A retrospective: Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 as Sigismund Schlomo Freud, in Freiberg, which is now the Příbor, in the Czech Republic, but at the time of his birth it was part of the Austrian Empire. He was born to Hasidic Jewish parents, and he spent the majority of his life in Vienna, until the Nazi occupation (AnschlußAnnexation of Austria).

As a boy he attended the respectable school of Leopoldstädter Kommunal-Realgymnasium, in Vienna, where he graduated as an outstanding pupil in 1873, and his love of literature and language saw him fluent in German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. At age 17 he enrolled in the University of Vienna, where he studied philosophy, physiology, and zoology, where he was introduced to Darwinism. After graduating University, and deciding to pursue medicine as a career, he started work in 1877 at a laboratory run by Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke, who was a well respected physiologist, and here he spent several years studying and dissecting brains, and compared deceased human and animal brains to attempt to discover mutual correlation.

In 1882 he started working at the General Hospital in Vienna, where he trained under psychologists Theodor Meynert, and Hermann Nothnagel, and just several years later he became a neuropathology lecturer. In 1895 he wrote, Entwurf einer Psychologie, but wasn’t published for a further 55 years, and in this he studied and questioned whether psychoanalysis was a science, and the divide between neurophysiology and psychology. The same year he co-wrote, Studien über Hysterie, with Josef Breuer, that studied the realm of the psyche, or what Freud liked to call it; the unconscious mind, which he coined the term Psychoanalysis.

Freud believed that the unconscious were ‘thoughts below the surface‘, in which how suggested the best example were dreams, where we had no control over our thoughts. Here Freud considered ways in which he could access our preconscious, which is found between our consciousness and unconsciousness, and here an example of this is repression, and this is often the result of a trauma where the mind attempts to subdue or block out a memory. Even though the mind acted like they weren’t there anymore, and the consciousness of an individual may have no recollection, these thoughts can’t be banished and Freud studied his subjects to find patterns of how repression worked. He discovered that people weren’t able to directly repress thoughts, it was a subconscious defence mechanism that his subjects weren’t aware of happening.

“Religion is a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of reality, such as we find nowhere else but in a state of blissful hallucinatory confusion. Religion’s eleventh commandment is “Thou shalt not question.” – Sigmund Freud

Freud’s seduction theory (Verführungstheorie) was a hypothesis that Freud was working on towards to start of the 20th century, which involved his theory of the shaping of the mind through experience, or trauma. He presented his paper The Aetiology of Hysteria (Über die Ätiologie der Hysterie) in Vienna, at the Society for Psychiatry and Neurology, where he suggested that sexual abuse of prepubescent children is likely to cause metal health issues in later life, and he had studied 18 adults who’d all experienced this. He said that neurosis was caused from repressed trauma, but he never published his papers and reversed his theory and eventually abandoned it without reason, other than his findings were inconclusive.

The Œdipus complex (Oedipus complex) is another theory that Freud engaged with, in which a psychosexual feelings of a child towards the opposite sex parent, and bitterness and jealousy towards the same sex parent.. ie: a boy feels like he is competing with his father for his mother’s affections, which Freud discussed in his 1899 book, The Interpretation of Dreams, which became part of which is known as Freudian psychology. At the time it was considered groundbreaking, but the theories that Freud had, whilst plausible, haven’t aged well, and are perhaps verging on the ‘a bit weird‘.

“Oedipus accidentally fulfilled a prophecy that he would end up killing his father and marrying his mother, thereby bringing disaster to his city and family.” – Source

Freud has been heavily criticised over the years for his suggestion that children have sexual desires, and that children, especially boys, desire incest and that they must repress these thoughts. Freud’s mission was to bring out these suppressed emotions through ‘transference‘.

“The redirection to a substitute, usually a therapist, of emotions that were originally felt in childhood (in a phase of analysis called transference neurosis ).” – Oxford Dictionary

In 1902 he became professor extraordinarius‘ at Vienna university where at the start he gave speeches at the lecture hall, and every Wednesday he invited physicians over to discuss psychology and neuropathology  (Psychologische Mittwochs-Gesellschaft) He held the post of Professor for 36 years, despite the university and its medical establishment continuously disagreeing with his controversial theories. In 1910 the ‘InternationalPsychoanalytic Association‘ was founded with Carl Jung who was a Swiss psychiatrist and a close associate of Freud.

Carl Jung

Freud’s relationship with Jung deteriorated over time, and their partnership dissolved and Jung went on to develop analytical psychology, that went on to be incredibly influential in several fields. Freud went on to promote his theory of the unconscious mind, where he described it like an iceberg.

And in 1923 he came up with the theory of ‘SuperegoEgoId

 In 1932, Freud began an exchange of letters with Albert Einstein regarding the subject of war, and the methods of avoidance, but a year later Hitler became chancellor of the Reich, and the newly empowered Nazi party seized and confiscated Freud’s books, and any other books written by anyone with Jewish heritage. In 1938, despite his stubbornness to remain in Vienna, he was forced to retreat to London, as the Nazi’s grip was getting tighter, and their anti-Semitic acts of brutality more frequent; any Jew in Austria was in potential danger. In 1939, not long after the outbreak of World War 2, he lost his battle with mouth cancer, and he died aged 83, on the 23rd September, in his home in Hampstead, which is now the Freud Museum.

Freud was recognised at one of the most important, and influential thinkers of the 20th century. He was a writer, a physiologist, a medical doctor, a theorist, philosopher and the father of psychoanalysis, which had become a standard in psychiatry and psychopathology, which involves dialogue between the doctor and the patient.

“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” – Sigmund Freud