Sigmund Freud: The Life and Death



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Many people have contributed their knowledge to every aspect of the Czech Republic – its politics, education, culture, and economy. One such person was Sigmund Freud, an incredible neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis.

Freud was born on the 6th of May in 1856 in Freiberg, which was at the time a part of the Austrian Empire. Both of his parents were from Galicia. They had financial hardships when Sigmund was born. Jakob Freud, his father, was a Jewish wool merchant and already had children from the previous marriage. Amalia Nathansohn, his mother, was 20 years younger than Jakob. When Sigmund was three years old, in 1859, the Freud family had decided to leave Freiberg: firstly, they lived in Leipzig and then moved to Vienna by 1860.

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In 1865, when Freud was nine years old, he went to a prominent high school, Leopoldstädter Kommunal-Realgymnasium. He was successful in his studies, passed exams with flying colors, and graduated from Matura in 1873.  One of Freud’s greatest passions was literature. During high school, he learned several languages: German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the age of 17, Freud started studying at the University of Vienna at the medical faculty. In 1876, he spent four weeks at Claus’s zoological research center in Trieste (Carl Claus taught him zoology at the university). One year later, in 1877, Freud moved to the psychology laboratory of Ernst Brüke ( his psychology professor). He spent six years comparing the brains of humans with those of frogs and invertebrates. In March of 1881, Freud successfully graduated from the university with an MD. Later, around the 1890s, Freud discovered a neuron from the research on the nervous tissue, yet his description of the findings was ambiguous.

In 1892, Freud began his medical career at the Vienna General Hospital. His research on cerebral anatomy led to the discovery of the palliative effects of cocaine in 1884. He rejected the medical benefits of cocaine after his friend became an addict. Overdoses among patients started to become more and more common. Another of his work, especially, the research of the aphasia formed the basis for Freud’s first book (1891) – On the Aphasias: a Critical Study. In 1885, Freud became a docent of neuropathology and started giving lectures at the University of Vienna. In 1886, Freud resigned from the hospital and started to practice in the field of nervous disorders. From 1902, on Wednesdays, Freud would meet various physicians to discuss his view on psychology and neuropathology.

Freud drew on the Theodor Lipps’s work – the contemporary theorist of the concepts of the unconscious and empathy. He also associated his psychoanalytic insights with the philosophical theories of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Freud referred to the works of Nietzsche as ‘texts to be resisted far more than to be studied.’ It was the time when he declined philosophy and started his career in the new field of neurology. Freud’s understanding of human psychology derived from Shakespeare’s plays, which he read in the original language. It was also heavily influenced by his Jewish origins and played a vital role in the formation of his intellectual and moral outlook, the base for the Autobiographical study.

In 1885, Freud went to study with Jean-Martin Charcot, a neurologist who was researching hypnosis in Paris. When he came back to Vienna, he started using hypnosis in clinical activities. The approach, which he was using, was adopted from his friend and collaborator – Josef Breuer. The cure for Breuer’s patients proved the transformative clinical practice of Freud: she talked about her symptoms and traumatic episodes under hypnosis, and they tended to be reduced with ‘talking cure.’ Another procedure, which he was using, was the ‘free association’: dreams can be analyzed as symptoms. However, not every Freud’s patient had the same successful results, and this led to the rejection of the hypnosis in his practice. In 1896, Freud was using the new term, psychoanalysis, to refer to his latest clinical methods.

The development of the theories happened when Freud had heart irregularities, disturbing dreams, depression, and neurasthenia. The exploration of his feelings of hostility led to the revision of the theory ‘Origin of the neuroses.’ The formulation of Freud’s seduction theory was formed on the base of his childhood memories, which provoke psychoneuroses. The transition of this theory of childhood sexual trauma had led to the new theory – the Oedipus complex. In the book Studies on Hysteria (1895), which was co-authored with Breuer, Freud described the evolution of his theories. In 1899, he published The Interpretation of Dreams, where he described in meticulous details the meaning of the dreams and what they provoke. Initially, the book was a commercial failure: only a few copies were sold in the first six years. In 1901, he published the extended version of the book On Dreams. In 1905, in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Freud brought to the table his ideas about infantile sexuality. Later, he published Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (1905) which became one of his most famous and at the same time controversial works. In 1909, Freud gave five lectures on psychoanalysis at Stanley Hall. It represented the breakthrough in the psychoanalytic field in the USA. Until 1922, Freud was attending various conferences and congresses around the world, and some people became followers of his methods.  

In 1923, Freud was diagnosed with leukoplakia, which originated from heavy smoking. He was advised to stop the habit (he was smoking about 20 cigarettes a day). He underwent almost 30 operations and a big part of his jaw was surgically removed, but even then, Freud never quit smoking. In 1930, he was awarded the Goethe Prize for the contribution to German society.  When Nazis came to power in 1933, Freud’s books were destroyed. He underestimated the accelerating speed of the Nazi invasion and stayed in Vienna (eventually, leaving to Britain after the arrest of his wife). In London, Freud had some support from American diplomats and tried to release A. Freud from Gestapo via phone calls. Four of Freud’s sisters have died in the camps. The departure of Freud’s family from Vienna was happening during April-May 1938. In London, Freud continued his medical practice until the terminal stage of the illness. He also published Moses and Monotheism in 1938, and An Outline of Psychoanalysis in 1939.

In September of 1939, Freud’s cancer started causing him severe pains. His doctor gave him morphine to ease the pain: Freud went into a coma and never woke up again. Despite his wife’s attempts to save his life, he passed away on 23th of September 1939.

Sofia Chesnokova

Sofia Chesnokova

Passionate about digital marketing, copywriting, and Prague!
Sofia Chesnokova
Sofia Chesnokova

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Passionate about digital marketing, copywriting, and Prague!