FREUD, SIGMUND (1856-1939)


Freud was bom in Freiburg but lived in Vienna from age four to the last year of his life, when he went to London to escape the Nazi terror. After receiving his medical degree at the University of Vienna in 1881, he became resident physician at the Vienna General Hospital, where he studied with the physiologist Ernst Briicke and the brain anatomist Theodore Meynert. In 1886 he went into practice as a neurologist, marrying Martha Bernays the same year. The youngest of their six children, Anna, became an outstanding analyst.Freud made a number of noteworthy contributions to neurology during the years when his interest in that field was at its height. He discovered the analgesic properties of cocaine, showed that the spinal ganglia cells are identical in lower and higher animals, differentiated various tracts of the nervous system, found that the sensory nuclei of the spinal cord and cranial nerves were homologous, and investigated the roots of the acoustic nerve. For a few years he was associated with a children’s clinic, and on the basis of his observations published a major volume on cerebral paralysis and another on aphasia in children. In 1902 he was appointed professor of neuropathology at the University of Vienna, a nonteaching position that he held until 1938.During the years at the Vienna General Hospital, in 1885-86, Freud spent four months in Paris, where he attended Charcot’s demonstrations of hypnosis and studied various aspects of hysteria. His biographer, this period as a turning point in his life, since it aroused his interest in studying mental illness from a psychological rather than a physiological standpoint. He also carried away Charcot’s rather offhand suggestion that sexual factors were always involved in hysteria.Even before his visit to Paris, Freud had been using hypnosis (as well as massage, baths, rest and electrical stimulation) with hysterical patients, and he continued to apply hypnosis on his return. However, he became dissatisfied with this technique, since many patients could not be easily hypnotized; and even when symptoms were successfully removed they were often replaced by others. Moreover, he found that many patients became dependent on posthypnotic suggestion and could only function under this influence. A visit with Bernheim during which both specialists failed to bring about a deep somnambulistic state in one of Freud’s patients further convinced him of the shortcomings of hypnosis.Freud continued to use this method for a time, but gradually turned it in new directions. He was particularly impressed by the case of “Anna O.,” brought to his attention by Josef Breuer, in which a young woman experienced a catharsis while reliving painful experiences under hypnosis. As a result of this case and his own observations, he began to use this technique for two basic purposes: first, to trace the history of the patient to a traumatic event which was presumed to have caused the illness, and second, to induce him to re-experience this event in order to dissipate the energy that was producing the symptoms.In applying hypnosis, Freud became aware that the most important aspect of the treatment situation was the relationship between analyst and patient. This realization, plus his dissatisfaction with the technique, gradually led him to develop the method of free association between 1892 and 1895. Through this procedure he not only successfully helped the patient to resurrect forgotten material, but discovered that at the core of this material were unacceptable wishes—an insight that led him to the concept of repression and later to the theory of defense mechanisms. In 1895 Freud, in collaboration with Breuer, published the epoch-making Studies in Hysteria, in which these findings were presented. From that time on, the concepts of the unconscious and repression, and the method of free association, became the cornerstones of a new discipline which he called psychoanalysis.The new approach contained one more crucial element: Freud had become convinced that the unconscious conflicts which produced psychoneurosis were always of a sexual nature. This view alienated not only Breuer but most of the scientific community. As a result, his theories were poorly received and he was labeled a crank and a pervert.Freud continued his work, and in 1900 published The Interpretation of Dreams, which showed that dreams are not random events but disguised expressions of wishes emanating from unconscious sources. This work, usually considered his greatest, contains many of his other contributions as well, including the concept of psychic determinism, the distinction between the primary and secondary systems of the mind, and the description of unconscious content in terms of infantile hostile and sexual feelings directed toward the parents. Students of Freud’s life have pointed out that he was motivated to undertake an investigation of dreams by the realization that his own dreams indicated that a part of his psyche was “happy” over the death of his father. Through the study of these personal dreams he performed the outstanding feat of conducting his own self-analysis, while at the same time developing principles and procedures which he applied to his patients.The Interpretation of Dreams received scant attention. For several years afterwards Freud wrote little but devoted himself to the development of his psychoanalytic discipline. In 1902 he invited several pupils and colleagues, including Wilhelm Stekel and Alfred Adler, to discuss his new theories. Together they formed the “Wednesday Psychological Group,” which later evolved into the Vienna Psycho-Analytical Society. In 1904 he published The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, which documents the concept of psychic determinism by showing that accidents, slips of the pen and tongue, forgetting, and losing things are all brought about by unconscious factors. This book was probably the most widely accepted of all his works. It was followed, however, by another work, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) that aroused a storm of protest. In it he developed his theory of infantile sexuality, and argued that adult perversions are distortions of infantile sexual expressions. As Ernest Jones points out, these views made Freud the most unpopular member of the scientific community in Germany and aroused criticism of the most abusive kind.Two other books also appeared in 1905: Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious, showing how jokes can be used to express unconscious sexual and aggressive impulses; and The Dora Analysis, which illustrated the use of dream interpretation in psychoanalytic treatment. At about the same time a small group of disciples began forming around Freud, including not only Viennese psychiatrists but Ernest Jones of England, and Carl Jung and Eugene Bleuler of Switzerland. By 1908 Freud’s following had grown to a point where 42 men were attracted to the First International Psycho-Analytic Congress, held in Salzburg; and in 1910 the first Psycho- Analytic Association was established.Between these two events, Freud accepted an invitation from G. Stanley Hall to visit Clark University. This was the first official recognition of the psychoanalytic movement.Between 1911 and 1914, three important colleagues, Adler, Stekel, and Jung, left the Freudian camp over personal and theoretical differences. Jones, however, remained loyal and formed a small group called the “Committee” which helped Freud with the practical problems of publishing journals and training disciples. Motivated by the defections of many of his disciples, Freud published The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement (1914), in defense of his doctrines. To disseminate his views more widely, he founded an international firm which between 1919 and 1938 published a total of 150 books and five journals on the subject of psychoanalysis. Instead of limiting the theory to psychiatric problems, these publications widened its scope by applying it to analysis of the creative process in works on Leonardo da Vinci and Wilhelm Jensen, and to cultural anthropology in Totem and Taboo (1913). In the latter work Freud attempted to show that the same psychosexual concepts can be applied to the childhood of the race as to the childhood of the individual—concepts of ambivalence, Oedipus complex, incestuous wishes, for example. But he went even further by tracing morality, religion, and culture to the act of parricide and reactions to it in primitive man. Though many scientists and laymen were intrigued with his interpretations of the symbols of primitive cultures, his general approach met with disfavor outside the analytic school.Freud’s only book on current problems, Thoughts for the Times on War and Death (1915) was a commentary on World War I. In it he suggested that the war was a reflection of the level which man had reached in his effort to live peacefully with his fellows.He also claimed that we feel discouraged only because we have an illusion that we have progressed farther than we have in actuality. In his correspondence with Albert Einstein, which began in 1933 at the suggestion of the League of Nations, he emphasized the obstacles involved in attempting to abolish war.During the war period, Freud began to reformulate his position. Partly as a result of world events, he introduced the concept of the death instinct in his Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920). Up to this time he had maintained that man is governed by the pleasure principle primarily, but in this work he put forth the notion of the repetition-com- pulsion, the tendency to repeat instinctual gratifications and therefore to restore a previous state of affairs. This view was carried to the extreme in his contention that the ultimate objective of existence is to reduce the living to the pre-vital, inorganic, tensionless state of nature. In this view, he apparently accepted Schopenhauer’s statement that “death is the goal of life.” Human existence was now interpreted as a battlefield on which two opposing forces, Eros, the life instinct, and Thanatos, the death instinct, engage in mortal combat. He also attributed man’s inhumanity to man to the expression of the instinct for hostility and aggression which he viewed as an integral part of the death instinct.This new philosophic formulation was rejected by most of Freud’s disciples. It was followed by other revisions of his original thought. In Group Psychology and The Analysis of the Ego (1920), and The Ego and the Id (1923), he presented the foundations for ego psychology and also changed the structural picture of the mind from his earlier division into unconscious, pre-con- scious and conscious to the id, ego, and superego. One reason for the change was his realization that some ego processes, especially those surrounding the “ego ideal,” were themselves unconscious. As a result, he expanded the ego ideal into an agency, the superego, representing the demands of the parents which the individual unconsciously accepts (or “introjects”) and out of which he creates his conscience.Other later works of Freud include: Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety,(1923) , dealing with the origins of fear and anxiety; his Autobiography (1926), in which he strongly defended lay analysis in the hope that psychoanalysis would not remain an adjunct of medicine; and The Future of an Illusion (1927), in which he attributed religious beliefs such as immortality and God to such psychological forces as fears and wishes. The work was highly unpopular because it denied the actual existence of God. Equally unpopular was Civilization and Its Discontents (1929), which dealt with the basic weaknesses of society and the nature of the bonds which drive men together. His last book, Moses and Monotheism (1938), written during the Nazi persecution, brought him disfavor in Jewish circles since it revived the legend that Moses was an Egyptian who borrowed the idea of monotheism from the Pharaoh Ikhna- ton. He held that the Jews resisted this doctrine, and that Moses was killed in an uprising. Reverting to his earlier anthropological views, Freud explained this uprising on the basis of inborn parricidal wishes which he believed to constitute a part of man’s inheritance.Freud was stricken with cancer of the jaw in 1923 and suffered through thirty-three operations. In 1938 he fled to London to escape the Nazis, and died there the following year. Despite sixteen years of agonizing pain he worked until one month before his death.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "FREUD, SIGMUND (1856-1939)," in, November 28, 2018, (accessed August 8, 2022).


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