Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory

Sigmund Freud is considered to be the father of the theoretical paradigm called to be psychoanalytic theory. Primarily, this theory is applied to cure those who suffered from different mental issues because of their inability of sublimating their pleasure principles. Freudian psychoanalytic processes function through pleasure and reality principles, sublimation, repression, unconscious, and three indirect routes to the unconscious. According to him, the unconscious is responsible for the creation of neurotic diseases among those who fail to change their personality in a balanced way.  Freud also argues how the diseased people can be cured by taking them to their past through a psychological process which is famously known as the talking theory. The psychoanalytic theory, in addition, aims at discussing the process of dealing with the patient’s unconscious in which they sublimate their unfulfilled desires.

Psychoanalytic theory and pleasure and reality principles 

According to Freud, desires play very predominant roles to motivate the infants’ psyche. In his Civilisation and its Discontents, he explores two fundamental principles namely “the pleasure principle and the reality principle” (Klages 63). He argues that infants possess all engulfing desires to get everything they see. They live in a borderless world in which desires know no boundary. Framing this idea, he defines pleasure principle stating that the “pleasure principles tells us whatever we feel good; the reality principle tells us to subordinate pleasure to what needs to be done, to work” (Klages 63). The infants, as observed by Freud, are mostly pleasure mongers and definitely devoted to pleasure principles. In reality, it is pretty impossible for them to entertain the pleasure principles all the time because of the strong supervision of the reality principles regarding what they can do or not. Nayar argues that the reality principle “enables us to understand that our pleasures cannot all be fulfilled the way we want them, and, therefore, inspires us to seek other routes of attaining pleasure” (65). Eventually, there is always a clash between the pleasure principle and the reality principle. In order to be a part of the society, infants psychologically get the information that they have to sublimate their pleasure principle.

Freud’s psychoanalysis and the idea of sublimation

Sublimation, as said by Freud, refers to the psychological process of controlling the pleasure principles by the reality principles. It is done in a psychological way so that the infants can get themselves adopted into society naturally. Sublimation paves an easy way for them to assimilate themselves with the social and cultural norms. Civitarese argues that sublimation is a very ambiguous term in Freudian psychoanalysis. He remarks, “the concept of sublimation has been marked by a degree of ambiguity since its very origin” (97) which can be defined as the “capacity to be able to convert a sexual drive – in Freud writings a recurring synonym of sublimation is sexual abstinence- into a non-sexual one, and to change its object and aim” (97). The aim to be received through this psychiatric process is obviously higher and socially more valuable because sublimation promotes those which are socially and culturally approved. Sublimation also refers to the “displacement of libido” (Civitarese 98) in which the “polymorphously perverse” (Klages 66) infants can correct their unnatural libidinal desires.

Psychoanalytic theory and libido

The most controversial aspect in Freud’s psychoanalytic theory comprises his idea of the nature of the infants’ desire which, according to him, is libidinal or sexual in nature. The pleasure principles that refer to enjoy everything in every possible way are in reality sexual in nature, “sexual pleasure is the model for all forms of pleasure” (Klages 64). Freud opines that sexuality is one of the basic urges that human beings have been possessing since the dawn of the human civilization. Nayar narrates it by stating that sexuality “is the primary ‘drive’ in our subjectivity according to Freud. He termed this the libido” (65). The drives lead the infants to suffer from polymorphously perverted desires which do not follow any reality principle. These desires are not concerned about social, cultural, or religious boundaries and so, the infants are none but libidinal animals or sexual animals. Psychoanalytic theory shows how a person has to transform his sexual desires into productive activities so that he can survive in the world.  He cannot be busy with sexuality all the time. In order to do so, he must sublimate his pleasure principles.

Psychoanalytic theory and the unconscious

The unconscious in Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is about the destination of the unfulfilled desires or the sublimated desires. Freud argues that it is compulsory for all to sublimate or repress the libidinal desires to take part in productive activities. He opines that these repressed desires are sent to a particular place of the mind in which they assemble and stay. The space of the mind that carries the repressed desires is called to be the unconscious. D. L Smith argues that unconscious “mental states are only apparently mental: they are more accurately described as neurophysiological dispositions for mental states” (49). Freud also manifests how the unconscious reveals the absolute mental states in its divided, split, or dissociated conditions.  In his psychoanalytic theory, Freud clearly narrates that a person’s personality is largely controlled by the unconscious. According to him, a person’s anger, compulsive behaviour, interaction with other members of society, nature of distress, and problems in creating relationships with others are mostly controlled by the unconscious. He argues that all the detrimental and socially unacceptable feelings, desires, and emotions are repressed in the unconscious, but they are always in a war in the vaulted unconscious to come out. What is very remarkable in his study is that these desires cannot come out directly, and they do it following some indirect routes which are connected with the unconscious.

Psychoanalytic theory: dream, slip of tongue and joke

Freud clarifies that the sublimated desires in the unconscious always struggle to explore a way out in the mind so that they can leave remarkable impacts on people. As the desires are repressed and so, they are distorted substantially. A person cannot import them directly into their consciousness. Freud, hence, argues that these desires follow three indirect routes to come out. The first route he emphasizes is the dream through which the repressed desires come out. Dream functions following two methods such as condensation and displacement. Condensation refers to the indirect similarity like the literary figure metaphor while displacement follows the characteristics of metonymy. The second route is the slip of the tongue or parapraxes. Sometimes the repressed desires make a way from the unconscious through slips of the tongue. Joke is the third way to place the repressed desires from the unconscious to the beholders.



  • Civitarese, G. (2016), On Sublimation. Int J Psychoanal, 97: 1369-
  • Klages, Mary. Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008
  • Nayar, Pramod K. Contemporary Literary and Cultural Theory: From Structuralism to Ecocriticism. Pearson, 2014
  • Smith, D. L. Freud’s Philosophy of the Unconscious. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999
Abdur Rahim
Abdur Rahim

Assistant Professor, and Member of the Proctorial Body
Department of English Language and Literature (DELL), Premier University, Chattogram,
& Doctoral Fellow, English Department, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka.

Phone: +8801715638298


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.