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by Sigmund Freud
The original, squashed down to read in about 30 minutes
(Worcester, Massachusetts, 1910)
The Austrian Freud was was the 'Father of Psychoanalysis' whose attempts to help 'hysterics' led to the idea that unconscious forces influence people's thoughts and actions, and that repression of infantile sexuality and aggression can be the root of adult neuroses. Even though his theories are now widely seen as unscientific nonsense, they did bring about a much more open approach to sexual matters and changed the way people think about human nature so that irrationality, crime, love, hate and fear are seen as the product of deep, internal, drives.
Abridged: GH from the lectures given by Freud at Clark University in September 1909
Ladies and Gentlemen: I assume that you have invited me to talk of psychoanalysis. So, I shall attempt to give you a brief history of this new method of research and cure.
If creating psychoanalysis is a merit, it is not my merit. I was a busy student, when another Viennese physician, Joseph Breuer, first applied this method to the case of a hysterical girl.
Dr. Breuer's patient was an intelligent girl of twenty one, who had developed paralysis of her extremities, impairment of vision, intense Tussis nervosa, nausea on trying to take nourishment, and, at one time, an inability to drink. She lost speech and was subject to 'absences', delirium, and alteration of her whole personality.
There is clearly an injury here, probably to the brain. As her vital organs seemed normal, physicians will expect that there is a state of hysteria, known since the ancient Greeks. We should know that the illness first appeared while she was caring for her beloved dying father.
The physician, who has learned much anatomy and physiology and pathology, can understand alterations of the brain in apoplexy or dementia, but he cannot understand hysteria. He is reduced to the layman's position, which is very disagreeable to one who sets a high value on his own knowledge. Hystericals, accordingly, tend to lose his sympathy; he blames them for exaggerations, deceit and "simulation," and punishes them by withdrawing his interest.
Now Dr. Breuer did offer sympathy and interest. He noticed that in her states of "absence," she mumbled words to herself. He used a sort of hypnosis in which he repeated these words, in order to bring up any associations that they might have.
The patient yielded up certain fancies, deeply sad, often poetically beautiful, daydreams, commonly centered on a girl beside her father's sickbed. In relating them, she seemed to be freed and restored to normal mental life, until the next day a new "absence" arose, which was removed in the same way. The patient herself, who strangely enough understood and spoke only English, called this "the talking cure," or jokingly, "chimney sweeping." Symptoms would disappear when, in hypnosis, she could be made to remember the situation under which they first appeared, provided free vent was given to the emotions that they aroused.
It was a hot summer, yet the patient developed an extreme fear of drinking water, eating only fruit to relieve her tormenting thirst. After about six weeks, she was talking in hypnosis of how she had once met with her despised English governess, to find that lady's dog had drunk out of a glass. After she had energetically expressed her restrained anger, she was easily able to drink. The symptom thereupon vanished permanently. Breuer found that almost all symptoms originated as remnants, as precipitates, of affectively toned experiences, which we came to call "psychic traumata."
There was one curiosity; it was usually several experiences which seemed to co-operate in bringing about the trauma, and it was impossible to reach the first and most essential one, without first clearing away those coming later.
When I began to use Breuer's methods, my experiences coincided with his. There was the case of a woman who developed a peculiar smacking tic whenever she was excited. It had its origin in two experiences where she had tried to suppress all sound, once in putting her sick child to sleep, and once in trying to remain calm during a thunderstorm. To generalize: Hysterical patients suffer from symptoms which are the remnants of traumatic experiences.
We are now on the way to a purely psychological theory of hysteria. A further observation by Breuer will compel us to ascribe much of the disease to an altered condition of consciousness.
Our patient was normally quite unaware of her "absences," and alteration of character, which were only revealed under hypnosis. It is through the study of hypnotic phenomena that we have come to see that in the same individual several mental groupings are possible. Cases of such spit consciousness, known as "double personality" ("double conscience"), occasionally appear spontaneously. Where consciousness remains constantly bound up with one of the two states, this is called the conscious mental state, and the other the unconscious. Breuer concluded that hysterical symptoms originated in such a mental state, which he called "hypnoidal state." Emotional experiences during such hypnoidal states easily become pathogenic, since such states do not allow for a normal draining off of emotion. Consequently, the products of the exciting process are projected as symptoms, like a foreign body, into the normal state, which then has no conception of their significance. Where a symptom arises, we also find amnesia, a memory gap, and the filling of this gap includes the removal of the conditions under which the symptom originated.
So far, it may seem that our knowledge in this field is not very far advanced. Indeed, Breuer's idea of the hypnoidal states has been shown to hinder further investigation. But complete theories do not fall from Heaven. Indeed, to present a perfectly rounded explanation from the beginning could only be seen as the child of speculation and not the fruit of unprejudiced investigation of the facts
When I began to follow-on from Breuer's investigations, I soon came to a different view of the origin of hysterical dissociation (or splitting of consciousness). Practical needs urged me on. Breuer's cathartic treatment required deep hypnosis. But I came to dislike that fanciful, almost mystical, aid, when I discovered that I could not hypnotize by any means all of my patients.
Since I could not alter the psychic state of most of my patients, I directed my efforts to working with them in their normal state. This seems at first sight to be a particularly senseless undertaking. The problem was this: to find out something from the patient that the doctor did not know and the patient himself did not know. I was helped by recalling Bernheim's experience at his clinic at Nancy. He found that persons put in a condition of hypnotic somnambulism, stated afterwards that they had no memory of their experiences during somnambulism, but if he persisted, urged and assured them that they did know, then every time the forgotten memory came back
Accordingly, I did this with my patients. When I had reached with them a point at which they declared that they knew nothing more, I would assure them that they did know, asserting that the memory would emerge at the moment that I laid my hand on the patient's forehead. This was an exhausting procedure, but it substantiated the fact that the forgotten memories were but hindered from becoming conscious by some resisting forces.
But what were those forces? It seemed that a wish had been aroused, which was incompatibility with the "ego" of the patient. His ethical and other pretensions were the repressing forces. The mental pain of incompatible wishes was avoided by repression.
I will give you the history of a single one of my cases. It is that of a young girl whose sister fell ill and died, leaving her with a desire to marry her brother-in-law. This love, of which she had not been conscious, was rapidly repressed by her revolted feelings. The girl fell ill with severe hysterical symptoms, and, when I came to treat her, she had entirely forgotten that scene at her sister's bedside and the unnatural, egoistic desire which had arisen in her. She remembered it during the treatment, reproduced the pathogenic moment with every sign of intense emotional excitement, and was cured. I can make this process of repression more concrete by a rough illustration.
Suppose that here in this hall and in this audience, whose exemplary stillness and attention I cannot sufficiently commend, an individual is creating a disturbance. He is expelled, or "repressed," and strong men at the door keep up the repression. Now, if you call this "consciousness," and the outside the "unconscious," you have a tolerably good illustration of the process of repression.
It may very well happen that the repressed man, now embittered and quite careless of consequences, makes a terrible uproar outside, and interferes with my lecture even more. Perhaps our honored president, Dr. Stanley Hall, might speak with the rowdy on the outside, and then turn to us with the recommendation that we let him in again, provided he would guarantee to behave himself better. On Dr. Hall's authority we decide to stop the repression, and peace reigns again. This is a fairly good presentation of the task of psychoanalytic therapy.
In driving matters out of consciousness and out of memory, a great amount of psychic pain is saved. But the suppressed wish still exists, only waiting for its chance to become active, and finally succeeds in sending into consciousness, instead of the repressed idea, a disguised and unrecognizable surrogate creation (Ersatzbildung). The psychic conflict which then arises, is made capable of a happier termination, under the guidance of the physician, than is offered by repression. Either the personality of the patient may be convinced to wholly or partly accept the pathogenic wish; or this wish may be directed to a less objectionable goal, by what is called sublimation (Sublimierung); or the rejection may be recognized as rightly motivated, and the automatic and therefore insufficient mechanism of repression be reinforced by the higher, more characteristically human mental faculties, the patient succeeds in mastering his wishes by conscious thought.
Ladies and Gentlemen: It is not always easy to tell the truth, but I must correct a statement that I made in my last lecture. I told you how when I gave up hypnosis I pressed my patients to remember what they had apparently forgotten. But, often, ideas emerged which could not be the right ones. In this state of perplexity, I clung to a prejudice, which was later proved by my friend Dr. Jung of Zürich to have a scientific justification. I must confess that it is often of great advantage to have prejudices. I could not believe that any idea occurring to the patient could be quite arbitrary and out of all relation to the idea we sought. These surrogates must be related to the repressed thought as a sort of allusion, as a statement of the same thing in indirect terms
We know of analogous situations in ordinary experience, such as instances of wit. Such as that story about the art critic asked to pass judgment on two portraits of famously unscrupulous businessmen who just asked "And where is the Saviour?" He meant, "You are a couple of malefactors, like those crucified beside the Saviour." But he expresses himself through allusion, a surrogate, to the insult. The same constellation comes into play, according to our hypothesis, when our patient produces the irruptive idea as a surrogate for the forgotten idea which is the object of the quest.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Zürich School of Bleuler, Jung and others usefully designate a group of ideas belonging together and having a common emotive tone, as a "complex." We have every prospect of discovering a repressed complex, if only the patient will communicate a sufficient number of the ideas which come into his head. So we let the patient speak as he desires, and cling to the hypothesis that nothing can occur to him except what has some indirect bearing on the complex we are seeking. If this method of discovering the repressed complexes seems too circumstantial, I can assure you that it is the only available one.
One is further bothered by the fact that the patient often arrives at a point where he considers that he has nothing more to say. He must be encouraged to lay aside any critical choice, although he may think his ideas irrelevant, nonsensical, or especially unpleasant. In this way, we secure the material which sets us on the track of the repressed complex
These irruptive ideas, which the patient himself values little, are for the psychologist like the ore, which by interpretation, he reduces to valuable metal.
Two other methods are available, the interpretation of dreams and the evaluation of acts which he bungles or does without intending to (Fehl und Zufallshandlungen).
The interpretation of dreams, old-fashioned as it seems, is in fact the via regia to the interpretation of the unconscious, the surest ground of psychoanalysis. If I were asked how one could become a psychoanalyst, I should answer, through the study of one's own dreams.
You must remember that our nightly dream productions show the greatest outer similarity to the creations of the insane, yet are compatible with full health during waking life.
In our waking state, we usually reject dreams, forget them quickly, and consider them foreign to our personality. Our rejection derives support from the unrestrained shamelessness and immoral longings in many dreams. Yet, antiquity, and still today the lower classes of our people, value dreams highly, expecting from them some revelation of the future. Yet, dreams are wonderful enough, without having to hypothesize any prophetic nature.
Consider the dreams of young children from the age of a year and a half on. They always present the fulfillment of wishes aroused from the previous day's experiences.
But adult dreams generally have an incomprehensible content; they have become disguised, so that we must differentiate between the manifest dream content and the latent dream-thoughts, whose presence in the unconscious we must assume.
This disguising, the work of the defensive forces of the ego, prevents repressed wishes from entering consciousness during waking life. The dreamer knows just as little of the sense of his dream as the hysterical knows of the significance of his symptoms. Discovering, through analysis, the relation between the manifest and latent dream-content is exactly the technique of psychoanalysis.
Through this "dream-work" (Traumarbeit) it is possible to get some insight into the process which has brought about the disguise of unconscious thoughts. You will furthermore discover in dreams, especially your own, the unsuspected importance of experiences from early childhood. In the dream life, the child, as it were, continues his existence in the man. We have also discovered from the analysis of dreams that the unconscious makes use of a symbolism, especially in presenting sexual complexes. This symbolism partly varies with the individual, but is partly is of a typical nature, and seems to be identical with the symbolism of our myths and legends.
Finally, I must remind you that the occurrence of anxiety-dreams (Angsttraüme) does not contradict our idea of dreams as a wish fulfillment. Anxiety is just one of the ways in which the ego relieves itself of repressed wishes.
I may now pass from dreams to a group of everyday mental phenomena whose study has become a technical help for psychoanalysis.
These are the bungling of acts (Feldhandlungen) among normal men as well as among neurotics, to which no significance is ordinarily attached; the forgetting of things (such as proper names); mistakes in speaking (Versprechen), which occur so frequently; mistakes in writing (Verschreiben) and in reading (Verlesen), the automatic execution of purposive acts in wrong situations (Vergreifen) and the loss or breaking of objects, etc.
These trifles have passed unchallenged as chance consequences of absent-minded inattention. Likewise playing with objects, humming melodies, handling one's person and clothing and the like are not chance, but meaningful acts. That meaning is generally easy and sure to interpret from the situation in which they occur, and their observation, like that of dreams, can reveal hidden complexes in the psychic life. With their help, one will usually betray the most intimate of secrets
For the psychoanalyst there is in the expressions of the psyche nothing trifling, nothing arbitrary and lawless, he expects everywhere a clear psychic motivation.
Seeing our ability to discover repressed things in the soul life, you will come with me to the conclusion that our technique can show how pathogenic psychic material enters into consciousness, and so to do away with the suffering brought on by surrogate symptoms.
You may have gained the impression that psychoanalysis is peculiarly difficult On the contrary, once learned, its is easy. But it must be learned, just as much as histological or surgical techniques. You may surprised to learn that in Europe there have been frequently judgements passed on psychoanalysis by persons who knew nothing of its technique and had never practiced it.
It is not difficult to substantiate in our opponents the same impairment of intelligence produced by emotivity which we may observe every day with our patients. The arrogance of that consciousness which, for example, rejects dreams so lightly, generally belongs to the strongest protective apparatus which guards us against the breaking through of unconscious complexes. Consequently, it is hard to convince people of the reality of the unconscious, and to teach them anew, what their conscious knowledge contradicts.
Ladies and Gentlemen, at this point you will be asking what the psychoanalysis has taught us of the nature of repressed wishes. One thing in particular is surprising; the regularity of impressions from the sexual life in both men and women.
I know that this assertion will not willingly be credited. Some think that I overestimate sexuality, and ask why other mental excitations should not equally lead to the phenomena of repression and surrogate-creation. I can only answer that experience has clearly shown it so. You will find that my co-workers were equally sceptical, until their own analytic labors forced them to the same conclusion.
The conduct of the patients does not make it any easier to convince one's self of the correctness of this view. Instead of willingly giving us information concerning their sexual life, they wear a thick overcoat, a fabric of lies, as though it were bad weather in the world of sex. And they are not wrong; sun and wind are not favorable in our civilized society to any demonstration of sex life.
But when your patients are assured that they may disregard conventional restraints, they lay aside this veil of lies, and leave you in a position to formulate a judgment. Unfortunately, physicians are not favored above the rest of the children of men in questions of the sex life. Many of them are under that ban of prudery and lasciviousness which determines the behaviour of most Kulturmenschen in affairs of sex.
It is only in recovering the wishes of adolescence and early childhood that we hit upon the circumstances which determine the later sickness. These mighty wishes of childhood are very generally sexual.
Now I can be sure of your astonishment. You ask, is not childhood distinguished by the lack of the sexual impulse? No, gentlemen, it is not at all true that the sexual impulse enters the child at puberty, as the biblical devils entered the swine. The child has sexual impulses and activities from the beginning, and from these the so-called normal sexuality of adults emerges. As fate would have it, I am in a position to call a witness from your own midst; Dr. Sanford Bell, a fellow of Clark University, the same institution within whose walls we now stand. In his "A Preliminary Study of the Emotion of Love between the Sexes".
A short time ago from the analysis of a five-year-old boy who was suffering from anxiety, an analysis undertaken with correct technique by his own father, I succeeded in getting a fairly complete picture of the bodily expressions of an early stage of childish sexual life. My friend, Dr. Jung, read to you a few hours ago in this room an observation on a still younger girl. Accordingly, I hope that you may feel this idea of infantile sexuality not so strange. If it is true that most men do not want to know anything about the sexual life of the child, a fact which is explained all too easily.
The sexual impulse of the child is complex, and entirely disconnected from reproduction. It permits the child to gain different sorts of pleasure sensations, notably in the auto-excitation of the genitals, the rectum, the opening of the urinary canal, the skin and other sensory surfaces. We call this early phase after a word coined by Havelock Ellis, "auto-eroticism." The parts of the body significant in giving sexual pleasure we call "erogenous zones." The passionate sucking of very young children has been correctly interpreted by Dr Lindner of Budapest, as sexual satisfaction. Another sexual satisfaction of this time of life is masturbation, which has such a great significance for later life and, in many individuals, is never fully overcome. Besides auto-erotic manifestations, we see very early in the child the impulse-components of sexual pleasure, of the libido, which presupposes a second person as its object. These impulses appear in opposed pairs, as active and passive, most importantly as pleasure in inflicting pain (sadism) with its passive opposite (masochism).
The difference between the sexes plays, however, no very great rôle so that one may attribute to every child, without wronging him, a bit of the homosexual disposition.
Even before puberty certain impulses undergo energetic repression under the impulse of education, and mental forces like shame, disgust and morality are developed, which, like sentinels, keep the repressed wishes in subjection. The most important of these repressed impulses are koprophilism, that is, taking pleasure in excrement; and, further, the tendencies attaching themselves to the persons of the primitive object-choice.
The development of the sexual function is not always smoothly completed, and may leave behind either abnormalities or disposition to later diseases. It may happen that not all the partial impulses subordinate themselves to the rule of the genital zone, bringing about what we call a perversion, as when the auto-erotism is not fully overcome. The originally equal value of both sexes as sexual objects may be maintained and give rise to exclusive homosexuality.
The primitive object-choice of the child, which is derived from his need of help, at first attaches to all familiar persons, but gives way in favor of his parents. This relation is not at all free from a sexual component. The child takes both parents, and especially one, as an object of his erotic wishes. Usually this follows the stimulus given by his parents, whose tenderness has the character of a sex manifestation, though inhibited. As a rule, the father prefers the daughter, the mother the son. The child reacts to this situation, since, as son, he wishes himself in the place of his father, as daughter, in the place of the mother. The complex built up in this way is quickly repressed, but still exerts a great and lasting effect from the unconscious. We must express the opinion that this presents the nuclear complex of every neurosis. The myth of King Oedipus, who kills his father and wins his mother as a wife, or Shakespeare's Hamlet, are only a slightly altered presentations of these infantile wishes.
The child arrives at a number of "infantile sexual theories"; that the same male genitals belong to both sexes, that children are conceived by eating, and that sexual intercourse is to be regarded as an inimical act, a sort of overpowering.
But the unfinished nature of his sexual constitution and the gaps in his knowledge about by the hidden feminine sexual canal, cause the infant investigator to abandon his search. The invention of infant sex theories are of determinative significance in building the child's character, and in the content of his later neuroses.
It is quite normal that the child should make his parents his first object-choice. But his libido must not remain fixed on them, it is merely a prototype for a transfer to other persons. The breaking loose (Ablösung) of the child from his parents is necessary if the social virtue of the young individual is not to be impaired. This presents a great task for education, which at present certainly does not always solve it in the most intelligent way.
The deeper you investigate neurotic diseases, the more the relation of neuroses to normal mentality becomes apparent. You will be reminded that we men, with the high claims of our civilization and under the pressure of our repressions, find reality generally quite unsatisfactory, and so keep up a life of fancy to compensate for what is lacking. These phantasies often contain much of the essence of personality, repressed in real life. The successful man is he who can transform his wish-fancies into reality. Under favorable conditions, he may find another link between fancies and reality, as where those with artistic talent, (still psychologically puzzling) can transform fancies into artistic creations.
Let me give at this point the main result of the psychoanalytic investigation of neurotics, namely, that neuroses have no peculiar psychic content which is not also found in healthy states; or, as Jung has expressed it, neurotics fall ill of the same complexes with which we sound people struggle.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have withheld from you the most remarkable experience which corroborates our assumptions of the sexual impulse-forces of neurotics. Whenever we treat a neurotic psychoanalytically, there occurs the phenomenon of transfer (Uebertragung), where the patient applies to the physician much tender emotion, often mixed with enmity, which has no foundation in any real relation, and must be derived from unconscious wish-fancies.
One is afraid of doing harm by psychoanalysis, of calling up repressed sexual impulses. One can see that the patient has sore places in his soul life, but one is afraid to touch them, lest his suffering be increased. But nobody thinks of blaming the surgeon for temporarily making a condition worse on the way to restoring lasting health. The consequence which is feared, the disturbance of the cultural character, is wholly impossible. Our experience has shown that the power of a wish is incomparably stronger when it is unconscious than when it is conscious. By being made conscious, it can only be weakened.
The neurotic has lost, by his repressions, many valuable sources of mental energy. The components of the sexual instinct, in particular, have a capacity for sublimation into ones more socially valuable. The mental energy won in such a way has probably had the highest cultural consequences.
However, a certain part of the suppressed libidinous excitation deserves satisfaction. We should remember that individual happiness ought to be one of the aims of our culture. If the narrowing of sexuality is pushed too far it will have all the evil effects of a robbery.
Perhaps you regard that exhortation as presumptuous? Consider the old tale of the citizens of Schilda who tried to make their horse work without fodder, only to be amazed when it died. Without a certain ration of oats, no work could be expected from any animal.
I thank you for calling me here to speak, and for your attention.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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