (1958) showcased his interest in children's social development. Bowlby (1969, 1973, 1980) developed the most famous theory of social development, known as attachment theory.

What is the best theory of development and why? ›

Piaget's Cognitive Developmental Theory

Cognitive theory is concerned with the development of a person's thought processes. It also looks at how these thought processes influence how we understand and interact with the world. Theorist Jean Piaget proposed one of the most influential theories of cognitive development.

What are the 6 theories of development? ›

These six theories about development that we will discuss from an evolutionary perspective are the Gestalt, psychoanalysis, behaviorism, cognitive psychology, Piaget, and Vygotski.

Why are theories of development important? ›

Developmental theories offer explanations about how we develop, why we change over time and the kinds of influences that impact development. A theory guides and helps us interpret research findings as well. It provides the researcher with a blueprint or model to be used to help piece together various studies.

What is development theory example? ›

For example, prior to achieving "object permanency", babies do not understand that objects (toys, people) continue to exist even when out of sight. Instead of looking for a toy now covered with a blanket, they instead quickly lose interest in the toy as though it never existed.

What are the four main types of development? ›

The major domains of development are physical, cognitive, language, and social-emotional.

What are the 4 stages of development? ›

Piaget's four stages of intellectual (or cognitive) development are:
  • Sensorimotor. Birth through ages 18-24 months.
  • Preoperational. Toddlerhood (18-24 months) through early childhood (age 7)
  • Concrete operational. Ages 7 to 11.
  • Formal operational. Adolescence through adulthood.
17 Aug 2020

What are the 4 different theories? ›

Sociologists (Zetterberg, 1965) refer to at least four types of theory: theory as classical literature in sociology, theory as sociological criticism, taxonomic theory, and scientific theory.

What is theory short answer? ›

In everyday use, the word "theory" often means an untested hunch, or a guess without supporting evidence. But for scientists, a theory has nearly the opposite meaning. A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can incorporate laws, hypotheses and facts.

What are the theories of growth and development? ›

Major growth and development theories include biophysical developmental theory by Gesell, psychosocial development theory by Erikson; cognitive development theory by Piaget; moral development theory by Kohlberg; and finally, the psychoanalytic development theory by Freud.

What are the types of development? ›

Physical, social, emotional and cognitive development.


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