At some time during 1895 or 1896, Freud had become convinced that the persons most often guilty of the sexual abuse of young children (primarily girls) were their fathers. (In the published letter of September 21, 1897, to Fliess, Freud wrote: "Then the surprise that, in all cases, the father [emphasis in original], not excluding my own, had to be accused of being perverse.") But Freud did not say this publicly. The taboo against speaking about fathers seducing their children seems to have been handed down through the generations of analysts since Freud. Thus, the editors of The Origins of Psychoanalysis, Ernst Kris and Anna Freud, omitted from the letters several case histories in which a father seduced a child, thereby depriving posterity of the opportunity to judge or even become aware of the evidence Freud was finding in his clinical practice for his belief in the reality of early sexual traumas. This was systematically done for letters written after September 21, 1897 (the date on which Freud supposedly gave up the seduction hypothesis). The reason for these omissions, presumably, is that once Freud had given up this notion as a mistake, it would confuse future analysts to have information dating to a time when Freud had not yet understood the all-powerful nature of fantasy. An important document here is this case history, omitted from the published version of a letter of December 6, 1896:
A fragment from my daily experience: One of my patients, in whose history her highly perverse father plays the principal role, has a younger brother who is looked upon as a common scoundrel. One day the latter appeared in my office to declare, with tears in his eyes, that he was not a scoundrel but was ill, with abnormal impulses and inhibitions of will. By the way, he also complains, entirely as an aside, about what surely are nasal headaches. I direct him to his sister and brother-in-law, whom he indeed visits. That evening the sister calls me because she is in an agitated state. Next day I learn that after her brother had left, she had an attack of the most dreadful headaches—which she otherwise never suffers from. Reason: the brother told her that when he was twelve years old, his sexual activity consisted in kissing (licking) the feet of his sisters when they were undressing at night. In association, she recovered from the unconscious the memory of a scene in which (at the age of four) she watched her papa, in the throes of sexual excitement, licking the feet of a wet nurse. In this way she surmised that the son's sexual preferences stemmed from the father; that the latter also was the seducer of the former. Now she allowed herself to identify herself with him and assume his headaches. She could do this, by the way, because during the same scene the raving father hit the child (hidden under the bed) on the head with his boot.
The brother abhors all perversity, while he suffers from compulsive impulses. That is to say, he has repressed certain impulses which are replaced by others with compulsions. This is, in general, the secret of compulsive impulses. If he could be perverse, he would be healthy, like the father.
Even if he did not go so far as to announce publicly that the father was the guilty party, by 1896 Freud was willing to take a stand on the reality of seduction.
But during this same time, Fliess was moving in quite a different direction. Some of his ideas from this period contributed to Freud's final change of heart. For I believe that Fliess's views on the origin of neurosis were to affect Freud profoundly, causing him to adopt a totally new and skeptical attitude toward Emma Eckstein and her memories and, beyond that, toward his female patients from 1897 on. In his 1897 book, Die Beziehungen zwischen Nase und weiblichen Geschlechtsorganen, Fliess presented the case of three-year-old Fritz L.:
For one year the observant stepmother noticed that the little boy has very obvious feelings of shame, and is moreover quite clearly interested in the naked female body, touches it, etc. Since then he has pavor nocturnus [night terrors] and anxiety in the evening . . . that is almost always preceded by singultus [sobbing and crying] one or days earlier, along with erections.
How did Fliess explain these observations? He said that the first attack of singultus came on October 11, the second on February 26, and the third on May 28—138 days apart, that is, six times 23, the "male period." "Female periods" of 28 days were carefully observed in the little boy. A few pages later, Fliess mentioned Freud's "The Etiology of Hysteria":
Here too I would like to refer to Freud's works, which are pathbreaking and which provide us with new and totally unsuspected insights into sexual relations and the effects of these on the nervous system.
But though he acknowledged Freud's work, he negated his praise by announcing elsewhere in the book that manifestations of infantile sexuality were entirely spontaneous and proceeded from biologically determined periods. A person's sexual life, according to Fliess, consisted in innate, inborn, constitutional givens that differed from individual to individual but were of no psychological significance and could not, by their very nature, be treated by psychological methods.
Whereas a certain amount has recently been written about Fliess's views, the passages quoted below have not been noted.
In the unpublished letters that Freud wrote to Fliess in 1896, periodicity came to play a greater and greater role. Freud was continually searching his own past to find what Fliess called "Termine," critical dates. These dates, according to Fliess, were always tied to 28 and 23 and numbers that were in some way related to them (for example, 5, the difference between the two). Fliess believed that all events in a person's life were determined by these critical dates. Along with this went a curious diagnostic megalomania. Fliess thought that his theories gave him special powers that allowed him to predict a person's death:
I have many times observed that the mother's last breath is taken at the exact same time as her daughter's monthly period sets in, even when the latter had no idea of the [impending] death; And, conversely, in cases of chronic disease which approached the final stage, I have been able to predict the dying day by tying it to such a day [menstruation]. "The mother will die on the day her daughter has her period." And then she died.
On November 24, 1937, when Marie Bonaparte visited Vienna to show Freud the letters from him to Fliess that she had purchased, she discussed Fliess with him. She wrote:
If he [Fliess] held so tenaciously to the theory of periods which determine people's death, if he imagined it, it must be, Freud believes, because of his remorse over the death of his younger sister. She died of pneumonia as Fliess was finishing his medical studies. He reproached himself for possibly having cared for her badly, or that she had been badly [cared for by others]. So if one died from a death [the date of which was] determined in advance, he could feel absolved.
Indeed, Fliess's own words strongly suggest this:
On the afternoon of March 24, 1899, my wife's sister, Melanie R., began to have labor pains, and six hours later her daughter Margaret was born. On the same afternoon my wife's period began, and, as we later learned, it was to be her last period [before becoming pregnant]. So one sister had continued the pregnant state of the other. This is more than a simple pattern. Behind it lies a hidden law of nature determining relationships. For if one continues 280 days from March 24, that is, 10 times 28, one comes to December 29, the very same date on which, 4 years earlier, my eldest son came into the world (December 29, 1895). And 20 years earlier, on December 29, 1879, my only sister became suddenly deathly ill with chills and died thirty hours later.
Hidden behind this supposed mathematical objectivity lies a peculiar grandiosity, since Fliess considered himself to be the only person to have understood these great laws of nature. It is not surprising, then, that Freud would have been under considerable pressure either to recognize the same laws or to begin to distance himself from Fliess.
A case history from Fliess's 1897 book (Beziehungen) alerts us to the explanations that he offered his patients. Mrs. N. was fifty-three years old. She had had her last period on March 1, 1892, when she was forty-nine. On March 12, 1896, Fliess probed what was left of her left middle nasal concha, most of which had been removed earlier (most likely by Fliess himself). As he was carrying out this examination, she began to bleed severely, and the flow could be stopped only by a very tight packing. At the same time, tears mixed with blood came pouring out of her right eye. On the night of the 13th she had a bloody discharge from her vagina. Fliess "explained" to her right away that the bleeding was vicarious. Proof: between March 1, 1892, and March 12, 1896, 1,472 days had elapsed, that is, 64 times 23, her male period.
Just as was to happen in the case of Emma Eckstein, Fliess's immediate response to the hemorrhage was to seek an explanation in terms of 28 and 23 rather than in terms of what he had done to the patient. While Freud could not go along with this in Eckstein's case without abandoning his views on the origins of neurosis, he, like Fliess (and no doubt for Fliess's benefit), turned his investigation away from the operation, that is, away from an external source, and sought the cause of the bleeding in Eckstein herself. To Eckstein, it would have been little comfort that Freud's was the more sophisticated procedure. The truth is that the source of her bleeding was to be found neither in series of 23-day and 28-day cycles nor in hysterical longing but in an unnecessary operation that was performed because of a folie à deux on the part of two misguided doctors.
Freud had the option to recognize this, confess it to Emma Eckstein, confront Fliess with the truth, and face the consequences. Or he could protect Fliess by excusing what had happened. But in order to do this, to efface the external trauma of the operation, it would prove necessary to construct a theory based on hysterical fantasies, a theory whereby the external traumas suffered by the patient never happened, and were inventions. If Emma Eckstein's problems (her bleeding) had nothing to do with the real world (Fliess's operation), then her earlier accounts of seduction could well have been fantasies. The consequences of Freud's act of loyalty toward Fliess would reach far beyond this single case.
In the middle of 1896, Freud was faced with a conflict: on the one hand, his patients painfully recovered memories of traumas from their childhood; these he had no reason to disbelieve, and he published a series of fine clinical and theoretical essays embodying his new findings. On the other hand, one of the patients presenting him with evidence in this area had been severely injured by an operation that had been recommended by Freud and that had been carried out by his closest personal friend and scientific colleague. The tension between these two sets of events, which on their face did not seem irreconcilable, was bound to reach a breaking point. Freud would be forced to make a choice.
On April 16, 1896 (in a letter omitted from The Origins of Psychoanalysis but reproduced by Schur, as were the following two :letters), Freud told Fliess that he had found
a completely surprising explanation of Eckstein's hemorrhages—which will give you much pleasure. I have already figured out the story, but I shall wait before communicating it until the patient herself has caught up.
On April 26, Freud wrote again:
First of all, Eckstein, I shall be able to prove to you that you were right, that her episodes of bleeding were hysterical, were occasioned by longing, and probably occurred at the sexually relevant times (the woman, out of resistance, has not yet supplied me with the dates).
It is clear from this passage that Fliess had told Freud that Emma Eckstein's nasal bleeding after the operation had nothing to do with the gauze he had left in her wound but was hysterical—caused by her fantasies, not by his inept medical care. The word Freud used for "sexually relevant times" was Sexualtermine, from Fliess's notion that sexual events were tied to special dates. The dates of the bleeding were what seem to have most interested Fliess.
On May 4, Freud provided the explanation:
As for Eckstein—I am taking notes on her history so that I can send it to you—so far I know only that she bled out of longing. She has always been a bleeder, when cutting herself and in similar circumstances; as a child she suffered from severe nosebleeds; during the years when she was not yet menstruating, she had headaches which were interpreted to her as malingering and which in truth had been generated by suggestion; for this reason she joyously welcomed her severe menstrual bleeding as proof that her illness was genuine, a proof that was also recognized as such by others. She described a scene, from the age of 15, when she suddenly began to bleed from the nose when she had the wish to be treated by a certain young doctor who was present (and who also appeared in the dream). When she saw how affected I was by her first hemorrhage while she was in the hands of Rosanes, she experienced this as the realization of an old wish to be loved in her illness, and in spite of the danger during the succeeding hours she felt happy as never before. Then, in the sanatorium, she became restless during the night because of an unconscious wish to entice me to go there, and since I did not come during the night, she renewed the bleedings, as an unfailing means of rearousing my affection. She bled spontaneously three times, and each bleeding lasted for four days, which must have some significance. She still owes me details and specific dates.
Freud was eager to be able to supply Fliess with the dates that would finally absolve him of any responsibility for Emma Eckstein's bleeding. There was an important shift in Freud's use of the word "scene." It began to take on connotations of fantasy; it was connected with "wish fulfillment," not just with real events. The shift would soon be completed.
The next passage (unpublished) about Emma Eckstein appears not to have been noticed by Schur. Freud wrote to Fliess on June 4, 1896:
Eckstein's significant dates unfortunately cannot be obtained because they were not recorded at the sanatorium. Her story is becoming even clearer; there is no doubt that her hemorrhages were due to wishes; she has had several similar incidents, among them actual [direkte] simulations, in her childhood. Incidentally, she is doing exceedingly well.
Freud was attempting to rationalize the aftermath of the operation, in which Emma Eckstein nearly bled to death. The operation itself had receded far into the background; it had become only a minor incident. The true cause of Emma Eckstein's hemorrhaging was not the gauze that had been left in her nose but a wish to have Freud by her side. Evidence for this was that she had suffered from nosebleeds in childhood. How Emma Eckstein could have "simulated" a massive hemorrhage is difficult to understand.
Fliess seems to have written to Freud telling him that he suspected that Eckstein's hemorrhages did not stem from a physical cause but were "psychosomatic." By attempting to obtain Eckstein's "significant dates," Freud was tacitly accepting Fliess's supposition. The theory of hysterical bleeding could more easily be accommodated to Fliess's theories than could the recognition of the true source of Eckstein's bleeding. Fliess no doubt believed that her abdominal and menstrual symptoms were related to the genital spots in the nose. Removing those spots would remove the symptoms. Yet if the operation had really been needed, as Fliess thought, then surely Emma Eckstein should now be cured, and there would be no need for Freud to see her again, or any other patients, for that matter, since all their symptoms could be relieved by nasal treatment. Could Freud believe that he was seeing Emma Eckstein now merely to treat her for her hysterical reaction to the operation? Perhaps. But Fliess had not decided to operate on Emma Eckstein because of hysterical bleeding. The bleeding, even by Freud's account, was a product of the operation, not its causal antecedent. Yet there is no word, here, about the operation itself. It seems to have been completely forgotten, "wished away," to use one of Freud's own phrases.
On January 17, 1897 Freud wrote to Fliess and, in a passage omitted from the published letters but included by Schur, mentioned Emma Eckstein: "Emma has a scene where the Diabolus sticks pins into her finger and puts a piece of candy on each drop of blood." When Freud had used the word "scene" in his 1896 papers, he had been referring to a real event. But his usage had changed. Max Schur writes about this passage:
The use of the word "scene" here . . . is very significant. We know from Freud's correspondence with Fliess that he still believed in the "seduction etiology" of hysteria. However, in the published portion of this letter and the preceding one he clearly describes what he later called fantasies. This holds true for Emma's "scenes." It would therefore seem that Emma was one of the first patients who offered Freud a clue to the crucial realization that what his patient had described to him as actual seduction episodes were fantasies. As we know, this realization opened the way to the discovery of early infantile sexuality and its manifestations in infancy.
The letter in which this passage occurs is the first letter that Freud wrote to Fliess on the subject of witchcraft. He stated:
What would you say, by the way, if I told you that my brand-new theory of the early etiology of hysteria was already well known and had been published a hundred times over, though several centuries ago?. . . But why did the devil who took possession of the poor things invariably abuse them sexually and in a loathsome manner? Why are their confessions under torture so like the communications made by my patients in psychological treatment?
The answer to this question is important, though. Freud did not provide it. For it very much matters whether one says that the reason the devil invariably abuses the witch sexually is that this is a fantasy on the part of the witch, originating in a childhood wish to be possessed by the father, or that the account of abuse is a distorted memory of a real and tragic event that is so painful it can only be recalled by means of this subterfuge. Schur is right: the hint that Freud threw out in this letter was that the witches invented the seductions out of longing. Similarly, Emma Eckstein associated blood with the devil and (sexual) pleasure. Freud continued his letter to Fliess with an astonishing sentence: "As far as the blood is concerned, you are completely without blame!"
A week later, on January 24, 1897, Freud again wrote to Fliess about witches, blood, and sexuality, in a passage (published by Schur) that could only be about Eckstein.
Imagine, I obtained a scene about the circumcision of a girl. The cutting off of a piece of the labia minora (which is still shorter today), sucking up the blood, following which the child was given a piece of the skin to eat.
Again, by "scene" Freud meant a fantasy, and he was providing Fliess with evidence that Eckstein was a hysteric who invented traumas. The point of doing this was to demonstrate to Fliess that his conduct of the operation had been completely blameless: Eckstein had hemorrhaged because she was filled with fantasies. Freud continued: "An operation once performed by you was affected by a hemophilia that originated in this way." In other words, Eckstein would have hemorrhaged no matter what was done to her. Fliess was not to blame. Freud went even further, for his mind was taken up with the question of the fantasy nature of seductions:
I dream, therefore, of a primeval devil religion whose rites are carried on secretly, and I understand the harsh therapy of the witches' judges [emphasis added].
Freud was implying here that the Sabbats (part of a ritualized religion in which sexual perversions were acted out) were real events. He seems to have been saying: The torture and the murder of the witches are understandable, for the judges were attempting to curtail a heinous cult.
Unpleasant chains of associations are set off: if Fliess was the judge, and Eckstein was the witch, then Freud, as the observer, suddenly understood why Fliess had to be so harsh in his punishment of her—she was, during the operation, secretly enacting her own ritual; using Fliess's operation as a kind of somatic compliance, she bled not in response to Fliess but in response to her own private, internal theater of fantasy. So if she nearly bled to death, it was not because of Fliess but because of her own perverse imagination.
From 1894 through 1897, Freud was preoccupied with the reality of seduction and the fate of Emma Eckstein. The two topics seemed bound together. It is, in my opinion, no coincidence that once Freud had determined that Emma Eckstein's hemorrhages were hysterical, the result of sexual fantasies, he was free to abandon the seduction hypothesis. His preoccupation with seduction seemingly came to an abrupt end September 21, 1897, with a remarkable letter to Fliess. Ernest Jones's account of this letter in his biography of Freud is dramatic.
Up to the spring of 1897 Freud still held firmly to his conviction of the reality of childhood traumas, so strong was Charcot's teaching on traumatic experiences and so surely did the analysis of the patient's associations reproduce them. At that time doubts began to creep in although he made no mention of them in the records of his progress he was regularly sending to his friend Fliess. Then quite suddenly, he decided to confide to him "the great secret of something that in the past few months has gradually dawned on me." It was the awful truth that most—not all—of the seductions in childhood which his patients had revealed, and about which he had built his whole theory of hysteria, had never occurred. . . . The letter of September 21, 1897, in which he made this announcement to Fliess is perhaps the most valuable of that valuable series which was so fortunately preserved.
Because of the critical place this letter occupies in the history of Freud's thinking, it deserves to be quoted at length:
Here I am again, arrived yesterday morning, refreshed, cheerful, impoverished, at present without work, and, having settled in again, I am writing to you first.
And now I want to confide in you immediately the great secret of something that in the past few months has gradually dawned on me. I no longer believe in my neurotica [theory of the neuroses]. This is probably not intelligible without an explanation; after all, you yourself found what I was able to tell you credible. So I will begin historically [and tell you] from where the reasons for disbelief came. The continual disappointment in my efforts to bring any analysis to a real conclusion; the running away of people who for a period of time had been most gripped [by analysis]; the absence of the complete successes on which I had counted; the possibility of explaining to myself the partial successes in other ways, in the usual fashion—this was the first group. Then the surprise that, in all cases, the father, not excluding my own, had to be accused of being perverse—the realization of the unexpected frequency of hysteria, with precisely the same conditions prevailing in each, whereas surely such widespread perversions against children are not very probable. (The [incidence of] perversion would have to be immeasurably more frequent than the [resulting] hysteria because the illness, after all, occurs only where there has been an accumulation of events and there is a contributory factor that weakens the defense.) Then, third, the certain insight that there are no indications of reality in the unconscious, so that one cannot distinguish between truth and fiction that has been cathected with affect. (Accordingly, there would remain the solution that the sexual fantasy invariably seizes upon the theme of the parents.) Fourth, the consideration that in the most deep-reaching psychosis the unconscious memory does not break through, so that the secret of the childhood experiences is not disclosed even in the most confused delirium. If one thus sees that the unconscious never overcomes the resistance of the conscious, the expectation that in treatment the opposite is bound to happen to the point where the unconscious is completely tamed by the conscious also diminishes.
I was so far influenced [by this] that I was ready to give up two things: the complete resolution of a neurosis and the certain knowledge of its etiology in childhood. Now I have no idea of where I stand because I have not succeeded is gaining a theoretical understanding of repression and its interplay of forces. It seems once again arguable that only later experiences give the impetus to fantasies, which [then] hark back to childhood, and with this, the factor of a hereditary disposition regains a sphere of influence from which I had made it my task to dislodge it—in the interest of illuminating neurosis.
If I were depressed, confused, exhausted, such doubts would surely have to be interpreted as signs of weakness. Since I am in an opposite state, I must recognize them as the result o honest and vigorous intellectual work and must be proud that after going so deep I am still capable of such criticism. Can it be that this doubt merely represents an episode in the advance toward further insight?
It is strange, too, that no feelings of shame appeared, for which, after all, there could well be occasion. Of course I shall not tell it in Dan, nor speak of it in Askelon, in the land of the Philistines, but in your eyes and my own, I have more the feeling of a victory than a defeat (which is surely not right). . . . I vary Hamlet's saying: "To be in readiness": To be cheerful is everything! I could indeed feel very discontented. The expectation of eternal fame was so beautiful, as was that of certain wealth, complete independence, travels, and lifting the children above the severe worries which robbed me of my youth. Everything depended upon whether or not hysteria would come out right. Now I can once again remain quiet and modest, go on worrying and saving. A little story from my collection occurs to me: "Rebecca, take off your gown, you are no longer a bride [Kalle]."
Despite the many commentaries this letter has received from psychoanalysts, it still bristles with obscurities. The objections Freud raised in the letter to the reality of the sexual abuse of children sound like those raised earlier by his colleagues, critical of the theory from the beginning. Freud had answered those objections in his three 1896 papers on seduction, the papers in which he had established his belief in the reality of childhood seduction, providing evidence and answers to possible refutations. Let us briefly consider Freud's other objections. Is it really so surprising that people in analysis would "run away" after revealing such tragic secrets about their pasts? Freud's doubts about the frequency of the father's guilt may be biographically interesting, but do they have any theoretical significance? Freud is right that the incidence of perversion would have to be widespread in order for the seduction theory to be true, but that possibility is conceivable once we abandon the kind of mystifying piety about "the family" that Freud never ceased to expose in other areas of human existence. Freud said that there are no indications of reality in the unconscious; still, there are means of distinguishing truth from fiction in the real world. Freud's expectation that in a psychosis the precipitating trauma would be remembered without distortion or resistance is unjustified, though certain psychotic symptoms could well hint at the nature of their underlying cause. Moreover, by speaking of "unconscious memories," Freud explicitly acknowledged the existence of a reality from which the memory stems. Finally, Freud was able to recover fragile memories in analysis by granting his patients permission to remember and by empathizing with their earliest sorrows. Once he began to doubt the reality of the events behind the memories, however, he quite naturally met with retreat and withdrawal. Taken all in all, then, this letter clearly symbolizes the beginning of an internal reconciliation with his colleagues. It is as if Freud were standing before his colleagues at the Society for Psychiatry and saying, "You were right, after all—what I thought was true is nothing but a scientific fairy tale."
The idea that Freud made a firm and permanent decision about seductions—that they were, by and large, unreal, the fantasies of hysterical women—has become standard in psychoanalytic thought. Marie Bonaparte, after she bought Freud's letters to Fliess, was the first to record this opinion. She kept a notebook about the letters, in which she summarized the contents of each. These summaries are remarkably objective and accurate. I found only a single misrepresentation of Freud's remarks in the letters. That single misrepresentation is her comment on the letter of September 21, 1897, which shows yet again how deeply charged with emotion the topic is for all analysts. For Marie Bonaparte wrote: "Freud a percé à jour le 'mensonge' ds hystériques. La seduction régulière par le père est un 'fantasme.'" ("Freud dragged into the light the 'lie' of hysterics. The frequent seduction by the father is a 'fantasy.'") In fact, as we can see from reading the letter, Freud did not say that hysterics "lie," yet this is how the letter was to be understood by generations of psychoanalysts.
For example, Ernst Kris, who, with Anna Freud, made the selection of Freud's letters to Fliess for publication, wrote in his introduction to the volume:
In the spring of 1897, in spite of accumulating insight into the nature of infantile wish-phantasies, Freud could not make up his mind to take the decisive step demanded by his observations and abandon the idea of the traumatic role of seduction in favour of insight into the normal and necessary conditions of childish development and childish phantasy life. He reports his new impressions in his letters, but does not mention the conflict between them and the seduction hypothesis until one day, in his letter of September 21st, 1897 (Letter 69), he describes how he realized his error.
In explanation of this important step, Kris writes in a note:
He had drawn near to the Oedipus complex, in which he recognized the aggressive impulses of children directed against their parents, but had still remained faithful to his belief in the reality of the seduction scenes. It seems reasonable to assume that it was only the self-analysis of this summer that made possible rejection of the seduction hypothesis.
Kris is correct: Freud had altered the direction of his thinking. Earlier, Freud had recognized the aggressive acts of parents against their children—for seduction is an act of violence. In 1897, a new insight was emerging, that children have aggressive impulses against their parents: "Hostile impulses against parents (a wish that they should die) are also an integral part of neuroses." Indeed, why should children not wish for vengeance for crimes committed against them? If the seductions had actually taken place, these aggressive impulses would have been healthy signs of protest. But once Freud had decided that the seductions had never occurred, that the parents had not done anything to their children in reality, then these aggressive impulses replaced seduction in Freud's theories. An act was replaced by an impulse, a deed by a fantasy. This new "reality" came to be so important for Freud that the impulses of parents against their children were forgotten, never to reclaim importance in his writings. It was not only the aggressive acts of a parent that were attributed to the fantasy life of a child; now aggressive impulses, too, belonged to the child, not the adult.
In a letter in response to my view that Freud was wrong to abandon the seduction hypothesis, Anna Freud wrote to me, on September 10, 1981:
Keeping up the seduction theory would mean to abandon the Oedipus complex, and with it the whole importance of phantasy life, conscious or unconscious phantasy. In fact, I think there would have been no psychoanalysis afterwards.
This is the standard view—that if Freud had not given up his seduction theory, he would never have become aware of the power of internal fantasy and would not have been able to go on to make the discoveries he did, including the Oedipus complex, leading to the creation of psychoanalysis as a science and a therapy. Of course, nobody can know what would have happened had Freud not abandoned the seduction hypothesis. What we do know for certain, however, is that the view held by Anna Freud and almost all other analysts is deeply engrained.
I maintain that between 1897 and 1903, Freud came to believe that the case of his early patient Emma Eckstein was typical: most (though not all) of his women patients had deceived themselves and misled him. Their memories of seduction were nothing more than fantasies, or memories of fantasies—they were products of the Oedipus complex, part of normal childhood sexuality.
The new world that opened up to Freud with this "discovery" was a remarkable one, and it permitted him to make a large number of genuine discoveries that have retained their value over the years: the sexual and emotional passions of childhood; the reality of the unconscious; the nature of transference and resistance, repression, and unconscious fantasies; the power of unconscious emotions; the need to repeat early sorrows, and so on.
Whether psychoanalysis could have emerged had Freud retained his earlier belief that the memories of his patients were real, not fantasies, is hardly peripheral to the practice of psychoanalysis (and perhaps to the practice of psychotherapy in general, since most therapies are based, openly or implicitly, on Freudian theory). Psychoanalysts, beginning with Freud himself, agree that the abandonment of the seduction theory was the central stimulus to Freud's later discoveries. The original existence as well as the persistence of psychoanalysis is, by universal agreement, linked to the abandonment of the seduction theory. The preceding pages have been concerned with the influences that came to bear on Freud, leading him away from the initial and unpopular insights he gained concerning the reality of abuse, physical and sexual, of children. I have adduced a large number of facts that were unknown before, or simply unnoticed, to support my opinion that Freud gave up this theory not for theoretical or clinical reasons but for complex personal ones that had nothing to do with science. I do not think that Freud ever made a conscious decision to ignore his earlier experiences. No doubt he beliived he was doing the right thing, and the difficult thing, when he shifted his attention from external trauma to internal fantasy as the causative agent in mental illness. But that does not mean it represents the truth.
In fact, in my opinion, Freud had abandoned an important truth: that sexual, physical, and emotional violence is a real and tragic part of the lives of many children. For this abandoned truth to be erased from the history of psychoanalysis (it was certainly present at the beginning), the traces of it would also have to be removed from the later theory. This was a task best left to the psychoanalysts who came after Freud. I believe they have succeeded: by and large, most analysts would not agree with the insights that in my view are implicit in Freud's 1896 paper "The Etiology of Hysteria"—that many (probably most) of their patients had violent and unhappy childhoods not because of some character trait but because of something terrible that had been done to them by their parents. If this etiological formula is true, and if it is further true that such events form the core of every severe neurosis, then it will be impossible to achieve a successful cure of a neurosis if these central events are ignored. I am inclined to accept the views of many recent authors—Florence Rush, Alice Miller, Judith Herman, Louise Armstrong, and Diana Russell, among others—that the incidence of sexual abuse in the early lives of children is much higher than is generally acknowledged. (In a recent study, Diana Russell found the figure to be as high as one in every four women; it is undoubtedly higher among women who seek psychotherapy.) The analyst who sees a patient with memories of sexual abuse is trained to believe (whether it is openly stated or merely accepted as a hidden theoretical premise) that those memories are fantasies. An analyst trained this way, no matter how benevolent otherwise, does violence to the inner life of his patient and is in covert collusion with what made her ill in the first place.
Genuine psychological discoveries—the reality of the unconscious, for example—cannot be properly used in such an atmosphere. No doubt much of the humiliation, hurt, and rage of the abused child must, in order for that child to survive, be repressed. If the analyst does not believe in the reality of events that would cause such emotions, he has to ascribe the feelings to some constitutional factor in the patient (a greater-than-usual need to be loved, for example). The entire analysis is skewed. The irrational feelings that the patient develops for the analyst (the transference) become inexplicable, since they would be rationally based on rage at the analyst for behaving like a parent who denied what he or she had done to the child. This is not a transference; it is a dim awareness of something that was done to the patient in childhood surfacing in the adult. Though justified, such emotions escape the comprehension of the analyst. In such an atmosphere, treatment can be "successful" only if the patient continues to suppress her (or his) own knowledge of the past, and is led to believe, with the analyst, that she is in the throes of displaced emotions. To become "healthy," the patient would have to come to share the view of the analyst—that is, to become more like him, or more like what the analyst wants her to be. This involves denying the patient's very self. It spells the death of the patient's independence and freedom. The silence demanded of the child by the person who violated her is perpetuated and enforced by the very person to whom she has come for help. Guilt entrenches itself, the patient's uncertainty about the past deepens, and her sense of who she is is undermined.
Free and honest retrieval of painful memories cannot occur in the face of skepticism and fear of the truth. If the analyst is frightened of the real history of his own science, he will never be able to face the past of any of his patients. Freud's announcement of his new discoveries in the 1896 address on the etiology of hysteria met with no reasoned refutation or scientific discussion, only disgust and disavowal. The idea of sexual violence in the family was so emotionally charged that the only response it received was irrational distaste. When Ferenczi, a generation later, was led by his patients to the same discovery, he met with a similar response, only this time Freud played the role that some forty years earlier had been Krafft-Ebing's. In 1981, I attempted to call the attention of psychoanalysts to new evidence suggesting that the seduction theory deserved serious reconsideration. Like Freud and Ferenczi, I met with irrational antagonism and ostracism. I was challenged not on the basis of my evidence but because I had revealed the evidence. It seems clear that this recurring hostility has not been based on any pre-existing animosity toward any individual proponent of the seduction theory but has its source in an emotionally charged aversion to the theory itself.
The time has come to cease hiding from what is, after all, one of the great issues of human history. For it is unforgivable that those entrusted with the lives of people who come to them in emotional pain, having suffered real wounds in childhood, should use their blind reliance on Freud's abandonment of the seduction theory to continue the abuse that their patients suffered as children. By shifting the emphasis from an actual world of sadness, misery, and cruelty to an internal stage on which actors perform invented dramas for an invisible audience of their own creation, Freud began a trend away from the real world which, it seems to me, is at the root of the present-day sterility of psychoanalysis and psychiatry throughout the world. If it is not possible for the therapeutic community to address this serious issue in an honest and open-minded manner, then it is time for patients to stop subjecting themselves to needless repetition of their earliest and deepest sorrow.