The Oedipus complex. The term and the concept, so imbedded in our culture, were introduced at the start of the twentieth century by Sigmund Freud. Ego, id, transference, denial--so many terms that we twenty-first-century Americans use and understand come from Freud's description of the workings of the mind. Mental health professionals may have have tossed out certain specifics of Freud's teachings, but they still adhere to his underlying concepts. And Freud's influence on Western culture endures.
Psychologists generally accept that motivations for human behavior are often unconscious, and that past experience can shape present attitudes and actions. Both ideas come from Freud. Simply the concept of talking with a therapist as a way to work through problems is a Freudian innovation, although today talk therapy is often combined with medication, because we now understand that some forms of mental illness have a biological component. Still, the talking helps. Freud also demonstrated that the mind can affect physical well-being, and today's awareness of this "mind-body connection" helps us avoid the negative health effects of stress.
Sigmund Freud was the first westerner to call dreams a window into the unconscious. Contemporary therapists may not see every dream as the fulfillment of a wish, as Freud did, but they do endorse dream analysis as a tool for self-knowledge and growth, as do I. When I see a puppy in a dream, for example, I recognize it as a symbol of potential. My mind is telling me that I have an opportunity for growth, or that a project I have started can prove fruitful.
Freud influenced how we raise and educate our children. Because of his teachings, society generally accepts that children have psyches, unconscious thoughts, and complex emotional lives. And we therefore understand the need to encourage the young, listen to them, and take seriously their concerns. We understand that criminals are not necessarily "bad," that their behavior might be governed by unresolved issues from earlier life. Also, psychoanalysis gave rise to the idea of the Freudian slip--the misspoken word that betrays a hidden thought or feeling.
We can see Freud's influence in the arts, especially in the surrealist paintings of artists like Dali and Magritte, who used the canvas as a mirror of the unconscious. We see it, too, in the stream-of-consciousness writings of Woolf, Joyce, and others, who derived this technique from Freud's use of free association--encouraging patients to give voice to their thoughts as they occur, one after another. A century and a half after after his birth, Freud's impact remains so profound that it can color our understanding of writers who never deliberately incorporated psychoanalytical concepts in their work. This happened to me with Death of a Salesman, and it happens to other readers of other plays and novels. Isn't it all so interesting?