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Sadism – Another one of those old “disorders” turned “alternative”

The drawing dates to 1760, when the Sade was n...

The drawing dates to 1760, when the Sade was nearly 20 years old. It’s the only known authentic portrait of the Marquis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sadism is a Freudian term denoting a sexual perversion in which erotic pleasure is gained by inflicting pain on another.¹

The term is derived from the surname of the French nobleman Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), who candidly wrote about the alleged pleasures of pain and sex in works like The Philosophy in the Bedroom.

The term “Sadistic Personality Disorder” was included as an appendix in the American psychiatric manual for mental disorders (DSM III) but disappeared in subsequent manuals (DSM-IV, DSM-IV-TR, DSM-5).

Wikipedia explains:

The current version of the American Psychiatric Association‘s manual, DSM-5, excludes consensual BDSM from diagnosis as a disorder when the sexual interests cause no harm or distress. Section F65 of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) indicates that “mild degrees of sadomasochistic stimulation are commonly used to enhance otherwise normal sexual activity”. The diagnostic guidelines for the ICD-10 state that this class of diagnosis should only be made “if sadomasochistic activity is the most important source of stimulation or necessary for sexual gratification”.²

Sigmund Freud by wordscraft

Sigmund Freud originally uploaded by wordscraft

Here we have another example, along with homosexuality, of a preference and associated behavior once pejoratively described by psychiatrists as a “disorder”only to be later designated as “normal.”

It doesn’t take rocket science to see that social and political factors come into play here. Some regard this historical change as evidence that psychiatry is a pseudo-science. Others maintain that psychiatry’s willingness to change is scientific and evidence of its strength.

Strength or weakness, one thing seems clear. Psychiatry reflects and informs the status quo. It is both an indicator of, and influence upon, social attitudes, beliefs and practices at a given point in history.

Lasting innovation in psychological theory is usually spearheaded by individuals holding fast to a vision,³ those willing to withstand the inherent inertia of a social institution that seems to follow and, by virtue of its legal power, shape how everyday people tend to see themselves.

¹ Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, p. 145.


³ From a theological perspective, it probably helps if God is on the innovator’s side, this being a perspective usually dismissed by the worldly wise.

Related » Sigmund Freud, Koan, Masochism


The Future of an Illusion – Freud and Beyond

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smok...

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smoking cigar. Español: Sigmund Freud, fundador del psicoanálisis, fumando. Česky: Zakladatel psychoanalýzy Sigmund Freud kouří doutník. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Future of an Illusion is Sigmund Freud’s work of 1927 where he states his psychoanalytic view of religion. Freud is a staunch materialist who sees all religious ideas as illusory:

Freud defines religion as an illusion, consisting of “certain dogmas, assertions about facts and conditions of external and internal reality which tells one something that one has not oneself discovered, and which claim that one should give them credence.” Religious concepts are transmitted in three ways and thereby claim our belief. “Firstly because our primal ancestors already believed them; secondly, because we possess proofs which have been handed down to us from antiquity, and thirdly because it is forbidden to raise the question of their authenticity at all.” Psychologically speaking, these beliefs present the phenomena of wish fulfillment, “fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.”¹

When I was a teenager I probably would have agreed with Freud on many points. But when I first realized that there’s more to life than sex, aggression, society and internalized norms, I came to disagree with Freud. I remember thinking how his reductive thinking could literally be dangerous to a spiritual seeker. I also recall talking with an employee in a spiritual bookstore who said, “Freud will drive you crazy, Jung won’t.” This was when I was beginning my PhD program and purchasing some core books by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who figured prominently in my doctoral thesis.

Today, my view of Freud is not entirely negative. After converting to Catholicism I realized, from direct observation and interaction with some Catholics, that religion and neurosis, perhaps even psychosis, can coexist. While I was converting to Catholicism, the elderly priest who guided our RCIA suggested that “some insane people hide out in religion.”

I thought he was being a bit harsh at the time. But recently a Catholic parishioner whom I’ve known on and off for over a decade has started cursing and swearing at others in the Mass. Just the other day I was the recipient of her verbal attack, which was unsettling, to put it mildly.

Funnily enough, this person seems to be convinced that she knows better than everyone else. It was okay for her to swear in Church—I just didn’t understand. And after I gently suggested that she need not swear at people in the Mass, she said I was a %$%$#@$#@!

Not too holy. More like angry and conflicted.

This just goes to show that Freud and the RCIA priest weren’t entirely wrong. Some religious people really are quite borderline. And they do seem to hide out in Church instead of getting the help or spiritual direction they need.

So these days I can see that Freud, indeed, had something to say. However, I still disagree with Freud’s ideas in the sense that spiritual influences, as I see it, qualitatively differ from biochemical and social influences.

For me, the main questions concerning religion and psychology are:

  • Is one’s approach to religion healthy or unhealthy?
  • Could excessive prayers and countless Rosaries be a way of avoiding unresolved complexes?

With regard to the second point, I think in some instances this might be so.

Like myself, Jung didn’t reject Freudian ideas outright but came to see Freud’s view of religion and, especially spirituality, as lacking. At one time a key player in the Freudian school, Jung eventually went his own way and expanded Freud’s reductive view of spirituality with concepts like archetype, synchronicity and numinosity.

¹ Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, New York: W.W. Norton, 1961, p. 38. See also

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Freud’s “Secondary Revision” of Dreams

wordscraft – Sigmund Freud

In Sigmund Freud‘s seminal work on dreams and the unconscious, The Interpretation of Dreams, secondary revision is said to occur whenever we remember a dream’s content.¹

Freud says the original dream content is usually obscure, incoherent and highly symbolic, so our memory of it is fragmented, at best.

On waking, the conscious mind fills in the gaps to make sense out of the dream, even though our waking interpretation doesn’t necessarily fit with the actual dream content.

Encyclopedia Britannica says:

The final function of the dreamwork is secondary revision, which provides some order and intelligibility to the dream by supplementing its content with narrative coherence.²

In his Dictionary of Psychology, J. P. Chaplin calls this secondary elaboration, and says we essentially try to make a better “story” out of the dream content.³

¹ The Interpretation of Dreams (German edition: 1899 & 1900).


³ Dictionary of Psychology (Bantam: 1985).

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Freuds influence? by Great Beyond / Tony Case via Flickr

Freud’s influence? by Great Beyond / Tony Case via Flickr

Sublimation is talked about by some thinkers as if it were an actual fact. But the only real fact is that it’s a theoretical process outlined in Sigmund Freud‘s psychoanalysis.

With sublimation, instinctual and antisocial impulses of the id are redirected toward non-instinctual, symbolic forms of behavior or expression. The redirection of the id’s antisocial desires apparently depends on a certain degree of ego development, and is usually understood to fall within socially acceptable channels, such as the arts.

When art is displayed and accepted in a public space, either officially (as pictured right) or subversively (as with graffiti), sublimation becomes a social-psychological and not just an individual dynamic.

According to Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud, sublimation is a defense mechanism. And again, this process of making the scary safe can occur on a personal or societal level.

Related Posts » Ashram, Bruce Cockburn, Displacement, Myth, Reaction Formation, Symbols

English: Sigmund and his daughter Anna Freud N...

Sigmund and his daughter Anna Freud Nederlands: Foto van Sigmund en Anna Freud, op vakantie in de Italiaanse Dolomieten (1913) Česky: Sigmund Freud se svou dcerou Annou (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


  • Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, pp. 159-160.

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English: visual representation of the Freud's ...

Freud’s id, ego and super-ego and the level of consciousness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Sigmund Freud‘s psychoanalytic theory, the superego is the conscious or unconscious element of the ego that is formed from the child’s internalization of parental values, beliefs and prohibitions.

Because the superego is internalized in childhood, its moral injunctions are partially based on imagined rather than actual parental demands.

Modell of the human psyche according to Sigmun...

Model of the human psyche according to Sigmund Freud. The id, ego and superego are shown (Photo credit: Wikipedia).

A common mistake among popular psychologists is to equate the superego with the conscience.

Although influencing moral attitudes, the superego differs from the conscience. Internal conflicts can arise between the superego and the conscience or between the superego and more recently acquired attitudes and beliefs.

Later in his career Freud talks about a “cultural superego,” as he becomes a budding sociologist. Wikipedia explains:

In Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), he also discusses the concept of a “cultural super-ego”. Freud suggested that the demands of the super-ego “coincide with the precepts of the prevailing cultural super-ego. At this point the two processes, that of the cultural development of the group and that of the cultural development of the individual, are, as it were, always interlocked.”[32] Ethics are a central element in the demands of the cultural super-ego, but Freud (as analytic moralist) protested against what he called “the unpsychological proceedings of the cultural super-ego … the ethical demands of the cultural super-ego. It does not trouble itself enough about the facts of the mental constitution of human beings.”¹


Related Posts » Censor, Defense Mechanism, Dreams, Electra Complex, Introjection, Psychopath, Repression, Totem


Stages of Psychosexual Development

Freud, explícame tú esto: tnarik / Eduardo

Freud, explícame tú esto: tnarik / Eduardo via Flickr

The Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud outlines five early stages of psycho-sexual development in which the ego and libido are developed. Sam McLeod does an admirable job in explaining this often baffling theory:

These are called psychosexual stages because each stage represents the fixation of libido (roughly translated as sexual drives or instincts) on a different area of the body. As a person grows physically certain areas of their body become important as sources of potential frustration (erogenous zones), pleasure or both.¹

The five early stages are:

  1. The oral stage of 0-1 years where infant gratification is achieved through sucking the primary object of the mother’s breast (or substitute objects)²
  2. The anal stage of 1-3, in which sexual gratification is achieved through the child’s control over and actual production of feces. From his or her toilet training the child first learns the reality of restrictions from the external world
  3. The phallic stage of 3-6, where the body and especially genitalia become important. The child learns sexual and gender differences, and may explore with self and others by playing “doctor” and other childhood activities
  4. The latency period – occurring between the phallic stage and adolescence – in which the child pays less attention to the body and more to the acquisition of essential life skills
  5. The genital stage at which time the adolescent’s attention is oriented toward developing mature, loving human relationships with others

English: Shakira during the Oral Fixation Tour...

Shakira during the Oral Fixation Tour 2006, La Coruña-Spain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Freud’s theory, so-called normal individuals proceed through these stages without major difficulties while some become fixated at a given stage. Fixation in this sense refers to an unconscious attachment to a particular object of libidinal gratification.

Again, the actual body areas involved in the psycho-sexual stages can be symbolized.  So the the adult alcoholic fixated at the oral stage substitutes liquor and the bottle for the mother’s nipple. Whereas those disregarding or, perhaps, obsessed with cleanliness, order and regularity would be fixated at the anal stage.

In general, fixation manifests in excessive behaviors like excessive housecleaning; it may involve extreme emotional states of depression, fear, anxiety and forced elation.

For Freud, normal human development pretty much ends at the genital phase. Behaviors like celibacy, fasting and prolonged solitude may be viewed as pathological by Freudians. However, more holistic thinkers see this as a reductive and potentially dangerous approach, one suggesting spiritual ignorance, immaturity and perhaps sin.

The International Institute for the Advanced Studies of Psychotherapy and Applied Mental Health sums up Freud’s theory as follows:

Although Freud’s theory of psychosexual development was extremely influential and continues to be taught in professional psychology programs today, empirical research has failed to generate significant support for these ideas and it is generally not an accepted model among practicing psychologists. Additionally, this theory has drawn criticism for being constructed on sexist ideas. Regardless, terminology associated with the stages of psychosexual development has found wide popular usage in a variety of registers and fields of activity.³


² Freud’s usage of the word ‘object’ includes other people.

³ (since the time of this entry’s last update, the link has been generalized to )



Image by InSidE oUt via Tumblr

According to old school anthropology, a totem is a symbol that represents a spiritual ancestor for a group in aboriginal Australia and North America. The totem usually takes the form of an animal or sacred plant. Normally there are taboos against slaying or eating the totem.

More recently, definitions of the totem have broadened to include the entire globe. Wikipedia says:

A totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe. The totemic symbol may serve as a reminder of the kin group’s ancestry or mythic past.[1] While the term “totem” is Ojibwe in origin, belief in tutelary spirits and deities is not limited to indigenous peoples of the Americas but common to cultures worldwide.¹

Not to be confused with the totem pole, most thinkers probably project their own ideas onto the meaning of the totem. For instance, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim said the totem is nothing more than an emblematic center for a social group. For Durkheim, the aboriginal’s belief in ancestral spirits is spurious but the totem plays a crucial role in ensuring the social cohesion of the clan. From a modern perspective, it’s hard to know if the belief in ancestral spirits is somewhat misguided or genuine. But to dismiss it outright seems arrogant.

Sigmund Freud used the idea of totem to create a fanciful history of mankind that apparently supports his theories about the Oedipus Complex and the development of the superego. Today, Freud’s history isn’t taken too seriously, except, perhaps, by ardent Freudian psychoanalysists.

English: Portrait of Claude Lévi-Strauss taken...

Portrait of Claude Lévi-Strauss taken in 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anthropologists have advanced so many different ideas about the totem that one leading anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss, questions the validity of the term.

However, the many and conflicting interpretations of the totem have raised some important questions:

  • Can one cultural system really understand another?
  • Do all members of a given culture hold the same beliefs?
  • What is a cultural system?
  • Could a researcher answer the above questions with any kind of certainty?


Related Posts » Emic-Etic, Levels of Knowledge, Lévi-Bruhl (Lucien)