Search This Blog

Friday, 13 March 2015

Sigmund Freud


Sigmund Freud was born to Jewish Galician parents on May 6, 1856 in the Moravian town of Příbor, now part of the Czech Republic. He was the eldest of three brothers and five sisters.

His father, Jakob Freud (1815–1896) was a wool merchant. A remote and authoritarian figure, he had two sons from his first marriage. Freud did not get on with his dad.

Freud's mother, Amalia (née Nathansohn), an assertive and good looking woman, was 20 years her husband's junior. (Jakob was 41 Amalia 21 when he was born.)

Sigmund's two half-brothers, Emmanuel and Philipp, were almost the same age as his mother.

His parents were struggling financially and living in a crowded rented room, in a locksmith's house at Schlossergasse 117 when Sigmund was born.

Freud's birthplace, a rented room in a locksmith's house

The Freud family was forced to flee to Leipzig when Sigmund was 3-years-old, due to riots that characterized the strong anti-Semitic feeling that prevailed within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

After a year there his family moved again to Vienna, where discriminating laws against the Jews had been cancelled during 1850s and 1860s.

Four of Freud’s five sisters died in Nazi concentration camps.

He was originally called Sigismund Freud. His first name was used in anti-Semitic jokes and could be translated as "Leading mouth". So in 1875 he shortened it to Sigmund.

Sigmund grew up a bookworm with no interest in more energetic activities. When only eight years old, he was reading the works of Shakespeare.In recognition of his brilliance, his parents privileged Sigmund over his siblings by giving him a room to himself, to study in peace.

In 1865, the nine-year-old Sigmund entered the Leopoldstädter Kommunal-Realgymnasium, a prominent high school. Located at 24 Taborstrasse, Vienna. He was ranked first in his class in 6 of 8 years of his schooling.

In 1873 Sigmund graduated from the  high school with honors. Apparently inspired by a public reading of an essay by Goethe on nature, he turned to medicine as a career.

Freud at 16 with his mother

He entered Vienna University to study medicine but was sidetracked by his growing interest in physiology and other diversions, which weren't part of the course. It took Freud eight, rather than the usual five years, to qualify as a Doctor.


Freud originally thought of being a lawyer. Then in the mid 1870s he seemed destined for a career as a research zoologist.

In 1876 Freud spent four weeks at Claus's zoological research station in Trieste, dissecting 400 mature eels in an inconclusive search for their male reproductive organ. He had to concede failure in his first major published research paper.

In 1882 Freud entered the General Hospital in Vienna as an assistant chief physician to train with the psychiatrist Theodor Meynert and the professor of internal medicine Hermann Nothnagel.

Freud studied under Professor Charcotat at Salpêtrière Neurogical Hospital, Paris for 19 weeks in 1885-86. There the hypnotic treatment of women, who suffered from a medical state called "hysteria", led Freud to take an interest in psychiatry.

Once he had set up in private practice in his Vienna home in 1886, Freud began using hypnosis in his clinical work.

Following the Nazi occupation of Austria, Freud fled to London. When he left Vienna for England he had no money. The Nazis had taken it all.

In England Freud charged his patients between £75 and £100 an hour. .


Freud made arguments about the importance of the unconscious mind in understanding conscious thought and behavior. He called dreams the "royal road to the knowledge of the unconscious in mental life".

Having watched a colleague battle with morphine addiction, Freud confidently prescribed injections of cocaine as a cure and then had to watch helplessly from the sidelines as Dr Von Fieschl descended into a drug hell, creating Europe's first cocaine addict..

His Psychoanalysis method aimed to bring to the surface the conflicts of the unconscious mind to help  find the reason for disturbance. Patients revealed their unconscious conflict through talking. He was able to teach his patients to stand on their feet by lying on couches. Freud's work changed the whole approach to mental illness, for the first time symptoms had meaning and they were seen as sick people rather than weirdos.

The Austrian founding father of psychoanalysis was given his famous couch by a client.

Freud's critics would say that his psychoanalysis techniques resulted in the creation of a blameless man, by tracing his failings back to his childhood, when he was morally innocent. Thanks to his ideas, many adults claim to have a plausible reason to avoid responsibility for their actions.

In 1925,  Freud turned down $100,000 from movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn — who called him "the greatest love specialist in the world" — to advise on a film about Antony and Cleopatra.


Freud had a considerable talent for writing seldom seen in scientists.

Freud's 1895 Studies In Hysteria with Josef Breuer was a landmark in the history of Psychology as it revealed the existence of the unconscious mind, (the root of nervous illness.)

His 1896 paper The Aetiology of Hysteria used for the first time the term "psycho-analysis."

Sigmund Freud published Interpretation Of Dreams on November 4, 1899 in which he argued that understanding dreams can give an insight into our personality. It was slow to take off, the first edition selling only 351 copies in its first six years. However, in time it became the book that gave Freud worldwide recognition.

In 1905 Freud published Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, in which he referred to the essence of comedy as "the awakening of the infantile." He did not believe that there was such a thing as a joke, it being just stuff from the unconscious and he felt laughter was just a way of dealing with fear.

Freud's 1913 Totem and Taboo explored how culture and society are rooted in the prohibition against incest, an assertion contrary to the development of Carl Jung's studies


Freud first met Martha Bernays (1861-1951), his sister's sister in law in 1882, but they couldn't afford to get married until 1886.

The daughter of a prominent Jewish family, Martha's ancestors included a chief rabbi of Hamburg and Heinrich Heine.

Martha was a devoted maternal wife to him and was famed for the care she took of her husband. She even put the toothpaste on his toothbrush.

Martha's more intellectual sister Minna lived with her and Sigmund for 42 years.

They had six children - Mathilde (1887-1978), Jean Martin (1889-1967), Oliver (1891-1969), Ernst (1892-1970), Sophie (1893-1920), Anna (1895-1982). Anna became a distinguished child psychoanalyst in her own right. whilst Oliver was named after Oliver Cromwell.

A grandson Lucien (1922-2011 ) became a renowned painter. Other ancestors include the politician and writer Clement Freud,  the TV presenter and journalist Emma Freud and fashion designer Bella Freud.

Freud was a friend and colleague of the Swiss adherent of psychoanalysis, Carl Gustav Jung, until they split over their different takes on mystical experiences.

In 1918 Freud lost his entire fortune which was tied up in Austrian State Bonds.

A chronic migraine and sinusitis sufferer, Freud took cocaine to alleviate his sinusitis but found it did little for his headaches. One cause of Freud’s migraines was an Alpine wind called the Föhn, which dramatically changes the atmospheric pressure and temperature.

From 1891 until 1938, Freud and his family lived in an apartment at Berggasse 19 near the Innere Stadt or historical quarter of Vienna

Following the Nazi occupation of Austria and already a victim of their anti-Semitic policies, Sigmund Freud fled to London.

En route to London, Freud was met by a group of admirers in Paris. They asked him "What did they do to you?" " They inhibited me" replied the refugee with a smile.

Freud initially took digs at 39 Elsworthy Road, Primrose Hill, then sets up home at 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead. It cost £6,500. His daughter, Anna, came with him.


Sigmund Freud was totally disinterested in all music apart from opera. He felt that a "turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected."

Freud had a vast collection of Greek painted vases.

He was a keen zoologist as a youngster and was fond of dogs. Freud once had an orange chow called Jo-Fi who attended his analysis sessions sitting under his desk then came out at the end of his patient's session.

In his old age Freud read Kipling's Jungle Book many times. He said it was one of those books that affect a persons 'weltanschauung' (Way of looking at the world).

French writer Honoré de Balzac's 1831 novel La Peau de Chagrin was the last book read by Sigmund Freud before he committed suicide.

Freud never learned how to read a railway timetable and was almost always accompanied on journeys in case he got lost. Often it was his sister-in-law Minna accompanying him as Martha disliked travelling.


Freud was of Jewish descent but an agnostic himself. He was influenced by the anti Christian writings of Feuerbach. Freud claimed “At bottom God is nothing more than an exalted Father” and the devil is a “primitive feudal father”.

Freud believed knowledge came through the sciences and also argued that religious beliefs can be “cured” by psychotherapy. He claimed, “when a man is freed of religion he has a better chance to live a normal and wholesome life.”

Freud's childhood nursemaid was a devout Catholic and despite his lack of faith, he maintained a deep interest in Biblical history and religion, possibly influenced by her. Freud put it on record that he began his study of human nature with the Scriptures. He recognized the Bible to be an honest book about human nature.

Towards the end of his life, Freud wrote Moses and Monotheism, in which he took up the idea that Moses got his monotheism from Egypt. Moses was an amalgam of two men, one an Egyptian who taught the Hebrews the monotheistic religion of Akhnaten and was murdered by the Hebrews, and the other a Midianite who taught the Hebrews to serve Yahweh, a volcano-god whose abode was Mount Sinai in western Arabia.

In his analysis of the roots of anti-Jewish feeling, Freud wrote that Jews bear the reproach of other peoples as having killed God: "They will not admit that they killed God, whereas we do and are cleansed from the guilt of it."


Freud began smoking tobacco at age 24, believing that it enhanced his capacity to work and that he could exercise self-control in moderating it. Initially a cigarette smoker, he later became a cigar smoker.

In 1923 the first signs of Freud’s cancer of the jaw were detected. By the end of the year he was undergoing surgery whereby part of his jaw and palate was removed surgically and an uncomfortable metal roof was fitted to his mouth. From then on speech was very difficult for him and he had to endure over thirty surgical procedures; pain and discomfort marked the rest of his life.

Freud continued smoking his 20 cigars a day even after he developed the oral cancer for seven years until a heart attack forced him to give them up.

Freud, late 1930s. By David Webb from Alicante, Spain - Wikipedia

By mid-September 1939, Freud's cancer of the jaw was causing him increasingly severe pain and had been declared to be inoperable. His doctor, friend and fellow refugee, Max Schur, administered fatal doses of morphine on 21 and 22 September . Freud died in his study at 20 Maresfield Gardens on September 23, 1939.

After cremation Freud's ashes were placed in one of  his Greek vases and deposited in the crematorium at Golders Green in London.

Freud's major academic regret was that he did not get the Nobel Prize which he had long coveted. The psychiatric community remained hostile to his 'sexual' theories and even Albert Einstein refused to support Freud's candidacy.

The term “Freudian slip” to indicate a mistake that may reveal a subconscious intention was first recorded in English in 1959.

Sources Encyclopedia of Britannica, Daily Mail

No comments:

Post a Comment