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An Autobiographical Study by Sigmund Freud (abstract)
Volume XX (1925-1926)

The New York Freudian Society - Freud Abstracts

Abstracts of the Standard Edition of the Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud

Carrie Lee Rothgeb, EDITOR

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An autobiographical study (1925). Editor's note. (1959). The English translation of the Autobiographical Study, when it was first published in America in 1927, was included in the same volume as Freud's discussion of lay analysis. This work is commonly, and quite misleadingly, referred to as Freud's 'Autobiography'. The aim of its editors was to present an account of the recent history of medical science from the pens of those who had played a chief part in making it. Freud's study is essentially an account of his personal share in the development of psychoanalysis. Those who wish for the story of his personal life must be referred to the 3 volumes of Ernest Jones's biography.

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An autobiographical study (1925)
Part I. Pre-analytic period

Freud was born on May 6, 1856, at Freiberg in Moravia, Czechoslovakia. His parents were Jews, and he remained a Jew. He came to Vienna at the age of 4 and went through his education there. Freud went to the University. His turning point came in 1882, when his teacher advised him to abandon his theoretical career. Freud left the physiological laboratory and entered the General Hospital as a Clinical Assistant. He became an active worker in the Institute of Cerebral Anatomy. He began to study nervous diseases. In the spring of 1885, he was appointed Lecturer in Neuropathology on the ground of his histological and clinical publications. He became a student at the Salpetriere. What impressed Freud most of all while he was with Charcot were his latest investigations upon hysteria. He had proved the genuineness of hysterical phenomena and their conformity to laws, the frequent occurrence of hysteria in men, and the production of hysterical paralyses and contractures by hypnotic suggestion. His therapeutic arsenal contained only 2 weapons, electrotherapy and hypnotism. During the period from 1886 to 1891, Freud did little scientific work.

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An autobiographical study (1925)
Part II. Hypnosis, hysteria, actual neuroses

Freud used hypnosis for questioning the patient upon the origin of his symptom, which in his waking state he could often describe only very imperfectly or not at all. While Freud was working in Brucke's laboratory, he made the acquaintance of Dr. Josef Breuer. Breuer told Freud about a case of hysteria which, between 1880 and 1882, he had treated in a manner which enabled him to penetrate into the causation and significance of hysterical symptoms. Breuer spoke of the method as cathartic; its therapeutic aim was explained as being to provide that the quota of affect used for maintaining the symptom, which had got on to the wrong lines and had, as it were, become strangulated there, should be directed on to the normal path along which it could obtain discharge (or abreaction). The stage of development which followed was the transition from catharsis to psychoanalysis proper. Freud regarded the neuroses as being, without exception, disturbances of the sexual function, the so-called actual neuroses being the direct toxic expression of such disturbances, and the psycho-neuroses, their mental expression. Freud altered the technique of catharsis. He abandoned hypnotism and sought to replace it by some other method after grasping the mysterious element that was at work behind hypnotism when a patient, with whom he obtained excellent results, threw her arms around his neck after awaking from a trance. However, he retained the practice of requiring the patient to lie upon a sofa while Freud sat behind him, seeing the patient but not being seen.

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An autobiographical study (1925)
Part III. Basic theories of psychoanalysis

When Freud was set free from hypnotism, the work of catharsis took on a new complexion. Everything that had been forgotten had in some way or other been distressing. In order to make it conscious again, it was necessary to make efforts on one's own part so as to urge and compel him to remember. The expenditure of force on the part of the physician was the measure of a resistance on the part of the patient. The ego drew back on its first collision with the objectionable instinctual impulse; it debarred the impulse from access to consciousness and to direct motor discharge, but at the same time the impulse retained its full cathexis of energy. This process is called repression. The theory of repression became the cornerstone of the understanding of the neuroses. Psychoanalysis separates the unconscious into a preconscious and an unconscious proper. The investigation of the precipitating and underlying causes of the neuroses led Freud to conflicts between the subject's sexual impulses and his resistances to sexuality. He was carried further and further back into the patient's life and ended by reaching the first years of his childhood. Freud discovered that the seduction scenes reported by his patients so regularly as having happened in childhood were really wishful fantasies. He was thereby led to the conclusion that neurotic symptoms (compromise formations between the regressed impulse striving for satisfaction and the resistance of the ego opposed to it) were not related to actual events but to wishful fantasies. The sexual function is in existence from the very beginning of the individual's life, though at first it is attached to the other vital functions and does not become independent of them until later. Sexual energy is called libido. It does not pass through its prescribed course of development smoothly and can become fixated at various points as a result. The various stages of object relationship are chronologically described (autoerotic, oedipal) and the diphasic nature of sexual growth is discussed.

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An autobiographical study (1925)
Part IV. Technique of psychoanalysis

The theories of resistance and of repression, of the unconscious, of the etiological significance of sexual life and of the importance of infantile experiences form the principal constituents of the theoretical structure of psychoanalysis. Freud asked his patient to abandon himself to a process of free association. The factor of transference was discovered. An intense emotional relationship develops between the patient and the analyst which cannot be accounted for by the actual situation. It can be positive (to the extreme of unbridled love) or negative (to the extreme of hatred). Transference is the mainspring of the joint work of analysis. It can become a major resistance. Analysis without transference is an impossibility. With the help of the method of free association and of the related art of interpretation, psychoanalysis succeeded in proving that dreams have a meaning. The latent dream thoughts contain the meaning of the dream, while its manifest content is simply a make believe, which can serve as a starting point for the associations but not for the interpretation. The unconscious impulse makes use of the nocturnal relaxation of repression in order to push its way into consciousness with the dream. But the repressive resistance of the ego is not abolished in sleep but merely reduced. Some of it remains in the shape of a censorship of dreams and forbids the unconscious impulse to express itself as the fulfillment of a repressed wish. Dreams have access to the forgotten material of childhood, and so it happens that infantile amnesia is for the most part overcome in connection with the interpretation of dreams. In the same way that psychoanalysis makes use of dream interpretation, it also profits by the study of the numerous little slips and mistakes which people make, symptomatic actions, as they are called.

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An autobiographical study (1925)
Part V. Collaborators, defectors and new instinct theory

For more than 10 years after his separation from Breuer, Freud had no followers. The main obstacle to agreement lay in the fact that Freud's opponents regarded psychoanalysis as a product of his speculative imagination and were unwilling to believe in the long, patient and unbiased work which had gone to its making. The result of the official anathema against psychoanalysis was that the analysts began to come closer together. Official disapproval could not hinder the spread of psychoanalysis either in Germany or in other countries. If the preliminary cathartic period is left on one side, the history of psychoanalysis falls, from Freud's point of view, into 2 phases. In the first of these, he stood alone and had to do all the work himself: this was from 1895 until 1906 or 1907. In the second phase, the contributions of his pupils and collaborators were growing more and more in importance. Increasing experience showed more and more plainly that the Oedipus complex was the nucleus of the neurosis. In the Oedipus complex, the libido was seen to be attached to the image of the parental figures. The picture which life presents to us is the result of the concurrent and mutually opposing action of Eros and the death of instinct. The neuroses were the first subject of analysis. However, Freud was able, very early (1896) to establish in a case of paranoid dementia the presence of the same etiological factors and the same emotional complexes as in the neuroses. Freud also discussed the concept of narcissism. This was a state where the subject's libido filled his own ego and had that for its object. Narcissism developed at an earlier period than the Oedipus complex. Narcissistic libido was part of the ego instincts (those of self-preservation) as opposed to the libidinal instincts. This was later replaced by the contract between narcissistic libido and object libido. He also postulated a death instinct as opposed to Eros (self-preservative instincts). In his latest speculative work (The Ego and The Id) Freud outlined the structural aspect of the mental apparatus by describing the id, ego and superego.

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An autobiographical study (1925).
Part VI. History of applied analysis

From the time of the writing of The Interpretation of Dreams, psychoanalysis ceased to be a purely medical subject. Between its appearance in Germany and in France, lies the history of its numerous applications to departments of literature and of esthetics, to the history of religions and to prehistory, to mythology, to folklore, to education, and so on. A number of suggestions came to Freud out of the Oedipus complex, the ubiquity of which gradually dawned on him. From understanding of the Oedipus Tragedy of destiny, it was only a step further to understanding a tragedy of character, Hamlet. It could scarcely be a chance that this neurotic creation of the poet should have come to grief, like his numberless fellows in the real world, over the Oedipus complex. Freud set a high value on his contributions to the psychology of religion, which began with the establishment of a remarkable similarity between obsessive actions and religious practices or ritual. The obsessional neurosis is described as a distorted private religion and religion as a kind of universal obsessional neurosis. It is only a step from the phantasies of individual neurotics to the imaginative creations of groups and peoples as we find them in myths, legends, and fairy tales.

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An autobiographical study (1925)
Postscript (1935)

An Autobiographical Study first appeared in America in 1927. Two themes run through these pages: the story of Freud's life and the history of psychoanalysis. They are intimately interwoven. An Autobiographical Study shows how psychoanalysis came to be the whole content of Freud's life and assumes that no personal experiences of his are of any interest in comparison to his relations with that science. At the end of his life Freud returned to the investigation of interests that held his attention as a youth, that of culture. There can no longer be any doubt that psychoanalysis will continue; it has proved its capacity to survive and to develop both as a branch of knowledge and as a therapeutic method. The number of its supporters has considerably increased. Some supporters lay most stress upon clarifying and deepening our knowledge of psychology, while others are concerned with keeping in contact with medicine and psychiatry. From the practical point of view, some analysts have set themselves the task of bringing about the recognition of psychoanalysis at the universities and its inclusion in the medical curriculum, whereas others are content to remain outside these institutions and will not allow that psychoanalysis is less important in the field of education than in that of medicine.

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