Felix From a Psychodynamic Viewpoint

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The psychoanalytic approach will be used to examine and explain Felix Ungar's behavior. The focus will first be on the psychodynamic elements of personality and how they relate to Felix. Then some goals of treatment will be outlined.

The psychodynamic theory of personality and behavior and the psychoanalytic therapy process were developed by Sigmund Freud. Freud believed in the biological deterministic nature of humans. Behavior and personality, he believed, is determined by irrational forces that are biological and psychosexual in nature and come from the unconscious as instincts and drives. From this viewpoint he postulated his psychodynamic view of human nature. The psychodynamic theory consists of three components: (1) the structure of personality, (2) the stages of human development, and (3) the defense mechanisms formed to protect people from undue anxiety.

In Freud's view the personality is composed of three characteristics that are distinct, yet work in harmony. These characteristics are: (1) The id, which is present at birth, and operates on the pleasure principle. The id represents psychological drives and is fully unconscious. That is, the id seeks to reduce tension by seeking pleasurable activities such as food, sex or warmth. (2) The second to develop is the ego, which begins to develop during the first year of life. The ego develops largely because the child's demands for gratification cannot all be satisfied immediately. The ego is governed by the reality principle and its functioning is evident by its willingness to tolerate frustration and to delay gratification. (3) The last to develop is the superego, which is developed between the ages of 3 and 6. The superego is the psychic structure that represents our internalized values and ideals and sets high moral standards for behavior. The process by which a person is actuated is a dynamic interaction of the id (which wants to satisfy its lust immediately), the superego (which wants to only satisfy needs that are "morally proper") and the ego which is a moderator between the id and the superego by striving to solve our desires in a realistic manner.

The id, ego, and superego may be viewed from what Freud described as the unconscious, preconscious, and conscious levels of human awareness. The id operates entirely at the unconscious level. The id doesn't know if its desires are reasonable or not, and doesn't care, the id just wants it's needs met now! While the superego functions at all three levels of consciousness, its functions are largely unconscious, with a small amount of functioning at the conscious level. The ego functions mainly at the conscious and preconscious levels, only just touching the unconscious level. It is the ego's ability to "see" the reality of a situation at the conscious level that allows it to moderate the id and the superego.

Felix has an overdeveloped superego. This is evident by the way he exercises extreme control of his thoughts and actions. He strives for moral perfection. He will not allow himself to express hostile emotions because he feels that they are wrong. Felix moves through life according to the way his superego feels things should be. He constantly strives for the ideal, ignoring the reality of the situation. He is apologetic when he feels he has fallen short of his perception of his ideal self.

According to Freud, the personality is a result of a five stage development. The five stages that all humans must go through are: oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital phases. While they happen at relatively consistent ages in most peoples lives, the approximate ages are: oral, birth to 1 year; anal, 1 to 3 years; phallic, 3 to 6 years; latency, 6 to 12 years and genital, 12 to 18 years and continuing on into adulthood. They should not be viewed as separate and independent stages of development, but as merging and melding into one another. Therefore the age references should not be viewed as beginning and end points, but rather as focal points, where the stage is at its height. The emergence of one stage does not signify the ending of another or previous stage, but rather that the adult's behavior is formed by and shared by the interaction of current and earlier stages of development.

During the oral stage the main source of pleasure and pain is the mouth. Everything the child comes into contact with is experienced with the mouth. The anal stage is signified by toilet training. It is during the anal stage that the ego develops because the child is learning to delay gratification in the form of waiting for the appropriate time and place to defecate and thus relieve the tension built up by the need to eliminate bodily waste. During the phallic stage there is an increased awareness of the genital organs and children experience the Oedipus complex whose resolution leads to the development of the superego and sexual identification. The latency stage is said to be a period of rest and sexual impulses are thought to be repressed. Companionship of same sexed peers is the norm during the latency period and sexual impulses are channeled into other culturally acceptable activities, such as sports. The last developmental period is the genital stage. During the genital stage there is a rebirth of sexual and aggressive desires, the sexual drive which was formally autoerotic is redirected to seeking gratification from interaction with others. During this time members of the opposite sex are sought out to satisfy sexual desires and drives. The genital stage was thought by Freud to be the final stage in the human development, continuing throughout the remainder of the lifetime.

Freud believed that the lingering effects of the psychosexual stages are revealed in adult behavior and character traits. For example Felix is a compulsive cleaner, he feels that everything must be clean and in its proper place. Felix is always extremely punctual, he doesn't arrive anywhere late and has little tolerance for anyone who is not as punctual as he. According to the psychodynamic theory Felix is exhibiting very typical traits of someone who has an anal-retentive fixation.

Sigmund Freud also theorized the existence of ego-defense mechanisms. In order that an individual is better able to cope with anxiety, the ego develops defense mechanisms. These are procedures that ward off anxiety by preventing our conscious awareness of it. The defense mechanisms share two features. They occur on the unconscious level so that we are unaware of what we are doing, and they deny or distort reality so as to make it less threatening. Defense mechanisms are not necessarily maladaptive, in fact they are very necessary. Many of life's situations that confront us are too intense to be faced without the protection of the defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are developed as an aid to the developing ego while carrying out its functions and may be present throughout our entire life. However should their distortion of reality become too extreme and used in exclusion of all other methods of facing reality, then the defense mechanisms become maladaptive and destructive preventing further personal and social growth.

The ego-defense mechanisms that are most descriptive of Felix are those of repression and denial. Felix cannot believe that his wife actually threw him out, he cannot believe that she doesn't want to live with him anymore. After all, according to Felix, "how will she manage without him".

The psychoanalytic therapy process is an intensive and long term process. Typically there will be therapy sessions several times a week for a period of three to five years, with termination of the therapy process when the therapist and client agree that the client's past and present motivations are understood.

The goals of Freudian psychoanalytic therapy are to make the unconscious conscious, and to strengthen the ego so that behavior is based more on reality and conscious decisions and less unconscious thought and instinctual cravings. Successful analysis is believed to result in a significant modification of an individual's personality and character structure.

Psychoanalysis also involves the interpretation of dreams and slips. A slip is a bungled act, a slip of the tongue, or a lapse of memory. In Freud's view, nothing is insignificant, there is a motive for everything we say or do, and the analysis of a slip may be a key to the unconscious. Freud saw dreams as the "royal road to the unconscious". Adult dreams are thought to express unsatisfied wishes. Because in the adult many of these wishes have become unacceptable to the individual's conscience or superego, the true content of the dream may be disguised. Freud has said that dreams are made up of two levels of content, manifest content, which is the dream as it is remembered, and latent content, which refers to the hidden motive or underlying meaning of the dream. Uncovering the hidden meanings in dreams is one way that the unconscious is made conscious, thus satisfying one of the goals of psychoanalytic therapy.

It seems that since Felix has moved in with Oscar, he has gotten comfortable, to the point of behaving just as if he were back home with his wife. This is evidenced by the fact that frequently when Felix is leaving to go to work, or to go to bed he will say to Oscar, "goodbye Francis" or "good night Francis" (his wife's name is Francis). This "slip" indicates that Felix is doing all the things to take care of Oscar just like he did for his wife, even forgetting that he is now living with Oscar instead of his wife. This can also be viewed as a unconscious desire to be back together with his wife.

When deciding on the sequence and progress of therapy for Felix, the first thing that must be determined is the seriousness of Felix's suicide attempt. The question that must be answered is; was his suicide attempt a serious attempt to commit suicide, or just an attempt to get attention? When it can be reasonably assumed that Felix will not make any more attempts to commit suicide, then therapy should begin on the other facets of Felix's behavior and coping style.

The goals of therapy for Felix are to strengthen the ego so that Felix can gain control of his overdeveloped superego and to more fully understand Felix's unconscious motivations so that his current lifestyle may be more fully understood. Understanding his unconscious will involve probing deeply into his past, particularly his first 5 or 6 years of life. The method of self discovery employed is the technique of free association.

As Felix free associates, he and the analyst will more fully understand his past and unconscious motivations, and through free association Felix will have the opportunity to develop a transference neurosis. This transference neurosis is intended to recapitulate the emotional conflict that occurred during Felix's early childhood.

The psychoanalytic process will focus on prime influences during Felix's developmental years. Many of Felix's current problems and behavior are reflected in his compulsive need for cleanliness, organization, punctuality and his not understanding those who are not as orderly or punctual as he. As he comes to understand how he had been shaped by those past experiences, he will become able to exert control over his present functioning. Many of his fears that now exist only in his unconscious will become conscious, and knowing his unconscious motivations and desires will enable him to deal with his present situation.

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The purpose of this information: This information was first published as an experiment in publishing on the WWW. These pages are case studies of a fictional person. I composed these papers as an assignment for a graduate level Theories of Personality, Counseling Psychology class. I'm not claiming that any of this material is 100% correct. I make no representation as to the usefulness of this material. I hope that these pages are of some use to you, either educational, informative, or at least entertaining. If you have any comments, additions about these pages please contact me by e-mail. Thank you for reading.


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