A Critique on Freudian Psychosexual Enlightenment of the Child

A Critique on Freudian Psychosexual Enlightenment of the Child

What Is Psychoanalysis?


Sigmund Freud has a historical significance as it regards psychoanalysis. He is the father of psychoanalysis from whose theory all other psychoanalysts developed their own theories. Psychoanalysis as a concept has been appreciated with diversified views. Some have appreciated it to have a positive value to man while some see it as unrealistic and an alien theory of personality. An instance of the negative views on psychoanalysis is seen in the words of an earlier teacher that “Every thing you do is determined by forces inside you of which you are totally unaware.”1 That is to say that man is a mask unto himself. This kind of approach makes psychoanalytic ideas seem esoteric and alien, with the claims made by psychoanalytic theorists being arrogant and ominous.

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Four Major Myths about Psychoanalysis

Four major myths about psychoanalysis have arisen as a result of the misleading notions, which psychoanalysts have contributed greatly to. The first is that psychoanalysis is largely the work of one man. For the first five decades in the history of psychoanalytic thought (up till the death of Freud in 1939), it would have been tenable to argue that psychoanalysis was largely the invention of Freud’s singular genius.

Secondly, contemporary psychoanalysis, in both Theory and Clinical Practice, is virtually the same as it was in Freud’s day. Psychoanalysis is sometimes presented as if it were fundamentally unchanged since Freud’s time. This is as a result of some analyst striving to maintain their loyalty to tradition.

Thirdly, psychoanalysis has gone out of fashion. This myth is based on partial truth. Orthodox, classical Freudian psychoanalysis is going out of fashion. This is because orthodox psychoanalysis is not of our time; its methods and its understanding were fashioned almost a hundred years ago. As the world around psychoanalysis has changed, the psychoanalysis itself has changed. The fourth myth is that psychoanalysis is an Esoteric Cult requiring both conversion and year of study. Most of the post-Freudian texts are written in a style that encourages a view of psychoanalysis as an esoteric, impenetrable world unto itself, its self proclaimed riches accessible to only selected few. The language is thick, dense with jargon and complex argumentation.

Irrespective of all these negative notions, psychoanalysis has existed with tremendous positive values to the world at large. As Nietzsche rightly asserts that “One’s own self is well hidden from one’s own self; of all mines of treasure one’s own is the last to be dug up,”2 there exists a need to help man discover his hidden self. Psychoanalysis becomes not only necessary but also imperative since it will help man to discover himself in the unconscious, which he couldn’t do in his conscious state. Psychoanalytic concepts have the capacity to enrich rather than to deplete, to empower rather than diminish, to deepen experience rather than to haunt it. It is with this ideal in mind that Freud delved into his psychoanalytical theory, hoping that his disciples and clients or analysands will find his views stimulating, challenging and fundamentally therapeutic.


Freud began by acknowledging the fact that the unconscious is a mystery whose effort to be penetrated is nothing but futility and impossibility. He testified to this in his saying that “The unconscious is the true psychical reality; in its innermost nature it is as much unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is incompletely presented by the data of consciousness as is the external world by the communications of our sense organs”. 3

“To know thyself is to be known by another.”4 This was Freud’s powerful revision of the Delphic injunction, and by which he intended to make psychoanalysis the most disenchanting of sciences. What Copernicus had done to man’s ancestry, Freud claimed to have done to man’s ultimate source – reason.

Movies and cartoons offer images of a patient lying on a couch, speaking endlessly into a vacuum, while a silent, colorless, older gentleman with a beard takes notes. Many people who are unfamiliar with psychoanalysis fear it as a coward’s way out, an admission of defeat, a ceding of control and authority to a stranger.5

But what of those who have benefited from or who practice psychoanalysis? Their voices are not often heard. The problem is that psychoanalytic concepts are derived from and are concerned most fundamentally with experience of the analytic process, an intensely emotional, highly charged, deeply personal experience for both participants. From the inside, in the eyes of those who study and practice psychoanalysis as well as those who have undergone a “successful” (i.e., personally meaningful) analysis, the world of psychoanalysis is a rich and intriguing place. Its basic concepts and modes of thought are imbued with an experimental vividness, a conceptual clarity, and a continual practical applicability to the day – to – day conduct of their lives. Psychoanalytic thought helps knit together different domains of experiences: past and present, waking and sleeping, thinking and feeling, interpersonal events and the most private fantasies.

Psychoanalytic concepts provide useful tools for expanding, consolidating and enriching one’s own life and one’s relationships with others. Yet it is hard to convey this to some one who has not experienced it. To those to whom psychoanalytic concepts can seem odd, abstract, alien, and out of reach, it is sometimes hard to believe they are, themselves, derived from actual human experience. Psychoanalytic formulation is an effort to grasp and portray some piece of human experience, some aspect of the workings of the mind. Each formulation refers to real people, their way of organizing experience, their difficulties in living, their struggle to shape and maintain a personal self in relations to other people.

In the introductory lectures, Freud writes: “Symptoms are not produced by conscious processes; as soon as the unconscious processes involved are made conscious the symptom must vanish”. 6 Hence the need of penetrating people’s unconscious mind through psychoanalysis..

The aim of psychoanalytic therapy is to bring these rejected drives and wishes, together with the patient’s individual and environmental moral standards, which are the instruments for his rejections; into consciousness and in this way place them at his free disposal. In doing this the conscious self becomes strengthened, since it is no longer involved in continuous job of repressing mental content from his own awareness. The patient can then decide independently which he wishes to regret, his personality no longer being warped or dominated by uncontrollable drives and moral standards. This process permits growth and maturation.7

Nevertheless, psychoanalysis is a face-to-face dialogue between the psychoanalyst and the client. It is an exercise in which the analyst tries to discover the experiences repressed in the unconscious mind of a client through a careful procedure of obtaining information from his conscious experiences. Through PSYCHOANALYSIS, discovery has been made that the essence of the process of repression lies, not in abrogating or annihilating the ideational presentation of an instinct, but in withholding it from becoming conscious. We then say of the idea that it is in the state of unconsciousness, of being not apprehended by the conscious mind. How is the knowledge of the unconscious attained? It is attained only as something conscious that we know anything of it, after it has undergone transformation and translation into something conscious.


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Freud was born on May 6 1856, at Freibury in what is now Czechoslovakia. When he was four, the family moved to Vienna, and his father continued his trade as a small merchant. While following the usual course of studies at the Gymnasium, where for seven years he was first in his class, Freud was attracted by Darwin’s theories to the study of science. Although he had no “particular predilection or liking for the career of a physician, Freud later noted that, it was upon hearing Goethe’s beautiful essay On Nature … … just before I left school that I decided to become a medical student.”In 1873 he entered the University of Vienna, where he records in his autobiographical sketch; he experienced the effects of anti-Semitic prejudice.

While pursuing his medical studies, Freud began experimental investigation by studying the nervous system of the fish in the physiological laboratory of Ernest Brucke. After taking his medical degree in 1881, financial reasons compelled him to become an intern at the general hospital. With little spare time he had as an intern, he pursued research at the Institute of Cerebral Anatomy on the subject of nervous diseases. The publication of several monographs on cerebral paralysis in children won him the post of lecturer on neuropathology at the university, and in 1885 he was awarded a travelling fellowship to advance his studies.

Upon his return to Vienna, Freud married and to provide for a rapidly growing family, established himself as a specialist in nervous diseases. In the first year of his practice his principal technique “aside from haphazard psycho-therapeutic methods” was hypnotic suggestion. He resumed his friendship with Breuer and in collaboration with him published in 1895 the studies in Hysteria. The partnership was dissolved after the book was completed, and soon afterwards Freud took the decisive step of replacing hypnotism by method of “free association”. Largely as a result of his extensive clinical practice, he turned to the analysis of dreams, and in 1900 provided the first statement of his doctrine on the interpretation of Dreams.

By 1908, Freud had colleagues throughout Europe, including Adler, Brill, Ferenczi, Ernest Jones, Carl Jung, Sadger and Stekel, and in that year the first international Congress of Psychoanalysis was held at Salzbury. In the following year at the invitation of Clark University, Freud visited the United States and gave five lectures on his discoveries, which were later published as the Origin and Development of Psycho-Analysis. With the establishment of the International Psycho-Analytic Association in 1910 Freud devoted his efforts with increasing success to the development of the psychoanalytic movement.

Disagreement later led to a severance of relations between Freud and several of his closest associates, including Adler, Stekel, Rank, and Jung, but Freud was the acknowledged founder of psychoanalysis as the leader of the movement.

After 1912, Freud gave most of his time to directing the Psycho-Analytic Society, editing its various journals, and writing many monographs. Although his clinical practice was not as extensive as in previous years, he still remained active as an analyst, and his patients cover almost fifty years. At the University of Vienna during the winter sessions between 1915 and 1917, he again explained his theories before a general public, as he had in the United States, in lectures afterwards published in General Introduction to Psychoanalysis.

Until the end of the First World War Freud was mainly occupied with special problems concerning the unconscious, and it was not until 1920 that he began to deal with the more general problems raised by his studies, particularly with the factors making for what he called repression. In 1920 he published ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ and three years later the ‘Ego and the Id’. As early as 1913, Freud had attempted in ‘Totem and Taboo’ to make use of the newly discovered findings of analysis in order to investigate the origin of religion and morality”. He now “returned to the cultural problems which had fascinated him long before” and published the Future of an Illusion (1927), Civilization and its Discontents (1929), and Moses and Monotheism (1939), which was his last book.

With the award of the Goethe Prize in 1930, when he was also given the freedom of the city of Vienna, Freud reached what he described as “the climax of my life as a citizen”. But soon afterwards, Freud notes, “the boundaries of our country narrowed, and the nation would know us no more”. Upon the Nazi invasion of Austria in 1938, Freud’s books were burnt, the psychoanalytische Verlag, directed by his son, was destroyed, and his passport confiscated. For years Freud had lived in virtual seclusion, largely because of the development of cancer of the mouth, which caused him great pain. He was finally allowed to leave Austria in 1938 after the payment of a large ransom. With his wife, a nephew, and his daughter, Anna, who took after him, he went to England, where another of his son lived. He died in September 23, 1939, in Hamstead, London.

Critical Evaluation and Conclusion

A Critical Evaluation of Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytical Views

 Freud saw himself as the discoverer of a previously unknown world (the unconscious). He had to make his way through complex expanses of psychic territory to expose the crucial unconscious infantile wishes and fears that deeply fascinated and excited him. What Freud wanted to find out were the secrets, not the more ordinary levels of mental life within which the secrets were concealed.

No other psychological theory has been subjected to such searching and often such bitter criticism, as has psychoanalysis. From every side and on every conceivable score, Freud and his theory has been attacked, reviled, ridiculed and slandered. The only comparable case in modern science, in which both the theory and theorist have been so ardently vilified, is that of Charles Darwin whose evolutionary doctrine shocked Victorian England. The theories of personality according to Calvin Hall and Gardner Lindzey has it that “Freud’s chief offences consisted of ascribing lustful and destructive wishes to the baby, attributing incestuous and perverted urges to all   human beings and explaining man’s behaviors in terms of sexual motivation.2

However, Freud’s psychoanalytical theory has some criticisms in favour of it. The first of its kind is that Freud laid the foundations of psychoanalysis, and equally guided the course of its development. He was the first to turn an inquisitive eye into the unconscious part of the human mind. He tried to discover the dynamism of the different parts of the human mind as it affects the thought and action of man.

The most fundamental concept of psychoanalysis is the notion of the unconscious mind as reservoir for repressed memories of traumatic events which continuously influence conscious thought and behaviour. The scientific evidence for this notion of unconscious repression is lacking, though there is simple evidence that conscious thought and behaviour are influenced by non-conscious memories and process.3

The Positive Aspects Of Freud’s Psychoanalytical  Theory

Furthermore, there are some good aspects of Freud’s psychoanalytical theory, which he developed a century ago in Vienna. Freud is one of the greatest benefactors of psychoanalysis because he pioneered the desire to understand those whose behaviour and thoughts cross the boundaries of convention set by civilization and culture. That it is no longer fashionable to condemn and ridicule those with behavioural or thought disorders is due in no small major to the tolerance promoted by psychoanalysis. Morestill, as a psychiatrist Anthony Stoor puts it: Freud’s technique of listening to distressed people over long periods rather than giving the orders or advice has formed the foundation of most modern forms of psychotherapy, with benefits to both patients and practitioners” (Stoor, 1996:120). Freud drew attention to the importance of childhood as a determinant factor to the later life of man.

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Freud’s contributions were remarkably rich and dense; it generated a background for the subsequent psychoanalysts.  He was the pacesetter and the granddaddy of psychoanalysis.

Finally, an American psychoanalysts has it that “for all that has been said of Freud’s psychoanalytical theory, it also seems clear that, at his best, Freud is a deep explorer of human condition, working in a tradition which goes back Sophocles and which extends through Plato, Saint Augustine and Shakespeare to Proust and Nietzscher. What holds this tradition together is its insistence that there are significant meanings for the human well-being which are obscured from immediate awareness” 



One of the criticisms asserts that there are grave shortcomings in the empirical procedures by which Freud validated his hypothesis. It is pointed out that Freud made his observation under uncontrolled conditions. He acknowledged that he did not keep a verbatim record of what he and the patient said and did during the treatment hour, but that he worked from notes made several hours later. Invariably, omissions and distortions of various kinds must have crept in into the records.

Critics of Freud’s methods have also objected to his accepting at face value what a patient said without attempting to corroborate it by some form of external evidence. They believed he should have secured evidences from relatives and acquaintances, documents, test data and medical information, rather than recoursing on obtaining that through the knowledge of the unconscious relics of his patients.

Given then what was surely an incomplete record and more than likely an imperfect one, Freud proceeded to draw inferences and reach conclusions by a line of reasoning that was rarely made explicit. Here the reader is asked to take on faith the validity of his inductive and deductive operations. Consequently, it is practically impossible to repeat any of Freud’s investigations with any assurance that one is proceeding in accordance with the original design.

Freud eschewed any quantifying of his empirical data, which makes it impossible to weigh the statistical significance and reliability of his observations. In how many cases, for example, did he find an association between paranoia and homosexuality etc? How many cases of a particular type did he study and from what classes and background did these cases come? What measures and criteria were used for assigning a case to a particular clinical category? Did Freud ever check his interpretations against those of another competent psychoanalyst in order to establish the reality of his judgment? These and numerous other questions of similar nature trouble the quantitatively oriented psychologist.

Freud’s disinclination to follow the conventions of full scientific reporting of his data leaves the door open for many doubts regarding the scientific status of psychoanalysis (Hook, 1960). Such questions are as follows: Did Freud read into his case what he wanted to find there? Where his inferences guided more by his biases than by the material at hand? Did he select only that evidence which was in agreement with his hypothesis and disregard negative instances? How much solid evidence did Freud really have to support his grandiloquent speculations? What safeguards did he employ against the insidious influence of subjectivism? Question of this kind have cast doubt upon the validity of psychoanalytical theory.

Another type of criticism attacks the theory itself, and says in effect that the theory is “bad” because many parts of it do not have empirical consequences. For example, it is impossible to derive any empirical proposition from the postulation of a death wish. This being so, the death wish “remains shrouded in metaphysical darkness” and has no meaning for science.

Freudian theory is markedly deficient in providing a set of relational rules by which one can arrive at any precise expectations of what will happen if certain events take place. What connects the formation of the superego with the Oedipus complex? Such questions like this are still to be answered with regards to the tangled web of concepts and assumptions that Freud conjured up.

The psychoanalytic theory is silent with regards to the problem of how the interplay of cathexis and anticathexis are to be measured quantitatively. In fact, there is no specification of how one is to go about estimating, even in the roughest terms differences in quantity. How intense does an experience have to be before it is traumatic? How weak must the ego be before it is overridden by an instinctual impulse? And yet everything depends in the final analysis upon just such specifications. Lacking them no laws can be derived.

Carl Jung on his own side rejected Freud’s pansexualism. As Jung asserts, “The immediate reason was that Freud … … identified his method with his sex theory, which I deemed to be inadmissible”5

For Otto Rank, Freud has managed to construct a theory of human development which focused upon the father, and which paid relatively little attention to the role of the mother and to women’s sexuality. This criticism leveled against Freud by Otto Rank was also emphasized by Thomas Szasz who wrote that:

Overt tyranny can be appraised for what it is, and there are many ways of resisting it. Freud’s leadership, however, was deceitful. He created a pseudo-democratic atmosphere, but was careful to retain for himself the power to decide all-important issues.6

The four social psychological theorists: Adler, Fromm, Horney and Sullivan emphasize the influence of the society and environmental stimulation in the shaping of an individual. In spite of their acknowledged indebtedness to the seminal thinking of Freud, they constitute a reaction against the instinctive position of Freudian psychoanalysis”7. For them, the environment has an upper hand on the development of an individual more than the instincts within him.


Sigmund Freud in his psychoanalysis attributed much importance to the period of infancy in the life of man. Many other psychologists and non- psychologists also acknowledged the importance and the delicacy of this particular period in the life of man. The question then comes, to what extent is help offered to the child at his or her early days in order to have a good foundation for what he becomes later in life (adulthood). It is in reaction to this very fact that I deem it fit to acknowledge the important place of sexual enlightenment of a child in the development of a person’s life.

The question whether children will be given any information at all with regards to the facts of sexual life, and at what age and in what way this should be done has been a controversial one among scholars.

According to Freud:

It is well to keep fantasies of children pure but their purity will not be preserved by ignorance. On the contrary, he (Freud) believes that concealment leads a girl or boy to suspect the truth more than ever. Curiosity leads to prying into things which would have roused little or no interest if they were talked openly without any fuss. The child who is protected comes into contact with other children, books fall into his hands which lead him to reflect, and the mystery with which things he has already summarized or concluded are treated by his parents actually increases his desire to know more. Then this desire that is incompletely and secretly satisfied gives rise to excitement and corrupts his imaginations, so that the child is already a sinner while his parents still believe he does not know what sin is”. 8

Whatever variable opinions might exist among scholars, the fact remains that children need to be informed about all aspects of their lives and the area of sex cannot be an exception. People should rather be talking about being careful and using moderation in doing that. For instance, a growing child of about five to seven years might be wondering how a child is manufactured; some that are fast enough will try to put it to their elder ones in form of a question. It is then the duty of the adult to kindly offer a proper explanation that will help this child know that children are not manufactured, but gotten through the union of the male and the female gametes. When this is properly done, the child’s mind is then freed from the problem of how a child is gotten.

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It is however painful that the parents and guardians whose duty it is to get their children informed are oftentimes over protective, thinking that they are doing the children good. Some even go to the extent of mystifying sexual issues or giving their children partial information they need. Freud rightly asserts that “it is habitual prudery and guilty conscience in themselves about sexual matters which causes adults to adopt the attitude of mystery towards children”.9

The problems become more tormenting in our present day society where sex is projected in all aspects of life. On the streets you see sex, in the media you see and hear sex, in the Internet you browse sex, in the movies you watch sex, even in discussions issues about sex are often discussed. In the light of these developments, one can see that what is really needed is not the hiding of sexual issues from children, but getting them informed of these issues and directing their minds towards a positive conceptualization of the issues on human sexuality. It is true that it is not an easy task to enlighten the children on sexual issues, but it is equally an inevitable responsibility to the parents and guardians if the children are expected to grow up to become mature persons fully integrated about the facts of life.

According to Freud, “explanations about the specific circumstances of its social significance should be provided before the child is eleven years old”10 I agree with him with regards to the early need for this information because when the children fail to receive the explanation for which they turn to their elders, they go on tormenting themselves in secret with the problem, and produce attempts at solution in which the truth they have guessed is mixed up in the most extraordinary way with grotesque invensions.

The importance of the knowledge of one self cannot be over emphasized. The knowledge of the happenings in an individual helps the individual to form a wholesome personality. Hence, the importance of helping the growing children, have a good knowledge of what happens in their sexual life. The only thing that is needed is a good guidance and direction by the parents and guardians. Finally, the importance of being aware cannot be over laboured because when a child is aware of the delicate place sex occupies in the human life, it helps him to handle his sexual life with caution and carefulness.


Man and the happenings in his life have been and remains an enigma to the human mind. The human mind however, can only conceptualize man to some extent and never wholly. It is consequent upon this that Sigmund Freud concerned with the exploration of the depth of the personality of man rose up with his psychoanalytic theory. He piled up many theories as we have seen in the third chapter of this work in order to elucidate the happenings in the life of man.

However, Freud never found it easy in his venture. He arrived at many aberrations in his theory.  His authoritative nature served as an impediment to his reaching the climax. For instance, his seduction theory did not yield any positive result because he did not allow his patients to pour out their minds; rather he presumed what should be rather than what is. That not withstanding, Freud did well by turning his attention to the unconscious aspect of the human mind, which he lavishly tried to explain in his dream theories and in his theory of the Id.

Freud’s theory on the other hand has a general defect of an over centralization of sex. As Richard Webster had it that Freud tried to open every problem with a single key (sex). The sacredness he attached to his theory of libido or instinct made many of his disciples like Jung, Adler and Stekel to break away from him. As Fritz Wittles wrote:

Freud watches his theory of libido jealously, and will not tolerate the smallest deviation from it, and fences it round with a palisade.11

Freud thought that sex was everything and gave a very little place to environmental and societal influences on the child. His theory laid more emphasis on heredity. He forgot that no matter what man is made of, he is still a being whose existence is realized in relation to others. Moreover, the importance he attached to the early stages of man’s life as was reflected in his stages of childhood development is a credit to him. The importance and the delicacy of the early days of an infant cannot be over emphasized. It is important to note that Freud’s state of mind was not unconnected with the environment he grew up in. Freud having grown up in an atheistic environment has no place for God in his life, and that created a lacuna in his psychoanalytic theory.

Finally, Freud should be accredited for turning the attention of man towards the inner constitutions of the personality. This step he made attracted the attention of many psychologists who have taken up the task of developing his theories and correcting the defects in it. The psychoanalytic theory if not for any other thing has made man aware of the fact that he is made up of complicated systems which when they are well managed and developed will make him turn into a fully mature person.

A Critique on Freudian Psychosexual Enlightenment of the Child


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