General Psychological Theory: Papers on Metapsychology

General Psychological Theory: Papers on Metapsychology

by Sigmund Freud


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In fifteen essays, sigmund freud explains his most controversial theories exposing the darkest corners of the human psyche.

Best known for his research into the unconscious mind, Sigmund Freud challenged the mores of conventional American society during the early twentieth century. This collection presents many of Freud's revolutionary ideas, showing how his theories changed the way people think about their emotions and actions, opening a rich dialogue about the methods and science of the brain.

In a series of essays written between 1911 and 1938, readers follow Freud through clear explanations of how neurology and psychology influence our actions and govern personality traits and emotions, including the libido, narcissism, mourning, repression, dreams, paranoia, and melancholy.

This volume illustrates how Freud was not afraid to venture into unknown areas of the human mind and that he was superbly equipped to expose its secrets. Exploring the hypotheses of the most controversial psychologist of the twentieth century, in his own words, may help us understand our own behaviors.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416573593
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 11/18/2008
Series: Collected Papers of Sigmund Freud
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was an Austrian neurologist and psychologist who founded the psychoanalytic school of psychology. Although his theories remain controversial until this day, Freud made a lasting impact on Western culture.

Read an Excerpt


Formulations Regarding the Two Principles in Mental Functioning


We have long observed that every neurosis has the result, and therefore probably the purpose, of forcing the patient out of real life, of alienating him from actuality. Nor could a fact such as this escape the observation of Pierre Janet; he spoke of a loss of "la fonction du réel" as being a special characteristic of the neurotic, but without discovering the connection of this disturbance with the fundamental conditions of neurosis.2 By introducing the concept of repression into the genesis of the neuroses we have been able to gain some insight into this connection. The neurotic turns away from reality because he finds it unbearable — either the whole or parts of it. The most extreme type of this alienation from reality is shown in certain cases of hallucinatory psychosis which aim at denying the existence of the particular event that occasioned the outbreak of insanity (Griesinger). But actually every neurotic does the same with some fragment of reality.3 And now we are confronted with the task of investigating the development of the relation of the neurotic and of mankind in general to reality, and of so bringing the psychological significance of the real outer world into the structure of our theory.

In the psychology which is founded on psychoanalysis we have accustomed ourselves to take as our starting-point the unconscious mental processes, with the peculiarities of which we have become acquainted through analysis. These we consider to be the older, primary processes, the residues of a phase of development in which they were the only kind of mental processes. The sovereign tendency obeyed by these primary processes is easy of recognition; it is called the pleasure-pain (Lust-Unlust) principle, or more shortly the pleasure-principle. These processes strive towards gaining pleasure; from any operation which might arouse unpleasantness ("pain") mental activity draws back (repression). Our nocturnal dreams, our waking tendency to shut out painful impressions, are remnants of the supremacy of this principle and proofs of its power.

In presupposing that the state of mental equilibrium was originally disturbed by the peremptory demands of inner needs, I am returning to lines of thought which I have developed in another place. In the situation I am considering, whatever was thought of (desired) was simply imagined in an hallucinatory form, as still happens to-day with our dream-thoughts every night. This attempt at satisfaction by means of hallucination was abandoned only in consequence of the absence of the expected gratification, because of the disappointment experienced. Instead, the mental apparatus had to decide to form a conception of the real circumstances in the outer world and to exert itself to alter them. A new principle of mental functioning was thus introduced; what was conceived of was no longer that which was pleasant, but that which was real, even if it should be unpleasant. This institution of the reality-principle proved a momentous step.

1. In the first place the new demands made a succession of adaptations necessary in the mental apparatus, which, on account of insufficient or uncertain knowledge, we can only detail very cursorily.

The increased significance of external reality heightened the significance also of the sense-organs directed towards that outer world, and of the consciousness attached to them; the latter now learned to comprehend the qualities of sense in addition to the qualities of pleasure and "pain" which hitherto had alone been of interest to it. A special function was instituted which had periodically to search the outer world, in order that its data might be already familiar if an urgent inner need should arise; this function was attention. Its activity meets the sense-impressions halfway, instead of awaiting their appearance. At the same time there was probably introduced a system of notation, whose task was to deposit the results of this periodical activity of consciousness — a part of that which we call memory.

In place of repression, which excluded from cathexis as productive of "pain" some of the emerging ideas, there developed an impartial passing of judgement, which had to decide whether a particular idea was true or false, that is, was in agreement with reality or not; decision was determined by comparison with the memory-traces of reality.

A new function was now entrusted to motor discharge, which under the supremacy of the pleasure-principle had served to unburden the mental apparatus of accretions of stimuli, and in carrying out this task had sent innervations into the interior of the body (mien, expressions of affect); it was now employed in the appropriate alteration of reality. It was converted into action.

Restraint of motor discharge (of action) had now become necessary, and was provided by means of the process of thought, which was developed from ideation. Thought was endowed with qualities which made it possible for the mental apparatus to support increased tension during a delay in the process of discharge. It is essentially an experimental way of acting, accompanied by displacement of smaller quantities of cathexis together with less expenditure (discharge) of them. For this purpose conversion of free cathexis into "bound" cathexes was imperative, and this was brought about by means of raising the level of the whole cathectic process. It is probable that thinking was originally unconscious, in so far as it rose above mere ideation and turned to the relations between the object-impressions, and that it became endowed with further qualities which were perceptible to consciousness only through its connection with the memory-traces of words.

2. There is a general tendency of our mental apparatus which we can trace back to the economic principle of saving in expenditure; it seems to find expression in the tenacity with which we hold on to the sources of pleasure at our disposal, and in the difficulty with which we renounce them. With the introduction of the reality-principle one mode of thought-activity was split off; it was kept free from reality-testing and remained subordinated to the pleasure-principle alone. This is the act of phantasy-making, which begins already in the games of children, and later, continued as day-dreaming, abandons its dependence on real objects.

3. The supersession of the pleasure-principle by the reality-principle with all the mental consequences of this, which is here schematically condensed in a single sentence, is not in reality accomplished all at once; nor does it take place simultaneously along the whole line. For while this development is going on in the ego-instincts, the sexual instincts become detached from them in very significant ways. The sexual instincts at first behave auto-erotically; they find their satisfaction in the child's own body and therefore do not come into the situation of frustration which enforces the installation of the reality-principle. Then when later on they begin to find an object, this development undergoes a long interruption in the latency period, which postpones sexual development until puberty. These two factors — auto-erotism and latency period — bring about the result that the mental development of the sexual instincts is delayed and remains far longer under the supremacy of the pleasure-principle, from which in many people it is never able to withdraw itself at all.

In consequence of these conditions there arises a closer connection, on the one hand, between the sexual instincts and phantasy and, on the other hand, between the ego-instincts and the activities of consciousness. Both in healthy and in neurotic people this connection strikes us as very intimate, although the considerations of genetic psychology put forward above lead us to recognize it as secondary. The perpetuated activity of auto-erotism makes possible a long retention of the easier momentary and phantastic satisfaction in regard to the sexual object, in place of real satisfaction in regard to it, the latter requiring effort and delay. In the realm of phantasy, repression remains all-powerful; it brings about the inhibition of ideas in statu nascendi before they can be consciously noticed, should cathexis of them be likely to occasion the release of "pain." This is the weak place of our mental organization, which can be utilized to bring back under the supremacy of the pleasure-principle thought-processes which had already become rational. An essential part of the mental predisposition to neurosis thus lies in the delayed training of the sexual instincts in the observance of reality and, further, in the conditions which make this delay possible.

4. Just as the pleasure-ego can do nothing but wish, work towards gaining pleasure and avoiding "pain," so the reality-ego need do nothing but strive for what is useful and guard itself against damage. Actually, the substitution of the reality-principle for the pleasure-principle denotes no dethronement of the pleasure-principle, but only a safeguarding of it. A momentary pleasure, uncertain in its results, is given up, but only in order to gain in the new way an assured pleasure coming later. But the end psychic impression made by this substitution has been so powerful that it is mirrored in a special religious myth. The doctrine of reward in a future life for the — voluntary or enforced — renunciation of earthly lusts is nothing but a mythical projection of this revolution in the mind. In logical pursuit of this prototype, religions have been able to effect absolute renunciation of pleasure in this life by means of the promise of compensation in a future life; they have not, however, achieved a conquest of the pleasure-principle in this way. It is science which comes nearest to succeeding in this conquest; science, however, also offers intellectual pleasure during its work and promises practical gain at the end.

5. Education can without further hesitation be described as an incitement to the conquest of the pleasure-principle, and to its replacement by the reality-principle; it offers its aid, that is, to that process of development which concerns the ego; to this end it makes use of rewards of love from those in charge, and thus it fails if the spoilt child thinks it will possess this love whatever happens and can in no circumstances lose it.

6. Art brings about a reconciliation of the two principles in a peculiar way. The artist is originally a man who turns from reality because he cannot come to terms with the demand for the renunciation of instinctual satisfaction as it is first made, and who then in phantasy-life allows full play to his erotic and ambitious wishes. But he finds a way of return from this world of phantasy back to reality; with his special gifts he moulds his phantasies into a new kind of reality, and men concede them a justification as valuable reflections of actual life. Thus by a certain path he actually becomes the hero, king, creator, favourite he desired to be, without pursuing the circuitous path of creating real alterations in the outer world. But this he can only attain because other men feel the same dissatisfaction as he with the renunciation demanded by reality, and because this dissatisfaction, resulting from the displacement of the pleasure-principle by the reality-principle, is itself a part of reality.

7. While the ego goes through its transformation from a pleasure-ego into a reality-ego, the sexual instincts undergo the changes that lead them from their original auto-erotism through various intermediate phases to object-love in the service of procreation. If it is correct that every step of these two processes of development may become the seat of a predisposition to later neurotic illness, it seems to follow that the decision as regards the form of the subsequent illness (election of neurosis) will depend on the particular phase of ego-development and libido-development in which the inhibition of development has occurred. The chronological characteristics of the two developments, as yet unstudied, their possible variations in speed with respect to each other, thus receive unexpected significance.

8. There is a most surprising characteristic of unconscious (repressed) processes to which every investigator accustoms himself only by exercising great self-control; it results from their entire disregard of the reality-test; thought-reality is placed on an equality with external actuality, wishes with fulfilment and occurrence, just as happens without more ado under the supremacy of the old pleasure-principle. Hence also the difficulty of distinguishing unconscious phantasies from memories which have become unconscious. One must, however, never allow oneself to be misled into applying to the repressed creations of the mind the standards of reality; this might result in undervaluing the importance of phantasies in symptom-formation on the ground that they are not actualities; or in deriving a neurotic sense of guilt from another source because there is no proof of actual committal of any crime. One is bound to employ the currency that prevails in the country one is exploring; in our case it is the neurotic currency. For example, one may try to solve such a dream as the following. A man who had at one time looked after his father through a long and painful illness up to his death, informed me that in the months following his father's decease hehad repeatedly dreamt as follows: his father was again alive and he was talking to him as of old. But as he did so he felt it exceedingly painful that his father was nevertheless dead, only not aware of the fact. No other way leads to the understanding of this seemingly senseless dream than the addition of "as the dreamer wished," or "as a result of his wish," after the words "that his father was nevertheless dead"; and the further addition of "that he wished it" to the last words. The dream thought then runs: it was a painful memory for him that he must have desired his father's death (as a release) while he still lived, and how terrible it would have been had his father had any suspicion of it. It is thus a matter of the familiar case of self-reproaches after the loss of a loved person, and in this case the reproach goes back to the infantile significance of the death-wish against the father.

The deficiencies of this short paper, which is rather introductory than expository, are perhaps only to a slight extent excused if I acknowledge them to be unavoidable. In the meagre sentences on the mental consequences of adaptation to the reality-principle I was obliged to intimate opinions which I should have preferred to withhold, the vindication of which will certainly require no small exertion. But I hope that benevolent readers will not fail to observe how even in this work the sway of the reality-principle is beginning.

Copyright © 1963 by Macmillan Publishing Company

Copyright renewed © 1991 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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