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Sigmund Freud, Women And Child Abuse

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Category: Psychology

Autor: reviewessays 03 January 2011

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Sigmund Freud and His Views

Sigmund Freud has been called the father of psychotherapy. His studies and views on how personality develops and is affected by different experiences or exposures to stimuli have been disputed and discussed for over 100 years. This paper will highlight Freud’s life and theories as well as answer two questions. These two questions are; did Freud sexually abuse children and did Freud have a personal vendetta against women?

Life and Times

Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 to a Jewish Family and grew up in Freiberg, Moravia which is now a part of the Czech Republic. Freud was the eldest of eight children from his mother and had older half-brothers from his father’s previous marriage. The family was very poor, but realizing Freud’s outstanding intellect, every effort was made to ensure that Sigmund obtain the best education possible. As a result, Freud was able to graduate from the University of Vienna at the age of 17 (Wikipedia, 2007).

Attempts to learn of Freud’s early life have been ineffective and evidence to support that Freud destroyed all personal affects of his early life and family life has been found. In 1886, after studying medicine in France, Freud returned to Vienna and began the study of brain disorders and nervous conditions. This is where Freud developed his theory of “free association”. He would sometimes hypnotize his patients, but most often he would put the patients on his couch and encourage them to speak of whatever was in their heart and mind (Wikipedia, 2007).

While in his 40s Freud, himself, experienced many phobias and fears that he attempted to diagnosis on his own. He had a strong fear of dying and found his dreams may give the answers to his thoughts and feelings. Attempting self-analysis, Freud found that his anger towards his father was because of his sexual attraction to his mother. This time has been thought, by many experts, to be Freud’s most creative and visual part of his life (Wikipedia, 2007).

Freud published several books on the unconscious mind in 1900 and 1901 which led to his appointment as a full professor at the University of Vienna. He had a large group of followers who taught and supported his psychoanalytic doctrines. He stayed in Vienna, and taught and developed more theories on psychoanalysis until the annexation of Austria or Anchluss, by Nazi Germany in 1938 (Wikipedia, 2007). At this time, Freud and his family fled to France and on to England where Freud continued his practice and studies. Freud died on September 23, 1939 from complications of mouth cancer due to his practice of smoking upwards of one box of cigars a day. Theories that his death was due to physician-assisted morphine overdose have been furthered after reviews of his diary and writings were conducted (Wikipedia, 2007).

Children and Freud

Freud’s theories on psychosexual development have been challenged for many years. Freud maintained that all humans are sexual from birth and the exposure of the infant to differing types of treatment from the mother and father dependent on the sex of the child can affect the child’s development for years (Wikipedia, 2007). Freud believed that many adult neurosis or hysteria was the result of things that had happened to the adult when younger.

Failure of the mother to provide the proper nurturing influence and the father to be the stronger role model, many children found ways to fantasize relationships with the parent of the opposite sex as a part of their sexual growth and development. One of Freud’s famous cases was that of Little Hans. Little Hans was a patient of Freud’s during the ages of three to five years of age. Freud only met with Hans one time and remaining information was given to Freud from Hans’ father. Freud found a relationship between Hans’ fear of horses to a fear of castration and an “Oedipal” relationship with Hans’ mother (answers.com, 2007). Freud’s paper, Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, published in 1926 detailed this case study and defined Freud’s theory of anxiety. Included in the paper were the details of Hans’ experience with masturbation, fear of horses with black bits (thought to represent Hans’ father) and his mother’s statement that she would cut off the child’s penis if she caught him playing with it again (answers.com, 2007).

Many people believe Freud engaged in sexual abuse of children as a part of his studies. His studies on the theories of personality are based upon five stages of development in a child from birth until adulthood. All the theories are centered on specific erogenous zones or particular body parts that are sensitive to sexual stimulation (Stevenson, 1996). Needs, as noted by Freud, which need to be met during each of these stages of development are present from the moment of birth. If the needs are not met or if the needs are overly met, the child will experience frustration or overindulgence issues (Stevenson, 1996). In addition to the issues of frustration or overindulgence, should the child become fixated upon a particular stage the methods the child uses to obtain satisfaction for that stage will affect the child throughout adulthood (Stevenson, 1996).

How did Freud identify these theories? Did Freud sexually assault his young patients? From studies that have been conducted on Freud’s research the findings show that Freud abandoned his seduction theory when he began to realize that the accounts of sexual abuse by parents were not true. In fact, Freud noted that these accounts were most probably due to the patient’s repressed sexual desires for the parent accused of the abuse, as a part of his five states of childhood development (skewsme.com, 2007).

There was a study published in 1984, however, that shows evidence to the contrary. Jeffrey Masson challenged Freud’s findings based on research of letters between Freud and a friend Wilhelm Fliess. Masson stated that the letters show without a doubt that Freud knew that many of the examples of sexual abuse detailed by his patient’s were real and he chose to ignore the reality. No doubt, Freud’s reluctance to expose the abusers was due to the lack of acceptance of his theories on seduction and secondly his unwillingness to further hurt his career as a psychoanalyst (skewsme.com, 2007).

In addition to these thoughts evidence was uncovered that proved Fliess had abused his own son. Because of the realization of his friend’s heinous acts, Freud was forced to banish any evidence of childhood seduction from his own consciousness. Even if Freud was not a child abuser himself, his failure to stand up for what he believed and knew as right had a disastrous affect on the reporting of child abuse and how abusers were dealt with at that time in history (skewsme.com, 2007).

Freud and Women

Did Freud hate women or did he have strong feelings that he repressed? Freud’s theories of psychosexual development are rooted in the relationships that children have with the parent of the opposite sex. Freud wrote, “I found myself a constant love for my mother, and jealousy of my father. I now consider this to be a universal event in childhood” (Wikipedia, 2007). In his publication, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Freud pointed out that each of the five steps detailed is a progression for a child to adult sexual maturity. Freud was also a champion of sexual freedom and education for women. Freud maintained that women were a kind of “mutilated male” and women have to strive constantly to overcome this deformity and accept the lack of a penis as normal (Wikipedia, 2007). Freud’s use of the words, “penis envy” and “castrating” to describe strong women who were attempting to stand out in what was then a male oriented society have been denounced by feminists of today (Wikipedia, 2007).

While strong feminist theorists do not denounce Freud’s psychosexual theories, the feminists believe that the theories must be interpreted and adapted to remove any signs of sexism. One such feminist, Shulamith Firestone stated that Freud’s theories are correct, except for the used of the word “penis”. Firestone indicated what Freud meant by using the word “penis” was the word “Power” (Wikipedia, 2007).

Do these thoughts and arguments point to Freud having a vendetta against women? For Freud women were the lifeblood of nurturance and substance. His theories on oral gratification and the Oedipal and Elektra complexes found in children during the phallic stage, give rise to his admiration for women in the opinion of the writer. Freud’s relationship with his mother was strong as was his relationship with his wife. Some writers have also indicated that Freud was aware of and believed in the high number of young women in Vienna who were the subjects of sexual abuse by older male relatives in 19th century Victorian Vienna (Thornton, 2006). Freud was hesitant to reveal his findings for the hysteria in these young women due to the affect the findings would have had on both his reputation and future as a psychoanalysts in Vienna during this time (Thornton, 2006).


Some people believe Sigmund Freud was a woman hater and child abuser. Review of his studies and theories do not support such feelings. Called the father of psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud developed theories of growth and development as well as how the treatment or neglect of a child by one or both parents during a child’s early development stages could have adverse affects on the child’s sexuality in later years. Does this preclude Freud from having sexual relations outside of his marriage or from encouraging young patients to detail acts of sexual abuse during therapy sessions?

Any and all theories of psychology and development could be dissected and interpreted in many ways. What Freud claimed as a part of his theories is based upon his research and how he interpreted his patients’ fantasies, fears, anxieties and neurosis’s. At no time has anyone been able to prove his aversion to women or his abuse of children.


Answers.com (2007). Castration anxiety. Retrieved July 29, 2007 from http://www.answers.com/little+hans?cat=health&print-=true

Skewsme.com (2007). Freud and seduction theory reconsidered. Retrieved July 29, 2007 from http://www.skewsme.com/freud.html

Stevenson, D. (1996). Freud’s psychosexual stages of development. Retrieved July, 29, 2007 from http://www.victorianweb.org/science/freud/develop.html

Thornton, S.T. (2006). Sigmund Freud, 1856 – 1939. Retrieved July 29, 2007 from http://www.iep.utm.edu/f/freud.htm

Wikipedia (2007). Sigmund Freud. Retrieved July, 29, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Freud