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Freud, Sigmund

Category: Scientist


Sigmund Freud (born Sigismund Schlomo Freud; 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) was a neurologist, whose interest later developed into psychoanalysis. 

Freud was born to Jewish Galician parents in the Moravian town of Příbor in the then Austrian Empire, now part of the Czech Republic, the first of their eight children.

He married Martha Bernays, the granddaughter of Isaac Bernays, a chief rabbi in Hamburg. The couple had six children.

In 1896, Minna Bernays, Martha Freud's sister, became a permanent member of the Freud household, after the death of her fiancé. The close relationship she formed with Freud led to rumours of an affair. The discovery of a Swiss hotel log of 13 August 1898, signed by Freud whilst travelling with his sister-in-law, has been 'adduced as evidence'.

Jung vs Freud

Those unsympathetic to the methods of psychoanalysis of his contemporary Carl Gustav Jung, because of their very high reliance on the existence of spirit and mind, and Jung’s great interest in alchemy, archetypes and spiritual experiences, often scurry to Freud as being an apparently safer and less esoteric option.  But as we shall see Freud was in fact just as interested in the occult as Jung, he just didn’t quite have Jung’s ability to understand it.  Here is an interesting short quote.

Sigmund Freud
No doubt you would prefer that I should hold fast to a moderate theism and turn relentlessly against anything ‘occult’.  But I am not convinced to seek anyone’s favour, and I must suggest to you that you should think more kindly of the objective possibility of thought transference and therefore also of telepathy.

Paco Pomet

Freud became interested in Nietzsche as a student.  In 1900, the year of Nietzsche's death, Freud bought his collected works.

He told his friend, Fliess, that he hoped to find in Nietzsche's works "the words for much that remains mute in me." 

Thus the longing was there for the transcendental, and the belief in something which might vaguely be thought of as spiritual was also there, but the ability to find the path to get there never emerged.

In Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), he quotes his friend Romain Rolland, who described religion as an "oceanic sensation", but says he never experienced this feeling.  This unsatisfied longing appears to have turned later in life to a very deep resentment of those whose faith and beliefs gave them peace.

Cocaine addiction

Katerina Plotnikova

Freud qualified as a doctor of medicine at the University of Vienna in 1881, and then carried out research into cerebral palsy, aphasia and microscopic neuroanatomy at the Vienna General Hospital. His research work in cerebral anatomy led to the publication of a seminal paper on the palliative effects of cocaine in 1884.  

As a medical researcher, Freud was an early user and proponent of cocaine as a stimulant, as well as analgesic. He believed that cocaine was a cure for many mental and physical problems, and in his 1884 paper "On Coca" he extolled its virtues. Between 1883 and 1887 he wrote several articles recommending medical applications, including its use as an antidepressant. Freud also recommended cocaine as a cure for morphine addiction. He had introduced cocaine to his friend Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow who had become addicted to morphine taken to relieve years of excruciating nerve pain resulting from an infection acquired while performing an autopsy. His claim that Fleischl-Marxow was cured of his addiction was premature, though he never acknowledged he had been at fault. Fleischl-Marxow developed an acute case of "cocaine psychosis", and soon returned to using morphine, dying a few years later after more suffering from intolerable pain.

Painting by Paco Pomet

After the "Cocaine Episode" Freud ceased to publicly recommend use of the drug, but continued to take it himself. In this period he came under the influence of his friend and confidant Fliess, who recommended cocaine for the treatment of the so-called nasal reflex neurosis. Fliess, who operated on the noses of several of his own patients, also performed operations on Freud and on one of Freud's patients whom he believed to be suffering from the disorder, Emma Eckstein. The surgery proved disastrous. It has been suggested that much of Freud's early psychoanalytical theory was a by-product of his cocaine use.

The beginnings of psychoanalysis

His time spent in Theodor Meynert's psychiatric clinic and as a locum in a local asylum led to an increased interest in mental illness.  He is best known for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst.  Freud helped developed techniques such as the use of free association.

Katerina Plotnikova

Many of the methods of psychoanalysis that are used today were developed via the case of  Anna O. which was the pseudonym of a patient of Josef Breuer, who published her case study in his book Studies on Hysteria, written in collaboration with Freud. Her real name was Bertha Pappenheim. Bertha had been mis-prescribed Chloral hydrate  to sedate her and help her sleep. This then made her psychotic and she sought help.  Instead of taking her off the chloral hydrate, they analysed her using hypnosis.  The technique of 'Free Association' came into being after Anna/Bertha decided (with Breuer's input) to end her hypnosis sessions and merely talk to Breuer, saying anything that came into her mind. She called this method of communication "chimney sweeping", and this served as the beginning of free association.

Sigmund Freud stated that her illness was “ a result of the resentment felt over her father's real and physical illness that later led to his death.” 

There was no mention of the choral hydrate or the effect of grief.  It may be worth mentioning that a host of very unfortunate people have used chloral hydrate in the past as a sedative.  These include people who died using it, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Marilyn Monroe.

Historical records have since showed that when Breuer stopped treating Anna O. she was not becoming better, but progressively worse. She was ultimately institutionalized:
"Breuer told Freud that she was deranged; he hoped she would die to end her suffering".
Once she stopped taking the chloral hydrate her doctors had prescribed and managed to get away from the institutions, she recovered and led a productive life. The West German government issued a postage stamp in honour of her contributions to the field of social work.

The Oedipus complex

Painting by Paco Pomet

It is noticeable that many people who have traumas in their lives, perhaps a disturbed upbringing, take up jobs and careers to try to solve their own problems and get some meaning from their experiences.  Thus many vicars and priests enter the church in the hope of finding 'God', not in helping others to.  And in some cases psychologists and psychoanalysts become interested, because they have some deep rooted mental problems of their own.

It is noticeable that most of Freud’s psychoanalytical followers were themselves mentally ill.  Wilhelm Stekel, for example, was treated by Freud for ‘a sexual problem’ and Max Kahane committed suicide in 1923.

Freud's upbringing appears to have been of the hellfire and damnation kind and one of the things that seems to have emerged is that he himself was suffering from repression.  He may also have been suffering from trauma, more of this shortly.

Freud began smoking tobacco at age 24.  Despite health warnings from colleague Wilhelm Fliess, he remained a smoker, eventually suffering a buccal cancer.   Freud suggested to Fliess in 1897 that addictions, including that to tobacco, were substitutes [sic] for masturbation.  I can remember in my youth that a number of our religious fraternity indicated that hell awaits those who masturbate and that 'masturbation made you blind'.  Maybe Freud was also given this message and his obsession with repression was due to his own.

Painting by Paco Pomet

There is very very clear evidence that he knew absolutely nothing about women or how their sexuality works.  As such whatever relationship he had with his wife was purely 'to go forth and multiply'.  His views in fact proved extremely harmful to women....

In 1905, he stated that clitoral orgasms are purely an adolescent phenomenon and that, upon reaching puberty, the proper response of mature women is a change-over to vaginal orgasms, meaning orgasms without any clitoral stimulation. This theory has been criticized on the grounds that Freud provided no evidence for this basic assumption.

And he provided no evidence because he had none.

Freud virtually redefined sexuality and his view was not a healthy one.  It included infantile forms leading him to formulate the Oedipus complex as the central tenet of psychoanalytical theory. His analysis of dreams as sex based wish-fulfilments provided him with models for the clinical analysis of repression.   He invented the concept of libido, an energy which generates 'erotic attachments and a death drive [sic]', and was the source of 'repetition, hate, aggression and neurotic guilt'. It is notable that in his later work Freud developed a wide-ranging interpretation and critique of religion and culture.

Ultimately one has to come to the conclusion that Freud was not a well man.  He was the victim of a religious upbringing that appears to have scarred him - and his theories are seemingly all based on his own problems.

There is one added area of interest. 

Carla Mascaro

Freud's development of his theories took place during a period in which he experienced heart irregularities, disturbing dreams and periods of depression, a "neurasthenia" which he linked to the death of his father in 1896 and which prompted a "self-analysis" of his own dreams and memories of childhood. His explorations of his feelings of hostility to his father and rivalrous jealousy over his mother’s affections led him to a fundamental revision of his theory of the origin of the neuroses.

On the basis of his early clinical work, Freud postulated that unconscious memories of sexual molestation in early childhood were a necessary precondition for the psychoneuroses.  The interesting question which thus remains unanswered is who molested him?

Another area which appears to have traumatised him as a child is his circumcision, the theme of which reappears a number of times in various papers, leading one to suspect that his was not without incident.

And here we have a short description of the result of cocaine addiction, repression and psychological trauma.

After Freud’s later development of the theory of the Oedipus Complex this normative developmental trajectory becomes formulated in terms of the child’s renunciation of incestuous desires under the phantasised threat of (or phantasised fact of, in the case of the girl) castration.   The “dissolution" of the Oedipus Complex is then achieved when the child’s rivalrous identification with the parental figure is transformed into the pacifying identifications of the Ego ideal which assume both similarity and difference and acknowledge the separateness and autonomy of the other.

It was Freud who developed the idea of penis envy.  I have never been envious of a penis, they seem to me to be rather an encumbrance, easily trapped in lift doors.  Furthermore, I am not sure that any of the people I know would be able to identify with one single word of the above.

The case of Dora


One of Freud's most famous cases is that of Dora.  Dora was the pseudonym given by Freud to a patient whom he treated for about eleven weeks in 1900. Her most serious symptom was a cough and occasional loss of voice. Dora lived with her parents, who were 'friends with' another couple, Herr and Frau K. The crisis that led her father to bring Dora to Freud was her accusation that Herr K had made repeated 'sexual advances' to her, from the age of 14.  Needless to say, Herr K vehemently denied the accusation and her own father disbelieved her.  Dora also told Freud that her father had a relationship with Frau K.

By accepting her account, Freud was able to remove her cough symptom.  This rather indicates that the account was true and that the shock of finding she had no support had literally left her speechless - a betrayal by two adults she depended on.

Freud then dealt her a mortal blow by effectively saying it was her fault.  If she hadn't led Herr K on in this 'complex inter-family drama' it wouldn't have happened.  Furthermore he accused her of 'having a subconscious attraction to Herr K'. He said
"you are afraid of Herr K; you are even more afraid of yourself, of the temptation to yield to him".

So poor little Dora not only suffered abuse from Herr K, and betrayal by her father, but betrayal by Freud as well in a position of great trust.  History does not tell us how she sorted out her problems, but she 'abruptly finished the treatment after 11 weeks'.

The moral that many Jungian psychologists have been able to draw from this sorry tale is that repressed men should not be given child abuse or rape cases to handle, whether the men are judges or doctors or social workers. 



In February 1923, Freud was diagnosed with cancer.  By mid-September 1939, he had cancer of the jaw and it was causing him increasingly severe pain and had been declared to be inoperable. He turned to his doctor, friend and fellow refugee, Max Schur, reminding him that they had previously discussed the terminal stages of his illness:
"Schur, you remember our 'contract' not to leave me in the lurch when the time had come. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense."
When Schur replied that he had not forgotten, Freud said, "I thank you," and then "Talk it over with Anna, and if she thinks it's right, then make an end of it."
Anna Freud wanted to postpone her father's death, but Schur convinced her it was pointless to keep him alive and on 21 and 22 September administered doses of morphine that resulted in Freud's death on 23 September 1939.


One of the most curious and prophetic comments that Freud ever made was on his first visit to the  United States, accompanied by Jung and Ferenczi.  He came in September 1909 at the invitation of Stanley Hall, president of Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, where he gave five lectures on psychoanalysis. 

When the ocean liner George Washington arrived in New York, Freud is said to have remarked to Jung,

"They don't realize that we are bringing them the plague."
[source Russell Jacoby - Freud's Visit to Clark University - The Chronicle Review.]

Those who are damaged, in turn damage.


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