So one day, out of frustration, Dr. Breuer asked his patient to talk about her life leaving out all of the physical ailments. The lady was verbose and freely discussed her current life and segued into her past life telling him of unfortunate events in her childhood and, over time, simply by talking, her symptoms disappeared. Breuer was intrigued but unnerved. It was contrary to his training and experiences that she could get better simply by talking about the bad things that happened to her in her youth. No way was he going to write this up for the medical journals; his peers would think he’d lost control of his faculties.
But he did confide his discovery to the young Dr. Freud, who was becoming disenchanted with traditional medicine. Breuer referred this patient to Freud, as well as other patients he had with apparent histrionic symptoms. Freud was grateful; he needed the business, and that’s how “The Talking Cure” came to be.
While interviewing his patients Freud heard patterns emerge, many concerning sexual trauma in their early years. He deduced that trauma from years ago was having adverse, sometimes devastating effects on the patients’ adult lives, manifesting itself in neuroses and innumerable physical complaints. Freud, a scientist, was as baffled by this as Breuer, but there was so much evidence to support his findings he could not ignore them.
He discovered there was a vast storehouse of feelings and memories which his patients had blocked from their consciousness and he called this storehouse the “Unconscious.” This word had been used before but its meaning was nebulous (like subconscious is today.) Freud gave it structure and stature. Interestingly, it was his patient, Anna O, who suggested Freud change the name of his treatment, delving into unconscious milieu, from “The talking cure” to “Psychoanalysis.” She thought “The talking cure” sounded unprofessional. Freud agreed.
Freud became especially interested in his patients’ dreams, intuiting that they contained hidden messages that could be put to therapeutic use. He’s the one who first called dreams, “The Royal Road to the Unconscious” and he put together a theory on what dreams really mean. In 1900 he published his best known work, The Interpretation of Dreams, and the world hasn’t been the same since.
Early in his career as a psychoanalyst Freud gave a presentation of his findings to the prestigious Viennese Medical Society. Freud told these titans of medicine, in the most medically sophisticated city in the world, that he had discovered that not only could children’s adverse sexual experiences cause problems later in their lives, but that children, from the earliest of ages, have sexual desires of their own. If Freud had told the good doctors that he had recently contracted a case of crabs and was now spreading them around the room, he could not have become instantly less popular. “Children have sexual desires?! He’s a pervert! He’s out of his mind!” they said. From that day forward Freud was shunned by his medical colleagues in Vienna.
So with no help from his medical peers Freud discovered the stages of psycho-sexual (emotional) development in children, the repetition compulsion, and the phenomenon of transference. He developed the theory of the id, ego, and superego and how they interact, and revealed the intricacies of the Oedipal conflict. Along the way he eventually picked up followers: Ernst Jones from England, Karl Abraham from Germany, Sandor Ferenczi from Italy and scores of others who knew he was onto something new and profound. Among these followers was Dr. Carl Jung of Switzerland.
Jung was enchanted by Freud for many years and the two became great friends but eventually they grew apart. Jung came to believe there was much more to the unconscious mind than repressed sexual and aggressive impulses and expressed his beliefs to Freud. Freud thought this was too shallow and intellectual. It pissed him off and he told Jung so. The final split between Jung and Freud came over one of Jung’s dreams. It’s called “The cellar dream.” Freud said it had to do with Jung’s father. Jung said it had to do with repressed creativity. They disagreed so vehemently that a rift occurred that lasted for the rest of their lives. Any analyst listening to the dream today would say they could both be right because dreams, we’ve learned, are multi-dimensional, but neither man was good at compromise. It would be hard to find two bigger egotists than Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.
You’d be surprised how many people hate Sigmund Freud. There are those, even with college educations, who consider Freud to be evil or, at best, a charlatan. The fact that you cannot see a movie, watch a play or read a book without experiencing his influence doesn’t seem to register with them. And the fact that millions of people have been made whole by psychoanalysis goes right over their heads. I suppose they think it’s a coincidence. Before Freud and the “Talking Cure,” people with mental problems were left to flounder or were simply locked up for life.
Surprisingly, many of today’s university professors of psychology, theology and philosophy also think Freud was the devil. Some actually blame him for today’s sexual permissiveness, as though the man invented human nature, rather than merely explaining a part of it. Even more surprising than the academics discrediting Freud are the practicing psychologists, social workers, and other psychotherapists who go out of their way to denigrate him.
If there was ever proof needed that we all harbor anger at our parents, here is an example. Freud is the father of their career discipline; that is, letting people talk so they can get better — the healing treatment called psychoanalysis, which spawned all legitimate psychotherapies. Yet they denigrate him. Go figure. Before this book ends we’ll discuss the type of folks who become shrinks. That will shed some light.
Freud worked in Vienna all his adult life. He loved the city and wished to retire and die there, but along came the Nazis who would have granted only one of those wishes. In 1938 when he was 82 years old he was forced to flee to England to save his life. Many of his relatives, including siblings, died in the death camps.
Freud was the father of six children. When they were little and he was uncovering the mysteries of the unconscious mind, his wife, Martha, told him, “Don’t you be experimenting with your new theories on the kids.” He respected her wishes until his youngest daughter, Anna, came along. She worshipped her father and followed in his footsteps and became quite the psychoanalyst in her own right. Freud, himself, psychoanalyzed his daughter to prepare her for her career. (Generally considered to be a terrible idea.) At any rate Anna became a gifted child therapist but, of course, had no life of her own. She never married or had children. How could she? She was married to her father. In 1939, Anna killed her father by overdosing him with morphine when the pain from his jaw cancer became unbearable. She did so at his request.
One of my favorite stories about Freud was his counsel to those psychoanalytic students and colleagues whom he had trained. When it became clear that they had better get out of Austria (they were almost all Jews), he encouraged the brighter ones to go to either England or South America. Those he secretly considered to be not quite up to par he encouraged to go to the United States. He figured they couldn’t do any damage here because the people of the United States “wouldn’t get it anyway.” Freud didn’t like the United States. He considered us too materialistic and cultureless.
And sure enough the psychoanalysts who arrived in New York City from Europe began training American analysts who soon began making up many petty, dumb rules on how to practice the discipline. It began to lose its soul. Freud became most upset, for instance, when the United States psychoanalysts decided that only medical doctors could become certified psychoanalysts. In 1926 he felt compelled to write a paper entitled “The Question of Lay Analysis” to set them straight. In it he stressed that psychoanalysis should not be restricted to the medical profession. They ignored him and his paper.
The Interpretation of Dreams and numerous others works by Freud changed forever how people looked at each other and how they looked at themselves. The centuries’ old concepts of “The bad seed,” when a person was deemed incorrigible or corrupt, and a deity making people happy or sad, could now go the way of other erroneous concepts. With his discovery of psychic determinism, Freud clearly demonstrated how a person’s current emotional responses are influenced by previous emotional experiences and how human being’s emotional make-up is the result of an ongoing process — beginning in earliest childhood.
Jung, too, was correct when he showed that dammed up creative juices can indeed cause frustration and anxiety. And there have been numerous others who’ve stood on Freud’s shoulders and learned more about the intricacies of the unconscious mind.
Freud is hated by a variety of people for a variety of reasons. With his discovery of the power of the unconscious in our lives he seemed to relegate the concept of free will to the back burner where it plays a barely active role in how we make decisions. Therefore many decisions that we believe are acts of free will are, simply, not. Freudian purists will tell you that all big decisions — like whom we decide to marry and what careers we pursue — as well as the little decisions like ordering either chocolate or vanilla ice cream are actually no decisions at all. They believe we are pre-programmed to make all decisions by our unconscious. I do not agree with them. I believe we can indeed exercise free will regarding the ice cream. But when it comes to whom we choose to marry, well, that’s probably the most unconscious decision we’ll ever make. There are too many factors buried deep in our minds that have been at play for too many years to allow us to meet a person, get to “know” him or her, and rationally (consciously) decide, “That’s the one for me.”
Ice cream, however, is easy. We can change favorites from vanilla to chocolate to rocky road as we go through life. But the type of person we are romantically attracted to will not change. The person of the opposite sex who rings our bell will have certain psychic dynamics that mesh with our own dynamics, or else the attraction will not be there. This does not have to do with physical looks. Appearances can be vastly different in people who attract us. It must be a personality type putting out certain emotional vibrations that our unconscious picks up before we stand at the altar to say, “I do.”
Remember the Oedipal conflict: kid wants to “marry” the parent of the opposite sex, which takes place around age 5 and again at puberty. The kid’s desires are denied, but they don’t go away. When people enter their 20s and the need arises to find someone, settle down, and start a family, who will they be attracted to? They’ll be attracted to that first lost love or, more accurately, someone who reminds them of her/him. (Remember transference.) No experience goes away, but it can be forgotten as it sinks into the unconscious. People are going to marry their mother/father or some other early parental figure known as a “love object.”
In the jargon of the profession, marriage is called, “The Final Resolution of The Oedipal Conflict.” Of course we do not consciously think of our spouse as a parental replacement but unconsciously he or she is, thus satisfying the repressed unconscious desires of years ago. That’s one big conflict from the past which is now resolved and we can live happily ever after in marital harmony. Right? Right!
But ... only if! Only if the relationship with the parent of the opposite sex was a harmonious one. If it wasn’t and, or, the spouse’s wasn’t, then we’re in for a different kind of rocky road. We will unconsciously transfer feelings of anger on to our spouse that should have been vented at that flawed love object from our past — who our spouse represents. But how can a little kid yell at his parent? There always seems to be a catch.
Because this is not a book on marriage counseling, we’re going to continue to another topic. But trust me when I tell you that Oedipal problems are not only the major cause of divorce (it isn’t money), they also cause more neuroses than any other factor. Freud figured this out early in his studies and announced it to the world. Many people resent him for that.
Another good reason to resent Freud is because he laid so much responsibility on parents for how their kids turned out emotionally. Before he discovered that the family environment in which a child is raised can be a prime cause of depression, anxiety, and phobias, parents could simply shrugged their shoulders when their adult children were screwed up. “We did the best we could,” they’d say or, “Don’t know what happened to Tommy. We raised him up the same as all the others and they’re fine.” Freud showed that this attitude is no longer viable. The evidence is solid that parents are greatly responsible for their offspring’s emotional lives. Go to any prison and get a family history from a sampling of the prisoners. They did not grow up in a kind or gentle environment, being loved without strings and being hugged and kissed regularly.
And parents do not treat all their children “the same.” They may all have received the same allowance; they may have had the same good quality food, shelter, and clothing and they may have attended the same schools. But are parents as concerned (panicked) when the third child wakes up in the middle of the night with a fever as they were with the first? Did they take as many baby pictures of number two as of number one? Did their hearts stop when number one cut his lip on the edge of the coffee table? Did it stop when number four did it? And did they treat their sons exactly as they treated their daughters? Did they feel the same way about them? Of course not.
Occasionally in my practice I saw siblings. Once it was two brothers and their sister. After hearing each of them describe their parents, there was no way I would have known they were talking about the same people, had I not known ahead of time. Other times I saw siblings it was the same thing. Brothers and sisters telling me all about their parents, yet their descriptions of their folks’ personalities, and how their parents treated them, were vastly different. It was amazing.
The only thing most had in common was that their parents had them, but did not take any interest in them other than, “How was school today?” And if that question was answered beyond “fine” they felt their parents weren’t listening. Nowadays, thanks to Freud, people can no longer simply “have” children. Now they must pay attention to their developing psyches, as well as provide food, clothing and shelter. The old expression, “Children should be seen and not heard,” has gone the way of the steam engine.
One of the Ten Commandments is to Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. Honor means respect, so for thousands of years Jews, then Christians, then Muslims have been commanded by their God to do something that may not always be appropriate. This can be a real eye-crosser, one of the greatest mixed messages of all time. God commands someone to respect her mother who’s passed out drunk on the couch and her father who left her without so much as a good-bye when she was 10? That’s asking the impossible of the unconscious mind.
Honor (respect) is the word that has come down through time, yet it’s psychologically unhealthy to attempt to respect people who have consistently treated us with disdain. People can say they respect these kinds of parents, and fervently believe it on the conscious level, but their unconscious knows better. They are giving themselves a mind-torque which can make them emotionally ill.
The conscious and unconscious minds should be in sync as much as possible. That’s a goal of psychotherapy. The unconscious knows the truth, because it was an eyewitness, but the conscious mind is always trying to make nice by cleaning up the past, and by doing so causing inner turmoil. Freud discovered this.
I am not against the Ten Commandments, religion in general or God. I am a believer. But it is clear that we humans sometimes put words into God’s mouth (which is what I am about to do). Instead of it being “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother,” what God surely meant was “Understand Thy Father and Thy Mother” and then, if necessary, forgive them. That makes a lot more sense — emotionally speaking.
According to the gospel of John 8:32, Jesus said, “The truth shall set you free.” I think it’s neat that this could also be the slogan of psychoanalysis. When the truths from our pasts are relived, felt and acknowledged, no matter how painful this might be, we are going to get better. Freud learned this truth about truth and passed it along. Yet this is unpalatable for many people. One has to wonder what their objection is to personal enlightenment. They’ve got to be afraid of something, but what? Insight, growth, emotional boat rocking? It’s befuddling, but I suspect its resentment. Our emotional lives are mostly the making of others, which is a bitter pill to swallow for those who secretly resent those makers. They want to distance themselves from them, but the process of analysis takes them back home — emotionally. Ouch!
Freud’s observations and insights took some of the nonsense out of life and they permeate, and have advanced, Western civilization. And they will not go away because, as Plato said, “Once lit the flame of truth will not go out.” And Carl Jung, too, advanced civilization with his remarkable insights into our higher nature. But you want to hear something ironic? In their personal lives Carl Jung (Dr. Spiritual) was a well known rounder and Sigmund Freud (Dr. Sex) was essentially a prude. People are something else. Let’s talk about eagles.
Waynesville resident Jim Joyce’s memoir, Use Eagles if Necessary, is being published in weekly installments in The Smoky Mountain News. Each week we begin a chapter in our print edition and then put the entire chapter on our Web site. All previous chapters are available online. The book can be purchased at rockpublishing.com/eagles.htm, and may be ordered through bookstores.