One of Sigmund Freud’s greatest studies was the analysis of a phobia in a five year old boy, Little Hans in 1909 which he integrated his recent theory on infantile sexuality; which at the time of publication was thought of as scandalous. Hans’s parents were concerned about his obsession with his widdler’ (penis or phallus) and presented Freud with his case. Freud was indirectly involved as he supervised’ his father by analysing written transcripts of conversations and incidents relating to Hans. Hans father, Max Graf, attended Freud’s lectures and his mother was a previous neurosis patient, both having knowledge of psychoanalysis. On the basis of his fathers notes infantile sexuality refers to the nature of sexual thought and action in the child and comes in overlapping phases; oral, anal, phallic latency and puberty. An explanation of the theory and examples from the case will be elaborated on further. Transference, although not commented on in the case, was evident and will be outlined along with the formation of Hans’s subjectivity and the role of his father.
Freud alleges human sexuality commences at birth, not at puberty as assumed by most people at the time, “Popular opinion has quite definite ideas about the nature and characteristics of this sexual instinct. It is generally understood to be absent in childhood” (Freud, p. 45 Vol 7). Additionally, Freud indicates this sexual instinct is prevalent in children right through to adolescence.
Freud used the term infantile sexuality to describe what he believed were instinctual drives made up of components, which seek pleasure or gratification. Furthermore Freud indicated some disturbances affect the sexual instincts throughout the course of psychosexual development, resulting in some form of perversions. In fact Freud indicates that infants are completely open to sexual irregularities that stem from their libidinal instincts. “It is an instructive fact that under the influence of seduction, children can become polymorphously perverse and can be led into all possible kinds of sexual irregularities” (Ibid). With little resistance towards carrying out their perversions as the mental dams have yet to be formed (super-ego).
Sexual inhibitions observed during the period of latency are the creator of mental forces, which later interfere with the course of sexual instinct by restricting its flow. They are built up through education and interactions with the environment and come from claims of moral ideals, thus producing feelings of shame and disgust (Freud, 1905 pg 177), giving birth to the super ego’.
Stages of Psychosexual Development
According to Freud all children will experience a number of developmental phases namely oral, anal, and phallic (which coincides with the Oedipus complex), latency and finally genital. Freud theorised if children could not successfully negotiate their way through these stages, then neuroses or a breed of perversion may arise as a result. Whatever shape of sexuality one eventually takes, Freud asserts it is inevitably rooted in infantile sexuality. I will attempt to explain some of these stages and correlate them to Han’s phobia of horses.
The manifestations of infantile sexuality are present from birth and are the first phase of psychosexual development, as an instinctual attachment to the breast for nourishment is present in all new-borns. Freud highlighted the pleasure that derives from this sucking’ experience (oral phase). The child’s lips (the labial) behave like an erogenous zone and are stimulated by the warm flow of milk thus causing this highly pleasurable sensation (Freud, 1905 pg181). Later, the child detaches from the breast the experienced pleasure is remembered and often this separation is replaced by thumb/toe sucking or genital stimulation, arousing similar pleasures and disassociating the labial zone with nourishment, therefore the child is independent of the external world by providing himself with an erotogenic zone. These remembered pleasures produce repetition (auto-eroticism) “Many children proceed by thus path from sucking to masturbation” (Freud, Pg 96, Vol 7).
The second phase of psychosexual development is associated with the activity of the anus and its excretion of faeces, which acts as masturbatory stimuli. As the child proceeds to develop, the muscular actions of the anus replaces the satisfying sucking, as another zone through which sexuality can attach itself. Children susceptible to the pleasure of the anal zone bluff themselves by holding back the stool until violent muscular contractions result in sudden pain and a highly pleasurable experience, following the release of the stool. The infant associates the content of his bowel with a gift’ and retention of this gift’ is intentional and is associated with his relation to his caregivers, by producing them he can express his compliance with his environment and, by withholding them, his disobedience’ (pg186, Freud), thus leading to unconscious impressions and determining the development of character. This pleasure was giving to Han’s auto-erotically by himself “That he had been one of those children who liked retaining their excretment till they can derive a voluptuous sensation from their evacuation” (Freud, Pg 266, Vol 7).
The next stage is the phallic (genital) which there is a renewal of sexual interest in other people and usually occurs between the ages three and five, then repression takes place until adult life. The activity of the genital zone; in adults is the zone where pleasure mostly derives, but children feel the sensations through washing or accidental rubbing of this area and associate it with pleasure, enticing the repetition. Freud considered this to correlate with his third phase of infantile sexuality, the oedipal’ or phallic stage’ and on successful resolution of this complex phase the child indentifies his gender. Freud suggests homosexuality and perversions occur when this phase is unsuccessfully resolved. This is followed by the latency period, which according to Freud the sexual drive becomes dormant until puberty.
In the case study of little Han’s, which is an analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy, Freud attempts to demonstrate that Han’s phobia of horses was related to his Oedipus complex. The Oedipus complex, according to Freud is when the child develops a strong sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex, while excluding the parent of the same sex. This is derived from a Greek mythology whereupon Oedipus unwittingly kills his father and marries his mother.
However, Freud was not directly involved in the case, he supervised his father through analysing the transcripts he wrote of detailed conversations between the ages three and five, only meeting the young boy once. Freud theorised that during the phallic stage, Hans was experiencing sexual feelings towards his mother and hatred towards his father. However as Han’s father is much bigger and stronger than him, Han’s fears his father will see him as his rival and castrate him.
In order to cope with the anxiety provided by this conflict, Han’s develops a defence mechanism known as identification with the aggressor. He adopts his father’s attitudes and mannerisms with the hope his father perceives him as similar, and neglect to carry through with castration.
Han’s main fear was entering the street with the notion a horse would bite, and his father equates this with a large penis. “He is afraid a horse will bite him in the street, and this fear seems somehow to be connected with his having been frightened by a large penis”. (Freud, Pg 22, Vol 10). Of course, Han’s will benefit by not entering the street because he will then have more time with his mother. When his nursemaid had taken him out one day, Han’s got upset. “In the street he began to cry and asked to be taken home, saying that he wanted to coax’ with his mummy”. (Freud, Pg 23, Vol 10). Prior to this incident an anxiety (nightmare) dream occurred and he woke distraught “When I was asleep I thought you were gone and I had no mummy to coax’ with.” (Freud, Pg 23, Vol 10).
Later he stated returning from Schonbrunn (zoo) “I was afraid a horse would bite me” (Freud, Pg 24, Vol 10) having only seen a horse. The next evening Han’s got upset at the thought of going out to the street again and wanted to be coaxed with. On the same day his mother asked; “Do you put your hand to your widdler?” Han’s replied “Yes, every evening, when I’m in bed” (Freud, Pg 24, Vol 10). The following day Han’s was warned not to do this to his widdler, but later admitted that he had (auto-eroticism). According to Freud this gave birth to the phobia. “Here, then, we have the beginning of Han’s anxiety as well as of his phobia” (Freud, Pg 24, Vol 10)
Freud suggests Han’s has at this stage (Phallic) has sexual desires towards his mother, consequently wanting to eliminate his father because of the threat he imposes. He subsequently represses these thoughts, as the anxieties they contain are too much to cope with. “It was this increased affection for his mother which tainted suddenly into anxiety which, as we should say, succumbed to repression”. (Freud, Pg 188, Vol 8).
Repression is the psychological process of excluding desires and impulses (wishes, fantasies or feelings) from one’s consciousness and holding or subduing them in the unconscious according to Freud, these repressed thoughts must be dealt with in order to negotiate the developmental stages adequately.
Han’s anxiety was probably heightened when he was three and half years old, his mother caught him playing with his widdler (penis) and threatened she would call the doctor to come and cut it off. “If you do that, I shall send for Dr. A to cut off your widdler. And then what will you widdle with?” Han’s replied “With my bottom” (Freud, Pg 8, Vol 10). He made this reply without having any sense of guilt as yet. But this was the occasion of his acquiring the castration complex.
As Han’s was already portraying an active interest in widdler’s and also those of other people which Freud refers to as scopophilia. An example of this was when he asked, “Mummy, have you got a widdler too?” To which his mother replied “Of course why” (Freud, Pg 7, Vol 10). Han’s also showed some interest in his sisters genitalia while she was being given a bath remaking “But her widder’s still quite small” then adding “When she grows up it’ll get bigger alright”. (Freud, Pg 175, Vol 8). Freud regards this as an act of disavowal.
To demonstrate Hans’s exhibitionism, sometime later Han’s was playing with two girls, Olga and Berta. He subsequently had a dream whereupon one of the girls touched his penis to help him widdle, “It is clear that being made to widdle- having his knickers unbuttoned and penis taken out- is pleasurable process for Han’s” (Freud, Pg 20, Vol 10), this is a form of exhibitionism.
A short while later Han’s had a fantasy in the night there was a big giraffe and a crumpled one; and the big one called out because I took the crumpled one away from it. Then it stopped calling out; and then I sat down on top of the crumpled one’ (Freud, Pg 37 Vol 10). His father’s interpretation of this fantasy was the following “The big giraffe is myself or rather the fathers big penis (the long neck) and the crumpled one is my wife or rather her genital organ” (Freud, Pg 39, Vol 10).
According to Han’s father, Han’s would enter their room every morning, his father would warn his wife not to encourage the boy into the bed, she would decline and then Han’s would stay with her a while longer “The whole thing is a reproduction of a scene which has been gone through almost every morning for the last few days” (Freud, Pg 39, Vol 10).
Freud later suggests to Han’s parents the following “I took care that when they spoke to him, great stress was laid upon his affection for his mother, for that was what he was trying to replace by his fear of horses”. (Freud, Pg 277, Vol 8) Freud further explains the horse and giraffes are symbols his defence mechanism produces in order to cope with the anxiety.
Dealing with his repressed erotogenic longing for his mother created anxiety and this anxiety needs to find an object, Freud refers this to as displacement. Hans is unaware of what his fear is on a conscious level, this is solely his unconscious at work.
Hans’s phobia has a satisfactory conclusion as a result of two fantasies. The first consists of Hans elevating himself to father status. During a discussion with his father about imaginary playmates,
Hans “I know I was their mummy before, now I’m their father” “so then who’s the children’s mummy?”
Father “why mummy, and your their granddaddy said Han’s” (Freud, Pg 97, Vol 10).
The second contains a plumber giving Hans a bigger widdler and anus. “The plumber came; at first he took away my behind with a pair of pincers, and then gave me another, and then the same with my widdler” (Freud, Pg 98, Vol 10).
Hans pictured himself as the father by imitating that role with his friends and concluded the plumber gave him larger genitals; these fantasies are a clear indicator of the successful resolution of his phobia.
Infantile Amnesia and Sublimation
Freud suggested infantile amnesia explains the lack of memory adults have relating to their childhood, usually the first six to eight years of life. Memories from childhood, referred to as screen memories’ are usually impressed in the mind and are metaphor for something of deeper significance to psychosexual development. I would like to add Hans, aged 19, returned to Freud’s office after reading the case and admitted this information was unknown to him. He was perfectly healthy and had suffered no troubles or inhibitions.
Interestingly at the time when Hans experienced a wave of repression, he gave up masturbation, and turned away in disgust from everything that reminded him of excrement’ (Freud, Vol 10 pg 138), simultaneously a certain amount of sublimation (reaction formation) set in and his interest in music increased. Hans grew to be a successful opera producer.
The Role of Transference
Although not mentioned, transference was evident, “We mean a transference of feelings on to the person of the doctor, since we do not believe that the situation in the treatment could justify the development of such feelings” (Freud, 1973, p. 494). After Hans visit to Freud whereas he shed light on his confusion around his conflicting feelings and resolved his repressed wishes, Hans questioned his father, does the professor talk to God?’ (Freud, Vol 10 pg 42), this statement clearly shows the transference of his father status had moved onto Freud when he successfully concluded his confusion, something his father failed to do. This left Hans with a dent his trust for his father but his confidence grew when his anxieties gradually disappeared and the relationship they had was more affectionate than scientific.
Role of Father in Hans Subjectivity
With reference to the birth of his sister Hanna, he was told the stork story’ by his father. Hans dejected this and grew confused with the lies he laid upon him. Hans’s unconscious process allowed him to internalise this lie and come to his own conclusion, when he entered the room after the birth and was fixated on the blood in the basin, relating the birth to the same process of excretment. This according to Freud was evidence of his genuineness and independence of Hans mental process’ (Freud, Vol 10 pg 105) This he believed encouraged his subjectivity to action upon the rejection of the lie his father told him allowed Hans to think for himself.