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Essay: Sigmund Freud and his theory on adult present personality and well being

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  • Subject area(s): Psychology essays
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  • Published: January 13, 2020*
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  • Sigmund Freud and his theory on adult present personality and well being
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Sigmund Freud believed that an adult’s personality is shaped by their childhood experiences, this theory has caused much discussion on the determinants of an adults present personality and well being. Can something that happened in childhood really still affect someone in their twenties or even forties? How a child is brought up and everything they went through until the present day does shape the way they act and their view of the world. There are countless studies on memory and how memories like an individual’s childhood, traumas they went through, and basic life experience can alter their life. Memories of the past, whether they are good, bad, or repressed into the unconscious can influence someone’s reactions to new experiences and their emotional well being.

A memory is not a recorded video of the past, it’s the mind’s way of reconstructing a past experience, this reconstruction can be altered by the emotion felt in the event which may change the way an individual copes with their past. To illustrate an example of how childhood memories can affect an adult’s present well being , Gary W. Evans and Michelle A. Schamberg published a study done on childhood poverty, chronic stress, and adult working memory to pnas.org. They studied children from birth to 13 years old on the relationship between their stress and poverty. In the ending results they stated “The income–achievement gap is an important societal problem. Childhood poverty is a well-established risk factor for cognitive competency as well as for physical morbidity throughout the life course. We show that these 2 outcomes of childhood poverty are interrelated. The prospective association between the duration of childhood poverty and adult working memory appears to be explained in part by elevated chronic stress during childhood.” (Evans, Schamberg Childhood poverty, chronic stress, and adult working memory 2009). This study has shown that the way the child has been brought up is an explanation to what shaped them into the adult they are. This could also be a prediction in how other children may respond to a childhood similar to those in the study. Another study done on Memories of Childhood Abuse: Dissociation, Amnesia, and Corroboration has shown that many participants who have memories of childhood abuse from early ages is related to dissociative symptoms in adulthood. Good childhood memories can impact an adult as well and elevate their emotional well being, both good and bad memories can impact somebody.

Not only can childhood experiences affect the present day, a trauma that occurs at any time can change the rest of an adult’s life. The adults who go through horrible tragedies, traumas, and losses will need to learn coping mechanisms or else these horrible events can have a significant impact on the duration of their life. The human mind is controlled by the irrational forces of our unconscious mind which is filled with haunting memories of events that are too traumatic to deal with in our conscious mind. In an article written by George E. Vaillant he states that different people have different defence mechanisms that unconsciously defend the individual from accepting the trauma, he says “… immature defenses (also common in PTSD): acting out (eg, My Lai Massacre); passive aggression (cutting oneself); autistic fantasy; dissociation (out-of-body experience during torture, multiple personalities common after childhood abuse); and projection (paranoia). The relatively maladaptive defenses found in the second level are common in adolescents, in substance abusers, in personality disorders, and in brain injury. Defenses in this category rarely respond to verbal interpretation alone.” (Vaillant Involuntary coping mechanisms: a psychodynamic perspective 2011). These defenses can significantly damage someone’s life, like Vaillant stated, those mechanisms are common with substance abusers and in personality disorders. Freud had a theory of repression, a defence in which the mind automatically blocks out harmful memories so the negative effects would not be experienced.

However, there have been studies done that try to disprove Freud’s theory on repression, saying that the term “out of sight out of mind” is really how our minds work. The University of Cambridge summarizes a study done by Pierre Gagnepain, Richard N. Henson, and Michael C. Anderson on how repressing unwanted memories reduces their unconscious influence on behavior, by stating “The study, published online in PNAS, challenges the idea that suppressed memories remain fully preserved in the brain’s unconscious, allowing them to be inadvertently expressed in someone’s behaviour. The results of the study suggest instead that the act of suppressing intrusive memories helps to disrupt traces of the memories in the parts of the brain responsible for sensory processing.” (University of Cambridge 2014). The study had participants look at word-picture pairs so that when the participant was presented with the word as a reminder the picture would also be remembered. This does not truly disprove Freud’s theory, in his theory he speaks of significant trauma which would be pushed out of mind into the subconscious, word- picture pairs are not comparable to traumatic events, significant losses, or anything horrific that could occur in one’s lifetime. Something as detrimental as child abuse or sexual assault can be repressed but it would still have negative effects on the individual’s everyday routines.

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