I will start this commentary on Freud by defending at least one basic tenet of his teachings. That is his stern belief that everything done, said or dreamed-even the misspelling of a word-almost always has meaning.
I proved this to myself when I was writing comments about an analyst I was working with some years ago. When writing about him, I inadvertently referred to him as my “anal-cyst.” I really did consider him a pain in the . . . well, you get the picture. I had made a Freudian slip!
Sigmund Freud was, among many things, intransigent. While he may have considered himself open-minded, his actions do not reinforce his conclusion. To support my opinion, I offer his following quote that speaks to his opinion of his science: “The capacity to be content with these approximations to certainty and the ability to carry on constructive work despite the lack of final confirmation are actually a mark of the scientific habit of mind.”
He openly commented, by the quote above, that his science was fraught with opinions not especially supported by empirical evidence. He indicated, through his words, he was okay with that. Yet, he was well known for removing himself from the company of anyone who disagreed with him in the very least.
Also, he was not subject to his own analysis. When a student asked him if there was any significance to his ever-present cigar, something that to him would have been an oral-fixation in another, he replied, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
But, with all of the faults we may want to point out in Freud’s body of work or in his person, he has been, arguably, the most influential person ever in the field of psychoanalysis.
We must remember he was laboring at his science in another age and another society. This society, Vienna in the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, rather than being obsessed with sex, was a society that rejected anything written about sex or sexuality. Nearly the entirety of his society was made up of his worst critics. We cannot nearly give him as bad of a rap as did his own peers and social acquaintances.
With all that is said of him, he was still a genius of the highest order. While many of his perceived “instincts/drivers,” that he felt influenced all of human behavior, have been roundly rejected (rightfully so, in this writer’s opinion), just as many are still incorporated into many schools of psychology today.
Freud’s analysis of a being, breaking them down into the ego, superego and id, was a masterpiece of a great mind. However, again in this writer’s opinion, he allowed some of his own quirks to cloud his mind and, therefore, his conclusions. A careful study of Freud will show that his daughter, Anna, often attempted to modulate some of his theories by attaching more user-friendly titles to them. I think she saw that he was often just tweaking the noses of his critics with his words.
Most lay-people misunderstand his fixation on sex as the primary driver for all people. His definition would include all types of stoking and petting, even that of a mother with a child, as sexual-and, not necessarily associated with the type of sex one grown adult has with another. Putting this in perspective makes some of his more outlandish conclusions more palatable to those who study Freud.
Let’s not simply dismiss Freud because we have come to disagree with many of his conclusions and methods. His work still has much for us even today. His early work on psychoanalysis as a treatment for a sick mind, paved the way for modern-day psychologists, psychiatrists and analysts who are developing this treatment even further. He moved his science many magnitudes beyond where it was in the early late 1800s and early 1900s.