7 teachings from Sigmund Freud that we all need to unlearn

We all want to understand ourselves better, right?

In our pursuit of self-understanding, many of us turn to psychology. 

And who is more synonymous with psychology than Sigmund Freud?

The father of psychoanalysis, Freud’s theories have shaped the way we think about ourselves for over a century. But here’s the thing…

Not everything he taught back then is quite relevant nor true, as we know now – 83 years after his death. 

In fact, some of his teachings are downright misleading and can potentially hinder our path to self-understanding and personal growth.

I know, it’s a tough pill to swallow.

The man contributed so much to psychology, yet we need to unlearn some of his teachings and his core beliefs.

Strange, isn’t it?

Now, this isn’t to discredit Freud entirely. He was an absolute pioneer and innovator in his field and without him, psychology wouldn’t be what it is today.

But today, we’re going to take a closer look at 7 teachings from Freud that we should probably chuck out the window.

You might be familiar with some already…

…let’s dive in.

1) The unconscious mind isn’t the puppeteer

Freud was obsessed with the unconscious mind. 

He believed it controlled most of our thoughts and actions. 

But here’s the thing, modern psychology tells us that while the unconscious mind does influence our actions, it’s not the puppet master Freud made it out to be. 

We have far more active control that we can exert over our thoughts and behaviors than he suggested. 

2) Childhood experiences don’t dictate everything

According to Freud, our childhood experiences shape who we are as adults. 

The trauma, the happiness, the sadness – it all gets etched into our personalities for life. 

Sounds plausible, right? 

But whilst childhood experiences do to a degree shape us, they’re not the be-all and end-all of everything. 

We continue to grow and evolve throughout our lives, influenced by a myriad of factors beyond what happened in our formative years. 

Your fear of heights may well not be formed because of that one time you fell out of a tree, aged seven. 

I know I certainly didn’t encounter any big scary spiders when I was little, yet I am still terrified…

3) Dreams aren’t that symbolic

Freud was well-known for his interpretation of dreams, believing they were laden with hidden meanings and symbolic messages from our unconscious minds. 

If you dreamed of a person, you likely lusted after them.

If you were flying in your dream, you had ambition on your mind.

And most of all, all dream-based narratives always came down to something sexual (as per most of Freud’s theories…)

He even wrote a book, “The Interpretation of Dreams,” where he argued that every dream is a wish fulfillment, often relating to repressed childhood desires.

However, modern sleep and dream research suggest otherwise, even while dreams are largely still a great big mystery. 

For instance, the Activation-Synthesis model proposed by Harvard psychiatrists suggests that dreams are simply the brain’s attempt to make sense of random neural firings happening during our sleep. 

No hidden symbolic messages, no unconscious desires – just your brain doing its thing while you’re off in dreamland.

So don’t go thinking that if you see an airplane or a snake, you’ve got something erection-focused going on in dreamland…

Maybe try ChatGPT to help figure out your dreams instead!

4) Women suffer from ‘Penis Envy’

Freud’s theories often stirred controversy, and this one about women was no exception. 

He postulated that during development, girls experience ‘Penis Envy’, a desire for the male genitalia, leading to feelings of inferiority and the development of feminine characteristics.

Now, I’ve certainly never sat there and despaired over not possessing a penis, I’ll be honest.

Plus, this teaching encourages us to inspect the outdated gender biases inherent in Freud’s theories, and understand the implications of such thought on societal norms and expectations.

For those studying psychology, challenging this theory can provide a sense of empowerment. 

It’s a reminder that we are part of a society that has evolved and continues to evolve in its understanding of gender and sexuality.

Challenging such outdated theories encourages us to see our role in promoting a more balanced, inclusive understanding of human psychology.

Still, it’s good to be aware of historical movements regarding psychotherapy, and the advancements that have since taken place.

5) Sex isn’t the only motivator

pic1470 7 teachings from Sigmund Freud that we all need to unlearn

Freud believed that our behaviors and personalities were largely driven by sexual desires. In fact, he went as far as to suggest that even our innocent childhood actions were manifestations of repressed sexual desires.

Freud did have such an undeniable focus upon sex!

Whilst sex is indeed a powerful motivator for many, it’s not the only one. 

We are multifaceted beings with a myriad of desires and motivations – from the desire for love and connection, to the drive for personal growth and self-fulfillment. 

To reduce everything to one single motivator is to oversimplify the complexity of human nature.

Plus, some individuals are asexual – which would send Freud spinning!

6) The Oedipus complex isn’t universal

One of Freud’s most controversial theories is the Oedipus complex. 

He suggested that during a specific stage in childhood, boys have an unconscious lust for their mothers and see their fathers as rivals. 

If you know the tale, this involves a desire to get down and dirty with mummy dearest, and murder daddy.

In reaction to this theory, many raised eyebrows, and rightfully so.

Today, psychologists agree that while parent-child relationships are indeed crucial in shaping a child’s emotional development, Freud’s Oedipal theory is far from being a universal truth. 

Relationships within families are far more diverse and complex to be boxed into a single theory.

6) The ‘id’, ‘ego’, and ‘superego’ isn’t all there is

Freud introduced us to the tripartite model of the human mind – the ‘id’, ‘ego’, and ‘superego’. While this model has been insightful, it’s not comprehensive.

Consider for a moment the vast array of human emotions, thoughts, dreams, and motivations. Can they all be neatly categorized into three parts?

Humans encounter thousands of moments of joy, despair, ambition, fear, love – the list goes on. The multitude of these experiences don’t always fit into Freud’s neat little boxes.

Modern psychology acknowledges the complexity of the human mind. It appreciates that our minds are a dynamic interplay of various factors – genetic, environmental, cognitive, emotional – that can’t be reduced to just ‘id’, ‘ego’, and ‘superego’.

Final thoughts

There you have it – 7 teachings from Sigmund Freud that we need to unlearn.

This isn’t about dismissing Freud’s contributions to psychology in the slightest. He was a great psychoanalyst who steamrolled how we see the human mind to far new levels.

However, it’s about acknowledging that we’ve come a long way since his time. And we have a long way to go. 

Nonetheless, check out our Freud Quiz here (mainly to have a giggle and see whether or not your crush likes you back.)

And realize that it’s about recognizing that our understanding of human behavior is ever-evolving, and sometimes, unlearning is just as important as learning – even if it is almost more difficult than learning in the first place.

Picture of Liv Walde

Liv Walde

London-based writer with big thoughts, big dreams, and a passion for helping others.

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