A Dangerous Method Leaves Freud Turning Over in His Oedipal Grave
This scene reflects the open adoration the young Jung displayed towards a middle-aged Freud and which dissolved around the time Jung ventured into private practice of his own: Jung began to realize that Freud’s overemphasis on sexuality as the root of his patients’ psychological struggles caused far more psychological damage than that which they endured before encountering Freud. Ultimately he and Freud had a parting of the ways as professional colleagues and personal friends (later in life both married men admired and bedded the same woman, although whether this was due to her feminine appeal or merely more fuel for the Freud-Jungian feud remains debatable).
There are simple explanations for Freud’s many theoretical errors. For a man of his obvious brilliance he missed key characteristics in his almost exclusively female patients. Freud’s theory of “penis envy” was a misguided assessment of the social status of women in the Victorian Era. Women didn’t have much to celebrate during that time:
- most were denied post-secondary education and in fact were fortunate to graduate from high school
- they were not permitted to own property except in unusual circumstances
- marriage was mandatory unless a woman chose to be a spinster or to be considered unscrupulous (whore)
- women were at the mercy of their husbands in the Western world then as much as women in the Middle East are today: one didn’t argue with hubby or she might end up thrown out into the street without financial means
- women did not have sexual urges – they were expected to perform sexually solely for the purpose of reproduction and at their husband’s whim. It was expected that their husbands would take a mistress or regularly visit prostitutes while women remained sexually loyal to their spouses.
Freud was the father of psychoanalysis, meaning the act of listening to one’s patient and engaging with her in verbal discourse, rather than merely preaching psychological theory. The problem was Freud didn’t truly know how to listen to his patients: he predetermined women’s situations and offered advice based on his sexually based perspective. When women informed him they were victims of incest, this became the catalyst for the Electra Complex, wherein a little girl fantasizes about having sex with her father for a variety of psychosexual reasons. Wrong again, Doc.
Freud’s Dream Interpretation theory ventured too far into the treatment of psychological suffering. True to form, Freud sexualized every symbol in women’s dreams possible. Here are a few of the more ludicrous misinterpretations:
- stairways were metaphors for sexual intercourse because of the rhythmic action in walking up or downstairs
- syringes and injections were symbols for the penis and sexual intercourse
- hallways, bowls and tunnels were the female genitalia since they were hollow and meant to accommodate other objects
- anything slender or elongated (cigar, knife) was the male genitalia
To be sure my explanation of Freud’s Dream Interpretation is extremely simplistic: I make no mention of free association, the manifest and latent content of dreams, and the “wish fulfillment” that characterizes his theory. For my purposes however, this isn’t necessary. If you want to learn more about it, see the movie, which is exactly what I intend to do. I look forward to Hollywood’s no doubt bastardized version of the professional war between Freud and Jung. Reading Freud gets a bit dry over time. I would like a more animated view of his life’s work.
I’ll probably watch the flick whilst chewing on a Mr. Big chocolate bar. Stop snickering, you: sometimes a cigar, rather like a chocolate bar, is just a cigar.
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