Happy Birthday, Sigmund Freud!
May 3, 2016
On a day in early May in 1856 (traditionally thought to be May 6), Sigismund Freud was born, better known as famed psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. Freud’s theories served as the foundation for psychoanalysis as we know it today. While many of his theories have caused considerable controversy, his work shaped views of sexuality, childhood, memory, therapy, and personality. So significant was his contribution to society that many of his ideas have become common terms and catch phrases in our culture, such as repression, denial, Freudian slip, defense mechanism, and anal retentive.

Though Freud is highly quoted, one of the most famous quotes attributed to him was likely never uttered by him: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” The story goes that this was his response after a student asked him about the hidden meaning behind his frequent cigar smoking. His supposed response was ironic as it demonstrated that even a famous psychoanalyst can admit that not everything has a profound meaning. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and things are exactly as they appear.

As controversial as some of Freud’s ideas have been, here are some things he got right:

  • The Unconscious plays a huge role in our lives: Random feelings, thoughts, and actions often have important, unconscious meanings.

  • Talking lightens the load: The common image of someone lying on a psychologist’s couch discussing their problems directly stems from Freud’s view that many mental problems can be resolved simply by talking about them.

  • The body defends itself: Defense mechanisms are the body’s way of manipulating reality to protect feelings.

  • Change is unwelcome: It is in our nature to resist change, even when that change is good.

  • The problems of the present stem from the past: Difficulties that occur in childhood can carry forward and influence present actions.


Though it has now been many years since Freud’s death in 1939, he is still a household name in the field of psychology. In fact, Time Magazine once featured him as one of their 100 most important people of the 20th century, and his ideas live on as part of the fabric of popular culture.

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