Sigmund Freud was one of the most important intellectual figures of the 20th century. Not only is he considered to be the father of psychoanalysis, but his ideas completely changed the paradigms of the interpretation of man in almost all areas. Whichever way you look at him, he was a controversial figure. We’re going to present 97 of his best quotes to help you understand his way of thinking.
Of course, although none of these quotes escape the general realm of psychoanalysis, we’ve tried to find some that go beyond the borders of this school of thought. So, you’ll find ideas about life, death, humanity, happiness, and passion. Indeed, you’ll discover the overall beliefs of this Austrian intellectual.
The best quotes of Sigmund Freud
Opinions on Freud’s contributions to the course of humanity are both varied and contradictory. Some read his works as literature and philosophy, others as highly valid medical treatises.
The quotes we have chosen encompass many important topics linked to life itself.
1. “Being completely honest with yourself is a good exercise”.
However, it’s not always easy to execute. The honesty that we exercise toward ourselves requires courage, commitment, and, of course, being honest with who we are, our identities, and our desires.
2. “Most people don’t really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility and most people fear responsibility”.
This is one of Freud’s quotes that you can find in his book, Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). Freud dedicated several lines to freedom in this publication.
3. “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanity”.
And they were for Freud himself, as he pointed out on several occasions in his life. Whether we try to avoid them or not, the role that work and love play in our lives is undeniable.
4. “He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him from every pore”.
You’ll find these words in Freud’s book, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. If you’ve ever confided a really important secret, you’ll surely have thought about this.
5. “We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love”.
Another quote that every reader will be able to corroborate. To love is to undress parts of ourselves, which inevitably exposes us to suffering.
6. “Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism”.
At least, those who truly love. Those who practice false love don’t usually practice humility.
7. “Men are more moral than they think and much more immoral than they can imagine”.
One of Sigmund Freud’s best-known quotes on the subject of morals.
8. “One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be ‘happy’ is not in the plan of Creation”.
Nor is it in nature’s plans. This doesn’t prevent us from wanting to include it in our life purposes.
9. “Men are strong as long as they represent a strong idea. They become powerless when they oppose it”.
The strength of a man is measured in relation to the power of his ideas. This is materialized in all his aspects, actions, and the exercise of his words.
10. “The more perfect a person is on the outside, the more demons he has on the inside”.
This is the first of our quotes from Freud about the unconscious. What lies within is greater than what lies outside. But, sometimes, its presence can’t be seen with the naked eye.
11. “What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been damned up to a high degree”.
In short, to achieve happiness we must satisfy the pleasures that we’ve repressed.
12. “Civilized society is perpetually menaced with disintegration through this primary hostility of men towards one another”.
One of Sigmund Freud’s most cited quotes about war, the first of many we’ve collated here. In fact, warmongering as a central characteristic of man is an idea shared by many thinkers.
13. “Just as no one can be forced into belief, so no one can be forced into unbelief “.
This also applies when we try to force ourselves to abandon certain positions.
14. “The first requirement of civilization is justice”.
It’s also one of the many manifestations of a state.
15. “A religion, even if it calls itself a religion of love, must be hard and unloving to those who do not belong to it”.
It’s a manifestation that’s corroborated in the most important belief organization systems.
16. “He who knows how to wait need make no concessions”.
This is an idea from Freud’s book, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921). It not only applies to those who know how to wait but to those who are convinced of their ideals.
17. “How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved”.
Just as loving leaves us defenseless in the face of suffering, as we already pointed out with our other quotes from Sigmund Freud, it can also impregnate us with a boldness that we can’t achieve by other means.
18. “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful”.
Although, when we’re struggling, we don’t see it that way.
19. “We are what we are because we have been what we have been…”
A central idea of Sigmund Freud and the current of psychoanalysis.
20. “In the small matters trust the mind. In the large ones, trust the heart”.
A thought we can embrace as a philosophy of life when making decisions.
21. “Everyone owes nature a death”.
Death comes to all living beings. Although none of us know where or when it’ll be, we must be prepared for it.
22. “Individual liberty is not an asset of civilization. It was greatest before there was any civilization…”
And, it’s something that’s permanently obtained through our own actions. Freedom isn’t a right that belongs to us, it’s one that we must conquer.
23. “Places are often treated like people”.
Indeed, those that have left a mark on us are remembered really fondly.
24. “Men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness”.
This is an idea also found in other quotes from Freud.
25. “We are never so vulnerable as when we love, and never so helplessly unhappy as when we have lost our loved object or its love”.
One of the many ways that love makes us vulnerable is that we’re exposed to its loss. The misery of the loss of love, in any of its manifestations, is incomparable to any other.
26. “I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience, most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine, or to none at all. That is something that you cannot say out loud, or perhaps even think”.
On several occasions, Freud pointed out that man doesn’t consist of goodness, honesty, intelligence, and principles. There’s another side to the coin, one that’s often overlooked.
27. “Civilization began the first time an angry person cast a word instead of a rock”.
That’s how everything we see today began.
28. “A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes, but to get into accord with them: they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world”.
Without this covenant, none of us can travel too far before we run into obstacles.
29. “With words one man can make another blessed or drive him to despair”.
Words have a more important influence than you might think.
30. “Everyone has wishes that he would not like to tell to others, that they do not want to admit even to themselves”.
Consequently, we seek to suppress them. But, they can’t be fully contained, so sooner or later they end up coming to the surface. For example, through our dreams.
31. “Every man must find out for himself in what particular fashion he can be saved”.
This is a battle that can’t be prolonged for long. It’s also one that we must face alone.
32. “Just as a cautious businessman avoids investing all his capital in one concern, so wisdom would probably admonish us also not to anticipate all our happiness from one quarter alone”.
Another quote from Freud that we simply had to include in our list.
33. “A father’s death is the most important event, the most heartbreaking and poignant loss of a man’s life”.
And, consequently, one of the most difficult to overcome.
34. “Crystals reveal their hidden structures only when broken”.
We often have to go to extremes in order to appreciate what an object itself consists of. Some things can’t be seen from the surface.
35. “History is just new people making old mistakes”.
This is something that happens because of our own ignorance. If we don’t know our past, we’re destined to repeat it.
36. “Sleep is the liberation of the spirit from the pressure of external nature, a detachment of the soul from the chains of matter”.
One of Sigmund Freud’s most cited quotes about dreams.
37. “Only the real, rare, true scientific minds can endure doubt which is attached to all our knowledge”.
No matter how hard we try, we’ll never be able to alleviate doubt. But, it’s the incentive that motivates us to keep going.
38. “The virtuous man contents himself with dreaming that which the wicked man does in actual life”.
This is a curious way of assessing what dreams are. Regardless of whether they’re exercised publicly or privately, we can’t escape our vices.
39. “Knowledge is the intellectual manipulation of carefully verified observations”.
It’s not just information. Whoever mistakes knowledge for information navigates in the opposite direction to that of wisdom.
40. “In the depths of my heart I can’t help being convinced that my dear fellow men, with a few exceptions, are worth nothing”.
This is an idea connected to another quote we mentioned earlier. As you can see, the Austrian psychologist’s opinion of humanity wasn’t too favorable.
41. “Humanity is in the highest degree irrational, so that there is no prospect of influencing it by reasonable arguments. Against prejudice one can do nothing”.
Prejudice and irrationality have brought us to the cliff-edge.
42. “We can never give up, we only exchange one thing for another”.
When we’ve repeatedly failed, sometimes, the only viable option is to reconsider what we want to achieve.
43. “Dreaming, in short, is one of the devices we use to circumvent repression, one of the main methods of what may be called indirect representation in the mind.”
Words that can be found in Freud’s famous annotations regarding his famous case study of Dora.
44. “Homo homini lupus. (man is wolf to man) Who, in the face of all his experience of life and history, will have the courage to dispute this assertion?”
Man is the wolf of mankind. An idea that goes beyond the level of language and, in reality, materializes day by day.
45. “We live in very remarkable times. We find with astonishment that progress has concluded an alliance with barbarism”.
This prompts us to elucidate that, sooner or later, we’ll be swallowed up by it. After all, it isn’t possible to agree with barbarism and hope to emerge unscathed.
46. “Dreams tell us many an unpleasant biological truth about ourselves, and only very free minds can thrive on such a diet”.
The interpretation of dreams is one of the pillars of psychoanalysis. This is why many of Sigmund Freud’s quotes refer to them.
47. “The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing. Ultimately, after endless rebuffs, it succeeds. This is one of the few points in which one may be optimistic about the future of mankind”.
In fact, behind every one of us lies the beacon of reason. It’s up to us whether we decide to turn it on or not.
48. “A man who has been the undisputed favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success that frequently induces real success”.
Both the figure of the father and the mother are central ideas within psychoanalysis.
49. “Flowers are restful to look at. They do not have emotions and conflicts”.
Maybe this is why we feel so joyful when looking at them.
50. “Religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis”.
These words are found in his book, The Future of an Illusion (1927).
51. “Smoking is indispensable if one has nothing to kiss”.
Certainly, it’s a substitute that transmits heat.
52. “The price we pay for our advance in civilization is a loss of happiness through the heightening of a sense of guilt”.
Feelings of guilt, via the assimilation of the prejudices of society, are the reasons why we can’t embrace happiness.
53. “Those who love fairy tales do not like it when people speak of the innate tendencies in mankind toward aggression, destruction, and, in addition, cruelty”.
This quote from Freud concerns those who refuse to accept that certain unpleasant traits in mankind exist.
54. “The motive forces of phantasies are unsatisfied wishes, and every single phantasy is the fulfillment of a wish, a correction of unsatisfying reality”.
Fantasies are illusions as long as they don’t materialize in reality. They’re related to desire and, in many cases, to happiness.
55. “When someone abuses me I can defend myself, but against praise I am defenseless”.
Therefore, it’s advisable not to be seduced by praise too much. It can affect both our ideas and our thinking and negative criticism.
56. “Might we not say that every child at play behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own or, rather, rearranges the things of his world in a way that pleases him?”
A child’s imagination allows them to create stories that are on par with any written by a seasoned author.
57. “Many enemies, much honor”.
Envy is one of the most sinister manifestations of admiration. It’s natural to feel proud that we have enemies who envy us.
58. “The very emphasis of the commandment: Thou shalt not kill makes it certain that we are descended from an endlessly long chain of generations of murderers…”
Another quote from Freud that explores the real nature of man. You can explore his thinking further in the Sigmund Freud Archives.
59. “What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult”.
This is something that we can all corroborate on a daily basis.
60. “Humor is a means of obtaining pleasure despite the distressing effects that interface with it”.
Freud wrote an entire book on humor, called Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905).
61. “Toward the person who has died we adopt a special attitude: something like admiration for someone who has accomplished a very difficult task”.
This is an attitude that runs alongside feelings of loss.
62. “The profound obscurity of the background of our ignorance is scarcely illuminated by a few flashes of insight”.
Just like a beacon in the darkness, as we mentioned earlier.
63. “Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces”.
Indeed, sooner or later, every illusion has a date with reality. It’s an inescapable appointment and one that’ll determine if it survives or not.
64. “The behavior of a human being in sexual matters is often a prototype for the whole of their other modes of reaction in life”.
So, our sexual behavior is just an extension of who we really are. Not a hidden side, or a parallel one; but a complementary one.
65. “The only unnatural sexual behavior is none at all”.
These words complement the previous ones. Together, these two quotes are considered to be among Freud’s best on the subject of sex.
66. “When a man is freed of religion, he has a better chance to live a normal and wholesome life”.
It also gives us greater freedom, according to Freud.
67. “There is little that gives children greater pleasure than when a grown-up lets himself down to their level, renounces his oppressive superiority and plays with them like an equal”.
Moreover, there’s nothing an adult likes more than doing so.
68. “Conservatism, however, is too often a welcome excuse for lazy minds, loath to adapt themselves to fast-changing conditions”.
The essence of a conservative mind lies in rejecting all kinds of change, no matter its nature.
69. “He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret”.
We have to deal with the consequences of anything we decide to share, but also those that we choose to keep quiet about.
70. “No probability, however seductive, can protect us from error; even if all parts of a problem seem to fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw, one has to remember that the probable need not necessarily be the truth, and the truth is not always probable”.
Like doubt, error is part of every search for knowledge and truth. To fear it is to fear what truth is.
71. “If you want to endure life, prepare for death”.
If we don’t, we’ll tie ourselves down and prevent ourselves from enjoying life in all its glory.
72. “But the less a man knows about the past and the present, the more insecure must prove to be his judgment about the future”.
Therefore, the opposite equation provides security. Making peace with who we are or who we’ve been is one of the ways to make peace with who we’re going to be.
73. “That which we can’t remember we will repeat.”
An idea that follows along the same lines as Sigmund Freud’s other quotes about history.
74. “When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons”.
This attitude is often only usually only reserved for important decisions. But, just because a decision is small, doesn’t mean its consequences should go unnoticed.
75. “Instinct of love toward an object demands a mastery to obtain it, and if a person feels that they can’t control the object, or feel threatened by it, they act negatively toward it”.
This is frequently manifested in the character of the human being.
76. “It is said that all great men are bound to retain some infantile part”.
Even though they may deny it or want to bury it. These words are found in Freud’s essay, Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood (1910).
77. “When you don’t have what you want, you must want what you have”.
A tip that can help us avoid living permanently in states of delusion.
78. “Beauty has no obvious use; nor is there any clear cultural necessity for it. Yet civilization could not do without it”.
And no one can deny the part it plays.
79. “He does not believe that does not live according to his belief”.
To believe in something yet not make it a philosophy of our lives means being hypocrites or at least impostors. If we really want something, we must materialize it in our daily lives, no matter how small or big the idea.
80. “But one thing about human beings puzzles me the most is their conscious effort to be connected with the object of their affection, even if it kills them slowly within”.
Sometimes, we push the need to satisfy our desires to the limits, even when it means exposing our own integrity or security.
81. “The great majority of people have a strong need for authority which they can admire, to which they can submit and which dominates and sometimes even ill-treats them”.
Indeed, authority always instills respect, one that’s not afraid to subordinate.
82. “The meager satisfaction that man can extract from reality leaves him starving”.
This is why we tend to resort to illusion. The floodgates of idealism are nothing more than an escape from reality.
83. “Words were originally magic, and the word retains much of its old magical power even today”.
As stated in other of Freud’s quotes, the power of words never goes unnoticed.
84. “It is a predisposition of human nature to consider an unpleasant idea untrue, and then it is easy to find arguments against it”.
For example, rejecting ideas about the negative aspects of humanity. However, we don’t only consist of goodness. And, although this thesis may be rejected as unpleasant, it’s generally accepted to be true.
85. “The commandment ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ is the strongest defense against human aggressiveness…The commandment is impossible to fulfill”.
Because we always seek our own well-being.
86. “Who lacks sex speaks about sex, hungry talks about food, a person who has no money – money, and our oligarchs and bankers talk about morality”.
A quote from Freud about politics that we had to include on our list.
87. “A love that does not discriminate seems to me to forfeit a part of its own value, by doing an injustice to its object; and secondly, not all men are worthy of love”.
This quote is another of Freud’s many examples of an unpleasant truth.
88. “Love in itself, in the form of longing and deprivation lowers the self-regard”.
Neither the longing for or the deprivation of love, allows it to be consumed.
89. “No one believes in their own death. In the unconscious, everyone is convinced of his own immortality”.
Assimilating the idea isn’t done spontaneously. It’s something that, in reality, we must actively do.
90. “To endure life remains, when all is said, the first duty of all living beings. Illusion can have no value if it makes this more difficult for us”.
Therein lies the importance of assimilating idealistic postulates extremely carefully. Because, sometimes, they can make life more difficult than it is.
91. “The more the fruits of knowledge become accessible to men, the more widespread is the decline of religious beliefs.”
An idea of Freud that he pointed out in several of his works.
92. “Happiness is the belated fulfillment of a prehistoric wish. For this reason wealth brings so little happiness. Money was not a childhood wish”.
We have to find those objects from the past that really made us happy and employ them in the present.
93. “The individual does actually carry on a double existence: one designed to serve his own purposes and the other as a link in a chain in which he serves against or, at any rate, without his own volition”.
Therefore, it’s inevitable that a conflict will arise. A perfect balance isn’t possible, so sooner or later we have to choose which we want.
94. “Opposition is not necessarily enmity”.
People with opposite ideas don’t have to be enemies.
95. “Intolerance of groups is often, strangely enough, exhibited more strongly against small differences than against fundamental ones”.
Words that connect with the previous ones. They’re also particularly relevant in society today.
96. “A series of reproaches against other people leads one to suspect the existence of a string of self-reproaches with the same content”.
An idea that we’re all familiar with. Sometimes, we criticize what we don’t want to accept inside ourselves.
97. “I never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member”.
We end our list of Sigmund Freud quotes with this quote that’s occasionally attributed to Groucho Marx.
With this last reflection, we bid farewell to our selection of quotes from the father of psychoanalysis. However, if you’re interested in studying Freud’s ideas in greater detail, we suggest you read some of his works cited in our article.