Sigmund Freud

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What, according to Freud, is sublimation and why is it important?

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Sublimation is a way of channeling negative or socially unacceptable energies into something healthier or at least more socially acceptable.

A common example of sublimation relates to anger. Some people sublimate their anger by screaming into a pillow. The scream allows for an outlet of pent-up rage and frustration, while using the pillow to muffle the noise prevents the sound from disturbing other people.

Sublimation can relate to reducing cravings as well. Someone tempted to indulge in unhealthy foods might go for a run to take their mind off of those tempting sugar cookies in the kitchen...

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cbanta125 | Student

Sublimation is the defense mechanism whereby the ego takes undesirable drives and redirects them constructively (in ways deemed good by the superego as well as societal and cultural influence).

This is one of the several ways where Freud was particularly influenced by Plato, especially the Phaedrus, where Plato's Socrates describes a charioteer (the ego) driving a skyward bound chariot (representing the psyche) with two horses, one white (the nous or intellect), and one black (the appetitive or for Freud, the id).

The charioteer needs the 'libidinal' energy supplied by the black horse to drive the white horse upward, while also making sure the white horse dominates the black horse and leads it to its proper telos or objective. For Plato that is doing what is one's business, and for Freud that is not be neurotic about our defense mechanisms, using healthy forms of coping with the inevitable anxieties brought on by living amidst the conflicts of civilization (see Civilization and Its Discontents). All the while the white horse itself must be steered by the charioteer--the ultimate and ideal leader of the whole triad. Of course, as Freud once said, "the ego is not the master in his own house." (A Difficulty in the Path of Psycho-Analysis, 1917).

For Freud, Plato's ideal is a bit too, well, idealistic. But Freud does agree it is a good standard to aim for. Freud does not think we can ever be truly happy, but he does think, with self-introspection and proper therapy, we can attain to more control over our unconscious, automatic (and often destructive) tendencies. Sublimation, for Freud, is the golden standard of healthy defense mechanisms, nothing that these defenses are necessary and inevitable, that we may as well therefore rely on the least unhealthy.

The most basic and common type of sublimation--arguably the universal type under-girding all forms of it--is the sublimation of eros, another common element with Plato's works. Eros, which in modern understanding is often reduced to mere genital sexual desire (although it should be noted Freud means it in a much broader, almost Schopenhauerian way as a collective, mass will of the entire organism which only manifests most overtly in what we today understand as sexual desire), is used as the raw fuel for basically all of civilized man's endeavors, whether it be art, religion, philosophy, work, marriage--you name it! These are all lightning rods provided by culture to constructively adsorb the raw libidinal energy that otherwise often (for Freud), left unsublimated, results in a Hobbesian state of nature where it is every man for himself, raping, killing, and pillaging his way to mere survival.

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