Blog Post No.91
Published on 16th September 2016 (Previously posted on Monday 14th July 2014)
Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne
A counsellor’s blog: Was Sigmund Freud a celibate and repressed homosexual?
In this blog post, I want to look at some reflections upon my own approach to managing my own health; plus managing my enquiries into human knowledge, using the example of books about Freud.
As we approached last weekend, Renata and I decided we needed a break and so we decided to visit Manchester on Saturday 12th July.
On Saturday morning, I pulled my back out, and was in pain and unable to even dress myself.
I was in enormous pain, and our outing to Manchester seemed to be hopelessly compromised.
However, I remembered what I had learned from Sarah Key’s wonderful book (Body in Action), on previous occasions, and so:
- I did not take any pain killers; (all painkillers cause stomach damage!)
- I did not call a physician; (physician heal thyself!);
- But I did get an exercise mat out and began to do Sarah Key’s exercises for back problems.
Thirty minutes later, I was ready to take the train to Manchester, taking care not to jar my back by sudden movements.
On the train I dipped into one of Renata’s books on nutrition, and realized that one of my client’s might be helped by omega 3 supplements (for early waking – which is normally attributed to depression). Indeed, the author went on to suggest that other symptoms of omega 3 deficiency included emotional sensitivity (depression, anxiety, mood swings). This is all part of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy – the treatment of the individual holistically. Instead of psychiatric drugs, many individuals could benefit from omega 3 supplements – like krill oil! Or a significant change of diet, especially the elimination of grains, dairy and legumes, which all seem to cause inflammation in the body which necessarily affects all aspects of the body-mind.
In the bookshop!
On Saturday, in Waterstone’s bookshop, on Deansgate, Manchester, I found a book on Bayes Theorem – which seems to boil down to the idea that in any scientific enquiry, we should start with a ‘guess’ and then collect evidence or data to modify our beliefs arising out of that guess. In theory, we will continually refine our approximations to reality.
I think I have worked like this for a long time: having a hunch, and then trying to stand it up or knock it down, or to allow it to be modified by ongoing experience.
Recently I picked up this piece of information: From the age of 40 years, Sigmund Freud was celibate! Yes, celibate. The man who sexualized the whole of human psychology and personality was not (it seems) actively sexual from the age of forty years onwards!
This caused me to wonder, and ponder. How does this fit with the rest of what I know about Freud; which, admittedly, is not a great deal. I have probably read more Freud than most non-psychodynamic counsellors, but I am far from being expert in understanding the man or his works. (See my writings on Freud’s work on New Writing on CENT theory.***)
The sexualizer of children was celibate
Today, I looked up Freud’s date of birth. Here it is: May 6, 1856.
So he was forty in 1896, at which time his main theory of the source of hysteria in his clients, male and female, was early childhood sexual abuse by family members, or premature sexual excitement (too early initiation into sexual passion).
One year later, when he had been celibate for at least one year, he abandoned that theory, and proposed instead that children were sexual beings, who projected their (non-conscious) sexual phantasies into the physical world, and mistook their phantasy for reality. A parallel here is with celibate Catholic priests, who often ‘discover’ that children ‘want’ to have sex wit them, which is really a projection of their own dammed up sexuality onto the child!
If you want to get a sense of how horrible and extreme is the emotional damage done to the child victims of ‘priestly’ sexual, emotional and physical abuse, then you must read Hanya Yanagihara’s harrowing novel, A Little Life. This story follows the life of Jude St. Francis, a very damaged person, who was thrown on the rubbish by his mother, when he was a little baby, and then ‘rescued’ by a group of monks (and at least one priest), who systematically abused him, sexually, physically and emotionally, for fifteen years. The long-term consequences on the life of Jude are unbelievably horrible. Every man who contemplates celibacy should be forced to read this book, and write an essay on the horrors of male celibacy, and the very idea of ‘sexualizing’ children!
So, here is a celibate man (Freud), attributing to children a sexuality that we (non-Freudians) do not normally believe to be real. (Humans are subject to age-related developmental stages; and sexuality comes along quite late in the day; at puberty). And I have argued elsewhere, in one of my longer papers, that in order to make his theory plausible, Freud had to redefine ‘sexuality’ to include everything that we would normally think of as love or friendship.
So what do we know about Freud’s reason, or motive, or cause of his celibacy? I did an online search and found this:
“Freud held the opinion (based on personal experience and observation) that sexual activity was incompatible with the accomplishing of any great work. Since he felt that the great work of creating and establishing psychotherapy was his destiny, he told his wife that they could no longer engage in sexual relations. Indeed from about the age of forty until his death Freud was absolutely celibate “in order to sublimate the libido for creative purposes,” according to his biographer Ernest Jones.” (Sigmund Freud biography, a webpage at http://www.wien-vienna.com/freud.php).
Was Freud an adulterer or a homosexual?
There were rumours (not least from Carl Jung) that the reason for Freud abandoning sexual relations with his wife was that he was having an affair with his sister in law. However, the two activities (of sexual relations with his wife and his sister in law) would not be totally incompatible, and as such this seems to me to be an unlikely explanation.
On Saturday, I was reading about Bays theorem for a while When I went to join Renata, she drew my attention to a relatively new book on Freud, titled: Sigmund Freud’s Discovery of Psychoanalysis, by Paul Schimmel (2014), published by Routledge.
I read the blurb on the back cover, which suggested that Schimmel had identified a parallel between Freud’s personal life and his theory of psychoanalysis. This was interesting for me, because, in my own research, I had found a strong parallel between the childhood experiences of Dr Albert Ellis and his later theory of Rational Therapy. (And this morning, I stumbled over a statement in a book on the common factors approach to counselling and therapy in which the author says: “the therapist has nothing to offer but him (or her) self”. Too true! Therapist do what therapists are!)
I dipped into Schimmel’s book, and found a statement in which he is analysing some of Freud’s correspondence with Fliess, with whom Freud had a passionate, fifteen year correspondence. Schimmel quotes Freud as saying that his own (that is, Freud’s) letters suggest a romantic homosexual attachment to Fliess. Now that, I suddenly realized, is a much better explanation of Freud’s celibacy – his lack of interest in heterosexual love.
I then realized it would take me months to track down the details of this case, and that I have much more urgent priorities to deal with, so we left Schimmel’s book on the shelf, and headed for the Eight Day for lunch. (Aubergine and tofu bake, with salsa verde; and a big mug of organic coffee! Yummy!)
That’s all for now.
Dr Jim Byrne
01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)
44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)