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Sigmund Freud’s Self-Analysis

In The Master Class on November 26, 2010 at 3:24 pm


By Jean Chiriac


Freud’s self-analysis started in the mid 1890’s to reach its climaxes in 1895 and 1900. In certain authors’ opinion, it was continued up to his death in 1939. Nevertheless, we have to set a clear boundary between the time of Freud’s discovery of the Oedipus complex and other essential contents of psychoanalysis and routine self-analysis he performed to check his unconscious psychic life.

The first phase is full of unexpected aspects and inventiveness – the productive, creative stage. The second becomes an obligation derived from his profession as a psychoanalyst.

Freud’s discoveries during his first stage of self-analysis are known to have been included in two of his main books: “The Interpretation of Dreams” and “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life“.

“The Interpretation of Dreams” provides plenty of Freud’s dreams in his own interpretation, among which the famous dream of Irma’s injection, which he considers a key issue in understanding the mysteries of dream life. It opens Chapter II (“The Method Of Interpreting Dreams: An Analysis Of A Specimen Dream”) and provides material for an analysis covering several pages ahead.

Just as Freud himself maintained, the analysis of the dream is not complete but it was here that Freud for the first time asserted that dreams are the disguised fulfilment of unconscious wishes.

The explanation of the dream is quite simple: it tries to hide Freud’s lack of satisfaction with the treatment given to a patient of his, Irma, and throw the guilt of partial failure upon others, exonerate Freud of other professional errors.

Dream interpretation also provides a dream psychology and many other issues. The volume is extremely inventive and rich in information, and, in its author’s view, it is his most important work.

“The Psychopathology of Everyday Life”, offers Freud room to focus on the analysis of faulty and symptomatic actions, the important thing to emphasize here being that this volume represents Freud’s transfer from the clinical to normal life – it proves neurotic features are present not only in sickness but also in health. The difference does not lie in quality but in quantity. Repression is greater with the sick and the free libido is sensibly diminished. Therefore, it is for the first time in the history of psychopathology that Freud overrules the difference between pathology and health. That makes it possible to apply psychoanalysis to so-called normal life…

     

  • Discovery of the Oedipus Complex
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The discovery of Oedipus’ complex is indicated in a historic letter Freud wrote to Fliess, his friend and confidante.

    I have found, in my own case too, [the phenomenon of] being in love with my mother and jealous of my father, and I now consider it a universal event in early childhood, even if not so early as in children who have been made hysterical.

Freud adds a few more important details to his confession:

    If this is so, we can understand the gripping power of Oedipus Rex, in spite of all the objections that reason raises against the presupposition of fate; and we can understand why the later «drama of fate» was bound to fail so miserably.

The Greek legend touches upon an urge “which everyone recognizes because he senses its existence within himself. Everyone in the audience was once a budding Oedipus in fantasy and each recoils in horror from the dream fulfillment here transplanted into reality, with the full quantity of repression which separates his infantile state from his present one.”

Together with these remarks, essential for psychoanalytic practice and theory, the buds of applied psychoanalysis also emerge. Freud links the Oedipus complex to Hamlet.

    Fleetingly the thought passed through my head that the same thing might be at the bottom of Hamlet as well. I am not thinking of Shakespeare’s conscious intention, but believe, rather, that a real event stimulated the poet to his representation, in that his unconscious understood the unconscious of his hero. (1)

In its monograph of Freud’s biography, Peter Gay asserts that “The method Freud used in his self-analysis was that of free association and the material he mainly relied upon was that his own dreams provided”. But he didn’t stop there: “[Freud] also made a collection of his memories, of speaking or spelling mistakes, slips concerning verse and patients’ names and he allowed these clues to lead him from one idea to the other, through the “usual roundabouts” of free association.” (2)

One of the most beautiful examples of self-analysis can be found in his letter to Romain Rolland, entitled “A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis”.

The disturbance occurred as follows: In the summer of 1904, after prolonged hesitation, Freud suddenly traveled to Athens in the company of his brother Alexander. Once up on the Acropolis, instead of the expected admiration, he was enveloped by a strange feeling of doubt. He was surprised that something he had been learning about at school really exists. He felt divided in two: one person who empirically realized his actual presence on the Acropolis and the other that found it hard to believe, as if denying the reality of the fact.

In the mentioned text, Freud tries to elucidate this feeling of strangeness, of unreality. He then showed that the trip to Athens was the object of wish mingled with guilt. That was a desire because, from his early childhood even, he had had dreams of traveling expressing his wish to evade the family atmosphere, the narrow-mindedness and poverty of living conditions he had known in his youth.

On the other hand, there was also guilt, as for Freud going to Athens meant getting farther than his own father, who was too poor to travel, to uneducated to be interested in these places. To climb the Acropolis in Freud’s mind was to definitely surpass his father, something the son was clearly forbidden to. Let us resort to Freud’s own words:

    But here we come upon the solution of the little problem of why it was that already at Trieste we interfered with our enjoyment of the voyage to Athens. It must be that a sense of guilt was attached to the satisfaction in having gone such a long way: there was something about it that was wrong, that from earliest times had been forbidden. It was something to do with a child’s criticism of his father, with the undervaluation which took the place of the overvaluation of earlier childhood. It seems as though the essence of success was to have got further than one’s father, and as though to excel one’s father was still something forbidden. (“A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis”.)

Fliess’ friendship certainly provided Freud the dialectic relationship that psychoanalytic dialogue (or rather monologue) allows. Fliess was the “idealized other”, the one who supposedly knew and understood (even appreciated) the analyst’s efforts. In fact, self-analysis is of course only possible by projection.

In his letter of November 14th 1897, Freud wrote: “Self-analysis is impossible in fact. I can only analyze myself by means of what I learn from the outside (as if I were another). Were things different, no disease would have been possible otherwise but through projection”.

     

  • The Difference between Self-analysis and Introspection
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The practice of introspection has its origins in St. Augustus’ Confessions. It is thus defined as an analysis of our mind’s contents that are directly accessible and ethical in character as it launches a debate on the relationship between moral man, which he longs to be, and immoral man, which he is by birth.

Augustin does not understand dreams and thinks it is God who is responsible for their emergence. There is no trace here of any knowledge of the unconscious mind, of the way it works works. This is the field of Christian psychology which only assumes a horizontal dimension of analysis.

Self-analysis does not deal with known things any more. Having known facts as a starting point, the self-analyser goes deep into the world of his unconscious life and leaves aside the ethic criterion for a while. Conscious psychic manifestations are connected to their unconscious roots and can be explained through the latter.

In this self-analysis God vanishes and with him the guilt of the self-analyser. Moreover, the investigation of unconscious needs resorting to the special investigation methods psychoanalysis has introduced: free associations, dream-analysis, work with slips and symbols, etc.

In short we may say that whereas introspection does nothing else but (re)integrate us into the level of our social values, psychoanalytic self-analysis offers us the opportunity of a radical change in our inner and outer being from the perspective of a reevaluation of these social values .

Notes:


1. October 15, 1897, Masson, J.M. (1985) (Ed.) “The complete letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess”, 1887-1904. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


2. Translation by M. Cristea.

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