12 Things Sigmund Freud Got Right

Freud surely offers much we can use to understand our aggressiveness, denials, defenses, and sexuality. The Nazi's and Communists hated him, and he exposed our American greed to the light of day. Here are a few reasons why we should honor many of this thoughtful and wise man's ideas:

12 Things Sigmund Freud Got Right

Many major ideas by Freud have been borne out and are still relevant today.
May 6 was Sigmund Freud's birthday (born in 1856). It has been more or less 100 years since Freud wrote many of his groundbreaking books and papers on the human mind -- exploring and theorizing about dreams, culture, childhood development, sexuality and mental health. And while some of his theories have been discredited, many major ideas have been borne out and are still relevant today, according to Discover Magazine. They are a roadmap to our minds and are still useful and accepted -- in one way or another -- by all educated people, who grapple with the issues of self-knowledge and human motives. Freud tells a story that few of us want to hear: We do not know ourselves. We do not really know what motivates us or why we do what we do.
           Our conscious thoughts are just the tip of our mental iceberg.
In commemoration of Mental Health Awareness month this May, the following list, compiled with help from the American Psychoanalytic Association, are 12 examples of the gifts Freud left to us. 1) The Unconcious. Nothing Comes "Out of the Blue": Freud discovered that there are no accidents and no coincidences. Even "random-seeming" feelings, ideas, impulses, wishes, events and actions carry important, often unconscious, meanings. Anyone who has ever made a "Freudian Slip" that has left them embarrassed or baffled will attest to the importance of the unconscious meanings of the things we do and say. That time you "accidentally" left your keys at your lover's apartment may have been an accident; but more likely, at least unconsciously, you wanted to go back for more. From dreams, to Freudian slips, to free association -- delving into one's unconscious as a means of unlocking often hidden or denied fantasies, traumas or motivations is still crucial to gaining the whole truth about human behavior. 2) Sexuality is Everyone's Weakness-and Strength: Sex is a prime motivator and common denominator for all of us. It is not a message many want to hear. So high is our disgust for these elementary Darwinian principles -- that led to human triumph over all other living things -- that we spent much of our time denying the dark side of our lives. Even the most prudent, puritanical-appearing individuals struggle greatly against their sexual appetites and expression. One need only look to the many scandals that have rocked the Vatican, fundamentalist churches, politicians and celebrities alike. Freud observed this prurient struggle in men and women early on in Victorian Vienna and extrapolated easily from there. 3) A Cigar is Never Just a Cigar (except when it is): It is a commonly accepted idea in contemporary psychology that everything is determined by multiple factors and also idiosyncratic to the individual. So, nothing is so simply determined. So is it a pacifier? Okay. A penis? Perhaps. A cigar? Sure. However, few would argue that all meanings have profound implications. No controversy here. So go ahead, have a cigar. 4) Every Part of the Body is Erotic: Freud knew that human beings were sexual beings right from the start. He took his inspiration from the baby nursing at the mother's breast to illustrate the example of more mature sexuality, saying, "No one who has seen a baby sinking back satiated from the breast and falling asleep with flushed cheeks and a blissful smile can escape the reflection that this picture persists as a prototype of the expression of sexual satisfaction later in life." He knew, too, that sexual excitation is not restricted to genitalia, as pleasure is achieved through erotic attachment to potentially any idiosyncratically defined area of the body, and most definitely not limited to genital intercourse between a male and female. Even today many people have great difficulty accepting this idea. 5) Thought is a Roundabout Way of Wishing: Freud discovered that the mere act of thinking (wishing and fantasizing) is itself gratifying. In fact, what therapists and psychoanalysts commonly observe is that the fantasy is more mentally and physically stimulating fulfilling than the actual, real life action the fantasy is organized around. Is it any wonder that reality doesn't measure up to the intense, vivid fantasy? Freud's observation that humans' attempt to fantasize things into reality is today fully accepted by neuroscientists as the basis for imagination 6) Talking Cures: "If someone speaks, it gets lighter" From Freud's introduction lecture XXV. Whether an individual's therapy is based in Freudian psychoanalysis or some other form of talk therapy, the evidence is clear that talking helps alleviate emotional symptoms, lessen anxiety and frees up the person's mind. While medication and brief therapy can often be effective in alleviating symptoms, talk therapy uses the powerful tool of the therapeutic relationship. The whole person is involved in the treatment, not just a set of symptoms or a diagnosis, therefore deeper and more lasting change becomes possible. 7) Defense Mechanisms: The term "defense mechanism" is so much a part of our basic understanding of human behavior that we take it for granted. Yet, this is another construct developed and theorized by the Freuds (Sigmund and his daughter, Anna). According to Freud, defense mechanisms are psychological strategies brought into play by the unconscious mind to manipulate, deny or distort reality in order to protect against feelings of anxiety and/or unacceptable impulses. Among the many types of defense mechanisms coined by Freud, i.e. repression, rationalization, projection, denial is perhaps the most well known. Denial is an outright refusal to admit or recognize that something has occurred or is currently occurring. Denial can be personal-for example denying an addiction or denying a painful life experience-but it can also take the form of denying scientific, social and cultural phenomena -- for example, the reality of climate change or the Holocaust. 8) Resistance to Change: Our minds and behavior patterns inherently resist change. It's new, it's threatening and it's unwelcome -- even when it's a change for the good. Psychoanalysis got this ubiquitous principle of resistance right, and found tools to bring it to consciousness and defeat its stubborn ability to create obstacles to forward movement, both of individuals and groups. 9) The Past Impacts the Present: This might seem like a no-brainer to most of us in 2015, but more than 100 years ago, this was an "ahh-ha" moment for Freud. Today, many of Freud's theories on childhood development and the effects of early life experience on later behavior contribute greatly to helping and treating patients whose lives are stuck in repetitive patterns. 10) Transference: An example of the past impacting the present is the concept of transference, another Freud construct that is widely understood and utilized in today's psychology practices. Transference refers to very strong feelings, hopes, fantasies and fears we have in relation to the important relationships of our childhood that carry forward, unconsciously, and impact present day relationships. 11) Development: Human development continues throughout the life cycle; a successful life depends on adaptability and mastery of change as it confronts each of us. Every new stage of life presents challenges and provides the opportunity to reassess our core personal goals and values. 12) The Price of Civilization is Neurotic Discontent: Freud stated, "The inclination to aggression constitutes the greatest impediment to civilization." Few thinkers have looked so unflinchingly at human aggression as Freud. While the guns of August still echoed and European anti-Semitism grew rife, Freud wrote Civilization and Its Discontents (1929), declaring: "Man is wolf to man. Who ... will have the courage to dispute this assertion?" "Men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved," Freud wrote in 1929, using words as relevant today as then, "but rather, (are) creatures whose instinct (is) aggressiveness." We continue to meet the enemy...and it is us. Yet if we cannot change, what will happen to our civilization?" The Nazi invaders in World War II banned and attacked Freud, as did the Communists afterwards. New Yorker editor David Remnick quotes a Hamas leader saying that Israel must be destroyed because "the media -- it's controlled by the Jews. Freud, a Jew, was the one who destroyed morals." But Freud did not like America. He thought that Americans had channeled their sexuality into an unhealthy obsession with money. He wrote to a German friend after World War I, "Is it not sad, that we are materially dependent on these savages, who are not a better class of human beings?" Ironically, America, in the end, turned out to be a most favorable repository of Freud's exquisite legacy of ideas.
  Blake Fleetwood is a former reporter for the New York Times and Daily News. He taught political science at NYU.

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-Tao Te Ching ch. 8-9


The supreme good is like water, which nourishes all things without trying to. It is content with the low places that people disdain. Thus it is like the Great Way.


In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control.

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley

In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present. When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everybody will respect you.


Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.

Miami Beach clouds turquoise water

Chase after money and security and your heart will never unclench. McGrath State Beach Sunset


Care about people's approval

and you will be their prisoner.

Yosemite waterfall

Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity. -Tao Te Ching ch. 8-9


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Black Model Ships Dad Brought when I was four in Miami


My second meeting with Dad came when I lived with Mom in an apartment on the outskirts of Miami in 1944. She drove her blue Ford Coupe to a green bench at the bus stop to wait for Dad. A green and silver bus pulled up in a cloud of dust and fumes. Mom pointed to a uniformed figure opening the folding front door, “That’s your Father.”

Mom 1941 (Click on picture to expand)

Sun burnished the gold braid across his bright white cap. A gold anchor stood in the middle on a dark background. Red, yellow, and blue ribbons with gold medals dangled from the left pocket of his navy-blue jacket that jingled as he stepped off the bus.   A tight black triangle at the top with a sharp furrow in the middle of his black tie covered his white shirt. His shiny black shoes beneath navy blue slacks mirrored the sky. He carried a blue suitcase with his right hand wearing a large engraved gold ring.


“Here’s your Daddy,” Mom said.

He looked past her into my eyes with a wide smile, “How old is my little boy?”

“Hi, Daddy,” I said and held up four fingers.

He walked toward me, put down his suitcase, and grabbed me by the waist. He threw me in the air so my head went higher than his, shouted, “Whoopa,” and caught me as I dropped into his large hands and hugged me. I felt warm in his arms.

We drove to our two bedroom white bungalow with a small lawn and red and pink hibiscus along each side of the front door. “I brought you some toys,” he said as he entered, opened his suitcase, and a black model ship made of heavy plastic emerged in his hand. He carefully placed it on the living room carpet. “That’s a model of a battleship. Those large barrels sticking out on the side are sixteen inch guns, the biggest in the Navy. Battleships have more guns than any other ship.” Two more models appeared on the floor. “The bigger one is a cruiser, next to it a destroyer.”

He lifted two more out, “The tanker holds oil and the transport carries soldiers.” His fingers put them into a group. “You can move them in formation across the carpet.”

Watching Dad move the unique models fascinated me, “Thanks for the toys.”

“You can play with them today, but I have to return them to my ship.”

Dad and I had fun pushing the models at different speeds in many formations on the ocean carpet, while Mom watched drinking her iced tea. They went into the kitchen to talk while I played lost in my world of make believe.

Crashing ships into each other, tipping them over, making bumping and banging sounds, I imagined the guns firing shouting, “Boom, boom” and made a swishing sound speeding them over the carpet.

When he had to go we put all the models carefully back into his suitcase and drove him to the bus stop.  He picked me up and gave me a kiss before he boarded. I wished he had given Mom a kiss, but he only glanced at her, turned, and said “Goodbye, Hilda.” In a few seconds, the bus roared, kicking up gravel and dirt, and sped away in the sweltering sun as I waved.


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A Letter to my Son about dealing with Hostility and some Poems that Shine

Today I discovered a letter I had sent my son, who like me and most people I know, could use some advice on how to manage hostility. Escaping the Hostility Trap  by Milton Layden, M.D. provides a strategy to deal with hostility that creeps unwittingly into our lives and makes them often filled with health issues that can be serious if unheeded. My letter was lodged in the book below my own memoir, All the Difference, just published June 26, 2013 in paperback on Amazon.Com.


Here is a book I needed as an attorney battling in court with difficult personalities. Often I found myself tired and drained of energy, and full of hostility. This book helped me realize how that behavior hurt me and my relationship with others I came in contact with only in the legal arena or away from home. Creating my own hell at communicating with difficult personalities made me appear to strangers similar, I’m sure, at times! You are in the most stressful job in the world and I couldn’t be prouder. Hope this gives you some insight. Enjoy your wonderful family in Hawaii. Two of my favorite poems are attached! Love Dad

A Psalm of Life

Tell me not, in mournful numbers, Life is but an empty dream! For the soul is dead that slumbers, And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal; Dust thou art, to dust returnest, Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow, Is our destined end or way; But to act, that each to-morrow Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting, And our hearts, though stout and brave, Still, like muffled drums, are beating Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle, In the bivouac of Life, Be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant! Let the dead Past bury its dead! Act,— act in the living Present! Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another, Sailing o’er life’s solemn main, A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.

  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness, you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say it is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you every where like a shadow or a friend.

By Naomi Shihab Nye, a Palestinian poet

a href="http://domainsigma.com/whois/danielclavery.com">Danielclavery.com Trust

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