Freud, Sigmund

(1856–1939)
   Founder of psychoanalysis. Although his theories and clinical methods are still debatable today, Freud threw new light on the workings of the human mind. The revelation that a person’s actions could be motivated by subconscious forces of which he was unaware destroyed the 18- century image of man as a rational being. Freud’s influence has extended far beyond medical science, and pervaded modern ideas of education, psychology, religion, sociology, penal systems, art and literature. Born in Freiburg, Moravia, in 1856, Freud was educated in Vienna, where at the age of twenty he began his career in physiological research. After studying the causes and treatment of hysteria, in collaboration with Josef Breuer, Freud began to pioneer a new therapy for mental illness, which he called psychoanalysis. His premise was that the ruling drives of mankind resided in an unconscious level of the mind. Consciousness accordingly became superficial, a distorting mirror of reality, used as often to hide as to reveal the truth. The patient would be asked to recall to consciousness his forgotten memories and this, Freud claimed, enabled the therapist to uncover various repressed experiences which were the true cause of mental disturbance and neurosis. Freud in this way substituted ‘free association’ for the technique of hypnosis used by Breuer. In the course of this work Freud came to believe that many of man’s repressed impulses were sexual drives which the patient had resisted, and which found an indirect outlet in various symptoms. In 1897, Freud began to psychoanalyze himself, mainly through his dreams, a process that led him to the theory that dreams were a disguised fulfilment of repressed wishes. These conclusions were first published in 1900 (Interpretation of Dreams, 1913).
   About 1906, Freud emerged from the isolation into which the medical world had thrust him, and gained a group of disciples, of whom the most notable were C.G.Jung of Zurich, and a fellow Jew from Vienna, Alfred ADLER. By 1912, these two had broken away and formed their own schools. A major obstacle to Freud’s collaboration with other psychiatrists was his stress on the sexual factor in infancy and early childhood, and in what he described as the child’s Oedipus complex in its relations with its parents.
   During the years of World War I, Freud concentrated on developing the theoretical foundations of his work. He related mental processes to three main concepts - the ego, representing reason and reality, the id, connected with the primal instincts, and the superego, imposing moral restraints. Freud focused on the individual man, whose desires, anxieties, perversions and aggressions were essentially the same, no matter to what race, religion, nation or ideology he happened to belong. It is not surprising that the Nazis burned his works. In 1938, together with his daughter Anna (b. 1895), he managed to escape from German-occupied Austria and came to London, where he died a year later, after struggling against a particularly painful form of cancer. His last book, published in German in 1939, was Moses and Monotheism (1955), a study of the origins and characteristics of the Jewish religion.
   The gloom and physical pain that shrouded his last years naturally had its impact on his thinking in that period. He became deeply pessimistic and the message he conveyed was one of hopelessness for the human race, which he tended to view increasingly in terms of death, perversity and aggression. If the developments in scientific thought have left man groping after an elusive external reality, Freud left him seeking in vain for the reality of his inner self.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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