Do you have a big ego? Have you ever tried to interpret your dreams to understand what, if any, significance they may have? Are there traumatic events from your childhood that you've repressed as you've grown up and moved on?
If any of those words, concepts, or ideas sounds vaguely familiar, then you already know a bit about the work of one of the most influential academic minds of the 20th century: Sigmund Freud.
Freud was born in 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia, which was part of the Austrian Empire (now known as Příbor in the Czech Republic). At the age of four, he moved with his family to Vienna, where he would live and work for most of the rest of his life.
After receiving his medical degree in 1881, Freud concentrated on neurobiology, studying the biology of the brain and the central nervous system. He eventually set up his own private practice to treat psychological disorders.
Freud is most famous for being the founding father of psychoanalysis, his theory explaining human behavior and his method for treating mental illness. The basis of psychoanalysis was Freud's belief that events that occur early in childhood shape and influence our behaviors and personalities later in life.
For example, a traumatic event early in life could result in a person repressing those memories over time, leading to anxiety and other psychological problems later in life. Freud believed those memories stayed in a person's unconscious mind. He thought uncovering them and confronting them was the best way to deal with the psychological problems they caused.
One method Freud used to uncover subconscious influences was dream analysis. Freud believed dreams were the mind's way of coping with repressed memories. By analyzing and interpreting a person's dreams, Freud thought it was possible to identify subconscious issues and thereby improve present behaviors.
Freud also developed a comprehensive theory of human personality. He believed it was made up of three essential components: the id, ego, and superego. The id is the primal, needs-based force that drives all mental processes with a focus on satisfying basic desires, such as hunger.
The superego is the moral conscience that develops based upon the moral standards a person learns as a young child. The id and superego are like two opposite and competing forces. In between the two is the ego, which is the part of us that constantly struggles to balance our wants and needs against our notions of right and wrong.
Although Freud's ideas remain hotly debated among psychologists, there's no doubt that his views and theories influenced the science of psychology more than any other scholar of the 20th century. In 1938, Freud fled Austria to escape the Nazis. He died in London the following year.