Theoretical Foundations 1886-1900

About Sigmund Freud
Theoretical Foundations 1886-1900

In 1886, at the age of thirty, the neuropathology specialist Sigmund Freud married Martha Bernays on 14 September. This marriage enriched his personal culture: Martha’s grandfather, Isaac Bernays, was Grand Rabbi of the community in Hamburg. Her Uncle Jacob taught Greek at the University of Bonn and published works on Aristotle, while her Uncle Michael taught the history of German literature in Munich, where Louis II of Bavaria had founded a chair specially for him. Freud opened his neuropathology surgery in Vienna at Rathaussstrasse 7, where he practiced electrotherapy, massage and hydrotherapy, typical methods of the day. He also worked with children from the clinic of Professor Max Kassowitz. Freud’s professional move was soon bringing in enough to extend his family. From his marriage came:

  • 1887 Mathilde Freud, named after Mrs. Breuer
  • 1889 Jean-Martin Freud, who was named after Charcot
  • 1891 Cromwell Freud (aka Oliver)
  • 1892 Ernst Freud, named for von Brücke
  • 1893 Sophie Freud whose first name means “wisdom”
  • 1895 Anna Freud, who bears the first name of a maternal aunt who helped the young couple financially, but also of a patient of Freud’s. Anna would look after her aged father and his work.

By 1888 Freud was unsatisfied with his medical practice, noting the ineffectiveness of what he has been taught, and began to explore the practice of hypnosis. He went Nancy, France, to meet Auguste Ambroise Liébault and later Hippolyte Bernheim. He noted the difficulties of implementing hypnosis and the suggestibility of the patient, who bends to the will of the physician. He eventually came close to the stance of his friend, Joseph Breuer, with whom he collaborated on “cathartic” theory. He published a study on hysteria with Breuer, as well as the case history of Anna O. the first notion of “unbearable representation”. It was Anna O. which first spoke of a “talking cure”. Breuer’s brutal rupture with his patient revealed the notion of transference to Freud. On the basis of this case he adapted and generalized a new practice among his clientele. The historical period of psychoanalysis was ushered in with the observation that the abreaction that follows hypnosis is not enough to cure the patient because there is resistance and repression. These had to be brought to light in order to replace them with acts of judgment leading to the acceptance of the reality and the consequences of what had been previously repressed. The free expression of the patient prevented relapses in the long term, unlike catharsis.

Freud had met the ear, nose and throat specialist Wilhelm Fleiss in 1887. Fleiss had discovered the role of periodicity in organic life and developed a theory of bisexuality. Rapidly striking up a friendship, they became correspondents, which allowed Freud to develop the idea that the mental life of the human organism contained elements of both sexes. This correspondence was saved from destruction by Marie Bonaparte and published in the 1950s under the title, The Birth of Psychoanalysis, as it contained many of the notions that would later be combined. At the end of the 1880s Freud, like other physicians, was interested in the sexual factors of psychopathology. He was the first to dare to take the step from sexuality to psychosexuality, and thence to a sexual theory of mental life as a whole.

In 1896, aged forty, Freud published Heredity and the Ætiology of the Neuroses, in which the term “psychoanalysis” first appeared. Unfortunately, his theory of infantile sexual trauma leading to the repression of unbearable representation was described by Richard von Krafft-Ebing to the Vienna Association for Psychiatry and Neurology as a “scientific fairy tale”. The loss of clientele and consequent financial straits followed. After his father’s death in 1896, Freud paid particular attention to the abundant production of dreams and anxieties that accompanied his mourning. In 1897 he devoted himself to an intense and rigorous self-analysis, which led to his abandonment of the theory of trauma or infantile seduction in favour of the development of the Œdipus complex, first mentioned in a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fliess. Armed with the experience of his mourning, Freud highlighted the essential notion of the unconscious in psychopathology and in human mental life as a whole.
Freud subsequently became more interested in his patients’ dreams and tied them in with their symptoms. He broke the psychic apparatus down into three distinct elements. This decomposition was called the first schema: conscious, preconscious and unconscious. He abandoned the cathartic technique for good in favour of the free association of ideas. The fruit of this pivotal period in the history of psychoanalysis was the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams, a landmark work in the foundations of the study of the human psyche and psychoanalysis.

Publication of the theoretical foundations of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud:
1891: On Aphasia
1895: Studies in Hysteria
1895: A Project for a Scientific Psychology
1900: The Interpretation of Dreams

Find out more about Sigmund Freud’s Biography

The Golden Age of Psychoanalysis 1900-1913

The Second Schema: A Theoretical Rethink 1913-1922

The Age of Wisdom 1922-1939