Psychoanalysis is a system of psychology originated by the Viennese physician Sigmund Freud in the 1890’s and then further developed by himself, his students, and other followers. It consists of activities such as using methods for research into the human mind, a systematic knowledge about the mind, and a method for the treatment of psychological or emotional disorders. Psychoanalysis began with the discovery of “hysteria,” an illness with physical symptoms that occurred in a completely healthy physical body, such as a numbness or paralysis of a limb, loss of voice, or blindness.
This state could be caused by unconscious wishes or forgotten memories. Many women of the 1800s were diagnosed with hysteria, given the disorder was thought to be primarily female. Freud began telling his patients, through interpretations, what was going on inside the unconscious part of their minds, thus helping the unconscious become conscious. Many cases of hysteria were cured this way, and in 1895, Freud, along with another fellow physician, published their findings and theories on the study of hysteria.
In The White Hotel by D. M. Thomas, the character Lisa does not exhibit the above form of hysteria, but rather a manifestation of reality. Her own reality has become too imprisoned, and she escapes it by creating another Lisa that is nothing like her person. The traditional psychoanalytical theory states that all human beings are born with instinctual drives that are constantly active even though a person is not usually conscious of them. Two drives, one for sexual pleasure and the other called aggression, motivate and propel most behaviors in people.
Lisa creates a very intense sexual drive for her fictive person. Readers may speculate that this creation may have been brought about by experiences beginning at birth. In the infant, the libido supposedly first manifests itself by making the act of sucking the thumb an activity with pleasurable sensations in the mouth. Later, according to Freud, similar pleasures are experienced in the anus during bowel movements, and finally these erotically tinged pleasures are experienced when the sexual organ is manipulated.
Thus psychosexual development progresses from the oral through the anal to the phallic stage. During the height of the phallic phase (about ages three to six), Freud notes that these drives focus on the parent of the opposite sex such as in the relations between mother and son or between father and daughter. These drives are known as the so-called Oedipus and Electra complexes. These complexes may also spread to other relationships, such as Lisas viewing of the love affair between her mother and uncle.
However, most societies strongly disapprove of the sexual interests of children, and Lisa never spoke of what she saw to anyone but Freud. She also, in the event of her mothers death, fell subject to a withdrawn father who did not meet her needs for affection and attention as a growing child. This may have helped lead to her repressed sexual “rage. ” Also, taboo on incest rules almost universally. Parents, therefore, influence children to push pleasurable sensations and thoughts out of their conscious minds into the unconscious by a process called repression.
Repression is what Lisa learned most about in her childhood. In this way the mind comes to consist of three parts known as the ego, id, and superego. The ego is mostly conscious and comprises all the ordinary thoughts and functions needed to direct a person in his or her daily behavior. The id is mainly unconscious and contains the instincts and everything that was repressed into it. And finally, the superego is the conscious state that harbors the values, ideals, and prohibitions that set the guidelines for the ego, and punishes the person through feeling of guilt.
Strong boundaries between the three parts keep the ego fairly free from disturbing thoughts and wishes in the id, ensuring effective functioning and socially acceptable behavior. During sleep the boundaries weaken, and disturbing wishes may slip into the ego from the id. This often causes us to manifest in our dreams. Freud interpreted this concept in his first major work, The Interpretation of Dreams.
Something very similar to the weakening of boundaries during sleep may happen during ordinary daytime activities when some impulses from the id manage to cross the repression barrier and cause faulty actions such as “slips” of the tongue. This may occur often if psychologically hurtful experiences during childhood have left the repression too weak, distorted the ego, or strengthened the id too much by over-stimulation. Any kind of psychic trauma may lead to the ego becoming an area of conflict between the intruding id, the threatening superego, and the powerful influences emanating from the surrounding environment.
Furthermore, the damage done to the basic psychological structures by traumatic experiences leaves those structures weakened and with defective functioning. Such outcomes can cause intense anxiety and depression. In order to keep functioning effectively, the ego attempts to maintain control by achieving some sort of compromise between the contending forces. Lisa could not separate her self from her problems, and therefor fell victim to them. Her life was not focused, but she managed to create clarity in the release of her sexual self.
Patients seek psychoanalytic treatment because they suffer from one or more psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, sexual inhibitions or manifestations (such as with Lisas conflict), obsessive thoughts, compulsive actions, irrational anger, shyness, phobias, low self-esteem, a sense of being unfulfilled, nervous irritability, and many more. Psychoanalysis does not promise a quick cure but holds hope that through better understanding of oneself and others, one can achieve an correction of symptoms as well as smoother and more effective socialization regarding behavior.
It has been found that many psychological problems originate from painful misunderstandings or outright failures in the child’s relationship to his or her parents. The method of treatment seems simple at first. The patient is instructed to say absolutely everything that comes to mind without censoring anything, a technique that is called free association. This brings about a state of regression in which long-forgotten events and painful encounters are remembered, often with great clarity and intense emotions.
The analyst often can trace the connection between the patient’s current fantasies and feelings about the analyst and the origin of these thoughts and emotions in childhood experiences. These conflicts and traumas, together with the accompanying fears and feelings, are then are interpreted by the analyst. If treatment is successful, the patient learns to recognize the connections between past and present. The combination of insight and the emotional re-experience during the regressed state can cause a reorganization of the psychological structures into more healthfully adaptive patterns.
From the beginnings in the late 19th century, psychoanalytic theory and practice have continued to develop into the present modern practices. Initially, Freud believed that forgotten sexual seductions of children were the cause of neurosis and that remembering the trauma and emotions was therapeutic. He later modified and elaborated his views into the theory of infantile instinctual drives as the motivating force for normal behavior and as the cause of neurosis if repressed.
Continuing research has discovered much evidence that the early relationships between children and parents, have the greatest impact on later psychological development. The influence of the care-givers, especially during infancy, leave a lasting imprint on the personality. Any experience with objects, including persons, that evoke and strengthen the self are “self-object” experiences and are needed by every human being from birth to death in order to sustain a cohesive self.
Absence of or faulty self-object experiences cause a loss of cohesion with the self. Lisas character was a prime candidate for Freuds psychoanalysis. She followed many of the stereotypical guidelines set by Freuds studies. Her reality failed her, so a more vibrant one was created in order to suppress years of secrets, neglect, and the pain from it all. Her character was eventually brought back into a state of reality, but it was too late to “save” her. The true reality that faced her was the grimace of death of her true “self” in the end.