Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How Freud's Oedipal Theory Effed-Up Men for Several Generations, Part One
[Freud and "Hans"]

Harold Blum offers an interesting look at the case of Little Hans (Herbert Graf), the foundational case study for Freud's Oedipal Theory - which is sorely wrong and negatively impacted several generations of middle and upper class men. Here is a summary at the basic theory from Wikipedia:
The Oedipus complex, in psychoanalytic theory, is a group of largely unconscious (dynamically repressed) ideas and feelings which concentrate on the desire to possess the parent of the opposite sex and eliminate the parent of the same sex.[1][2] According to classical psychoanalytic theory, the complex appears during the so-called "oedipal phase" of libidinal and ego development; i.e. between the ages of three and five years, though oedipal manifestation may be detected earlier.[3][4]

"Little Hans" was a young boy who was the subject of an early but extensive study of castrative anxiety and the Oedipus complex by Freud. Hans' neurosis took the shape of a fear of horses (Equinophobia). Freud wrote a summary of his treatment of Little Hans, in 1909, in a paper entitled "Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-year-old Boy."
Oedipal theory is based on Freud's theory of drives: we have two essential drives, which are sex and aggression. Everything in human behavior can be traced to these two drives - and civilization exists solely to contain these drives.

In this post, part one of two, I present the background of the Little Hans case that Freud used to support his Oedipal model - "Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy," Sigmund Freud, 1909.

Needless to say, most psychodynamic models since the 1950s have rejected this viewpoint, yet Oedipal theory remains the center of psychodynamic masculinity theory. Here is another summary of how Little Hans shaped Freudian theory.
In his famous case of Little Hans, a five-year-old boy who refused to go out into the street for fear that a horse might bite him, Freud hypothesized that Hans was displacing anxiety associated with his Oedipus complex. That is, Freud believed Hans unconsciously desired his mother sexually but felt competitive with, and hostile toward, his father, as well as fearful of his father’s reaction to his hostility. Hans had witnessed a horse falling down in the street, and Freud speculated that he unconsciously associated the scene with his father, since he wanted his father hurt too. According to Freud, Hans unconsciously changed his intense fear of castration by his father into a phobic symptom about being bitten by the horse, whom Hans had previously seen as innocuous. Having substituted the horse for his father, Hans was able to turn an internal danger into an external one. The fear was displaced onto a substitute object, which is prototypically what takes place in the development of a phobia. In this celebrated 1909 case (Freud, 1955), the boy was actually treated by the father, under Freud’s guidance.

Historically, the case of Little Hans has conceptual as well as technical significance. Conceptually, it enabled Freud to elaborate on his earlier formulations regarding psychosexual development in children and the use of defense mechanisms (such as displacement) as unconscious ego devices a person calls on as protection against being overwhelmed by anxiety. Moreover, the case supported Freud’s emerging belief that inadequate resolution of a particular phase of psychosexual development can lead to neurotic behavior such as phobias. Note, however, that Freud chose not to work with either the child or the family but encouraged Hans’s father, a physician, to treat his own son under Freud’s supervision. Ultimately, Hans was relieved of his phobic symptom. (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008, p. 150)
Too bad that Freud totally missed the boat on this case - and in the process destroyed four lives (Hans, his father, his mother, who was also a patient of Freud's and subsequently hated him, and Hans' sister, who was neglected by Han's borderline mother - who Freud had pronounced cured).

Here is a little from Blum's article, "Little Hans: A Contemporary Overview":
When Max Graf met his future wife, Olga Honig, circa 1897, he learned from her that she was in psychoanalytic treatment with Sigmund Freud. He was intrigued with her regular descriptions of her treatment sessions, which led him to personally meet Freud. (Max would later repeat the pattern and regularly report to Freud about his own treatment experience with Little Hans.) Max married Olga in 1898 and Freud became a friend of the couple, who were both violinists with shared musical interests. He went to dinner many times at their apartment and was personally acquainted with Little Hans from the time he was born. Freud would then see Olga in treatment as well as at home with Max. (p. 47)
Wow, serious ethical boundary violations - befriending clients is called a dual relationship and is highly discouraged.

What isn't mentioned here, in this sympathetic review, is that Max had serious reservations about marrying the "hysterical" Olga - but Freud encouraged the marriage. Later, when Max expressed his concerns about the failing marriage, Freud encouraged him to father a child with Olga, (Little Hans), and later a 2nd child.
Max Graf was conflicted about whether to marry his 23-year-old girlfriend. “My first wife was or is a very interesting, very clever and very beautiful woman. She was without a doubt a hysteric but I could not see it at all as a young man. To me she was attractive and interesting even in her hysterical moments . . . After a year, before I decided to marry her I went to Professor Freud, whose patient she still was and asked him if . . . her condition was such that one could marry her. Freud said, ‘By all means marry her. You will have fun!’ Well, fun I didn’t really have.” (Eissler, 1952, p. 13) Graf’s concern about marrying Ms. Olga Hoenig was probably based not only on his observations of her but also on what he knew of her family history. She was the fifth of six children of a Viennese family. Her two older brothers had committed suicide, and her youngest sister had attempted it. (Halpert, 2007, p. 124)
And this:
Herbert Graf (Little Hans) told Eissler that his mother (who then was about 80) “. . . is very nervous and has always been a very nervous person. I am quite sure in those surroundings where we all lived without that process, analysis could have resulted in some damage. It didn’t help my mother at all . . . My mother still has complaints saying that Freud was not good in her life and in advising father to have children [another inappropriate intrusion].” (p. 9) Although Herbert also said that his mother blamed Freud for the breakup of her marriage to his father he did not agree. When Eissler asked whether his mother thought she shouldn’t have had children, he responded, “She should. Maybe one. Maybe still me. But not my sister who in the meantime has died. She feels that it was too much of a burden on her mind . . . and that it was not good for their private living . . . I have no way of judging it. I think all these things develop normally and there was a different cause for the breakup of their marriage . . . She didn’t like Professor Freud because she felt the advice he gave my father was not good.” (pp. 9–10) (p. 124)
This new information - which Freud left out of his own case report - comes from the The Freud Archives and later interviews with Max and Herbert (father and son) - Max was quite bitter about the situation that Freud encouraged him to stay in, which in his view hurt his career. It seems Herbert did not feel the same way.

John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, re-examined the Hans case in 1973, and he felt that Hans suffered from anxious attachment:
On the basis of the research literature and clinical experience, Bowlby (1973) identified five particularly potent factors from real experience that may bring about anxious attachment and consequent phobias (N.B.: Throughout the discussion that follows, I use “mother” as a shorthand for the attachment figure):

(1) Actual separation from the mother: Bowlby noted that even brief separations can have substantial effects on attachment security (p. 220).

(2) Threats of abandonment by the mother: “Clinical experience suggests that threats of these kinds, especially threats to abandon . . . , play a far larger part in promoting anxious attachment than has usually been assigned to them” (p. 226; cf. pp. 235, 272).

(3) Maternal threats of suicide, death, or illness: “A child may come to fear some disaster after hearing his mother make alarming threats about what may happen to her in certain circumstances. For example, if her child does not do what is asked of him, she will become ill; or . . . she will desert the family or commit suicide” (p. 272); “Threats to abandon, including threats to suicide, play a far larger part in promoting anxious attachment than has usually been assigned to them” (p. 226).

(4) Intense spousal arguments: “When parents quarrel seriously a risk that one or the other will desert is always there. Not infrequently, moreover, it is made explicit. In such conditions children usually hear a great deal more than parents like to believe” (p. 235).

(5) Knowledge of actual suicide, death, or illness: “For example, a child may come to fear that his mother may become seriously ill or die after seeing or hearing about the illness or death of a relative or neighbor, especially when the mother is herself in ill health. . . . When a grandmother or neighbor dies suddenly, it is not unnatural for a child to fear that mother may die equally suddenly” (pp. 272–273). Bowlby postulated a toxic interaction between maternal threats and such actual events: “Another factor, and one likely to enhance to a much higher degree a child’s anxiety about harm befalling his mother, is his having been threatened that, if he is not good, she will fall ill or die. In such a case, . . . a friend’s death is taken as a lesson that mother’s predictions are not idle ones; illness and death are real and may strike mother at any time” (p. 274). (Wakefield, 2007, p. 64)
Furthermore: "“It seems probable that anxious attachment was indeed contributing a great deal to Little Hans’s problem. Most of his anxiety, it is suggested, arose from threats by his mother to desert the family” (p. 284)." (Wakefield, p. 65).

Based on what we know now about Olga today - that she made Hans her favorite and essentially disowned her daughter from the day she was born (the daughter eventually committed suicide); that she was prone to mood swings and threatening suicide; that she did not like to have sex and when she did it was inevitably followed by an outburst of some kind. She would likely be diagnosed today as borderline personality disorder likely as a result of childhood abuse.
Herbert’s beautiful, histrionic mother, who tore up his father’s papers and had “episodes” after sexual intercourse, was likely to have enacted dramatic, “operatic” scenes in front of him. (One of Mrs. Graf’s equally beautiful sisters was, in fact, a professional actress.) Such melodrama would have contributed to the many unconscious determinants of his fear of going out of the house lest he see a horse and be bitten by it or that it would fall down and “make a row with its feet.” (Halpert, p. 125)
Clearly, Freud messed this whole situation up from day one. He should never have encouraged the marriage, he should never have been so involved in the family's life, and he should never have "treated" Herbert/Hans through Max.

The result of the botched case is that several generations of men were raised with Oedipal theory as a guide for development - and likely messed up by it.

In part two, I will break down the damage done to masculinity and men as a result of this case.

Blum, H.. (2007). Little Hans: A Contemporary Overview. The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child, 62, 44-60. Retrieved June 16, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID: 1612378691).

Goldenberg & Goldenberg. (2008). Family Therapy: An Overview, 7th Ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Halpert, E.. (2007). The Grafs: Father (Max) and Son (Herbert a.k.a. Little Hans). The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child, 62, 111-142. Retrieved June 16, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID: 1612378811).

Wakefield, J.. (2007). Little Hans and Attachment Theory: Bowlby's Hypothesis Reconsidered in Light of New Evidence from the Freud Archives. The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child, 62, 61-91. Retrieved June 16, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID: 1612378761).

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