According to Erich Fromm, everyone’s main goal in life is to become stronger, freer, more noble – the person you should essentially be. This is representative of his humanistic perspective, which at the time was revolutionary for such an important figure in psychology. In this article, we will take a closer look at Fromm’s humanistic psychoanalysis.
When referring to psychoanalytic theory, some people make the mistake of seeing it as a rigid and specific entity made up of clearly defined concepts, dynamics and approaches proposed by the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. They may forget that within this approach there are other schools of thought that have enriched the foundations of psychoanalysis by deviating from Freud’s words and ideas.
Erich Fromm was one of those who deviated. In the 1940s, the German-American social psychologist decided to break through the psychoanalytic doctrine of the Frankfurt School and completely renew the theory and practice of psychoanalysis, leading to a more cultural, humanistic approach. For example, he traded Freud’s idea of libido as the life drive for a more practical idea that included a new understanding of assimilation and socialization.
Above all, Fromm was a fascinating philosopher and one of the best representatives of twentieth century humanism. In his three most significant books ( The Fear of Freedom , Loving, an Art, a Skill , and The Heart of Man ), he left us a universe of thoughts, reflections, and theories that combine psychology with anthropology and anthropology. history, continuing the line of Sigmund Freud and Karen Horney.
Erich Fromm and the Systemic Crises of Western Society
To understand Erich Fromm’s theory of humanistic psychoanalysis, it is necessary to get to know him as a person, to understand his roots, the context in which he grew up and the evolving world that formed his most immediate reality. This will shed light on the things that guided and inspired his theories.
When you read his autobiography Marx, Freud and freedom; reading man’s liberation from the shackles of illusion and concentrating on his childhood and adolescence, it is easy to see that these were not exactly happy times for him. His father was an aggressive businessman, his mother suffered from chronic depression, and he grew up under the remarkably strict standards of Orthodox Judaism. During that time, he experienced two defining moments.
The first was the suicide of a 25-year-old woman he had fallen in love with as a child. She was an artist who was very close to her only family member: her father. He died suddenly, and a few days later the young artist took her own life. Her suicide led Fromm to wonder why people were so extreme.
The second decisive moment was the outbreak of the First World War. This was when the shadow of nationalism, the radicalization of the masses and the messages of hatred and ‘us vs. they’ entered his life.
The world began to fragment and the fissures not only created insurmountable distances between different powers, but also ushered in a period of systemic crisis throughout Western society. All the psychological, philosophical and social theories that existed until then had to be reformulated in the search for answers and explanations in the midst of such chaos.
Understanding and hope for man
It is almost essential to read Fromm’s work to understand the crises of values, principles and social politics that exploded in the first half of the twentieth century, when two world wars destroyed people’s faith in humanity.
Reading his work is in itself a way to reconcile yourself with your own humanity. He talks about hope and, most importantly, provides incredible resources from the social sciences and psychoanalysis that can help initiate positive and creative transformation.
Let’s look at the basics of his theory.
From a biological-mechanistic to a biological-social view of man
Erich Fromm accepted most of Freud’s concepts, including his idea of the unconscious, of oppression, defense mechanisms, transference, his idea of dreams as an expression of the unconscious, and his idea of childhood as the cause of many mental disorders.
One thing he couldn’t handle, however, was the vision of man as a biological-mechanistic entity, as an organism that only responds to the basic impulses of aggression, survival and reproduction.
- Erich Fromm refers to the biological-social man as a way of extolling the ‘psychology of the self’, in which people are not limited only to reacting to or defending their impulses and instincts. It is necessary to broaden one’s perspective and recognize the social aspect, and to recognize how the most significant figures for a child can trigger negative and traumatic processes in him.
- Interpersonal relationships formed the backbone of Fromm ‘s theory, which completely replaced Freud’s classical theory of the libido as a motivational and mechanistic drive in humans.
Human Beings and Freedom
Fromm’s theories were not only influenced by Freud and Karen Horney. When we talk about Erich Fromm, we are also talking about Karl Marx. Think back to the social context of that time; the crisis of values; the lack of explanations for human behavior, war, nationalism, hatred, class difference…
Freud’s biological-mechanistic perspective was meaningless and useless, and the principles defended by Marx were much more in line with Fromm’s ideas. According to Marx, people are influenced not only by society, but also by their economic systems.
Even today we can recognize ourselves in Fromm’s words and messages.
A very interesting part of Fromm’s theory is that although human beings are influenced by their culture and economic system, there is always one goal that we must fight for and that we can always achieve: freedom. In fact , Fromm encouraged people to move beyond the rigid determinism of Freud and Marx to develop their own personal freedom, which is inherent in human beings.
Fromm believed that humans depend on certain biological principles, just like all other animals. We are born in a body, we grow up, we grow older and we fight for our survival. However, we can do much more than what these limits dictate. For example, if we could move from the traditional societies of the Middle Ages to the modern society, we cannot give up now in the quest for more freedom, more rights, more well-being.
Freedom is difficult to achieve, but to get there, individual responsibility and social respect must be cultivated. Otherwise there is a risk of:
- Destruction (including aggression, violence and suicide).
- Blind conformity, in which people become “social chameleons” and take on the color of their surroundings without protesting or questioning it.
Fromm elaborated these three ideas in an indispensable book that is certainly worth consulting every so often: The Fear of Freedom.
The foundations of humanistic psychoanalysis
One thing that stood out in Erich Fromm’s trajectory is that, unlike classical psychoanalysts, he did not pursue a career in the medical or psychiatric field. He based his work on sociology rather than medicine and was therefore not always well regarded. His relationship with Karen Horney was actually quite complicated and many psychologists considered him a field theorist rather than a traditional psychologist.
But that’s exactly where Fromm’s true greatness can be found: in his broader and more integrative view of human beings. From his perspective, not everything is a reaction to an organic pathology or unpredictable biological forces. He believed that culture, family, and society often put limits on our self-expression.
Read on for a look at the foundations of his theory of humanistic psychoanalysis.
Keys to Understanding Erich Fromm’s Psychological Approach
- Fromm’s humanistic perspective contributed to a new approach to the concept of disease. According to him, the psychoanalyst is obliged to reformulate not only the definition of illness, but also the tools used to deal with it.
- The aim of the expert is to facilitate the patient’s self-discovery, or in more modern terms, to promote personal development to achieve happiness.
- This can only be achieved by strengthening his sense of responsibility and self-love.
- When treating a patient, it makes no sense to focus solely on his pathological qualities, the symptoms of his illness, or the negative aspects of his condition. Recognizing its positive qualities will improve therapeutic technique.
- The psychoanalyst has to do more than just contribute to change the person. He must also help the patient to develop strategies so that he can take on his own reintegration into society, feel stronger and understand that the interpretation of reality also has ‘pathological’ aspects that society (or the majority of them) is considered valid.
- Psychoanalysis must be open to advances in science and changes in society. It must understand the cultural, economic and political conditions that surround us in order to better serve the patient. It is a mistake to work from a reductionist point of view.
- The expert must use a clear, transparent and understandable vocabulary. Moreover, he should try not to project an image of power or superiority.
Fromm’s legacy includes a giant leap in both psychology and philosophy. While many people found his theories somewhat utopian, in reality he introduced a more real form of psychoanalysis that sought to develop the best in each person. A non-negligible approach to a thinker whose words are worth remembering and reading carefully. Let this article be an invitation.
Fromm, E. (1947) The independent man, contribution to a humanistic ethics. leveled up.
Fromm, E. (1965) Socialist humanism: an international symposium. double day.
Fromm, E. (1976) To Have or to Be. Harper & Row.
Fromm, E. (1984) The heart of man, our propensity to good and evil. leveled up.
Fromm, E. (1984). On Disobedience and other essays. Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Fromm, E. (2010) The Pathology of Normalcy. American Mental Health Foundation Books.
Fromm, E. & Maccoby, M. (1970) Social character in a Mexican Village; a sociopsychoanalytic study. Transaction Publishers.
Morin, E. (1999) La Tête bien faite: Penser la reforme, reformer la pensée. Seuil.