Last Updated on April 21, 2021
Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) – Neurologist, Psychoanalyst
Sigmund Freud was born on May 6, 1856, at 117 Schlorssergasse in Freiberg, Moravia Moravia (now the Czech Republic) to Jewish parents. His mother, Amalia Nathanson was only twenty years old when she gave birth to her firstborn (Sigmund) and was described as a slender, beautiful, and intelligent woman. She strongly believed that her son would create history, thus she fondly called Freud, My Golden Sigi and Little Moore. And her prediction was supplemented by the prophecy of an old peasant who assisted her at birth that her son will soon be a great man in the world. She was a nurturing and indulgent mother.
His father, Jakob Freud was a wool merchant, and was 40 years old when Sigmund was born. Sigmund’s mom was his second wife. He had two sons from a previous marriage- Emmanuel and Philip. Sigmund had a hostile relationship with his father. He viewed his father as a restrictive parent. But despite everything, he considered him as the wisest, most powerful, and wealthiest man in the world.
Eleven months after Sigmund’s birth, his brother Julius was born. As a result, the attention of his mother was distracted. Sigmund wished that his “rival” would vanish. Unfortunately, Julius died of infection when he was only a year old. Later in life, Freud felt guilty of his “wish”. Soon though, more siblings arrived to keep Sigmund company – Rosa, Marie, Adofine, Paula, and Alexander.
The Freuds moved to Leipzig when his father’s business failed and then relocated further to Vienna. Two of his brothers- Emmanuel and Philip moved to Manchester.
Frued was homeschooled until he was old enough to be sent to a private school. At age nine, he attended the Leopodstat Commercial Realgymnassium (Later named The Leopodstat Commercial- Real- Und Gymnasium).
At school, Freud was brilliant. He stood first in his class for seven years straight, and as a result, he enjoyed several privileges at school and at home. Fred grew up to be a polyglot-fluent in several languages including German, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and English.
The young Freud was zealous and ambitious. He hoped that one day, he would create a name for himself and leave a legacy. He dreamt of being a lawyer, but due to his fascination with Goethe and Charles Darwin, he decided to pursue a career in medicine.
In 1873 Freud took up zoology at the University of Vienna. He hoped that someday, his statue will join the cadre of statues of the alumni of the university. Unfortunately, Freud suffered from prejudice and alienation because of his religion.
Under the tutelage of his zoology professor, Carl Clause, he conducted his first study regarding male river eels in 1876. Freud spent four weeks in Trieste to complete his work. He concluded that the sexual distinction of the eel is not genetically predetermined. His conclusions were astonishing; however, this was not proven until much later.
In 1877 he moved to Ernst Brucke’s physiological laboratory where he was tasked with investigating the histology of the nervous system. He exceeded expectations at Brucke’s and four years later, earned his medical degree in 1881.
Freud left the physiological laboratory when he fell in love with Martha Bernays, a beautiful woman who came from a well-to-do family. Martha was the granddaughter of Chacham Isaac Bernays, Chief Rabbi of the Hamburg Congregation. They became engaged in 1882.
His medical career started in 1882 at the Vienna General Hospital as an Aspirant (clinical assistant). He worked in various departments at the hospital. Freud desperately needed a breakthrough for him to marry his fiancée, and to free his family from financial instability.
In 1884, he was engaged in research on cocaine. First, he started self-experimenting the drug. He further sent a few samples to his friends, and to Martha, to observe its effects. Through this, he was able to write a monogram and survey regarding the effects of coke on human behavior.
Two months after he completed his research, Freud visited Martha in Wandsbek. By the time he returned to Vienna, his colleague, Carl Koller had become famous overnight due to his discovery of the anesthetizing effect of cocaine.
Freud also spent six months in Theodore Meynert’s psychiatric clinic.
Soon, Freud was promoted as a Junior physician as a result of producing a wide range of clinical observations on organic diseases of the nervous system. But the most significant contribution during this time is that he was able to locate the site of a lesion in the medulla oblongata with precision, and was the first person to send a case for autopsy with a diagnosis of polyneuritis acuta.
On January 21, 1985, Freud applied for a lecturer ship at the neuropathology department at the University as a Dozent- the highest position a young doctor can apply for. An applicant must have exemplary skills to attain this title. Because of the warm testimonials of his mentor Ernest Brucke, along with Professors Northnagel and Meynert, he qualified. Soon afterwards, Freud was awarded a bursary and he chose to visit Paris.
Freud stayed in Paris from October 1885 to February 1886 and became a student of Jean Marie Charcot at the Salpetriere. What astounded Freud was how Charcot elaborated the etiology of hysteria down to the last details.
He also stayed in Berlin to gain knowledge of the general diseases of childhood at the Kasowitz Institute. Freud oversaw the department for the nervous diseases which enabled him to publish several monographs of considerable size on unilateral and bilateral cerebral palsies of children.
Freud returned to Vienna in October 1886 and settled as a specialist in nervous diseases. He was also excited about his presentation about Male Hysteria before the Society of Medicine. However, things turned out differently – he had a harsh rejection. His findings were criticized by the Society and soon after, he was excluded from the Laboratory of Cerebral Anatomy. Freud felt humiliated and never went back.
Despite the humiliation, doctors continued to refer their difficult cases to Freud. Most of them were hysteric, educated women.
In the same year, he married his fiancee, Martha. They had six children- Mathilde, Jean Martin, (named after Freud’s mentor), Charcot, Oliver, Ernst, Sophie, and Anna (who later became a child psychologist herself).
The turning point of Freud’s career came when he collaborated with Josef Breuer, a Viennese doctor. Freud utilized hypnosis, a mental technique developed by Breuer, with a slight variation – Freud gazed into the eyes of the subject and placed a firm hand on the forehead. And he was baffled by how he was able to retrieve some crucial information from the subject – such as abusive parents, grief, trauma, etc.
During this time, the most significant case that he took up wasn’t his own, but Breuer’s – Anna O. (Bertha Pappenheim was her real name, Anna O. is just a pseudonym to protect her privacy during those times).
Although Breuer found her emotionally draining, Anna O. noticed that she felt better after experiencing Freud’s hypnosis and started calling his method, “chimney sweeping” and “the talking cure”.
Freud was also able to develop another technique- Free Association, after dealing with “Emmy Von N.” (Real Name Baroness Fanny Moser). Since she was widowed, she experienced tics, stuttering, and hallucinations. Emmy requested Freud let her speak without interruptions. Through this, he was able to understand what has caused her ailments.
According to Freud’s assumptions, some feelings are so painful that we tend to repress them to our unconscious mind. These memories do not vanish totally, instead, they go into hiding inside our unconscious mind. As a result, these memories manifest as physical symptoms of illness such as paralyses, muteness, and other manifestations of hysteria.
It got to the point where Freud even started “psychoanalyzing” himself. He began analyzing his dreams and early experiences. This led to the expansion of his theory into a full-fledged study later termed as psychoanalysis.
He concluded that every boy has an innate desire for his mother, and wants to eradicate his father, the hindrance- Oedipus Complex. He derived this term from a Greek King who killed his father to marry his mother. Besides, he stated that women are forever victims of their anatomy, and they blame their mother for sharing the same characteristic. This is what he called, “penis envy”.
The unconscious is the real psychic; its inner nature is just as unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is just as imperfectly reported to us through the data of consciousness as is the external world through the indications of our sensory organs.
Aside from these, Freud also published several books, namely: The Interpretation of Dreams, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Jokes and their Relations to the Unconscious, and Three Essays of the Theory of Sexuality.
Many skeptics lambasted his findings and ideas. They claimed that his works are unscientific and irrational (which to a certain extent is quite true). They even called him “Quack Doctor” and “The Viennese Quack”. Even then, his theory grew in prominence and attracted disciples. With the request of Wilhelm Stekel, the Wednesday Psychological Society was born in 1902 (later renamed, International Psychological Association in 1910). Most of the members were Jewish doctors such as Max Kahane, Alfred Adler, and later joined by others- Carl Gustav Jung, Sandor Ferenczi, etc. The association was quite fond of analyzing fictional characters and public figures.
In 1908, they renamed their group, The Vienna Psychological Group and had their first psychoanalytic conference at Salzburg, Austria. The event was a hit, and this led to the publication of their first psychological journal. Since then, Wednesday Psychological group began popping in Budapest, Zurich, and even in the United States.
Sigmund Freud eventually rose to fame in 1909 when he was invited by Stanley Hall, professor, and president of Clark University in Massachusetts to participate in the 20th founding anniversary of their University. He was awarded lectures and an honorary doctorate.
However, a few years later, some of Freud’s followers started to propose doctrines and theories that drifted away from psychoanalysis. Alfred Adler who founded the Individual Psychology and rejected Freud’s assumption that human beings have no choice as to what they become. Carl Jung soon left the society and deflected Freud’s theory and insisted that sexuality plays a minimal role in our actions.
The abandonment of his disciples left Freud an authoritarian and intolerant impression. But despite these and World War 1, he remained productive. He was able to publish Metapsychology and a few years later, he founded a private publishing house- Internatioler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, with the assistance of his friend, Anton Von Freund.
The last nineteen years of Freud’s life was turbulent – Von Freund and his daughter, Sophie died in 1920, he was diagnosed with leukoplakia (cancer of the mouth) in 1923, and had almost thirty operations. Hitler rose to power and his books were burnt due to anti-Semitism (1934), the Gestapo came to his house to arrest Anna prompting Freud to migrate to England on June 4, 1938, wherein he died in exile on September 21, 1939.