The Harvard Lectures

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'This remarkable series of introductory lectures on psychoanalysis is, in fact, a lucid, elegant and profound overview of classic psychoanalytic theory, in which Anna Freud spells out the main aspects of psychoanalytic psychology. The simple and clear language characteristic of her lecturing, the precision of her concepts and their mutual relationships, and their liveliness of this comprehensive synthesis make for a thought provoking, exciting reading experience, even after forty years.'- Otto Kernberg

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Lecture One: The Unconscious

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LECTURE ONE

The unconscious

I am looking for remarks, queries, or criticisms in the written comments that have been given to me, but all I have is what I picked up by chance since the last time I spoke. I have learnt a few interesting facts. For one thing, there are no blank minds here—everybody present has heard about psychoanalysis before. There seem to be no people either, from what I have heard, who need to have their prejudices against psychoanalytic theory destroyed. Either there are no prejudices, or the people with them have not come. So all that is left in the audience are the knowledgeable ones, and they are just those at whom I had not aimed what I had to say last time. I’m afraid I did actually disappoint or bore some people by being what you might consider to be too simple. But there I would like you to take two points into account. We only created a frame last time to put in our facts, but a frame can be very simple indeed, and the picture inside can be very complicated. Also, you have to get used to the fact that I use very simple language, which does not mean always that the facts are easy and not complex.

 

Lecture Two: Ego and Id

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LECTURE TWO

Ego and id

The flow of questions has begun. I hope it will continue, because it is a great help in keeping me straight on course and nearer to responding to your wishes. Those who sent in questions should not be disappointed if I do not always answer them straight away. Most of the questions are very good, very justified, and bring up excellent material—but they belong in later regions of our course. So I don’t want to interrupt the connections in what I have to say to answer them but will pay special attention to them when we have reached the places where they belong.

There is an immediate question, which concerns the material we discussed last time. I think I worried several people by apparently equating the id and the unconscious, and several questions have been sent up, asking whether I really meant to do that. I find it quite easy to identify myself with the bewilderment of the people who ask the questions, because they must wonder whether I have never heard about the changes that have taken place in that connection in the last twenty-six years. One does not equate the unconscious and the id in newer theory.1 You may well ask whether I know that one can use the word ‘unconscious’ in various senses, and in what sense I have used it. Probably the people who asked this were referring to the double usage of unconscious: on the one hand, the descriptive sense and on the other the dynamic sense. Descriptively speaking, whatever is not in our conscious mind and within our awareness at a certain moment is unconscious. But that does not mean that it cannot become conscious the next moment, since our conscious mind only has room for a certain number of thoughts and images at any given time. In the descriptive sense, then, what is present in our mind at a given moment is conscious; what is not present there is unconscious. That is pure description, and it does not take us very far. But there is also a dynamic sense of the word, in which we use the term ‘unconscious’ for those thoughts and images that are not capable of becoming conscious without overcoming a considerable counterforce, as I pointed out last time. That is the unconscious of which I talked in the last lecture. It is unconscious, and it cannot easily become conscious. But, in addition to this, the term ‘unconscious’ was in use in earlier times in a third sense, in the systemic sense, designating one whole region of the mind, the system Unconscious, approximately the same as that which we now call the id. That sense has gone out of use,2 and that is where I confused you last time—it was not that I had forgotten, but I wanted to avoid some of the complications of our theory (you have no idea how many complications I spare you as I go along). Well, we can’t use the word ‘unconscious’ for a part of the mind any more, because our mind is not divided up in an orderly way. It is not so that whatever belongs to the id, even in a remote way, is unconscious, whereas whatever belongs to the ego or superego is conscious. All the derivatives and representatives of the id can reach consciousness; and a great deal of the ego’s functioning goes on without being accompanied by consciousness. A large part of the content of the ego is not conscious, and large parts of the superego are not conscious at all. So instead of dividing the mind into a system of ‘the unconscious’ and a system of ‘consciousness’ we are now dividing it into id, ego, and superego, in which the quality of consciousness or unconsciousness varies. Last time I represented to you that aspect of the id which is unconscious, and that’s why I used the term in the way I did. I hope I have answered the questions of the people who were worried about this.

 

Lecture Three: Sexuality and Development

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LECTURE THREE

Sexuality and development

I feel very different about this audience from the way I felt last week. I know more of what you want, but I have only one real question that was sent to me during the week. It is one that worried me very much indeed, because it showed me that people expected, after presenting the id and the ego, that I would proceed further in an orderly fashion and make you acquainted with the superego. But where should I take the superego from at this point in our proceedings? There is no basis for it. The superego is the product of the forces in the id, and though I have given you the outlines, the principles, the modes of functioning of the id, we have not yet become acquainted with the forces in the id, with the content of the id. So you will have to wait with the superego until we have arrived at the right place.

I hope that the expectation that you might now be able to complete your knowledge of the human personality has not taken away your thoughts from other matters connected with the material—namely, from the question to which we should return after every theoretical excursion. You remember my assignment here is two-sided: on the one hand, it is to make you acquainted with the psychoanalytic theories concerning childhood; on the other hand, it is to point out to you where these theories are of immediate concern to people who deal with the upbringing of children—namely, the parents. And that is an important issue to add to the material that we have had so far. In what way does what we have learned about the id and the structure of the ego relate to the parents? It seems to me that you could use all that knowledge to throw light on one particular point. You have heard it said so often that the most important years for influencing a child are the first five years of life. I don’t know whether you have always asked yourselves why, but the answer is contained in the material that I have given you. Think once more of the newborn child as an id with no direct communication with the environment, and then think of the ego as the tool, the instrument fashioned out of the id to bring about that communication. Then you will easily see from my description last time that it takes a number of years before that instrument, the ego, the mediator between inside and outside, the link between the inner world and the outer world, is perfected sufficiently to complete its task. During the time of the immaturity of the ego, the parents step in to fulfil the functions which the immature ego of the child is so far unable to fulfil. This means they have the all-important task of choosing whether a given instinctive wish should be frustrated or should find satisfaction; in the eyes of the child this makes them all-powerful. The task undertaken by the parents is later taken on by the ego itself, and it becomes one of the most important ego functions to control the inner world of instinct, to select what is suitable for satisfaction, to postpone what would endanger the child if satisfaction were to be found immediately, and to modify what cannot find satisfaction in its primitive state. If you then see the task of the parents as being that of a kind of substitute ego for the child, you will also realize how much the attitude of the parents ought to change with the growth in the functioning of the child’s own ego. So it is a grave mistake for a parent to continue to try to fulfil these ego functions for a child who already has a mature ego, or a nearly mature ego, and is perfectly able to fulfil them himself. That is when you all become so resentful towards your own parents, when they try to do for your inner world what you like to do for yourself.

 

Lecture Four: More on the Id

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LECTURE FOUR

More on the id

I have received several thoughtful questions since the last lecture, and if you don’t begrudge the time, I think I should answer at least five or six of them. This time the questions remained very close to the problems which have been under discussion. In answering them, on the other hand, I become more aware of the shortcomings of my presentations than you probably have while listening to me. In presenting this rather difficult material to you, and in attempting to create an overall picture in your mind, I have, when I move from one step to the next, to make my choice between various possible approaches. In particular we can approach the presentation of the psychoanalytic theory from three sides. We can do what I have been trying to do till now—that is, to give you a structural picture to begin with. Or I could really have chosen a dynamic presentation from the very beginning—namely, I could have confined myself more to an evaluation of the forces which act against each other or with each other. I could even have presented this to you from an economic point of view, quantitatively, so that the personality and behaviour can be regarded as an outcome outcome of the relative strengths of forces which fight it out on the battleground of the ego of the personality. I do vary my approach between these possibilities, but the shortness of time does not give me sufficient opportunity to do so. In presenting to you the picture of sexual development in the human being last time, for instance, I have had to leave the economic point of view for the next lecture. By the economic point of view I mean the idea that what is active in this development of human sexual life is a force, the energy hidden in the sexual instinct, the energy for which we have a particular name in psychoanalysis—libido—and we mean also that whatever happens in the sequence of development, we can view as the fate of the libido. I will try to consider a little of that for you next time.

 

Lecture Five: Stages of Development

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LECTURE FIVE

Stages of development

I want to start again with some of the questions which have been sent up to me, because they always show us where we have not sufficiently gone over the ground. Most of the questions are very appropriate in an interesting way. They show up the places where, if this were not a course serving partly as an introduction and partly as a survey and summary of the subject matter, one would have to stop and give a separate course. They point to all the chapters that branch off from the main line of thought and which we have no time to discuss. But those of you who want to study the subject of psychoanalysis in detail will find that there are many places where you can stop and remain for a long time, by going to the literature and reading the books which treat the subject in detail.

There was one question which was very justified indeed. I made so much, the questioner says, of the stages of development of the sexual instinct, and I rather glossed over stages of development in the aggressive instinct (if. indeed, I talked about them at all). What about them? Are they comparable in intensity, in distinctness, in sequence, to those of sexuality? Well, one answer to that might be the following: the intensive study of the development of aggression began long after the study of the development of the sexual instinct—perhaps thirty years after it—and our knowledge has not yet reached the same level. This means we know very much less about the stages of development of aggression, or, rather, we tend to view them very much as intimately connected with the sexual levels of development. On each level of infantile sexual development the aggressive instinct appears in a different form, always closely linked with the sexual urges. We do not know whether it takes its cue from them, whether the level of sexuality reached colours the form taken by the aggressive urge or whether it is the other way round, with definite stages of aggression giving a particular character to the levels of sex development. It probably goes both ways, because (as I tried to show you last time) the two are very intimately linked, and in whatever the child does—whether it is an expression in the oral stage or in the anal phase or the phallic phase—we find aggression and sex linked together. We see this, for instance, in the sadism of the child, which is partly an expression of the aggressive instinct—especially in the anal phase—but which is above all an outlet for aggression. So this is a question which awaits detailed study.

 

Lecture Six: Love, Identification, and Superego

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LECTURE SIX

Love, identification, and superego

The phases of development of the child and the various stages in his relationship to people in the outside world are what have been worked over most in psychoanalytic theory and practice. There is therefore a vast amount of data in this field, and it is a field in which those people who deal with the analytic theories of child development stay for more or less all their working lives. To speak for only one or two hours on these matters means a great effort in summarizing, and it is only natural that very important parts of the whole matter have to be dealt with as if they were only of minor, secondary importance; and much has to go by the board. I can only try to do my best about it, but no best can be good enough.

If, for instance, you consider the period in the child’s life which I tried to deal with last time, you will realize that included in it is an enormous advance from a close intimate relationship between one small human individual and one other person (the mother), a relationship confined to an interchange of the most primitive kind. And then, up to the third or fourth or fifth year, there is the widening of the relationships to a number of people, with enormous variations in that whole process which we speak of under the name of ‘object relationship’. The advances which a child makes during that time, from being a small, primitive, instinctive, animal-like being to the nearly complete apparently adult person—because the child of five in many respects gives a picture of an adult person—are enormous. And when one has the opportunity to watch this change closely, either in one’s own children or in children who are under one’s observation, one is always surprised at where the advances come from. I have been in the position where I have seen children day after day, where I was controlling their environment and had full knowledge of their environmental influences, and again and again I have seen reactions arise in these children which were quite surprising to me. We are confronted over and over again with the question: where does that change really come from? This means that what we see in the child is not merely a result of environmental influence which evokes a response from the child. These environmental influences, acting on the basic inborn personality, are worked over within the child and appear on the surface as something completely new, a process which is fascinating to follow but not so easy to describe in concise terms.

 

Lecture Seven: Towards the Oedipus Complex

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LECTURE SEVEN

Towards the Oedipus Complex

Quite a number of questions came in last time. Some of these related to the theory, and I don’t think I can do much more than name them. There was the almost inevitable question about whether aggression is inborn or whether it is produced by the frustrations which the child has to suffer. The questioner wanted to know whether there was any direct evidence to show that aggression exists without frustration. Well, there is no direct evidence, because those people who would like to prove it are hampered by the fact that there is no such thing as life without frustration, and only if we could have a child who experienced no frustrations could we prove that aggression is there nevertheless. I suppose discussion of these different theories of aggression will accompany you further through your dealings, but you will realize that our theories are formed, not so much on the basis of direct evidence, on the observation of single cases, but, rather, on overall impressions. The theories are tried out to see whether they fit the facts, whether they make it easier to understand the facts. If they do not fulfil that particular purpose for any length of time they are dropped again. Well the theory of aggression being inborn has not yet been dropped—or, I should say, very many people hold on to it while very many other people doubt it, so you can take it as an open question.

 

Lecture Eight: The Ego’s Anxiety and Its Effects

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LECTURE EIGHT

The ego’s anxiety and its effects

We had better begin again with questions. There were many after last time, and I had to summarize and telescope them into a few. Some were more or less inevitable offshoots of the subject which I would certainly have introduced into the lecture itself if I had not been pressed for time. For instance, several people raised the question of what happens if the family situation is not complete. We speak in relation to normal development as if the presence of the father and mother were inevitable ingredients of the situation, but, of course, we know from clinical and social experience that this is not by any means the case. There are any number of children who have to pass through their phases of development without either father or mother, losing father or mother in the middle of their development or growing up without one parent almost from the beginning. Naturally these situations have been studied and have even contributed most valuable insights to our knowledge of the normal family situations. There is no doubt that aspects of the Oedipus complex change in many ways when there is no father or mother present. Yet at the same time it is surprising to see how much effort the child makes to complete the situation and to acquire for himself the missing parent—or, rather, a substitute for the missing parent—from somewhere else. Illegitimate children, for instance, who grow up with a mother and without a father, do not only feel the social stigma which in many communities still attaches to that situation. The boys in the oedipal phase feel very keenly that there is no father figure on the basis of whom they can mould their beginning masculinity, on the one hand, and with whom they can compete, on the other. Instead of being glad of the opportunity that they have much more free access to the mother than the normal child, they look for father figures everywhere, and, as I have often seen, they greatly embarrass their mothers by offering them all the nice-looking men whom they meet, perhaps on a walk, as a daddy. They urge their mothers towards marriage, to provide themselves with the very object towards whom they will experience rivalry and competition a short time later. This is a very special factor which leads to the question of whether the family situation and the Oedipus complex is in some way prepared for in our children—these attitudes can’t be inherited as such, but we don’t know whether there is something in the child prepared for them and serving to arouse the oedipal feelings, because they have been repeated in the cultural environment over so many generations. This problem has been approached by many people from many sides. I can give you one observation from my own experience, and that is that when you take children out of a family setting for some reason or other and bring them up in a community, they take a long time to get used to the community surroundings. But when children are brought up in community surroundings and are then placed by adoption into a family, under lucky conditions they take a very short time to acquire the family attitudes, and even the jealousies of the Oedipus complex, as if the family setting were very much more appropriate for their nature than the other. Whoever is interested in such questions will find plenty of opportunity to study the examples of deviations from normal stages given in the literature.

 

Lecture Nine: Prohibitions and Permissiveness

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LECTURE NINE

Prohibitions and permissiveness

I should have liked to have gone further into the very appropriate questions I have received on the subject of defence. I wish we had a few more hours. It is Columbus who deprived us of that possibility.

I know also that I summarized too much and that perhaps I did not convey to you sufficiently the all-important fact that, in spite of the enormous power and relentlessness of the drives, there is a saving quality—namely, that the drives are so eminently modifiable. The methods which are at the disposal of the personality for such modifiability bring about the necessary adaptations to cultural aims, to the demands of society, even though at the same time they may endanger the efficiency of the personality. I would have liked to say very much more about the fact that the modification of drives is, on the one hand, responsible for social health and, on the other, it threatens individual mental health.

Still, there are a few questions which I have to answer. Somebody asked whether a change of superego is possible in later life, for after all this is so important in regard to the whole mquestion of defence, since the ego so often undertakes defence under the command of the superego. That is a good question for you to follow through the literature. If you do so, you will find that after the period of early childhood, after the passing of the Oedipus complex, there is a comparative closing up of the superego. This means the gaining of a certain amount—or a large amount—of independence of the relationship to the object from which the superego was derived. Of course, this independence is never completely gained, and the degree to which the superego remains under the influence of the outside world is at the same time the degree to which the mature individual is still under the influence of the social environment. This can take the form of a fear—which is then directed not towards the superego, but towards the community—namely, ‘am I acting right?’ ‘what will the others say if I act that way?’ This is called ‘social anxiety’.

 



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