How to apply Freud's psychodynamic theories of personality

Updated November 21, 2016

Sigmund Freud was an influential Austrian neurologist who developed his psychodynamic theories in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the terms he developed have come into common use, such as the subconscious, repression or Freudian slip. Some of Freud's theories have become less popular, and have raised controversy, particularly those that seemed to undermine women's experiences and those that concern sexuality. Nevertheless, many of Freud's theories have informed much of modern psychodynamic theory and the practice of psychoanalysis. These theories can be applied in a number of ways.

Recognise the stages of early development as identified by Freud. Observe how babies and children progress through the oral, anal, phallic and latent stages. Recognise that some people get "stuck" in a particular stage, and that this might later become apparent in adult behaviour. Following Freud's theory, adults who were stuck at the anal stage may be repressed and uptight, while people stuck at the oral stage may develop habits like smoking.

Observe examples of Freud's theory of the id, the ego and the super ego. According to Freud, the personality is composed of the id, superego and the ego. The id is the reservoir of the instinctual and biological impulses and operates on the pleasure principle. The ego is the conscious part of the personality that tries to manage the id and responds to the reality principle. The superego is the part of the personality that has been shaped by learning about morals. Notice that when people's personalities are dominated by the id component, they are more prone to impulsive behaviour.

Listen to the language that people use without thinking, and identify Freudian slips. A Freudian slip is when a person inadvertently says something she may be thinking unconsciously.

Research the effects of early experiences on adult behaviour. According to Freud, behaviour, difficulties and relationships in adulthood may be influenced by earlier experiences people may not even remember, and unresolved issues can cause difficulties throughout a person's life.


Certain aspects of Freud's psychodynamic theory have been criticised in recent years. One important criticism is that exploring a person's repressed memories does not always help his current situation. Additionally, some people feel that Freud did not give adequate recognition to women's concerns, because in his era women did not have the social standing they do today.

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About the Author

Noreen Wainwright has been writing since 1997. Her work has appeared in "The Daily Telegraph," "The Guardian," "The Countryman" and "The Lady." She has a Bachelor of Arts in social sciences from Liverpool Polytechnic and a postgraduate law degree from Staffordshire University.