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Young Dr. Freud
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Analysis: Doubt
If he himself suffered from a form of hysteria, and if an abusive father caused hysteria, then Freud was forced to draw a distressing conclusion.
By 1897, Freud was spending six days a week analyzing his patients, many of them suffering from hysteria. Increasingly, their problems resonated with his own. Freud began to suspect that he too was neurotic, suffering from what he described as "a little case hysteria." He became consumed by his own self-analysis.

FREUD: "I have never before even imagined anything like this period of intellectual paralysis. I have been through some kind of neurotic experience, curious states… twilight thoughts, veiled doubts… The chief patient I am preoccupied with is myself… my little hysteria… the analysis is more difficult than any other. Something from the deepest depths of my own neurosis sets itself against any advance in understanding neuroses…"

In the spring of 1897, Freud wrote his friend Fliess about a new patient, a young woman with hysterical symptoms.

FREUD: "It turned out that her supposedly otherwise noble and respectable father regularly took her to bed when she was eight to twelve years old and misused her…"

Freud as a boy with his father
Freud as a boy with his father
(Freud Museum London)
It was Freud wrote, "fresh confirmation" that the prime cause of hysteria was the sexual abuse of an innocent child by an adult, most often, a father." But his theory had alarming implications. If he himself suffered from a form of hysteria, and if an abusive father caused hysteria, then Freud was forced to draw a distressing conclusion. He began to imagine that his own father might have abused him. Three months after Jacob's death, he wrote Fliess:

FREUD: "Unfortunately, my own father was one of these perverts, and is responsible for the hysteria of my brother… and those of several younger sisters."

EAGLE: Freud thinks "Oh my God, if neurosis or hysterical type neurosis is due to seduction by father, then my father's a pervert or a seducer." It's like spitting on his father's grave.

GAY: If his theory worked, his father would suddenly become some sort of sexual monster.

BERGMANN: He realized that he can not get further in understanding others unless he analyzes himself. That was another one of those great ideas. [But] The dreams that he analyzed are not really particularly well analyzed. They were just a beginning. At that time it's so simple. All dreams are wish fulfillment is a simplification but you need the courage to start and simplification enables you to start.

To make his theory work, his father's secret had to be that he had sexually abused his children.
Freud interpreted the message "close the eyes" in his dream after his father's death to mean that there was something he was not meant to see, nor to know about, his father. To make his theory work, his father's secret had to be that he had sexually abused his children. But, when he could find no evidence of such behavior and no clear memory of abuse among his brothers and sisters, his seduction theory collapsed.

Despite the setback, Freud had made great progress in interpreting the meaning of dreams. He needed dream interpretation to be simple in order to start the process, but he had realized that the dreamer's personal associations are what give meaning to the dreams. His wishes and his patient's wishes were not just expressed in the dreams themselves, but in what they thoughts the dreams meant to them.

EAGLE: You can't just take a handbook and read the dream and say, "Ah, this means that and that means that," because the same content, given different associations by different patients, could have different meanings.

But even with this new knowledge, Freud felt stalled in his self-analysis by November of 1898. "I am completely exhausted by self-observation," he wrote. "My self-analysis is once more at a standstill, or rather it slowly trickles on without my understanding anything of the course it takes…" But he soon lit on a way to resolve his confusion; "I shall force myself to write the dream book to come out of it." The book that Freud began writing that winter was The Interpretation of Dreams.

From analyzing his patients, Freud took to analyzing the world itself, elaborating a dark, pessimistic view of the human condition.

BERGMANN: He once said, "I bring them the plague." Now that may be an exaggeration, but he certainly did not make life easier for people. He said, when you think of me, think of Rembrandt; a little light and a great deal of darkness.

After Freud's analysis, we were never able to look at our dreams, or ourselves, in the same light again.

Continue to the epilogue.

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