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Young Dr. Freud
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Theories: Seduction
Freud with Wilheml Fliess
Freud with Wilheml Fliess
(Sigmund Freud Copyrights)
By the middle of the 1890's, Freud was increasingly isolated from his colleagues, pursuing research on his own, certain he was on the way to a discovery that would make him famous.

FREUD: "I am pretty well alone here in tackling the neuroses... regarded rather as a monomaniac while I have the distinct feeling that I have touched on one of the great secrets of nature."

With no one to talk to about his radical ideas, Freud saved his passionate outpourings for a new friend, Wilheml Fliess. Fliess was an ear, nose and throat specialist from Berlin, a reputable doctor with a large practice. Of all the men Freud looked to for understanding, sympathy, and support, Fliess appears the oddest choice.

GAY: Fliess had theories of his own… Very strange kind of connection between the nose and sexual feelings. If you were to read Freud and Fliess at that time you wouldn't know which of them - or whether both of them - were crazy.

BERGMANN: Freud was desperately alone, and what Freud did was to write down and send to Fliess everything that occurred to him. Freud always regarded Fliess as superior to him.

FREUD: "How much I owe you: solace, understanding, stimulation in my loneliness, meaning to my life… it is primarily through your example that intellectually I gained the strength to trust my judgment… for all that, accept my humble thanks. I know that you do not need me as much as I need you."

EAGLE: If you read some of the letters to Fliess, they sound almost as romantic as his letters to Martha. He clearly was a sounding board for Freud. The need to have a figure to confide in, admire, even idealize, is probably especially poignant and intense when you're working alone and charting uncharted territory and think that you have broken through and made important discoveries, but are not quite sure. And so you find someone who you respect and admire and you share some of these ideas with them.

For years, Freud worked alone, sharing his theories with no one but Fliess.
For years, Freud worked alone, sharing his theories with no one but Fliess. Then, two weeks before his fortieth birthday, he felt confident enough to risk revealing his radical ideas. In a lecture to The Viennese Society for Psychiatry and Neurology, Freud presented his theory of the origin of hysteria to his skeptical colleagues.

FREUD: "Gentlemen… Imagine that an explorer arrives in a little known region where his interest is aroused by an expanse of ruins… He may content himself with inspecting what lies exposed to view… But he may have brought picks, shovels, and spades.. to uncover what is buried… We try, in a similar way, to make the symptoms of hysteria bear witness to the history of the origin of the illness. I… put forward the thesis that at the bottom of every case of hysteria there are one or more occurrences of premature sexual experience, occurrences which belong to the earliest years of childhood… The infantile traumas… must be described without exception as grave sexual injuries; some of them… absolutely appalling."

Hysteria, Freud argued, was caused by the sexual assault on an innocent child.

YOUNG-BRUEHL: He's on novel territory and very, very difficult territory to think about the seduction of children by adults. It's not like there's a huge literature sitting out there about this. No one talked about this and so to piece his way through it and try to understand what might be fantasy, what might be fact, what might be distorted memory or repressed memory - very complicated issues, hard to understand even after a hundred years of work on it.

FREUD: "I have now come to the end of what I have to say today, prepared as I am to meet with contradiction and disbelief… what is even more important to me than the value you put on my results is the attention you give to the procedure I have employed… The new method gives wide access to a new element namely, to processes of thought which have remained unconscious… I cannot believe that psychiatry will long hold back from making use of this new pathway to knowledge."

His colleagues roundly rejected Freud's theory. One of them called it 'a scientific fairy tale.'
His colleagues roundly rejected Freud's theory. One of them called it "a scientific fairy tale." They found his theory as totally unacceptable and felt indifferent, amused, or horrified upon hearing Freud's explanations. Convinced that he had discovered the origin of hysteria, Freud was profoundly disappointed. He celebrated his fortieth birthday continuing to suffer from migraine headaches, fears of an early death, and spells of depression that had hounded him for years.

FREUD: "At that time I had reached the peak of loneliness… no one paid any attention to me, and the only thing that kept me going was a bit of defiance."

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