Psychoanalysis has usually been associated with a pessimistic view of human beings, according to which our behaviour and thoughts are directed by unconscious forces that we cannot control and which anchor us to our past.

This idea has to do with Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic conception, but this is not the only one.

Once psychoanalysis had become established in Europe, other proposals from this psychological current began to appear, some of which emphasized our ability to become free and decide our life path. The humanist psychoanalysis of Erich Fromm is an example of this . Today, in this biography, we will explain who this important psychoanalyst was.

Who was Erich Fromm? This is his biography

Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt in 1900 . He belonged to a family related to Orthodox Judaism, which made him inclined to begin Talmudic studies during his youth, although later he preferred to train both in the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud and in the theoretical legacy of Karl Marx , which made him approach the ideas of socialism and get a doctorate in sociology.

During the 1930s, when the Nazis took control of Germany, Erich Fromm moved to New York, where he opened a psychoanalysis-based clinical practice and began teaching at Columbia University. From that moment on, he popularized a psychoanalysis with strong influences from humanist philosophy, which emphasized the capacity of the human being to become freer and more autonomous through personal development.

Humanistic Psychoanalysis

When psychology was born in the second half of the 19th century, the first efforts of this first generation of researchers were directed at understanding the basic functioning of mental processes. This implied asking about issues such as the origin of mental illness, the functioning of consciousness thresholds, or learning processes.

Until the consolidation of psychoanalysis in Europe, psychologists left aside the problems related to the way in which we consider our life trajectory, our past and our possible future affects us emotionally and in our decision making.

Discovering the importance of the unconscious

Psychoanalysis, in a way, h had introduced a more metapsychological (or nearer to philosophy) approach to psychotherapeutic practice . However, the initial current of thought from which this was started strongly underlined the power of the unconscious over the individual, on the one hand, and was very focused on explanations about traumas and mental disorders, on the other.

Erich Fromm started from the approach of psychoanalysis to make it turn towards a much more humanistic vision of the human being . For Fromm, the human psyche could not be explained simply by proposing ideas about how we do it in order to combine our unconscious desires with the pressure of the environment and culture, but in order to understand it we must also know how we do it in order to find the meaning of life, as the existentialists proposed.

Life is not made to suffer

Erich Fromm did not distance himself from the illness-centred perspective of other psychoanalysts because he thought that one can live life without discomfort and suffering. The optimism of his humanistic view of things was not expressed through the denial of pain, but through a very powerful idea: that we can make it bearable by giving it meaning. This idea, by the way, he shared with other humanist psychologists of the time, such as Viktor Frankl.

Life, Fromm said, is inevitably linked to moments of frustration, pain and discomfort, but we can decide how to make that affect us. The most important project of each person would consist, according to this psychoanalyst, in making these moments of discomfort fit into the construction of ourselves, that is, personal development.

Erich Fromm, on the capacity to love

Erich Fromm believed that the main source of human discomfort comes from the friction between the individual and others . This constant tension stems from an apparent contradiction: on the one hand we want to be free in a world in which we live with many other agents, and on the other we want to draw emotional ties with others, to be linked to them.

Expressed in its terms, it could be said that a part of our self is made to be in union with others. However, by our very nature as beings with a different body from others, we see ourselves as separated from the rest and, to a certain extent, isolated.

Erich Fromm believed that this conflict can be addressed by developing our capacity to love . To love others in the same way and all those things that make us unique, with all their imperfections. These very ambitious missions were, in fact, a single project, consisting of developing love for life itself, and this is what was captured in the famous work The Art of Love, published in 1956.

Psychoanalysis to explore human potential

In short, Fromm dedicated his work to examining the range of possibilities that the humanist conception of life could bring not only to the techniques for reducing suffering in specific situations that generate discomfort, but also to the strategies for interrupting these episodes of suffering in a life project full of meaning .

Their psychoanalytical proposals thus move away from the first psychoanalysis oriented towards making people suffer as little as possible, and prefer to focus on the development of the maximum potential of people in a process that, in itself, we could call “happiness”. That is why, even today, the reading of Erich Fromm’s works is very popular because it is considered inspiring and has a rich philosophical background .