Freud, Sigmund


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A 200 foot steeple was perhaps the only distinguishing characteristic of the little town of Freiberg , situated some 15 miles north-east of Vienna in what is now Czechoslovakia [sic]. It was here on the 6th May 1856 that Freud was born, the first child of the third wife of a cloth merchant. His father was 41 at the time of his birth and already had two grown-up sons from his first marriage. One of Freud's first playmates was his own nephew who was a year older than him. His mother, who was 20 years younger than her husband, eventually had seven more children but Sigmund remained her 'undisputed darling'. Freud has attributed his mother's favourite. Although the family was Jewish, orthodox practices and beliefs were not emphasized. For a time, Sigmund had a Catholic nurse who would take him with her to mass. In 1860 his father's business began to fail and the family moved, eventually setting in Vienna. At the Sperl Gymnasium there, Freud proved an able pupil, remaining top of his class for seven years. As an adolescent his interests were broad and varied. In addition to Latin and Greek, he could read both English and French fluently and had also an interest in philosophy. He considered law as a career, even politics, but such possibilities for a Viennese Jew of modest means were limited. Pragmatically but somewhat reluctantly Freud decided on medicine and, at the age of 17 entered the University of Vienna. It was eight years before he graduated. After experimenting with chemistry and zoology (he carried out a laborious dissection study in search of the sex organs of male river eels), he settled to research in the physiology laboratory of Ernst Brucke where he remained for six years. There, he made a study of the spinal cord of a primitive form of fish, learning fine dissection and staining techniques and making his own drawings, and published numerous papers. Freud enjoyed research and it was only the insistent advice of his teacher that forced him to realize he had to earn a living. So he finally took his degree and, in 1882, entered the General Hospital in Vienna. As a junior physician, however, he was still able to carry on research and publishing, now in cerebral anatomy Freud maintained an active interest in neurology until he was 41, later publishing monographs on both aphasia and cerebral palsy in children. At the age of 29, with support from Brucke, he was appointed Lecturer (Privatdozent) in Neuropathology and, in the face of stiff competition awarded a travelling scholarship which enabled him to study for five months with Charcot in Paris. With characteristic shrewdness Freud gained access to Charcot's inner circle by offering to translate the great man's works into German. It was here that Freud first encountered the use of hypnotic suggestion by which Charcot could induce or remove at will paralyses and anaesthesia in certain patients. Freud was very impressed by Charcot and his stay in Paris marked the beginning of his concern with the psychological as opposed to the physiological basis of neurosis. Since childhood days Freud had been dominated by the desire to be famous.A popular family anecdote recounted how a peasant woman had prophesied that he would be a great man. While still in his twenties Freud was writing to his fiancée about his 'future biographers'. His initial idea of the great hero (Hannibal had been his favourite) gradually became excited by the potential of the drug cocaine, particularly its properties of reducing pain and creating lasting exhilaration. Freud found using the drug helped him overcome the periodic bouts of depression and apathy to which he was prone. With the possibility of using his investigations as a way to making a name for himself he wrote a paper on the drug and, not fully realizing its addictive properties, indiscriminately advocated its use to his family and friends. One of his closest friends, Fleischl, eventually developed a severe addiction which later in part contributed to his death. In his personal life Freud appeared, at least on the surface, to be a model of Victorian propriety. Although his 900 letters to his fiancée Martha Bernays (they were apart three of the four and a half years they were engaged) show the passionate quality of his feelings, even here he felt it necessary, with the prudishness of the period, to apologize for even a casual allusion to her feet! As Ernest Jones, his friend and biographer put it: 'Freud was someone whose instincts were far more powerful than those of the average man but whose repressions were even more potent!' Freud's letters also reveal the breadth of his interests and cultural knowledge. They are full of detailed and perceptive references to literature and history, both Classical and European and to paintings and plays. He collected antiquities all his life and, in 1931, commented in a letter to a friend (Stefan Zweig) that he had 'read more archaeology than psychology'. While at university, Freud had taken additional courses in philosophy and later was recommended by h is old professor, Brentano, to translate into German some writings of the English philosopher J. S. Mill. Immediately after his marriage at the age of 30, Freud started in private practice. On his return fr om Paris, he had given a presentation on Charcot's work to the Society of Medicine. This, he felt, had been received negatively and for the next six years he largely withdrew from scientific work and concentrated instead on his patients. The inadequacy of the methods currently in use for the treatment of 'nervous diseases' forced him to seek for new and more effective weapons for his 'therapeutic arsenal'. He discarded the then popular electrotherapy as having 'no more relation to reality than an Egyptian dream book'. In its place he used hypnosis (which he had seen used by Charcot and later, at Nancy, by Bernheim) t o enable patients to recall forgotten events and for making suggestions to modify their subsequent behaviour. Even this method Freud found limited as it was not possible to hypnotize all his patients or always to produce a sufficient depth of trance for suggestion to be effective. Josef Breuer, one of Freud's older and supportive friends, had developed a new technique for treating hysteria, and other physical disturbances arising without any apparent organic bases. Breuer had hypnotized Bertha Pappenheim, a talented, attractive young patient, had relaxed her and encouraged her to talk about anything that came into her head. Eventually the girl recounted in detail, and with full emotional reactions, a painful incident which she had repressed from awareness, and her symptoms disappeared. Freud reasoned that traumatic events, though forgotten, could still be operative at an unconscious level and were the direct cause of the physical symptoms of the hysteria. The collaboration of Freud and Breuer culminated in their joint publication in 1895 of Studies in Hysteria. A mutual attraction developed between Breuer and Bertha. When his wife became jealous, complaining t hat he could talk about no one else, Breuer broke off treatment, never to return to his 'cathartic' method, and took his wife to Venice for a second honeymoon. Freud, however, persevered. He refined the technique of free association which he gradually used to replace hypnosis. Through hi s experiences with patients and perhaps more importantly his own protracted self-analysis, he gradually came to focus attention on childhood and to place particular emphasis on the key role of early sexual development in the formation of neurosis. His self-analysis reached its peak in 1897, the year after his father's death, and helped to generat e the groundwork for much of his theory to come. Analysing his own dreams and checking background details with his mother, Freud confronted the residues of repressed emotions from his own childhood – destructive and ambivalent feelings towards his father, intense affection for his mother, guilt at the death of his infant brother Julius. The year 1900 saw the publication of the first major work on psychoanalysis: The Interpretation of Dreams. In this Freud sets out his theory of the unconscious and of repression and attempts to shown how mental phenomena such as dreams and neurosis are a product of conflict between different mental systems. The book was either ignored or reviewed badly and it took six years to sell the 600 copies printed ( Freud received less than £50 from its publication). The Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality came in 1905. In this, his second major publication on psychoanalysis, he formalizes his ideas on the development of the sexual instinct from infancy to maturity and demonstrates the intrinsic relationship between development in early childhood and sexual perversion and neurosis in the adult. A band of devoted followers, later to become the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society, gradually began to gather round Freud. He was particularly gratified by the support and interest shown by Carl Jung, a young Swiss psychiatrist. By now Freud had been appointed to a professorship and, with the growing international recognition of psychoanalysis, he was invited in 1909 to Clark University in the USA to receive an honorary doctorate and to deliver a series of guest lecturers. (Freud prepared these in his characteristic way during the course of a brisk half-hour walk immediately before each lecture). Psychoanalysis began to grow into a flourishing movement. Congresses were held, a journal established and in 1910 the International Psychoanalytic Society was formed. Freud now lived in the comfortable style of the Viennese middle class. He had fathered six children and his household included his sister-in-law Minna, in whom he found a good and possibly intimate friend, as well as several servants. The pattern of his life was set and ordered. The day would be devoted to seeing his patients, his scientific writings and correspondence. Freud remained an enthusiastic letter writer. It had been his correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess, a Berlin medical specialist and close friend, which had stimulated and sustained him during the years before his recognition. On Saturdays Freud would relax in typical Viennese coffee houses and, with his younger brother, made several forays to the Mediterranean, visiting Athens, Rome and Crete. This was, on the whole, a time of tranquillity for Freud, contrasting with the mood of earlier periods when he would often swing between elation and tiredness and despair. In the following years came a steady stream of publications on psychoanalytic technique and theory including studies based on literature and biography. Freud now numbered the eminent among his patients who included, for example Gustav Mahler. But they were years also marked by growing dissension in the close-knit psychoanalytic circle, which culminated in the secession of Adler from the group in 1911 followed, to Freud's especial sorrow, by Jung in 1914. The end of the First World War saw Freud living in defeated Vienna on a diet of thin vegetable soup and treating patients in an unheated consulting room dressed in overcoat and gloves. In 1920 he published the most controversial and least accepted of all his works, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, where he postulated thanatos, the instinct within us all that strives for death. One can speculate about the effects which his personal circumstances and the background and violence of the war may have had on this thinking. His own sons were called up and one had gone missing for several weeks. As a therapist, Freud had encountered the problem of soldiers suffering from shell shock and 'war neurosis'. And, in January of the year in which the monograph was published, his daughter Sophie died of influenza. In the 'twenties Freud's work largely centred on the development of ego psychology, in particular on the analysis of the characteristic ways in which the ego is able to defend itself from the anxiety aroused by the external world and by repressed instinctual drives. His daughter Anna, the only one of Freud's children to follow in his footsteps, was to elaborate these ideas subsequently. 1923 was marred by the first symptoms of the cancer of the jaw that eventually led to thirty-three o perations and was to torment Freud until the end of his life. By now he was enjoying world fame. In 1924 he was offered $25,000, or 'anything he cared to name' by the Chicago Tribune to psychoanalyse two murderers who had caught the headlines in the USA. Sam Goldwyn also offered Freud $100,000 to work on a film of famous love scenes from history. Freud refused both offers. Freud's final writings, as for example Civilization and its Discontents, were devoted to an analysis of the individual's relationship with society and the societal origins of guilt. Hitler came to power in 1933. Shortly after, Freud's writings along with those of Einstein and H. G. Wells were blazing in public bonfires. Freud's reported reaction was 'What progress we are making. In the Middles Ages they would have burned me, now they are content with burning my books'. Freud was still in Austria when the Nazi invasion took place in 1938. His apartment was searched by the Gestapo and his daughter Anna taken away for questioning for several hours. Eventually, after representations on their behalf had been made by Mussolini, among others, the Freud family was allowed to leave for London. As a child, Freud had often dreamed of moving to England to live with his older step-brothers. He died there, in Hampstead, on 23 September 1939. Source: Stevens, R. (1983) Freud and Psychoanalysis: an exposition and appraisal, Buckingham, Open University Press.