Sigmund Freud: Early Work in Neuroscience and Alone with the World
(Notes from exhibit at the Library of Congress, Howard Gardner’s "Creating Minds", and Barbara Engler’s "Theories of Personality.")
Freud’s Formative Years
Sigismund Schlomo Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in Freiberg, now part of the Czech Republic.
Freud was surrounded by a bewildering family constellation: a father who had apparently
been married twice before and was twice as old as his mother, two grown brothers
who were as old a Freud’s mother, a nephew who was a year younger than Sigmund,
and a niece of roughly the same age (Gardner, 1993).
As a firstborn, he received and maintained special attention from his mother, who lived
until Freud was over seventy. He also had a doting nurse, who seems to have reinforced
the message that Freud was somehow special (Gardner, 1993).
Freud was a very talented child, and those around him responded to his gifts. He was
extremely intelligent. In his own words: “At the Gymnasium I was at the top of my class
for seven years: I enjoyed special privileges there, and was required to pass scarcely any
examination”; he graduated summa cum laude. (Gardner, 1993)
Family members organized much of their daily regime around the young Freud’s needs; he
was given his own room and his own bookcases; he did not have to dine with the rest of
his family but was provided with his own eating chamber; and when his sister’s piano
practicing annoyed him, the piano was removed from the house (Gardner, 1993).
In 1860, the family settled in Vienna where he received an education emphasizing
classical literature and philosophy - an education that would serve him well in developing
theories and conveying them to a wide audience.
Freud read widely: the Bible, ancient classics, William Shakespeare in German and in
English, Miguel de Cervantes, Moliere, Gotthold Lessing, , Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,
and Friedrich von Schiller. He mastered English and French and also taught himself
Spanish so that he could read Cervantes in the original. Fond of art and the theater, he
attended many exhibitions and plays and commented penetratingly on what he had
observed (Gardner, 1993).
Succumbing for a while to philosophy, he joined a society in which he read the major
philosophers, translated John Stuart Mill into German, and took courses for three years
with Franz Brentano, a respected philosopher at the University of Vienna with a special
interest in psychological issues. And, not neglecting the area of science, he mastered the
writings of Darwin, as well as scientific texts by the most important scientist of the period,
Hermann Von Helmholtz (Gardner, 1993).
Part of Freud’s daily existence was cultural ferment, ethnic tensions and class conflicts.
Freud posed the whys and wherefores with respect to every cranny of existence: why he
and his fiancee are being tested by years of separation; how to live happily with little; what
the reasons for suicide are; why one labors for months in the laboratory with but a slender
hope of making a discovery; whether women can both manage a home and participate in
professional life (Gardner, 1993).
While Freud did not excel in mathematics or the physical sciences, and while his sensitivity
to music was limited, he ably and comprehensively tackled humanistic and scientific
studies (Gardner, 1993).
Freud had the capacity for friendship and was considered an engaging companion, a
dazzling lecturer, and a loyal family member (Gardner, 1993).
According to Gardner (1993), Freud was superbly endowed in the linguistic and the
Freud chose early to concentrate on research in neurology. Financial concerns eventually
led him to pursue clinical work with patients. His analyses of patients and of himself
became the chief sources for his professional writings.
Freud’s father died when he was forty in 1896. Freud fathered the last of his six children
in 1895 and, as far as can be determined soon thereafter, ceased to have sexual relations.
He suffered a great deal of mental and physical turmoil, fears about death, depression, and
addiction to nicotine, as well as a painful chronic stomach difficulty.
First Career in Neurology
Freud went to work in the laboratory of Ernst Bruecke. He studied the histology of a
peculiar king of large cell in Petromyzon, a primitive genus of fish; to determine the fine
structure of the nerve cells of the crayfish; and to investigate the gonadal structure of the
eel. In the process, he was granted his first taste of scientific invention: he devised a
method for staining nervous tissue with gold chloride (Gardner, 1993).
Freud’s list of publications in his early twenties and thirties constitutes a respectable
output in the area of neuroanatomy. Freud came close to discovering the neuron - the
individual cell plus its extension - was the basic functioning unit of the nervous system, but
the ultimate prize went to Wilhelm von Waldeyer in 1884 (Gardner, 1993).
Freud’s early training in neurology left him with an ambition to seek the biological
bedrock of all psychological conditions. Memory, for him, was at the crossroads of the
biological and the psychological. When we remember, we are recoding original
neurological traces. (Freud)
Freud grew increasingly interested in the unconscious to be a dimension of human life at
once inaccessible and important as a source of thoughts and actions. In his efforts to
decipher the meanings of hysterical symptoms and other neglected mental phenomena that
seemed beyond conscious control (such as dreams and slips of the tongue) Freud moved
further away from neurological training. He believed that meaningless behaviors actually
expressed unconscious conflict - so he developed techniques for determining what the
behaviors might mean.
Freud was awarded a fellowship that took him to Paris from October 1885 to February
1886. This brief visit to a city of unsurpassed excitement changed his life. He worked at
the Salpetriere Hospital in the clinic operated by Jean-Martin Charcot. There he was
introduced to a range of fascinating neuroses and especially to hysteria - a condition where
individuals, usually women, displayed strange behaviors, such as the paralysis of a limb,
psychic blindness, or seizures, all in the absence of an obvious medical condition (Gardner, 1993).
After studying with Charcot at the Salpertriere Hospital in Paris – upon returning to
Vienna he began using hypnosis, massage and pressure on the head to get patients
to dredge up thoughts related to symptoms. Only later did he began using “free association.”
Freud conducted studies in hysteria as indicated by his famous case studies of people like
Anna O. who was actually a patient of his colleague, Breuer.
Breuer and Freud wrote about the “talking cure.” On their analysis, a symptom would
disappear once the patient had been able to reproduce in hypnosis the event that had given
rise to it. Sometimes the event had been one of great moment, for example, the thought of
abandoning a parent-in-need. At other times, the event was less momentous in itself but
had occurred at a time when the patient was under great emotional strain. The
relationship also might be symbolic - thus, Anna O’s pain in her right heel was traced back
to her fear that, when introduced into polite society, she might not find herself on the
“right footing.” (Gardner, 1993)
They (Freud and Breuer) published the findings about hysteria in a short coauthored
monograph entitled “Studies in Hysteria” (1895). (Gardner, 1993)
Later this work caused them their friendship. According to Freud, Breuer could accept a
dynamic view of hysteria but was made acutely uncomfortable by the discussion of
unconscious processes, the theme of transference between physician and patient, and
especially by the apparent importance of sexual motifs and motives. Whenever possible,
he preferred a purely physiological explanation; Freud was already searching for
psychological motivation and was beginning to construct a comprehensive view of the
mental apparatus that could give rise to symptoms, abreactions, and catharsis
Freud believed that at the core of each case of hysteria there exists one or more
precocious sexual experiences (Gardner, 1993).
Experimentation with Cocaine
For some time Freud thought that he might have realized a decisive breakthrough as a
result of his experiences with cocaine. Experimenting with what was then a little-known
substance, Freud had found that a twentieth of a gram converted his foul moods into
cheerfulness; since the drug acted as a gastric anesthetic, Freud thought it might also
prevent vomiting (Gardner, 1993).
Amazed by these discoveries, Freud also gave cocaine to a close friend who was in pain
and concluded that it operated as a “magical drug.” This euphoria led in turn to Freud’s
ill -considered decision to pass the drug on to other friends and colleagues, as well to
his fiancee and his sisters (Gardner, 1993).
Freud wrote a monograph about cocaine in which, for perhaps the only time in his
scientific writings, he expressed personal enthusiasm, speaking, for example,
of “the most gorgeous excitement” induced by the substance (Gardner, 1993).
But the cocaine episode ended disastrously. First, as Freud’s friend was to discover,
cocaine turned out to be highly addictive; moreover, it only produced the desirable side
effects temporarily in depressed individuals. To sharpen the psychic pain, the one
unambiguously positive discovery about cocaine - that it served as an effective anesthetic
for eye surgery - was make not by Freud by a close colleague, Carl Koller (Gardner, 1993).
Freud and Hypnosis
Freud considered hypnosis as an altered state and found it difficult to induce. He came to
depend more on free association rather than on hypnotic powers of suggestion.
Freud states: But I soon came to dislike hypnosis, for it was a temperamental and, one
might almost say a mystical ally. When I found that, in spite of all my efforts, I could not
succeed in bringing more than a fraction of my patients into a hypnotic state, I determined
to give up hypnosis and to make the cathartic procedure independent of it. Since I was
not able at will to alter the mental state of the majority of my patients, I set about working
with them in their normal state.
[Source: Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Holographic Manuscript, 1910, Manuscript
Division, Library of Congress.]
Definition of Cathartic Method
Getting patients to experience the effect, or emotion, connected to a traumatic memory.
Freud used this concept to mean an extensive interpretation that aims to reconstruct
a portion of a person’s past, usually a person’s childhood.
Freud used the concepts of “transference” and “countertransference” to refer to the strong
emotions that a patient could project onto the doctor and the doctor onto the patient.
A transference - such as treating an analyst like one’s father - might promote therapeutic
work, but Freud was also aware that this could distort a patient’s (and analyst’s)
perspective). This prompted his study of the influence of patient-doctor emotions
The transfer of the analysts feelings onto the patient - countertransference.
Freud wanted to know whether this transference in fact produced true insight.
[Source: “Remembering, Repeating & Working Through.” Holograph Manuscript,
1914, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.]
This essay describes how making the repetition of childhood patterns visible in the
transference can lead a person to self-awareness through recollection. It is by
“working through” repetition, not just condemning it, that analysis aims to make
the past something one can live with rather than something one is imprisoned in.
Analysis aimed only at improving the capacity for love and work.
These concepts were conveyed in many movies and TV series.
[Source: “Analysis Terminable and Interminable.” Holographic Manuscript,1937,
Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.]
"Our aim will not be to rub off every peculiarity of human character for the sake of a
schematic “normality,” nor yet to demand that the person who has been “thoroughly
analyzed” shall feel no passions and develop not internal conflicts. The business of
the analysis is to secure the best possible psychological conditions for the functions
of the ego; with that it has discharged its task."
Freud engaged in self-analysis through his dreams. He used his nightly dreams as a
point of departure. He allowed his conscious associations free rein and, in the process,
examined in as dispassionate a way as possible the various ideas that came forth
Freud came to believe that all dreams contained some kind of a wish or fantasy.
The dream was the disguised fulfillment of a repressed wish: a psychic means of
carrying on some kind of a prior determination, concern, or desire (Gardner, 1993).
Each dream was a separate puzzle for Freud. And, he loved puzzles (Gardner).
Some of the dreams that Freud analyzed have become well known. Dreams such as:
the Irma dream, in which a patient receives an injection that makes her suffer and in
which Freud wishes that he not be blamed for her suffering; the Count Thun dream, in
which Freud confronts an arrogant political leader, thereby fulfilling the wish that he
(Freud) might amount to something; the dream of the botanical monograph, where
Freud secures the credit owed him for an earlier professional slight. (Gardner)
Analysis of dreams forced Freud to confront many unpleasant traits in himself (his vanity,
his occasional cruelty, his jealousy); his ambivalent feelings, particularly with respect to
his recently deceased father; and his sexual feelings, only a few of which he wrote about
directly in The Interpretation of Dreams (Gardner, 1993).
It might even be suggested that Freud was only willing to confront the pains of self-analysis
because he was deeply troubled; he himself craved the kind of “chimney sweep” or talking
cure that others had gotten in earlier times from Catholic confessions and that he was
offering to his own psychoanalytic patients. As Freud declared in a letter to Fliess: “The
most important patient for me was my own person.”
Freud understood dreams (like jokes, slips of the tongue, etc.) To be signs of concealed,
conflicting desires. He considered powerful desires to be always in conflict, and his
theories tried to account for how these conflicts give rise to unintentional expression.
Dreams and other unconscious acts conceal even as they reveal wishes that we would
rather not face more directly.
“The dream is the expression of a disguised wish.”
Freud had discovered in himself deep and deeply ambivalent feelings toward his parents -
one dating back to earliest childhood. On his analysis, he as a young boy felt strong
attraction, love, and lust for his mother, contrasting with jealousy, fear, and even hatred of
his father. This amalgam of feelings would be translated into unconscious wishes to marry
the mother and to kill the father (Gardner, 1993).
While first sensing these feelings in his own psyche, Freud soon concluded, that these
feelings were entrenched in the human sensibility. He proposed this complex as the
basis both of the Oedipus myth of Greek times and the story of Hamlet from the
medieval era. Unresolved Oedipal feelings lay at the root of much adult neurosis; Oedipal
themes - or, in women, an analogous “Electra” complex - were encountered in the
unconscious mental life of all individuals (Gardner, 1993).
Now, in his analysis of dreams, Freud was confirming that sexual themes underlay the
unconscious of all individuals, and that defense mechanisms were elaborated chiefly to
deal with the unsettling and difficult-to-confront sexual themes (Gardner, 1993).
Freud then began a traumatic shift in his own thinking. From the mid-1890s on he had
attributed disorders in his adult patients to episodes of sexual abuse or exploitation during
their early childhood years. Indeed, in his defiant address to the Vienna medical society of
1896, he made this claim explicit. However, in an apologetic letter to Fliess in 1897, Freud
admitted that he had been mistaken. In many cases, it appeared, there had been no early
sexual molestation by a parent or other elder; the seductions had been invented by the
credulous mind of the young child (Gardner, 1993).
Also evolving at this time was Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality. The dream analyses and
his self-analysis had convinced him that, from infancy, youngsters are subjected to strong
sexual strivings - searches for pleasure of a psychic, as well as a somatic, nature. Every
child passes through a series of libidinal stages in which the sexual energy is concentrated
on specific bodily zones: initially the mouth, then the anal area, then the urethral area, and
ultimately the genital area (Gardner, 1993).
This belief in infantile sexuality, caused Freud to be ostracized. How could innocent
children living in the prim-and-proper Victorian-Hapsburg era, possibly harbor strong
sexual feelings, even if these were only operating at an unconscious level?
In the final chapter of Dreams
, Freud explains “The Psychology of the Dream Processes.”
He describes different psychic systems: perceptual and motor centers; a function
devoted chiefly to memory (which must retain traces); and a function devoted to
perception (which must remain fresh and possess no memorial capacity). Freud
breaks new ground with his discussion of memory. Memories are unconscious
in themselves; however, dreams can provide the crucial clue about how the unconscious
works (Gardner, 1993).
For Freud, daily life was filled with examples of how wishes and ideas we would rather
not face find some form of expression. They escape our conscious control and emerge
in our jokes, habits, and seemingly “accidental” gestures.
are slips of the tongue, now, of course, commonly called “Freudian slips
[Source: The Psychopathology of ‘Everyday Life. 1901. Rare Book and Special
Collections Division, Library of Congress.]
Repression is Freud’s term for the mechanism that turns our unacceptable desires away
from us. Those unruly desires are repressed, made inaccessible to our thinking. The
unconscious and later the “id” are the terms Freud uses for this realm of inaccessibility.
Our repressed desires only appear to us disguised as dreams, symptoms and other
seemingly incoherent uncontrolled actions.
Desires are repressed (bringing distress) because satisfying them would bring even
greater distress. But the repressed desires remain active within us, seeking some
expression or gratification, even as they are denied. His manuscripts on narcissism
and masochism explore some of the ways in which these desires remain active.
[Sources: “Repression.” Holograph manuscript, 1915. Manuscript Division, Library of
Congress. “The Economic Problem of Masochism, 1924. “On Narcissism, An
Introduction, 1914. (Library of Congress)]
The Structure and Dynamics of Personality
In 1915, Freud wrote a series of papers on meta-psychology
(id, ego, etc) - the
fundamental principles that guide the mechanisms of mind. Freud thought it crucial
to posit the existence of an unconscious that interacts with conscious life.
- fully conscious - contains the drives and those things repressed by conscious. It
seeks pleasure. Consists of all of our primitive, innate urges (bodily needs, sexual desire,
aggressive impulses, etc.) The id is psychic energy. It wants immediate, total gratification
and is not capable of considering the potential costs of seeking this goal.
- mostly conscious or partly conscious - deals with external reality. It seeks balance
and reality. It seeks to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. The ego mediates the id
and superego. It holds the id in check until conditions appropriate for satisfaction of its
impulses are met.
- partly conscious but largely unconscious or subconscious - internal moral
judge. It is concerned with morality; it can tell right from wrong according to the
principles of a specific society. The superego seeks to control satisfaction of id impulses.
The id , ego, and superego corresponds to desire, reason, and conscience.
If the ego fails to become strong enough, it will be unable to acquire enough energy from
the id, and the result may be maladjusted behavior.
If the id retains control of a great deal of energy, the person may be impulsive
and without thinking) be self-indulgent or violent and destructive.
Superego energy in excessive amounts can lead to moral knots and high standards not
easily met. This may contribute to depression and feelings of failure.
Personality consists of psychic energy and instincts ( a psychological representation
of a physiological need).
Instincts are quantities of psychic energy, and all the instincts together make up the total
amount of energy available to the personality.
Classes of instincts: Life instinct
- hunger, thirst, sex. Energy of life instincts are called
Libido- Death instinct - destructive instincts; or Thanatos - death wish to return to the
stress free days prior to birth.
How Personality Develops
Infancy and early childhood is crucial in forming the person’s character. At the end of
year 5, growth and change in personality consists largely of elaborating the basic
structure formed in the 1st years of the child’s existence.
Personality development is essentially the learning of new ways to reduce tension.
As a child grows, it experiences increasing tensions from 4 major sources:
1) physiological growth processes, 2) frustrations 3) conflicts, and 4) threats.
Through identification we choose models (e.g. parents, teachers, athletes, etc.). With
the imitation of models we save a great deal of time and energy by adopting behaviors,
attitudes and styles that demonstrably work for other people.
If we could not redistribute our energy we would be destroyed by our frustrations.
On Sexuality and Aggression
According to Freud, sexual desires conflict with one another, with social conventions,
and most critically, with reality. He saw them as fundamental yet never fully satisfied.
We desire what we do not have or what we feel we have lost, and these unsatisfied desires
find expression in surprising, sometimes disturbing ways.
After World War I, Freud paid increasing attention to the phenomenon of aggression.
Freud speculated that a death drive was as important as the sexual drive in our psychic
constitutions. He saw the basic conflict between Eros (love) and Thanatos (death) - a
conflict never to be resolved and with fateful consequences in daily life and in world events.
Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Vienna, 1905. Rare Book & Special
Collections Division, Library of Congress. This book contains his thinking on infantile
sexuality, on the fundamental bisexuality of humans, on the continuum between normal
and unusual sexual practices, and on the Oedipus complex.
Freud believed that children bring germs of sexual activity with them into the world, that
they already enjoy sexual satisfaction when they begin to take nourishment and that they
persistently seek to repeat the experience in the familiar thumb sucking action.
In his book, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,”
Freud speculated that there existed death
drives in conflict with sex drives. He believed this explained much about the fundamental
forces shaping individuals and societies, while pointing to explanations for their
self-destructive and outwardly aggressive behavior.
[Source: Female sexuality. Holograph manuscript, 1931. Manuscript Division,
Library of Congress.]
Freud and Carl Jung
“Letter from Freud to Carl Jung.” Holograph Letter, January 3, 1913. Manuscript
Division, Library of Congress.
“Your allegation that I treat my followers as patients is demonstrably untrue...
It is a convention among us analysts that none of us need feel ashamed of
his own neurosis. But one [meaning Jung] who while behaving abnormally
deeps shouting that he is normal gives ground for the suspicion that he
lacks insight into his illness. Accordingly, I propose that we abandon our
personal relations entirely.”
At first Freud saw in Jung a successor who might lead the psychoanalytic movement
into the future, but by 1913 relations between the 2 men had soured. While Freud claims
in his letter that it is “demonstrably untrue” that he treats his followers like patients - in
the very same letter he alludes to Jung’s illness.
Prior to this Freud had designated Carl Jung as his successor to lead the International
Psychoanalytic Association which he founded.
Freud introduced psychoanalysis to America in September 1909 with a series of lectures
at Clark University in Worcester, MA.
Freud saw that society creates mechanisms to ensure social control of human instincts.
at the root of these controlling mechanisms, he thought, is the prohibition against incest.
Freud understood culture, as he did dreams and symptoms, as an expression of desires
in conflict with one another and with society. He thought religion, art, and science could
be richly rewarding. But he emphasized that culture is a product of impulses denied a more
directly sexual or aggressive satisfaction.
If these cultural practices fail to alleviate the conflicts at the heart of the human psyche, what
then, Freud asked, are the consequences for the individual? If forms of social life fail to
meet basic psychological needs, what then are the consequences for society of these
unfulfilled desires? These remained for Freud the vital questions about the relation between
our civilization and ourselves.
For Freud, the past is not something that can be completely outgrown by either the
individual or society but rather is something that remains a vital and often disruptive part
The emphasis of the past being alive in the present is a central theme in psychoanalytic
approaches to the individual and society.
Evolution and Inheritance
He combined his own theories of psychological conflict with Darwinian views on how the
earliest humans lived in organized groups. He borrowed freely from contemporary
anthropology. He had the notion that we physically inherit aspects of our ancestors’
Freud also did work on the group. [“Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.”
Vienna:1921. Rare Book & Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.]
He asked some of the following questions: Why do people follow leaders? Why do
individuals deny some of their desires in order to live together?
Developed the concept “Primal Horde”
which refers to the earliest group of humans
characterized by violence and male sexual competition. “Just as primitive man survives
potentially in every individual, so the primal horde may arise once more out of any
In Totem and Taboo
(1912-1913), written around the time of the first defections, he spoke
about the special powers that surround the taboo figure, the primal horde’s growing
compulsion to kill the father, and the ensuing struggle among the surviving brothers for
leadership and power. To the outside world, it may have been a parable, but within the
Freudian circle, it was virtually autobiographical.
in Freud’s view was a response to fear and longing. Love for and fear of the father
found symbolic expression in the major religious traditions.
Freud thought that illusions, like delusions, were derived from deeply felt wishes.
“Religious ideas are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent
wishes of mankind. The secret of their strength lies in the strength of those wishes.
For Freud, the child’s terrifying impression of “helplessness” gave rise to the desire for
an all-powerful, protective, and just father. Freud thought religious ideas are built out
of this desire and were fundamentally disconnected from reality.
[Source: “Future of Illusion,” 1927. Holograph Manuscript. Manuscript
Division, Library of Congress.]
Social and cultural issues came to play an increasingly important role in such critical
texts as Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) and The Future of an Illusion (1927).
Source: “Civilization & Its Discontents.” 1930
. Freud asked: How can people be
happy in society, if they have to give up fundamental satisfactions? How can society
avoid self-destruction if it only exists by denying basic desires.
In his final work, Moses and Monotheism (1939),
Freud identified quite directly with the
leader who had founded a new religion, only to be rejected by those to whom he had
revealed the “true path.” This essay represented a remarkable (if perhaps not entirely
conscious) turnabout, since Freud had made opposition to organized religion a
cornerstone of his personal and scientific philosophies.
On War and Death
The war years brought death to the center of Freud’s thinking and his personal life.
In his bleak outlook, Freud understood war to be a resurgence of the violent past that
humankind was incapable of leaving behind.
[Source: Thoughts for the Times on War and Death, 1915. Manuscript Division,
Library of Congress.]
Aggression and Self-Destruction
Civilization must curtail the death instinct, but, if people are denied
the satisfactions of aggression, they turn against themselves.
“The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to
what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance
in their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction...
Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with
their help they would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the
In his launching and sustaining of the psychoanalytic movement during the early 1900s,
Freud revealed facets of his personality that had long been dormant: his fascination with
the military and his desire to lead an engaged and embattled unit (Gardner, 1993).
Freud as an individual talent outlined
a revolutionary set of ideas; these ideas were
significantly at variance with prevailing views and teachings in the domain of psychology,
psychiatry, and allied fields (Gardner, 1993).
Freud represented a set of ideas as well as a set of practices. All serious scholars are
expected to develop original ideas; that is the basis of their profession. But only rarely
are these integrally related to practice, and even more rarely do they lead to an entirely
new mode of treatment (Gardner, 1993).
Freud could speak to a large potential community because he had developed techniques -
free association, dream analysis, and therapeutic interventions - that could actually be
used to help people. Freud addressed the treatment of diseased, unhappy people who
craved a cure (Gardner, 1993).
Freud was very productive throughout his life. Included among his writings are The
Interpretation of Dreams; The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), in which he
analyzed the underappreciated nature of various kinds of verbal and practical “slips”;
and his Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), a study of the various
functions assumed by jokes and other vehicles of humor. He published his revolutionary
Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex (1905), in which he elaborated on his ideas
about sexual aberrations, infantile sexuality, and the transformations associated with
He also developed a steady stream of case studies, with patients including artists,
physicians,schoolboys, aristocrats, and paranoid personalities; papers on therapeutic
technique, and eventually, more reflective papers on psychoanalysis ensured that there
was much to talk about at the Wednesday Psychological Society and that
psychoanalysis did not remain a frozen set of texts (Gardner, 1993).
Only a few individuals managed to remain close to the psychoanalytic movement and to
its charismatic but demanding founder for the entire period of their involvement. Some
involvements with Freud proved fatal, particularly those who had broken with him.
Freud’s young protege, Viktor Tausk, despondent over his recent rupture with the
unforgiving Freud, committed suicide; of the earlier followers, at least six others
ultimately did the same. According to Gardner (1993), “these facts represent our
first evidence of the casualties that tend to befall those within the orbit of highly
Freud’s thinking emerged in the wake of Marx and Darwin, and it developed in a
century in which violent conflicts reached unheard of dimensions. The conflicts that Freud
stressed were within the psyche: people at war with themselves and sometimes with the
cultural authorities they had internalized. But he thought that the way we managed
(or failed to manage) those conflicts had everything to do with explosions of violence that
marked the modern world (Gardner, 1993).
Although much has changed since Freud first formulated his theories, today’s concern
with the disruptive power of sexuality and aggression has only intensified.
Freud did not propose solution to how one might escape this violence. Instead, his
writings on the connection of culture and conflict identified fundamental problems for
the twentieth century - problems that show no sign of disappearing as we move into
[Source: “My Subconscious Jewishness - The Current Jewish Record.” November 1931,
Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.]
Refinding Moses. “Moses and Monotheism - A Historical Novel and Preface,
June 1938. Manuscript Division, 1939, Library of Congress. In the last years of his life,
Freud once again returned to the story of Moses and reflected on themes common in his
early and late work: the impact of trauma on memory and the identification of people with
a leader whom they both love and hate.
Freud seized on the notion that Moses was an Egyptian and based a story of the evolution
of western religion and the role of Judaism in European culture on it.
Freud remained active until almost the end of his life, seeing patients and writing works
even after his forced migration to London at age 82. His stoicism in the face of a debilitating
cancer, the loss of his homeland, and the knowledge of his imminent death has been
widely admired (Gardner, 1993).
Freud’s last speech was given on December 7, 1938 to the British Broadcasting
Corporation in his home in London. He died on September 23, 1939.
“I started my professional activity as a neurologist trying to bring relief to my
neurotic patients, Under the influence of an older friend and by my own
efforts, I discovered some important new facts about the unconscious in
psychic life, the role of instinctual urges and so on. Out of these findings
grew a new science, psychoanalysis, a part of psychology and a new method
of treatment of the neuroses. I had to pay heavily for this bit of good luck.
People did not believe in my facts and thought my theories unsavory.
Resistance was strong and unrelenting. In the end, I succeeded in acquiring
pupils and building up an International Psycho-analytic Association. But the
struggle is not yet over...” Sigmund Freud
Today, throughout the industrialized world, in countries from Argentina to Japan, as well as
in developing countries like India, one finds trained individuals called psychoanalysts, who
can trace their pedigree to the initial Freudian circle; associations, journals, and training
institutes that call themselves psychoanalytic, Freudian (or according to Gardner, less
frequently, Jungian, Adlerian, or Lacanian); and individuals in other disciplines (history to
philosophy) and careers (artists, painters, critics) who consider themselves members of
the psychoanalytic community. Freud did not anticipate all of them and might not have
approved of some of them, but their existence is unthinkable without his work and his
example (Gardner, 1993).
Despite his shortcomings, Freud was a genius who had a profound influence on modern
society. Not only did he provide us with a method to analyze the human mind and a way
to heal emotional suffering, he advanced an understanding of child development that
fosters healthier child rearing. Freud sensitized society to a greater acceptance of human
sexuality and aggression, as well as an acknowledgment of the influence of unconscious
determinants on personality formation and relationships. Literature and art, as well as
the behavioral and social sciences, have been profoundly enriched by the contributions
Although Freud’s research was not based on controlled laboratory experimentation,
much of it was concerned with empirical data. The basic setting for his inquiry was
clinical. He made careful observations of this patients in the therapeutic setting and
gathered considerable information form the techniques of free association and dream
Freud drew conclusions from careful self-observation and the observation of his patients
in a clinical setting and projected those conclusions into philosophical assumptions.
Freud changed, perhaps irrevocably, humanity’s image of itself. Since Aristotle, the
essence of humanity had been located in our ability to think. This image found ultimate
expression in Descartes’ phrase “I think, therefore I am.”
In this post-Freudian world, the self-image changed. Man is no longer viewed as
primarily rational animals, but as pleasure-seeking, sexual creatures driven by our
emotions. Freud rephrased Descartes statement to: “I love, therefore I am.”
For many, psychoanalysis is viewed as not good because it forces us to consider
aspects of ourselves that we would prefer to ignore. But it is virtually impossible to
deny the influence of Freud.
Freud’s impact and accomplishments have been favorably compared with the impact
of Copernicus, Darwin, and Einstein. Not only did he revolutionize psychology, but
his influence has been felt in the social sciences, literature, art, philosophy, and religion.
Freud’s name is a household word. Errors of the pen or tongue are called Freudian
slips, and many people cannot make one without wondering what the unconscious
Freud grappled with ideas that will continue to be of primary concern to society and
the world. Because of that his theories interest allure and excite people everywhere.
Freud’s aim was to develop a comprehensive theory of humanity.
With the creation of psychoanalysis Freud developed a movement characterized by its
own rules, rituals, and doctrine of membership. Some suggest that the development
of this area will one day be seen as Freud’s major contribution.
As an art, Freudian psychoanalysis is a superb example of the scholarly approach to
Yet, in modern science only the theory of Charles Darwin has been brutally attacked
as Freud’s theory.
To sum up his view of personality: psychic energy, levels of consciousness, sexuality.
The concept of personality is beset by anxieties, governed by forces of which we are
largely unaware, living in a world marked by external and internal conflicts, resolving
problems by solutions informed by fantasy or reality.
Engler, Barbara (1999). Personality Theories: An Introduction. Boston: Houghton- Mifflin.
Gardner, Howard (1993). Creating Minds: An anatomy of creativity seen throughthe lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky,
Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi. New York: Basic Books.
Sigmund Freud: Conflict and Culture (1999). Organized by the Library of Congress in cooperation with
the Sigmund Freud-Museum, Vienna, and the Freud Museum, London. Personal Visits and Study.
All Rights Reserverd. Rosalyn M. King, Ed.D., 6-99;3-03
Contains the largest psychoanalytic library in the world. Includes over 40,000 books,
periodicals, and reprints in psychoanalysis and related fields from its beginning to the
A digital version of Abstracts of The standard edition of the complete psychological
works of Sigmund Freud.
A few links on the life and writings of Freud.
The Freud archive at the Library of Congress.
About Freud's short life in exile in London, England, including his illness and death.
An e-book by Dr. Paul Vitz. In major writings, Sigmund Freud attempted to show that
man’s need for religion was a response to childhood neurosis. In SIGMUND FREUD’S
CHRISTIAN UNCONSCIOUS, Paul C. Vitz turns the introspective eyes of psychoanalysis
back onto its founder in order to explore the psychological motives for Freud’s rejection of
About the life and work of Sigmund Freud during his last years of professional life in London.
Takes you on a tour of the Museum and much more with many links.
About the life and work of Signmund Freud in his former home in Vienna, Austria, where he also conducted his private practice. You can also see the bedroom of Anna Freud. Freud lived in a wonderful, clean neighborhood in Vienna, with a lovely courtyard in the back of the home. If you get a chance to visit, plan to spend about an hour.
An online version of Freud's volume on dream and dream analysis.
Another online version in the Classics of Psychology.
History of the International Psychoanalytic Association (Founder-Sigmund Freud)
Toward the end of his life, Freud was asked by the BBC to provide a brief statement about his decades-long career in psychoanalysis... here, in English, he offers a succinct overview... The "Freud Conflict and Culture" web site said this:
"On December 7, 1938, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) came to Freud's Maresfield Gardens home in London to record a short message. By this time his cancer of the jaw was inoperable and incurable, making speech difficult and extremely painful. A photograph of Freud was taken as he prepared to read the statement you are listening to now. After his long struggle with cancer grew intolerable, Freud asked his physician for a fatal injection of morphine. He died on September 23, 1939."