Theories of Personality 9th Edition

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Chapter 2 Freud: Psychoanalysis 25

August of 1897, he wrote to Fliess, “the chief patient I am preoccupied with is
myself.... The analysis is more difficult than any other. It is, in fact what para-
lyzes my psychic strength” (Freud, 1985, p. 261).
A second personal crisis was his realization that he was now middle-aged
and had yet to achieve the fame he so passionately desired. During this time he
had suffered yet another disappointment in his attempt to make a major scientific
contribution. Again he believed himself to be on the brink of an important break-
through with his “discovery” that neuroses have their etiology in a child’s seduc-
tion by a parent. Freud likened this finding to the discovery of the source of the
Nile. However, in 1897 he abandoned the seduction theory and once again had to
postpone the discovery that would propel him to greatness.
Why did Freud abandon his once-treasured seduction theory? In a letter dated
September 21, 1897, to Wilhelm Fliess, he gave four reasons why he could no longer
believe in his seduction theory. First, he said, the seduction theory had not enabled
him to successfully treat even a single patient. Second, a great number of fathers,
including his own, would have to be accused of sexual perversion because hysteria
was quite common even among Freud’s siblings. Third, Freud believed that the uncon-
scious mind could probably not distinguish reality from fiction, a belief that later
evolved into the Oedipus complex. And fourth, he found that the unconscious mem-
ories of advanced psychotic patients almost never revealed early childhood sexual
experiences (Freud, 1985). After abandoning his seduction theory and with no Oedi-
pus complex to replace it, Freud sank even more deeply into his midlife crisis.
Freud’s official biographer, Ernest Jones (1953, 1955, 1957), believed that
Freud suffered from a severe psychoneurosis during the late 1890s, although Max
Schur (1972), Freud’s personal physician during the final decade of his life, contended
that his illness was due to a cardiac lesion, aggravated by addiction to nicotine. Peter
Gay (1988) suggested that during the time immediately after his father’s death, Freud
“relived his oedipal conflicts with peculiar ferocity” (p. 141). But Henri Ellenberger
(1970) described this period in Freud’s life as a time of “creative illness,” a condition
characterized by depression, neurosis, psychosomatic ailments, and an intense preoc-
cupation with some form of creative activity. In any event, at midlife, Freud was
suffering from self-doubts, depression, and an obsession with his own death.
Despite these difficulties, Freud completed his greatest work, Interpretation
of Dreams (1900/1953), during this period. This book, finished in 1899, was an
outgrowth of his self-analysis, much of which he had revealed to his friend Wilhelm
Fliess. The book contained many of Freud’s own dreams, some disguised behind
fictitious names.
Almost immediately after the publication of Interpretation of Dreams, his
friendship with Fliess began to cool, eventually to rupture in 1903. This breakup
paralleled Freud’s earlier estrangement from Breuer, which took place almost
immediately after they had published Studies on Hysteria together. It was also a
harbinger of his breaks with Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, and several other close asso-
ciates. Why did Freud have difficulties with so many former friends? Freud himself
answered this question, stating that “it is not the scientific differences that are so
important; it is usually some other kind of animosity, jealousy or revenge, that
gives the impulse to enmity. The scientific differences come later” (Wortis, 1954,
p. 163).

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