In 1980 a young analyst, Jeffrey Masson, met with Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna to discuss the possibility of him having access to Freud’s unpublished letters. She agreed and he was soon made director of the Freud Archives in London. What he discovered there should have sent shock waves around the world…
but it didn’t….
because the same suppression of the truth operates as much today as it did back then.
Masson was fired for making public what he found.
Freud’s accepted theory was a cover up.
Freud’s original theory was the Seduction Theory (1896) formulated in a paper ‘The Aetiology of Hysteria’, in which he said that something terrible and violent lay in the past of his women patients.
When he presented his veiws, his collegues alienated him overnight.
‘I am as isolated as you could wish me to be,’ he complained to his friend Wilhelm Fliess.
The newly revealed letters from Anna Freud showed how Sigmund then bowed to social pressure and renounced the link he’d made between childhood abuse and adult disturbance. Within a decade he’d substituted it with something else..
a theory that,
”now claimed that the victim fashioned his or her own torture. In particular violent sexual crimes could be attributed to the victim’s imagination.” Jeffrey Masson
Despite an intervening period as an intern at the Paris morgue where he saw evidence at first hand of the brutal rape and murder of children,
‘of which’, he says in private letters, ‘science prefers to take no notice.’ S Freud
…….soon, Freud himself was turning a blind eye until by 1925 he was able to say,
‘‘I was at last obliged to recognise these scenes of seduction had never taken place. They were only fantasies..’(ibid)
This more popular veiw has percolated down the century that’s followed and through almost every therapeutic discipline so that,
”most psychiatrists and psycho-analysts have, in effect, been reluctant to trust the memories of their patients, women in particular, about the traumas they experienced in childhood.” J Masson.
Freud capitalised on children’s tendency to blame themselves for the ills that befall them and turned his theory entirely around.
Then he got his job back…
and got invited to dinner.
But it turns out that Freud’s legacy of blaming the victim, one that allowed therapists to remain on the side of the successful and powerful, that narcissistically fed the notion of how sophisticated we all are, had a personal motive that went beyond his need for expensive cuban cigars.
At the same time as he was feeling the full sanction of his peers, Freud was seeing a patient, Emma Epstein, whose name had been entirely expunged from all official records. The private letters show why. Freud, still struggling with his own homosexuality, in particular his feelings for his friend Wilhelm Fliess, suggested Fliess operate on Emma Epstein under the macarbre notion that removing the turbinate bone in her nose would stop her masturbating.
The operation was unprecedented, unsupervised and bungled so badly that Emma nearly died of blood loss on site and again, later, from secondary infection, most bizzarely induced by a length of gauze left in her nasal cavity the size of a sanitary towel.
It would be easy to get lost in the multiple malpractice issues that could be raised here, particularly given Emma’s resulting disfigurement, but the point I’d like to emphasize is the stance Freud took afterwards.
He used the incipient substitute theory he was developing to blame Emma for the ‘reaction’ she’d had to Fliess’ butchery of her face. Freud claimed Emma’s bleeding was ‘hysterical’, the result of sexual longing.
In order for Freud to protect Fliess,
”it would be necessary to construct a theory of hysterical lying, a theory whereby the external traumas never happened, but are fantasies.” J Masson
Emma’s bleeding could then be referred to as ‘dysmenhorrea’.
”a psychological explanation being pressed into service to exculpate his own dubious behaviour.” ibid
Why is all this such a big deal? Because a hundred years after Freud’s twin efforts to both absolve himself of blame in a sleazy sham and get back in with his mates, his theories have infiltrated every state institution even vaguely concerned with children’s welfare.
I had the misfortune of coming across a child psychotherapist appointed by the court to determine residency of my son. This man told me to my face that my twelve year old son’s lack of anxiety, his confidence in being able to walk 400m to school and a catch a bus into the next town if he wanted was clearly abnormal and contributary grounds to have him removed from my care.
I did get my boy back and the gentleman concerned was ultimatly spanked for his nonsense. But had I been less determined or less literate I would have lost my child.
The scary thing is that the whole system is full of such persons who believe they are doing their best by refusing to listen to children. My own child’s claim that he had been violated by the very person they wanted him to live with was strenuously suppressed by social workers and court officials alike. When I finally went to central archives for hard copy of the police report concerned and produced it before a judge it was angrily dismissed as irrelevant to the case and I was reprimanded for trying to stir up trouble.
Ironically, Freud himself shed light on the negation of childhood suffering in a paper that he wrote 20 years after he turned his back on the reality of sexual and emotional abuse entitled ‘Negation’ (1925), in which he states,
“In our interpretation, we take the liberty of disregarding the negation ….. To negate something in a judgement is at bottom to say ‘this is something which I should prefer to repress’. A negative judgement is the intellectual substitute for repression, its ‘no’ is the hallmark of repression ….. Thus, originally, the mere existence of a presentation was a guarantee of the reality of what was represented.” S Freud.
the fact that Freud’s distorted and unforgiving theory of human nature became so pervasive says more about us than it does about him.
For all the squalor of his personal motivations its down to the rest of us that we put him on such a pedestal for so long. Why did we do that? Because we too, do not want to know. We’re happy with how evolved and sophisticated we are.
We like our dominant myth.