Who were the Neo-Freudians? (11 notorious names)

In this article, we will speak about the Neo-Freudians and their impact on how we understand the human mind today.

The Neo-Freudians

Neo-Freudians were psychologists who, inspired by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, postulated theories about the importance of childhood, but also of social factors and culture in the formation of a relatively healthy adult.

Below we will present 12 important names that we consider Neo-Freudians, and that with their theories, have contributed to everything we know about the human psyche (id, ego, superego etc).

Carl Jung

Freud’s young colleague Carl Jung devoted himself to exploring “inner space” through all his work. If there was a person who had a sense of the unconscious and its habits as capable of expressing itself only symbolically, that was Carl Jung. This is how he proposed the Jungian Archetypes.

In addition, he had the ability to dream very lucidly and occasionally had illusions. In the autumn of 1913, he had the vision of a “monstrous flood” that was sinking almost all of Europe, the waters of which reached the foothills of the mountains of his native Switzerland.

Jung also dreamed a lot about issues related to death; with the territory of the dead and their rebirth. For him this represented the unconscious itself; not that “small” unconscious that Freud made so great, but a new collective unconscious of humanity. 

Critics have suggested that Jung was simply ill when all this happened. But Jung believed that if we want to understand the jungle, we cannot be content just moving around its surroundings. We must enter it, no matter how strange or terrifying it may look.

Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler’s name is usually associated with psychoanalysis, which for many cannot be conceived without its famous triumvirate: Freud, Adler and Jung. 

In reality, however, the ambitious fellow citizen of the legitimate father of psychoanalysis was no more than one of Sigmund Freud’s ephemeral “companions”, without being a psychoanalyst in the true sense of the word, although at one time he fulfilled the position of president of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association. 

Adler never practised psychoanalysis, Freud himself was forced to state that Adler “has nothing to do with psychoanalysis,” that he had from the beginning his own “system,” his doctrine, which he tried to replace with psychoanalysis.

The truth is that Adler’s “individual psychology” does not and could not fit into psychoanalysis, either as a theory or as a practice, as is largely possible with Carl Gustav Jung’s “analytical psychology.”. But as Adler’s conception developed in parallel with psychoanalysis, establishing relevant points of contact with it, it can be considered a pre psychoanalytic conception, knowing that the etymology “para” means “outside” or “next” in Greek. 

Adler’s discovery of the constitutional inferiority of some organs, which develops in the psychic superstructure a “feeling of inferiority” triggering the struggle for superiority, was attributed to the author’s organic deficiencies, an explanation which, in fact, it even authorizes. 

Adler was a frail, rickety, overly sickly child, so the thought of becoming a doctor to “fight death” was ingrained in his mind since childhood. But not only physical “inferiorities” stimulated him to “ambitious compensations,” but also some spiritual considerations.

Choosing examples to illustrate his theory of “inferiority” and subsequent “compensation” (and even “overcompensation”), Adler seems to be in the company of celebrities like Homer, Demosthenes, Milton, Beethoven, or Dostoevsky. 

In fact, he would separate from Freud (he made the first attempt in 1904) because he had the feeling that he was subordinate to him, while he wanted, in his unconscious, a “guiding spirit”. 

Sensing his ambitions, Freud made him president of the Psychoanalytic Society, but Adler was not the man to settle for minor “compensations.” In 1911 he initiated a bold strategic move, writing a scathing critique of the sexist theory of psychic life, a critique that touched on the neuralgic points of Freudian psychoanalysis at the time.

Karen Horney

If Horney had been asked; about human nature, most likely she would have answered something like this: culture is the determinant of personality. Human nature is as a consequence of culture and interpersonal relationships are the basis for interpreting the mystery of human nature. 

Founder of the American Institute of Psychoanalysis (1934) in New York, Karen Horney was a leading exponent of the culturalist psychoanalytic school, to which authors such as Erich Fromm and Harry Sullivan belong.

She fought Freud’s ideas about female sexuality and developed her theories about the origin of certain neuroses. Horney believed that many of the psychic problems had their origin in childhood, with special emphasis on the culture and established patterns of behaviour of the community in which the individual has lived, which would be closely related to these disorders, compared to innate and genetic of Freudian psychoanalysis.

Horney developed a theory (which bears her name) that constitutes an alternative theoretical elaboration to Freudian postulates. She also stands out for her theory of personality, in which she considers the individual holistically, as a unit within a social framework, influencing and being influenced by her environment. Thus, according to this author, personality consists of attributes that characterize the constantly changing organization of the individual. Each attribute is created by the individual and acts simultaneously on it, demanding satisfaction, producing effort or pressuring performance. In Horney’s opinion, these attributes are learned in the family.

According to this theory, motivational factors derive from personality attributes rather than from childhood libidinal efforts preserved from infancy by repetition compulsion.

Erik Erikson

Although Erik Erikson worked on a wide range of subjects, it was his theory of psychosocial development that led him to occupy his place in the world of psychology. In it, he integrated his knowledge of pedagogy, psychoanalysis and cultural anthropology. His own was a reinterpretation of the phases of psychosexual development raised by Sigmund Freud.

Erikson created the psychology of the self, which he considers the essential force of human life. He attached great importance to the social aspect and biological development as determining elements in the life of the individual. He postulated that in each of the stages of life certain specific competencies are acquired, which determine the subsequent evolution. Such competencies are psychosocial and involve a conflict between the old and the new state.

The eight ages, according to Erik Erikson, are in their order:

  • Trust vs. Mistrust
  • Autonomy vs. Shame and doubt
  • Initiative vs. Guilt
  • Industry vs. Inferiority
  • Identity search vs. identity diffusion
  • Intimacy vs. Isolation
  • Generativity vs. Stagnation
  • Integrity vs. Hopelessness

Erik Erikson’s theory had a major impact on American psychology and later worldwide. Today it continues to exert a strong influence on research and in the therapeutic field. It is an interesting, deeply human and hopeful approach.

Anna Freud

The greatest contribution of Anna, Sigmund’s daughter, was the concept of defence mechanisms.

There are primitive mechanisms and more elaborate mechanisms. The ideal is to go towards the secondary or more elaborate ones and get away from the primitives.

The primitives are projection (the problem is not mine, it is yours), rationalization (I separate the rational and the emotional), repression (I deny things, this does not exist, I do not feel this), regression (we would say that acting in a childish way, but when one is sick, it is normal for us to do a temporary regression), reactive training (doing the opposite of what one thinks), introjection (incorporating elements from outside oneself, things that have nothing to do with me are my fault) … 

More elaborate would be sublimation, for example channelling aggressiveness by doing some exercises.

Melanie Klein

Neo- Freudian leader. She launched the theory of object relations as the fundamental structuring of the psyche. Regarding the development of the psyche, she takes everything much earlier (most in the first year).

Klein turns the death drive into something fundamental. The baby cannot use it, so he uses the object for it (the mother). Aggression is also in us from the beginning. Hence the term good chest /bad chest. The baby projects his aggressiveness onto the mother, “it is she who attacks, not me” (bad breast), but then I take her (good breast).

So the first phase of development would be the paranoid-schizoid phase (the aggression is her, not mine), and the second phase is the depressive phase, in which the child begins to understand that the mother has positive and negative aspects. It is a loss and a duel of the absolute that you have lost.

* Personality disorders have not completed the phases, they have not passed to the second phase, they are in the SPLIT: everything is good or everything is bad, everything is white or everything is bad, you are the best or you are the worst …

The characteristic elements of M. Klein are transferential interpretations, and she makes a lot of reference to genetics.

Ronald Fairbairn

According to Fairbairn, the purpose of the libidinal drive is the SEARCH FOR THE OBJECT (before it was said that pleasure was sought). The child needs an adult to take care of him, otherwise he dies. Eg, a child with mental retardation due to a deficit in this. The baby’s hands hold the caregiver: if the child smiles, the caregiver approaches.

Moral defence against the bad object: before the separation of the parents, the child says that he has done something wrong. (A child surrounded by bad objects, “an angel” in a country of demons “, is something difficult to” bear “, then the tables turn, he is the love and they are good,” a demon in a country of angels “, There are more possibilities with this theory, only I have to change. The other theory is devastating.

Importance of the real mother. Klein speaks of a passive object of the mother, “like a shelf.” Fairbairn is fixated on the royal mother (ultimately Bowlby or Fonagy).

Donald Winnicott

Donald Winnicott was Melanie Klein’s disciple and a paediatrician. 

He talked about the “holding environment”, the object that holds the baby. The caring atmosphere that a healthy individual creates around the baby. Without destroying the object. In treatment, you must promote a “holding environment”, you must feel comfortable and be able to explain everything without the therapist breaking.

The famous concept of “good enough mother”. The perfect mother does not exist, nor is it good that she exists. Similar to “good enough therapist.”

Transitional object. Representation of the primary object (mother, father …). It helps you separate from the mother good enough. Example, a stuffed animal.

The concept of the “false self” is interesting. People who transmit us inauthenticity, with a screen in front. It results in the following: a weak deep structure with a thicker covering.

Another contribution, “objective countertransference hatred“. He says that there are patients so “motherfuckers” that it is good to say. The patient is not always the good suffering baby …

Heinz Kohut

Heinz Kohut was president of the International Society for Psychoanalysis. He created a new school of psychoanalysis.

The theory of Object-self relationship belongs to Kohut. Thus, the relationship between an object and the self can be: 

1. Of idealization: you need to idealize.

2. Specular: they give you a good image of you (eg skating at home, my mother awaits me with open arms). So I create my narcissism.

3. Twin: an equal that exchanges things with us at the same height.

Jacque Lacan

Jesuit-educated physician. He wrote very little, for the information you have to look for Lacan seminars. He was a French intellectual who held seminars (impromptu talks in his seminars), is what we can say the most about him. They are written by his son-in-law.

He gives a lot of importance to language. LANGUAGE is basic in his theory. “The unconscious is structured like a language.” The psyche begins when language begins.

The child looks into the mother’s eyes, which helps her build herself. What is there in the structuring mother’s gaze? The mother’s desire, what the mother wants her to be her child … there the child builds himself.

Lacan is a very difficult author to understand. It has a difficult language, the French style is less didactic. It is flowery, complex, with neologisms. It is transmitted as short poems but does not just close. Lacanian proposals are made, with which there are many interpretations. The Lacanian movement is very disaggregated.

Lacan criticizes Freud’s biology. Stop paying attention to the biological to reality. Lacan rereads, rejecting Freud’s basic elements.

For Lacan, there are three dimensions in the psychic world:

1. The real world.

2. The imaginary world.

3. The symbolic world.

The child wants to be everything to the mother. Being the “phallus” of the mother (power). We want to be the total object of the mother, that is the world of the imaginary (who I become to be everything to you).

Otto F. Kernberg

Kernberg gives importance to aggression: one of the engines of human development. And gives less importance to the death instinct.

He also talks about the borderline disorder: it is not a disorder, it is an internal structure of the psyche and it has 3 elements:

1. Primitive defences: split, projection.

2. Diffusion of identity: the image that one keeps of oneself is a split image. Way to explore: describe to me the main figures in your life and yourself. Eg, he is very good because he cares for me, he doesn’t want me to do drugs … that is, he does not describe in a way far from himself.

3. Contact with reality. There is a more subtle contact. Ex I go dressed as a clown to class and I know what they will think and I do it -> silly, provocative … but if I do not know, I lose contact with reality.

FAQ about the Neo-Freudians

Who are the neo Freudians and what did they believe?

Neo-Freudians were psychologists who, inspired by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, postulated theories about the importance of childhood, but also of social factors and culture in the formation of a relatively healthy adult.

What does Neo Freudian mean?

Neo Freudian means a new type of Freudian psychoanalysis. The most notorious Neo-Freudians were Call Jung, Anna Freud, Alfred Adler, Melanie Klein and Otto F. Kernberg, among others. 

What is the main difference between Sigmund and the neo Freudians?

The main difference between Sigmund and the Neo-Freudians is that the latest, reduce the significance of sex, and emphasises the importance of cultural and social factors. 

Why is psychoanalysis criticized?

Psychoanalysis is criticized because many psychologists believe it has no scientific tools and it seems weak in treatment per se. There is not much empirical evidence that could sustain some of the psychoanalytic concepts. 







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