Following on from our previous post on the work of Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, in this post we will turn to his revolutionary thinking regarding the ways in which adult behaviour can be shaped by infant and childhood experiences.

Freud was the first person to articulate a theory of the unconscious mind, and the power and influence it can have over our emotions, behaviour and decisions. Freud believed that the root cause of these unconscious influences often came from our childhood experiences. Though we may forget, and also repress, certain childhood experiences, they nonetheless influence the development of our personalities and inform how we respond to the world as adults.

It is now generally understood, for example, that issues around insecure attachment in relationships can often stem back to childhood experiences, particularly if individuals encounter emotional neglect, inconsistency/abuse (leading to mistrust), or smothering (leading to a lack of separation from the care-giver and a subsequent lack of individuation). This is an example of how challenges or traumas experienced in early life can continue to shape our behaviour in later life, just as Freud articulated.

Often psychoanalytic therapy will therefore explore certain childhood memories and experiences in order to draw connections to the present and identify behavioural patterns. This can function as a means of working to change or evolve certain aspects of our behaviour that might be emotionally challenging or self-destructive. In this way we can see how Freud’s theory of the self is pertinent to how we understand psychological issues such as anxiety, depression or addiction, as we work to address the underlying causes of these symptoms.

In the next post we will discuss Freud’s theory of the defence mechanism in human psychology, another of his theories which has since entered into public acceptance and usage.