Sigmund Freud is the father of psychoanalysis, so it’s not surprising much has been written about him over the past century since he first introduced his trailblazing theories about childhood development. At first his theories were very controversial, but then gradually accepted by many — so much so that many of his ideas have become entrenched into pop psychology.
Freud was an interesting man who grew up in a step-family household that was largely poor. What’s even more interesting is what you don’t know about this most famous of all psychoanalysts. Here are 6 of the more surprising and bizarre facts about Sigmund Freud.
1. Despite his extensive theories on childhood development, Freud saw only a single patient who was a child in psychoanalysis.
Despite his theories about how children are sexual beings who develop into adults with unconscious issues, Freud saw only a single patient during his lifetime who was actually a child.
Little Hans, as the patient became best known as, was the 5-year-old son of a friend of Freud’s, Max Graf. Graf was a composer and music historian who sometimes attended the weekly psychoanalytic meetings held at Freud’s house. Hans developed a phobia, refusing to leave his house because he was afraid a horse might bite him (Cohen, 2009).
Freud developed this single case study into the theory on which he would base his entire career. Since he couldn’t act on his father being a rival to him for his mother’s attention, Hans had to repress his anger and aggression toward his father. This repression leads to a fear of being castrated by his father (since his father is in control and has all the power in the relationship).
Hans could ward off his fear of being castrated by his father (who looked a little like a horse, at least in Freud’s eyes) by putting his fear onto horses. Being afraid of a horse is a way of Hans’ unconscious allowing him to manage his fear of castration.
2. Freud enjoyed cocaine for 13 years and wrote about its health benefits.
Admirers of Freud sometimes overlook some of his faults. Yet Freud experimented with cocaine from 1887 before giving it up in 1900. He used cocaine as a way to help with his “depression, lack of energy, and stomach troubles, and as an aphrodisiac” (Cohen, 2009). He also wrote four papers “praising cocaine,” but he later excluded these papers from any collection of his works (Cohen, 2009).1
After 1900, Freud seems to have instead turned to cigars to get his daily fix. Cigars would eventually be his downfall, though, leading to cancer of the mouth first diagnosed in 1923. The spread of his cancer would eventually lead to his death in 1939.
3. Freud’s death was hastened by doctor-assisted suicide.
More than 75 years after his death, we are still debating the ethics of doctor-assisted suicide. Yet one of the long-standing agreements Freud had with his doctor was, when Freud was ready, that his doctor Max Schur would help him die with dignity.
Taking the hand of the physician at his bedside, Sigmund Freud said, “My dear Schur, you certainly remember our first talk. You promised me then not to forsake me when my time comes. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense any more.”
Schur reassured his patient that he had not forgotten. (Cohen, 2009)
Schur administered two lethal doses of morphine 12 hours apart, eventually killing Freud on September 23, 1939.
4. Freud left his 4 sisters in Nazi-occupied Vienna when he fled the city.
Although Freud was able to get his immediate family — and even his housekeeper! — out of Vienna in 1938, he left behind his four younger Jewish sisters. By late 1939, they were forcefully moved out of their homes as their money to pay off the Nazis ran out.
During 1942, they were individually sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where eventually all four died.
It’s not clear why Freud left his sisters behind — too expensive? too risky? — or why he made little apparent effort once he left to also arrange for their travel out of Austria.
5. The U.S. Library of Congress houses 8 boxes of Freud correspondence that can never be opened.
The U.S. Library of Congress is the archivist for many famous people’s correspondence, as people bequeath such writings to them.2 However, people often leave stipulations in their wills about how and when such correspondence can be shared with the public.
The Library has 153 boxes of correspondence relating to Freud, his family, patients, colleagues, and his writings. Of those, 19 boxes can’t be opened until 2020, 2050 or 2057. Another 8 boxes are sealed forever. Why the Library of Congress would take boxes that nobody can ever see or use is beyond me.
In contrast, “Carl Rogers, the founder of humanist psychotherapy gave the Library of Congress all of his papers with no restrictions” (Cohen, 2009).
6. Freud psychoanalyzed his daughter Anna throughout his lifetime.
In a truly bizarre twist to his theories about how adults get stuck in their lives (through women’s penis envy or some other issue that must be worked through), Freud regularly saw his daughter Anna for psychoanalysis sessions.
Because Anna was unmarried and lived with her father and mother during their lifetime, Freud saw his daughter at 10:00 pm, just before he went to bed. He started analyzing her when she was 23, and continued until his death (Cohen, 2009).
Freud discouraged suitors away from Anna, too. When she was 18 and being courted, Freud told the man that she was “still far away from sexual longings” (Cohen, 2009). “The pioneer who had argued children were sexual was protesting that his eighteen-year-old daughter had no sexual feelings,” writes Cohen (2009).
Cohen, D. (2009). The escape of Sigmund Freud. Overlook Press: New York.
- Freud also prescribed cocaine to one of his teachers, Ernst Fleischl, during this time, to help wean him off morphine. It didn’t work and Fleischl eventually died of a cocaine and morphine overdose. [↩]
- It’s interesting to think how modern scientist’s correspondence will be archived, given that it is largely digital. Will people print out all of their tweets to allow them to be kept in perpetuity? [↩]