psychodynamic framework


Freud’s model of the mind or PSYCHE (his name for it) was tripartite; that is, it had three parts. 1) The ID that is the earliest and largest part of the psyche contains our sexual and aggressive energies. It is unconscious, amoral, and irrational. It only seeks to fulfill its own desires; Freud called this the PLEASURE PRINCIPLE. You can see, I’m sure, how acting on id energy can get you into a lot of trouble in society. 2) As the child grows and bumps up against a larger world that pushes back against its desires, the child develops an EGO to help the psyche achieve its needs without conflict that the id could induce. The ego has distinct traits: it is rational, conscious, and operates according to a REALITY PRINCIPLE, meaning that it seeks compromise with the external world to secure your needs.

3) The third part of Freud’s psyche is the SUPEREGO. It is part rational and part irrational. It has two parts: the conscience and the ego ideal. Some say that the superego is the voice of authority in your head (society, religion, education, parents, etc.—the sources of all the “shoulds” that seek to control and direct you.) It works by shame and guilt. When these emotions are rational, they motivate us to do better. When they are irrational, they are destructive. For example, if you cheat on a diet by eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, rational guilt makes you feel bad so you correct your behavior the next time the urge appears. Irrational guilt makes you feel so bad about yourself that you go back and eat another pint to calm yourself. Hence, its destructiveness.


Freud proposed five developmental stages that were based on the psychic energy that is invested in certain parts of the body as development progresses. That is why it’s called a PSYCHOSEXUAL model—the psyche and body develop together. 1) The first stage is called the ORAL stage because the baby is focused on the mouth for nursing. It has two possibilities of expression. If the baby’s needs are fulfilled, it develops an oral receptive personality. It easily takes in food as an expression of love and connection. However, if the child’s needs are frustrated or unmet, it develops an oral aggressive personality that uis shown in excessive crying, screaming, biting, etc. The child must balance/resolve these two emotions in a suitable compromise before it moves on to the next stage. If it can’t, then Freud said the child develops a FIXATION by which the oral needs persist, mildly or strongly, through its life. Freud might say that smoking or overeating as an adult are examples of an oral fixation because the mouth continues to be the psychic focus. A fixation can develop at any psychosexual stage.

2) The second stage is the ANAL stage because potty training begins at this stage. This is a tremendous challenge for the child because now it can no longer just pee or poop in its pants whenever it feels the urge, but it has to hold it for the potty. The two dual forces during this stage was anal retentiveness and oral explosiveness. This is the child’s challenge in potty training: to hold it long enough, but if it can’t make it to the potty in time, it becomes anal explosive with the poop going all over. Or, if it goes to the potty and can’t let go, it becomes oral retentive. Freud said that these could become personality types if they became fixated. Oral retention resulted in cheap and overly clean adults; anal explosiveness resulted in adults who could not control their resources and were messy and dirty.

3) The next stage in the PHALLIC stage. At this stage, the child becomes aware of gender. The girl notices that the boy has an anatomical part that she does not and the boy notices the same, and they both wonder how she lost hers. This results in the girl’s PENIS ENVY and the boy’s CASTRATION ANXIETY. To make sense of this, let’s take the feminist psychoanalysts’ interpretation. They say that the penis is a symbol of power that is situated societally. In other words, girls/women have penis envy because they are denied the power and influence that is given to the men (those with penises), and men, who have that power, are afraid of losing it or being castrated.

During this time, both boys and girls are deeply in love with their primary caretaker, their mother. Boys love their mother and want to marry her. However, there is someone nearby, the father, who is stronger and married to the mother. Hence, the boy desires to murder his father in order to marry his mother. At this point, Freud probably sounds rather crazy, but he would say that civilization has always known this; just consider the ancient Greek stage and the story of Oedipus who married his mother and killed his father. So, Freud named this the Oedipus Complex. The boy resolves the impossibility of marrying his mother by postponing that desire for his wife as an adult. He resolves the desire to murder his father by identifying with him (ego ideal) instead. From the resolution of the Oedipus Complex, the superego develops.

4) The next stage is the LATENCY stage when the psychosexual energy is invested in cultural learning. The child enters school and that energy is put into education so not too much happens psychosexually. This stage is then disrupted by the 5) GENITAL stage of adolescence and the tsunami of hormones that occurs. In Freud’s time this meant that the girl was fertile and so marriageable.

These are the five stage of Freud’s developmental model. Freud noted that a successful development was witnessed by two outcomes: if the person could work and love. If the person could achieve these two activities, they had a good-enough development.


One of the most relevant aspects of psychoanalytic theory, I believe, is Freud’s identification of the ego defense mechanisms. Freud first focused on the notion of REPRESSION. When trauma happens and it’s too much for the psyche to take in, the memory of the trauma is pushed into the unconscious and repressed. Repression keeps the memory out of awareness but it cannot eliminate the memory altogether. Because of this, all a person’s psychic energy is now taken up with keeping that memory out of awareness. Sometimes, however, an event or place or sound or smell or whatever might come too close to evoking the repressed memory and it erupts into awareness. This is called a TRIGGER. It puts the person back into the traumatic memory. For Freud, it was the talking cure that could help the patient out of their traumatic past. By talking to the psychoanalyst, the patient was made able to go back and reexperience the trauma with rational and compassionate understanding. Freud called this healing process ABREACTION. This explanation of repression will be very important to our next film essay for homework.

Ego defense mechanisms are created when the ego is weak. A strong ego is the goal of a healthy life. The weak ego cannot ward off the threats of the id and superego and tries to defend itself by creating these mechanisms to avoid its anxiety. Here are some of the ego defense mechanisms that you are likely to witness in your life and the lives of those around you:

DENIAL: Just say it never happened. This is not a lie because the person really believes the denial.

PROJECTION: Put the feelings onto someone else by denying that they are yours.

AVOIDANCE: Stay away from the troubling situation rather than confronting and resolving it.

COMPENSATION: Use things to allow you to feel better about yourself when the needs are actually within. For example, you believe that you are not beautiful, so you buy cosmetics to feel better.

DISPLACEMENT: Put your disturbing emotions onto a person or object that is safer than the real target.

SUBLIMATION: Direct your anxiety into a socially-acceptable activity or profession. For example, a violent person may decide to go into police work.


This is your introduction to the psychodynamic framework by examining Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of the psyche and psychosexual development. Freud is so important because he marks the beginning of understanding psychology through the unconscious. Psychological theories since Freud still harken back to him in one way or another. Either they confirm Freudian theory, or extend it, or deny it, but they all answer to it.


I would like you to watch the South African film TSOTSI. Now that you know Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, you will notice and appreciate that film in this special way. Let’s examine Tsotsi’s emotional and psychological healing process through his interaction with different people in his life. Tsotsi was traumatized early in his life and has repressed that memory. We see Tsotsi from the beginning of the movie with no emotional display and you know that it signals repression when feeling any emotion is dangerous because it might elicit the original trauma. You will see a trigger to that memory when his friend mentions a “dog.” Tsotsi explodes; he can no longer hold back the repressed memory and all that energy results in his friend called Boston’s beating. Why the mention of the dog? How is that connected with Tsotsi’s trauma? Watch the movie to put all the pieces together.

Some things to watch for. Tsotsi, as a “gangster” which is the meaning of his nickname, has no conscience. Conscience develops in the phallic stage, so Tsotsi’s trauma fixated him in that stage without the development of a conscience. This is the time of the Oedipus Complex. Do you see how his love for his mother and hatred of his father shaped him into who he is? How can he heal himself? Remember that the healing process (abreaction) necessitates reliving the original trauma with a new understanding. How do Tsotsi’s relationships provide him with the opportunity/possibility of healing himself? What is the evidence that he is healed?


Analyze the psychological development of Tsotsi (also called David later in the movie)) according to the framework of Freudian psychoanalysis through his interactions/involvements with the figure listed beside the letter that begins your last name. Use appropriate terminology, demonstrate recognition of the issues of that particular developmental stage, and discuss how Tsotsi’s engagement with that particular person contributes to his abreaction process of healing. Do not retell the movie, but analyze its narrative to develop your argument.

Letters S through Z: Animal/Dog

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