Saturday, April 21, 2012

Short Biography of Sigmund Freud

The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “What does a woman want?”
 (Sigmund Freud)


Sigmund Freud was born in Freiberg, in Moravia, on 6th of May 1856. People from here were Czechs, but Jewish people were talking German and were mostly assimilated to the Austro-Hungarian ruling class. His father, Jacob Freud, was a textile dealer. He married for the first time when he was seventeen and had two children: Emmanuel and Philipp. After he became a widower, he remarried in 1851 or 1852 with a certain Rebecca, about whom we don't know if she died young or she was repudiated, and for the third time with a young woman of twenty, Amalia Nathansohn (1835 - 1930), whose first child will be Sigmund. He will be succeeded by Julius, who died at eighteen months, Anna, Rosa, Mitzi, Dolfi, Paula and Alexander.

Sigmund Freud inherited from his father the sense of humor, the skepticism before life incertitude, the habit of exemplifying by a Jewish anecdote when he wanted to bring out some moral feature, his liberalism and free thought. From his mother he would have taken "the sentimentalism", an ambiguous word in German, which would mean that Freud was capable of intense emotional feelings.

Freud enjoyed the unrestrained love of his mother, Amalia, who called him "my golden Sigi". This unconditional love will make Freud notice: "When you were incontestably the favorite child of your mother, you keep during your lifetime this victor feeling, you keep feeling sure of success, which in reality seldom doesn't fulfill".

From the age of eight also comes another remembrance less pleasant that will play an important role in the later victory dream, which the dreamer himself will interpret. The remembrance under discussion put him in a position of humiliating inferiority before his parents.  What's this about: he would have been scolded by his father because he intentionally had urinated in his parents' bedroom and apostrophized by these words: "There will come nothing of this boy!" When he narrates this happening, Freud states precisely that this phrase should have deeply afflicted him "in my dreams the scene often repeated, always accompanied by an enumeration of my works and successes, as if I intended to say: <<You see, nevertheless I became somebody! >>."

Another grievous remembrance: his father took him for a walk and narrated an unpleasant event with a passerby who had apostrophized him: "You, Jew - get down from the sidewalk!" Freud was extremely disappointed when he found out his father hadn't reacted upon the insult of that stranger. "To this scene, which annoyed me - he writes - I opposed another one, more consonant with my feelings, the scene when Hamilcar Barcas asks his son to swear, before the sanctuary, that he'll take his vengeance on the Romans." Hannibal becomes a hero to Freud's view and he reappears under the form of the dreams about Rome in his associations from "The Interpretation of Dreams"(1900), from which we also took out this details.

When he was four years old, as his father met with a business failure, Freud and his family settled down in Vienna, a noisy and cosmopolitan metropolis, which will sensitively stand in contrast with the lawns and mountains from Moravia, to which Freud will forever feel attached. "Under deep sediments, it continue to live inside myself the happy child from Freiberg... who has received from this air and this earth his first unforgettable impressions", Freud remarked and he will even state precisely: "I 've never felt within my depth in this city [Vienna]. I believe nowadays that I've always regretted the marvelous forests of my childhood, and one of my remembrances evokes me the fact that I used to run as if I wanted to get off from my father, when I was scarcely able to walk..."

Professional Career

A brilliant child, always at the head of his class, he went to medical school, one of the few viable options for a bright Jewish boy in Vienna those days, the opportunity gained with the opening of the Hapsburg Empire's liberal era. At first, he had planned to study law, but instead joined the medical faculty at the University of Vienna where his studies included philosophy under Franz Brentano, physiology under Ernst Brücke and zoology under Darwinist Professor Karl Claus.

There, he became deeply involved in research under the direction of a physiology professor named Ernst Brücke. Brücke believed in what was then a popular, if radical, notion, which we now call reductionism: "No other forces than the common physical-chemical ones are active within the organism." Freud would spend many years trying to "reduce" personality to neurology, a cause he later gave up on.

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Freud was very good at his research, concentrating on neurophysiology, even inventing a special cell-staining technique. But only a limited number of positions were available, and there were others ahead of him. Brücke helped him to get a grant to study, first with the great psychiatrist Charcot in Paris, then with his rival Bernheim in Nancy. Both these gentlemen were investigating the use of hypnosis with hysterics.

When Freud was 26, he fell madly in love with a 21-year-old woman names Martha Bernays, the granddaughter of Isaac Bernays, a Chief Rabbi in Hamburg, and they became engaged two months later. As a poor student still living with his parents, Freud's science lab job did not pay enough to support a family. "My sweet girl, it only pains me to think I should be so powerless to prove my love for you," Freud wrote to Martha.

Six months after they met, Freud gave up his scientific career and become a doctor. He spent three years training at the Vienna General Hospital and was rarely able to see his fiancé who had moved to Germany. After four years of waiting, Freud and Bernays were married on September 14, 1886. Here, in Vienna, Freud set up a practice in neuropsychiatry, with the help of Joseph Breuer. Sigmund and Martha had six children: Mathilde, born 1887; Jean-Martin, born 1889; Oliver, born 1891; Ernst, born 1892; Sophie, born 1893; and Anna, born 1895.

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Freud's books and lectures brought him both fame and ostracism from the mainstream of the medical community. He drew around him a number of very bright sympathizers who became the core of the psychoanalytic movement. Unfortunately, Freud had a penchant for rejecting people who did not totally agree with him. Some separated from him on friendly terms; others did not, and went on to found competing schools of thought.

Latest Years

Early in life, Freud began smoking tobacco at age 24; initially a cigarette smoker, he became a cigar smoker. Freud believed that smoking enhanced his capacity to work, and believed he could exercise self-discipline in moderating his tobacco-smoking; yet, despite warnings from colleague Wilhelm Fliess, and to the detriment of his health, Freud remained a smoker, eventually suffering a buccal cancer.

In 1930, Freud was awarded the Goethe Prize in recognition of his contributions to psychology and to German literary culture. In January 1933, the Nazis took control of Germany, and Freud's books were prominent among those they burned and destroyed. Freud quipped: “What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now, they are content with burning my books.”

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Freud continued to maintain his optimistic underestimation of the growing Nazi threat and remained determined to stay in Vienna, even following the Anschluss of 13 March 1938 in which Nazi Germany annexed Austria, and the outbursts of violent anti-Semitism that ensued.

Ernest Jones, the then President of the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA), finally was able to convince Freud changing his mind and seeking exile in Britain, but only after Freud got practical lesson for the possible consequences of the Nazi’s occupation due the brief detention and interrogation of Anna Freud by the Gestapo in Vienna.

Upon his arrival to London, many famous names called on Freud to pay their respects, notably Salvador Dalí, Stefan Zweig, Leonard and Virginia Woolf and H.G. Wells. Representatives of the Royal Society called with the Society’s Charter for Freud to sign himself into membership. However, not all the members of the Freud’s family successfully escaped. His four elderly sisters were not able to get exit visas and they were all to die in Nazi concentration camps.

In the Freuds new home at Hampstead, North London, Freud’s Vienna consulting room was recreated in faithful detail. He continued to see patients there until the terminal stages of his illness.


In September 1939, Freud, who was suffering from cancer and in severe pain, persuaded his doctor and friend Max Schur to help him commit suicide. After reading Honoré de Balzac's La Peau de chagrin in a single sitting, Freud asked him, “Schur, you remember our ‘contract’ not to leave me in the lurch when the time had come. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense.” When Schur replied that he had not forgotten, Freud said, “I thank you.” and then “Talk it over with Anna, and if she thinks it’s right, then make an end of it.”

 Anna Freud wanted to postpone her father’s death, but Schur convinced her it was pointless to keep him alive, and on 21 and 22 September administered doses of morphine that resulted in Freud's death on 23 September 1939.

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