Little Hans – Freudian Case Study

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Editor-in-Chief for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

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Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

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Case Study Summary

  • Little Hans was a 5-year-old boy with a phobia of horses. Like all clinical case studies, the primary aim was to treat the phobia.
  • However, Freud’s therapeutic input in this case was minimal, and a secondary aim was to explore what factors might have led to the phobia in the first place, and what factors led to its remission.
  • From around three years of age, little Hans showed an interest in ‘widdlers’, both his own penis and those of other males, including animals. His mother threatens to cut off his widdler unless he stops playing with it.
  • Hans’s fear of horses worsened, and he was reluctant to go out in case he met a horse. Freud linked this fear to the horse’s large penis. The phobia improved, relating only to horses with black harnesses over their noses. Hans’s father suggested this symbolized his moustache.
  • Freud’s interpretation linked Hans’s fear to the Oedipus complex , the horses (with black harnesses and big penises) unconsciously representing his fear of his father.
  • Freud suggested Hans resolved this conflict as he fantasized about himself with a big penis and married his mother. This allowed Hans to overcome his castration anxiety and identify with his father.
Freud was interested in the role of infant sexuality in child development. He recognised that this approach may have appeared strange to people unfamiliar with his ideas but observed that it was inevitable for a psychoanalyst to see this as important. The case therefore focused on little Hans’s psychosexual development and it played a key role in the formulation of Freud’s ideas within the Oedipus Conflict , such as the castration complex.

‘Little Hans’ was nearly five when has was seen by Freud (on 30th March 1908) but letters from his father to Freud provide the bulk of the evidence for the case study. These refer retrospectively to when Hans was less than three years old and were supplied to Freud through the period January to May 1908 (by which time little Hans was five years old).

The first reports of Hans were when he was 3 years old when he developed an active interest in his ‘widdler’ (penis), and also those of other people. For example, on one occasion, he asked, ‘Mummy, have you got a widdler too?

Throughout this time, the main theme of his fantasies and dreams was widdlers and widdling.  When he was about three and a half years old his mother told him not to touch his widdler or else she would call the doctor to come and cut it off.

When Hans was almost 5, Hans’ father wrote to Freud explaining his concerns about Hans. He described the main problem as follows:

He is afraid a horse will bite him in the street, and this fear seems somehow connected with his having been frightened by a large penis’.

The father went on to provide Freud with extensive details of conversations with Hans. Together, Freud and the father tried to understand what the boy was experiencing and undertook to resolve his phobia of horses.

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. “

Case History: Little Hans’ Phobia

Since the family lived opposite a busy coaching inn, that meant that Hans was unhappy about leaving the house because he saw many horses as soon as he went out of the door.

When he was first asked about his fear Hans said that he was frightened that the horses would fall down and make a noise with their feet.  He was most frightened of horses which were drawing heavily laden carts, and, in fact, had seen a horse collapse and die in the street one time when he was out with his nurse.

It was pulling a horse-drawn bus carrying many passengers and when the horse collapsed Hans had been frightened by the sound of its hooves clattering against the cobbles of the road.  He also suffered attacks of more generalized anxiety . Hans’ anxieties and phobia continued and he was afraid to go out of the house because of his phobia of horses.

When Hans was taken to see Freud (on 30th March 1908), he was asked about the horses he had a phobia of. Hans noted that he didn’t like horses with black bits around the mouth.

Freud believed that the horse was a symbol of his father, and the black bits were a mustache.  After the interview, the father recorded an exchange with Hans where the boy said ‘Daddy don’t trot away from me!

Over the next few weeks Hans” phobia gradually began to improve.  Hans said that he was especially afraid of white horses with black around the mouth who were wearing blinkers.  Hans” father interpreted this as a reference to his mustache and spectacles.

  • In the first, Hans had several imaginary children. When asked who their mother was, Hans replied “Why, mummy, and you”re their Granddaddy”.
  • In the second fantasy, which occurred the next day, Hans imagined that a plumber had come and first removed his bottom and widdler and then gave him another one of each, but larger.

Freud’s Interpretation of Hans’ Phobia

After many letters were exchanged, Freud concluded that the boy was afraid that his father would castrate him for desiring his mother. Freud interpreted that the horses in the phobia were symbolic of the father, and that Hans feared that the horse (father) would bite (castrate) him as punishment for the incestuous desires towards his mother.

Freud saw Hans” phobia as an expression of the Oedipus complex . Horses, particularly horses with black harnesses, symbolized his father. Horses were particularly suitable father symbols because of their large penises.

The fear began as an Oedipal conflict was developing regarding Hans being allowed in his parents” bed (his father objected to Hans getting into bed with them).

Hans told his father of a dream/fantasy which his father summarized as follows:

‘In the night there was a big giraffe in the room and a crumpled one: and the big one called out because I took the crumpled one away from it.  Then it stopped calling out: and I sat down on top of the crumpled one’.

Freud and the father interpreted the dream/fantasy as being a reworking of the morning exchanges in the parental bed.  Hans enjoyed getting into his parent’s bed in the morning but his father often objected (the big giraffe calling out because he had taken the crumpled giraffe – mother – away).

Both Freud and the father believed that the long neck of the giraffe was a symbol for the large adult penis.  However Hans rejected this idea.

The Oedipus Complex

Freud was attempting to demonstrate that the boy’s (Little Hans) fear of horses was related to his Oedipus complex .  Freud thought that, during the phallic stage (approximately between 3 and 6 years old), a boy develops an intense sexual love for his mothers.

Because of this, he sees his father as a rival, and wants to get rid of him.  The father, however, is far bigger and more powerful than the young boy, and so the child develops a fear that, seeing him as a rival, his father will castrate him.

Because it is impossible to live with the continual castration-threat anxiety provided by this conflict, the young boy develops a mechanism for coping with it, using a defense mechanis m known as identification with the aggressor .

He stresses all the ways that he is similar to his father, adopting his father’s attitudes, mannerisms and actions, feeling that if his father sees him as similar, he will not feel hostile towards him.

Freud saw the Oedipus complex resolved as Hans fantasized himself with a big penis like his father’s and married to his mother with his father present in the role of grandfather.

Hans did recover from his phobia after his father (at Freud’s suggestion) assured him that he had no intention of cutting off his penis.

Critical Evaluation

Case studies have both strengths and weaknesses. They allow for detailed examinations of individuals and often are conducted in clinical settings so that the results are applied to helping that particular individual as is the case here.

However, Freud also tries to use this case to support his theories about child development generally and case studies should not be used to make generalizations about larger groups of people.

The problems with case studies are they lack population validity. Because they are often based on one person it is not possible to generalize the results to the wider population.

The case study of Little Hans does appear to provide support for Freud’s (1905) theory of the Oedipus complex.  However, there are difficulties with this type of evidence.

There are several other weaknesses with the way that the data was collected in this study. Freud only met Hans once and all of his information came from Hans father. We have already seen that Hans’ father was an admirer of Freud’s theories and tried to put them into practice with his son.

This means that he would have been biased in the way he interpreted and reported Hans’ behavior to Freud. There are also examples of leading questions in the way that Hans’ father questioned Hans about his feelings. It is therefore possible that he supplied Hans with clues that led to his fantasies of marriage to his mother and his new large widdler.

Of course, even if Hans did have a fully-fledged Oedipus complex, this shows that the Oedipus complex exists but not how common it is.  Remember that Freud believed it to be universal.

At age 19, the not-so Little Hans appeared at Freud’s consulting room having read his case history.  Hans confirmed that he had suffered no troubles during adolescence and that he was fit and well.

He could not remember the discussions with his father, and described how when he read his case history it ‘came to him as something unknown’

Finally, there are problems with the conclusions that Freud reaches. He claims that Hans recovered fully from his phobia when his father sat him down and reassured him that he was not going to castrate him and one can only wonder about the effects of this conversation on a small child!

More importantly, is Freud right in his conclusions that Hans’ phobia was the result of the Oedipus complex or might there be a more straightforward explanation?

Hans had seen a horse fall down in the street and thought it was dead. This happened very soon after Hans had attended a funeral and was beginning to question his parents about death. A behaviorist explanation would be simply that Hans was frightened by the horse falling over and developed a phobia as a result of this experience.

Gross cites an article by Slap (an American psychoanalyst) who argues that Hans’ phobia may have another explanation. Shortly after the beginning of the phobia (after Hans had seen the horse fall down) Hans had to have his tonsils out.

After this, the phobia worsened and it was then that he specifically identified white horses as the ones he was afraid of. Slap suggests that the masked and gowned surgeon (all in white) may have significantly contributed to Hans’ fears.

The Freud Archives

In 2004, the Freud Archives released a number of key documents which helped to complete the context of the case of little Hans (whose real name was Herbert Graf).

The released works included the transcript of an interview conducted by Kurt Eissler in 1952 with Max Graf (little Hans’s father) as well as notes from brief interviews with Herbert Graf and his wife  in 1959.

Such documents have provided some key details that may alter the way information from the original case is interpreted. For example, Hans’s mother had been a patient of Freud herself.

Another noteworthy detail was that Freud gave little Hans a rocking horse for his third birthday and was sufficiently well acquainted with the family to carry it up the stairs himself.

It is interesting to question why, in the light of Hans’s horse phobia, details of the presence of the gift were not mentioned in the case study (since it would have been possible to do so without breaking confidentiality for either the family or Freud himself).

Information from the archived documents reveal much conflict within the Graf family. Blum (2007, p. 749) concludes that:

“Trauma, child abuse [of Hans’s little sister], parental strife, and the preoedipal mother-child relationship emerge as important issues that intensified Hans’s pathogenic oedipal conflicts and trauma. With limited, yet remarkable help from his father and Freud, Little Hans nevertheless had the ego strength and resilience to resolve his phobia, resume progressive development, and forge a successful creative career.”

Support for Freud (Brown, 1965)

Brown (1965) examines the case in detail and provides the following support for Freud’s interpretation.

1 . In one instance, Hans said to his father –“ Daddy don”t trot away from me ” as he got up from the table. 2 . Hans particularly feared horses with black around the mouth.  Han’s father had a moustache. 3. Hans feared horses with blinkers on. Freud noted that the father wore spectacles which he took to resemble blinkers to the child. 4 . The father’s skin resembled white horses rather than dark ones.  In fact, Hans said, “Daddy, you are so lovely. You are so white”. 5 . The father and child had often played at “horses” together.  During the game the father would take the role of horse, the son that of the rider.

Little Hans Case Study (Freud)

Ross (2007) reports that the interviews with Max and Herbert Graf provide evidence of the psychological problems experienced by Little Hans’s mother and her mistreatment of her husband and her daughter (who committed suicide as an adult).

Ross suggests that “Reread in this context, the text of “A Phobia in a Five-year-old Boy” provides ample evidence of Frau Graf’s sexual seduction and emotional manipulation of her son, which exacerbated his age-expectable castration and separation anxiety, and her beating of her infant daughter.

The boy’s phobic symptoms can therefore be deconstructed not only as the expression of oedipal fantasy, but as a communication of the traumatic abuse occurring in the home.

Blum, H. P. (2007). Little Hans: A centennial review and reconsideration . Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 55 (3), 749-765.

Brown, R. (1965). Social Psychology . Collier Macmillan.

Freud, S. (1905). Three essays on the theory of sexuality . Se, 7.

Freud, S. (1909). Analysis of a phobia of a five year old boy. In The Pelican Freud Library (1977), Vol 8, Case Histories 1, pages 169-306

Graf, H. (1959). Interview by Kurt Eissler. Box R1, Sigmund Freud Papers. Sigmund Freud Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Graf, M. (1952). Interview by Kurt Eissler. Box 112, Sigmund Freud Papers. Sigmund Freud Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Ross, J.M. (2007). Trauma and abuse in the case of Little Hans: A contemporary perspective . Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 55 (3), 779-797.

Further Information

  • Sigmund Freud Papers: Interviews and Recollections, -1998; Set A, -1998; Interviews and; Graf, Max, 1952.
  • Sigmund Freud Papers: Interviews and Recollections, -1998; Set A, -1998; Interviews and; Graf, Herbert, 1959.
  • Wakefield, J. C. (2007). Attachment and sibling rivalry in Little Hans: The fantasy of the two giraffes revisited. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 55(3), 821-848.
  • Bierman J.S. (2007) The psychoanalytic process in the treatment of Little Hans. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 62: 92- 110
  • Re-Reading “Little Hans”: Freud’s Case Study and the Question of Competing Paradigms in Psychoanalysis
  • An” Invisible Man”?: Little Hans Updated

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Psych Reviews

Psychology, Meditation, and Philosophy book reviews

reaction paper about freud case study

Case Studies: The ‘Ratman’ – Sigmund Freud

From unconscious to conscious.

When Sigmund Freud began working with the young educated man featured in this review, he didn’t realize the strange paths his treatment would follow. His patient complained about long standing compulsive ideas that were getting worse. “The main content of his suffering is his fear that something will befall two people whom he greatly loves, his father and a lady whom he admires. In addition he experiences  compulsive urges, for example to cut his throat with a razor, and imposes  prohibitions on himself relating to matters of indifference.” At this point in Freud’s career he was becoming well known as a sex expert, and patients were beginning to seek him out, hoping that sexual insights from childhood and adolescence would reveal more about their neurosis.

At this early stage in Freud’s career, his treatment style was still developing. What was written in his paper Some Remarks on a Case of Obsessive-compulsive Neurosis , betrays Freud’s self-promotion more by what he left out rather than what he left in. This was what later analysts had to avoid in order to update psychoanalysis to their fresh clinical observations. A great tool to help readers of Freud’s “Ratman” study is the well researched Freud and the Rat Man by Patrick J. Mahony. Patrick was able to compare the original process notes with the published case, make improved translations, and correct some of the chronology. He also studied the life histories of the influential people in the subject’s life to piece out missed opportunities that Freud wasn’t able to explore. Psychoanalysis is a long process, and Freud was unfortunately not able to produce published case studies that were long enough to affect a full cure, despite his claims of achieving cures. Part of the difficulty was the need to be discreet to hide the patient’s identity. In a letter to Carl Jung, Freud told him that he wanted to publish his case on the “Ratman” that he discussed in meetings at the International Psychoanalytic Congress in the Hotel Bristol in Salzburg. “I suddenly feel like writing up the Salzburg Rat Man…It will not be long because in print I shall have to be much more discreet than in a lecture.” Jung was supportive of Freud in publishing the story, and enthusiastic about the presentation Freud gave at the Congress.

Some of the misgivings that Freud had were not entirely out of modesty. His oral report to the Congress was a success, but much was removed in print. In Freud and the culture of psychoanalysis  by Steven Marcus, Freud’s paper is described both as “one of the richest, most complex and opaque pieces”, but lacking in “the coherence, expository fullness, narrative virtuosity, and sustained sinuosity of episodic, incremental development.” The importance of understanding as much of this case study as possible is due to the notion of “cure” in psychoanalysis. The more unconscious intentions are made conscious to the patient, the more understanding there is, and the more the patient understands how counter-productive their thinking patterns are, the more they are motivated to cease them. For example, the inhibitions due to superstitious beliefs and omnipotent rituals to control reality, that this patient believed in, were draining his energy and misdirecting it away from his needed work. A true cure would be to get any patient to think more scientifically and act more assertively about their projects. Since this applies to everyone, a more comprehensive cure would have to also analyze how bias and prejudice from the analyst would interfere with a deeper cure. Seeing how defenses can transfer from past targets onto new targets is a transference insight that can help patients see their neurosis in action, but Freud was only beginning to see how his own transference was limiting his case studies. He readily admitted to preferring to develop theories rather than actively treating patients.

“…I get tired of people…I am  not basically interested in therapy, and I usually find that I am engaged – in any particular case – with the theoretical problems with which I happen to be interested at the time.” Raymond de Saussure added that “Freud was not a good psychoanalytic clinician. Since he had not been analyzed himself, he tended to commit two kinds of errors. First, he had practiced suggestion too long not to have been materially affected by it. When he was persuaded of the truth of something, he had considerable difficulty in waiting until this verity became clear to his patient. Freud wanted to convince him immediately. Because of that, he talked too much. Second, one rapidly sensed what special theoretical question preoccupied him, for often during the analytic hour he developed at length new points of view he was clarifying in his own mind. This was a gain for the discipline, but not always for the patient’s treatment.”


One of the insights of the “Ratman” case is seeing how perception can find similarities in people and environments that trigger painful complexes. The associations that the patient makes gives clues to the sore spot in the mind hiding in the unconscious. This is a universal aspect to anyone sensitive enough to feel bad about themselves. Gradually as the sore-spot is exposed, many associations are revealed. They include inhibitions, envy, desire and useless rituals that drain energy. What can limit an analyst’s ability to catch these insights is their own lack of understanding. One of the big ones is a lack of understanding of the opposite sex. Like a male patient going to a female psychologist without the proper experience, or in the case of Freud, his lack of understanding of female psychology, limited his ability to discover insights based on female influences on his patients. “…I am also too patriarchal to be a good analyst.” Thankfully Mahony brings that back in with his research of Freud’s patient Ernst Lanzer, the Austrian Lawyer. Theories about Ernst’s interactions with his mother and sisters are introduced to provide a wider picture of his neurosis. Freud himself, according to Mahony, self-described as an “obsessional type” which would condition his interest, and sympathy with patients like him. The problem of a positive transference is that there will be too much regard which can prevent increasing depth in the case study.

The ‘Ratman’

Ernst Lanzer’s recounting of his life history to Freud began with significant encounters with females at an early age, but also included his ambivalence over whether to marry the love of his life, Gisela Adler, not related to the psychotherapist Alfred Adler. Gisela being from a family that his mother did not approve of, and would eventually become infertile, created a lot of ambivalence in his choice. Freud said that Ernst “…gives the impression of being clear-headed and perceptive. When I ask what causes him to put particular emphasis on information about his sexual life he replies that that is what he knows about my theories. Apart from this he has read nothing of what I have written, but when leafing through one of my books he recently came across an explanation of bizarre associations of words that reminded him so much of his own ‘mental efforts’ with regard to his own ideas that he resolved to entrust himself to me for treatment.”

The Psychopathology of Everyday Life – Sigmund Freud:

Like a lot of Freud’s patients, they tried different therapies to no avail. “None of the cures he has attempted have done him any good except for one course of hydropathic treatment in a clinic…but this was no doubt only because he struck up an acquaintance there that led to regular sexual intercourse. He has no such opportunities here and has intercourse rarely and at irregular intervals. Prostitutes are repugnant to him. His sex life has been altogether wretched, and masturbation has played only a minor role, when he was 16 or 17. His potency is normal, he claims; he first had intercourse at the age of 26.” To get behind the repression Freud warned the patient that the treatment required that he would have to let go of tough resistances and “tell everything that came into his mind, even if he found this unpleasant , and even if the thoughts seemed  unimportant, irrelevant  or  nonsensical… “

Early sexual life

Mahony traces Lanzer’s sexual trajectory that moved from physical contact to only watching. “Overall, the sensuality of Ernst’s childhood considerably diminished through puberty, and limited tactile eroticism gave way to voyeurism as the main source of sexual pleasure.” Freud recounts Lanzer’s monologue: “My sexual life began very early. I remember a scene that took place when I was 3 or 4 years old, which came into my mind quite clearly years later. We had a pretty young governess called Fräulein [Rudolf]. One evening she was lying on the sofa reading, quite scantily dressed; I was lying next to her and asked for permission to crawl under her petticoats. She said I could, provided that I did not tell anyone. She was not wearing much, and I touched her genitals and her belly, which I found rather odd. Since then I have felt a burning, tormenting curiosity to see the female body. I can still remember with what feeling of suspense I waited at the Baths, where I was still allowed to go with my sisters and governess, for our governess to take off her clothes and enter the water. From the age of 5 I can remember more. We had another governess then, also young and pretty, who had abscesses on her bottom which she used to squeeze every evening. I would wait furtively for that moment to ease my curiosity. The same was true at the Baths, although Fräulein [Paula] was more reserved than the other one. (In answer to my interpolated question he replied: ‘I did not sleep regularly in her bedroom, but mostly with my parents.’) I remember a scene that took place when I must have been about 7 years old. We were all sitting together one evening, the governess, the cook, another girl, my brother who was 18 months younger, and myself. I suddenly caught a snatch of the girls’ conversation and heard Fräulein Paula say: “You could do that with the little one, but [he] is too clumsy, he would be bound to get it wrong.” I did not understand very clearly what was meant, but did understand that the remark was a disparaging one, and began to cry. Paula comforted me and told me that a girl who had done something similar with a little lad in her care had been locked up for several months. I do not think she got up to any mischief with me, but I was allowed to take all sorts of liberties with her. When I came into her bedroom I would pull the covers off her and touch her and she would never try to stop me. She was not very intelligent and obviously very needy sexually.”

The beginning of obsession

Sensitive at perceived slights, he recalled another slight from an older friend. “…he had taken a great fancy to him and done wonders for his self-esteem, so that he had thought himself almost a genius. This student later became his private tutor and changed his attitude towards him quite suddenly, treating him like the worst kind of fool. Finally he realized that the man was in fact interested in one of his sisters and had only taken up with him in order to gain an entrée into the house.” Freud’s patient was feeling what many people have felt, a feeling of being used, but his mind turned into a direction that was much more pathological. “At the age of 6 I was already troubled by erections and I know that I once went to my mother to complain to her about this. I remember too that I had to overcome certain scruples in order to do so, for I already sensed that there was some connection with my fantasies and my curiosity and for some time back then harboured a morbid notion that my parents knew what I was thinking, which I explained to myself by saying that I had articulated my thoughts without hearing them myself. I see this as the beginning of my illness. There were people, girls, that I liked the look of and whom I had an urgent wish  to see naked.  These desires were accompanied, however, by  an uncanny feeling that something would happen if I allowed myself such thoughts and that I had to do all sorts of things to prevent this.”

When asked what he thought would happen, “ my father would die… From an early age I was preoccupied by thoughts of my father’s death; this made me melancholy for a long time.’ On this occasion I learn with astonishment that the father, who, even today, is the object of his compulsive fears, has been dead for several years.” Freud saw firstly that his patient’s desire to see females naked triggered embarrassment and a fear of something bad that might happen. “If I harbour the wish to see a woman naked, my father must die.” The conflict is early on in his life, but Freud hints at the mechanism of the “I” and how it can gradually develop repressive power towards wishes and impulses. “…If it does not yet have its compulsive character this is because the ‘I’ ( Ich ) has not yet set itself up in complete contradiction to it, [and] does not yet sense it to be something alien.” The fear begins to motivate a superstitious need to avert disaster that Freud calls “defensive measures” or “parrying actions.”

Rat torture

Freud wrestled with the vague “I articulated my thoughts without hearing them” as a projection to the outside world that people can know his thoughts better than he knows himself. To Freud it was like he had an unconscious perception of what was repressed but it could not become clear, other than it vaguely involved his father. Eventually Freud’s patient opened up about his increasing intensity of his compulsions. When doing military exercises, which helped him to calm compulsive ideas, he wanted to prove his worth to career officers in his outfit. In a halt during a march he lost his pince-nez glasses, and carried on without them. “During this same halt I sat down between two officers, one of whom, a captain with a Czech name, was to become a significant figure for me. I felt a certain fear of this man, for he obviously took pleasure in cruelty . I am not saying that he was a bad man, but in the officers’ mess he had spoken repeatedly in favour of introducing whipping as a punishment, so that I had been obliged to oppose him quite forcefully. Now, during the halt we got into conversation and the captain told me that he had read about a particularly terrible form of punishment practised in the Orient…'” He broke off from the unpleasant details, but with Freud’s insistence he explained that “the condemned man was tied up…with an upturned pot over his behind, into which rats were then put, which once again [Lanzer] stood up, showing every sign of horror and resistance – bored their way in. Into the anus, I added, helping him out.” Freud provided suggestions a lot more than therapists are willing to do to day, but this was the beginning of Psychoanalysis. The patient, displayed a mixed facial expression to Freud that signaled “… horror at the pleasure he does not even know he feels .”

The ‘Ratman’ continued that an “ idea flashed through my mind that  this might happen to someone who was dear to me.”  Freud guessed at this point that it was the lady that he admires “to whom this ‘idea’ applies.” Freud targeted the idea and it’s possible associations. The idea represents a wish and a fear. “At the very same moment as the idea, the ‘sanction’ also appears, i.e., the parrying measure that must be adopted to prevent such a fantasy from being realized.” Here the word “guess” is translated differently by Mahony. He had access to Freud’s notes and was able to find translation problems. Here the guess should be translated from the German erraten  meaning a correct guess. The Father being the earlier idea than the lady, Freud guesses that the father is included in this torture. “…the rat punishment should be carried out on the lady. Now he is forced to admit that at the same time there surfaced another idea, that the punishment should also be applied to his father.” This also brings up the theory that Lanzer wants to punish objects of desire for not being supportive of his goals for them, but he suppresses them when in presence of those people. “He admitted, incidentally, that from time to time he experiences quite explicit impulses to do some harm to the lady he adores. These impulses are generally subdued in her presence and come to the fore only in her absence.”

Obsessive rituals

Lanzer’s obsession escalated when his replacement pince-nez glasses were delivered to him by the sadistic Captain with the message that a Lieutenant A. paid for the charges and that he should be paid back. The demand from the torture loving captain triggered his wish to pay the money back and to not pay the money back. “ You must not pay back the money, or it will happen (i.e. the rat fantasy would be realized on his father and the lady). And straight away, in accordance with a familiar pattern, there arose a command to combat this sanction, as a vow: ‘ You must pay back the 3.80 crowns to Lieutenant A.’,  words that he found himself speaking half out loud…Two days later the military exercises came to an end. He filled up the intervening time with efforts to pay back the small sum of money to Lieutenant A. …At first he attempted to make the payment through another officer who was going to the post but was [not] very pleased when this man brought the money back and explained that he had not bumped into Lieutenant A. at the post office, as this manner of keeping his vow did not satisfy him since it did not meet the form of words: ‘You must pay back the money to Lieutenant A.’ Finally he met the man A. who refused to take the money, however, remarking that he had not paid anything on his behalf, and did not deal with the post at all, it was Lieutenant B. who did so. It caused him some consternation to realize that he could not keep his vow because it was based on a false premiss and he dreamed up the most bizarre solutions to his problem: he would go to the post office with both A. and B., where A. would give 3.80 crowns to the girl who dealt with the post and the girl would give his money back to B. so that he could pay A. back the 3.80 crowns according to the strict wording of his vow.” Even after all that, the exasperated Freud was able to learn that Lanzer already knew who paid for the delivery charges. It was the post-office woman herself. She met with an officer and asked about Lanzer. She told him that she would pay for the charges herself so he could get his glasses sooner. The officer overheard Lanzer’s name and told him what happened. When the sadistic captain gave him the wrong instructions, Lanzer knew they were wrong, but his compulsions sowed doubt and he followed his pathological vows anyways.

When obsessive rituals take hold they are emotionally invested and must be carried out to gain relief. Ambivalence is increased when opposite choices are available and worries of punishment lie on both sides. If Lanzer pays the money he worries that rat torture will happen to Gisela and his Father. If he doesn’t repay the money then he’ll be guilty of bad character. Ernst remembered a war story from his father where he had gambling debts to repay but it never happened because he couldn’t find the person he owed. Ernst identified with his father and associated repayment with being better than his father was. All these worries clouded the simple answer of just going to the post office lady and paying her directly. It’s hard to imagine a pathology like this when you are just a reader. One has to imagine vividly so that the emotions well up partially inside oneself to feel the bind an obsessive person is in. Their emotions override facts and carry them away. The way that people stayed in Lanzer’s mind, including his father that had already passed away, was as imaginary figures watching over him. Intrusive thoughts. Those figures influenced him emotionally and he communicated with them. “…For a long time he could not take in the fact of this father’s death; again and again it came about that when he heard a good joke he would say to himself: ‘I must tell my father that.’ His imagination played on the idea of his father, moreover, so that when there was a knock at the door he would often think: ‘That will be my father’, and would expect to see his father when he walked into a room; and although he was never able to forget the fact that he was dead, the expectation that his ghost would appear held no terror but was something for which he felt a deep longing.”

Displacement and repression

Here Freud shows how badly linked complexes behave. It means with distorted logic, or displacement, distorted emotions follow. “The idea-content that we know about has arrived here by means of inaccurate linking. We are not used to sensing strong emotions in ourselves without idea-content, and so in the absence of a content we take a different one, which seems more or less to fit, as a surrogate, much as our police, if they cannot catch the real murderer, will arrest the wrong person in his place. The fact that inaccurate links are made also accounts in itself for the impotence of logic in combating the tormenting idea.” Part of the healing process is to investigate the distorted logic to find out what underlies them. Freud goes onto use an archaeological metaphor of Pompeii for unearthing what is unconscious. Lanzer was worried that “one person might behave in such a way as to overcome the [self-blame], but another might not,” which Freud replied that “it is in the nature of things that the emotion is always overcome, usually while the work is still in progress.” This gave him hope that he could reintegrate his personality and achieve more in his life. Paralleling Carl Jung’s understanding of one-sidedness in people, and the need to develop skills to channel unconscious undeveloped impulses in a good direction, Freud suggested that “all that he need do is weld his new opposition, between the moral person and the wicked one, together with the one we had discussed earlier, the opposition between the conscious and the unconscious. The moral person was the conscious part, the wicked one the unconscious part. – He can remember that, although he regards himself as a moral person, he certainly did things in his childhood that had come from the other person. – I observe that he has discovered, incidentally as it were, one of the main characteristics of the unconscious, namely its relationship to the  infantile.  The unconscious is the infantile part, that bit of the personality that cut itself off back in infancy, did not continue to develop alongside the rest of the personality and was thus  repressed.”

“You interfered with my pleasure!”

In a Freudian sense, neurosis comes from having frustrated goals or wishes. The unconscious mind can roil in short-term destructive goals that scare the conscious mind which represses it. When people see frustrated goals, the lack of skill in dealing with problems shows itself in vengeful thoughts and actions that hurt oneself and society. One can see this acted out in soap operas and pulpy dramas. Impulses without the accompanying skill lead to these kind of dramas in the mind. Lanzer recounted a childhood story that had that unskilled reaction when he was slighted by a girl who was not as affectionate towards him as he wanted her to be. The desire to want to change people is a form of self-created stress. To try and change her mind he imagined that “…the death of his father…as one such possibility” as a way to garner sympathy from her. He had a similar thought towards the Gisela. “He was already in love with the lady he had mentioned, but was prevented by material considerations from contemplating a closer connection. Then the idea came: his father’s death would perhaps make him rich enough to be able to marry her. ” With a clarity, Freud reminded Lanzer of the constant self-imposed obstacles he would create for himself if he continued to find pleasure in the wrong solutions. “I remark that it is well known that those who are ill derive a certain satisfaction from their suffering, so that they all in fact strive only partially to get well. He must not lose sight of the fact that a treatment of the kind we were undertaking would inevitably be accompanied by constant resistance ; I should be reminding him of this fact over and over again.” Fortunately the psychoanalytical process takes advantage of the repeated resistance. “One arrives at such a solution…by examining when an individual compulsive idea first appeared and under what external circumstances it tends to be repeated.” In this case, the desire to annihilate obstacles to wishes, scares the patient by showing him what violence he is capable of dreaming up. For a lot of people in analysis, it can be a recording of a list of grudges and desires for revenge against those who interfered with their pleasure.

“Here the connection between this compulsive idea and our patient’s life is contained in the opening remarks of the account. His lady was absent while he was studying strenuously for an examination that would make union with her a more realistic possibility. While studying he was overtaken by longing for his absent love and the thought of the reason for her absence. And then there came something that in a normal person might have been a stirring of ill-feeling towards the grandmother: ‘Did the old woman really have to fall ill now, when I feel such dreadful yearning for  her? ‘ We must suppose something similar but far more intense to have taken place in our patient, an unconscious attack of rage that, together with his yearning, might have been couched in the exclamation: ‘Oh, I should like to go there and kill the old woman who is keeping my beloved from me!’ There follows the command: ‘Kill yourself as a punishment for such murderous, angry cravings’ and, accompanied by such vehement emotion, the whole process enters the consciousness of our compulsive patient  in reverse order – the punitive command at the beginning, the reference to the punishable cravings at the end.”

Compulsion to understand

Like with Hysteria, Freud isn’t just talking about Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, but a conglomeration of symptoms under the heading of obsession. This obsession was like that of a stalker that must always know the whereabouts of the target and everything the target says is interpreted with this lens of control and suspicion. “Before the summer, when he took his leave of her in Vienna, he interpreted something she said as meaning that she did not wish to be associated with him in present company, and this made him very unhappy. In the summer they found the opportunity to bring the matter out into the open and the lady was able to prove to him that her words, which he had taken the wrong way, had in fact been intended to protect him from ridicule of others. Now he was again very happy. The clearest reference to this incident is contained in his compulsion to understand , the form of which is as if he had said to himself: ‘After this experience you must never again misunderstand anyone if you want to spare yourself unnecessary torment.’ But his resolution has not only been generalized from that single occasion but has also – perhaps because of his beloved’s absence – been displaced from her esteemed person on to every other poor wretch…Compulsive activity of this kind with two consecutive time-signatures, where the rhythm of the first cancels out the second, is a typical feature of obsessive-compulsive neurosis. It is of course misunderstood in the conscious thought processes of the patient and given a secondary motivation – i.e. rationalized.  Its true meaning lies in its depiction of the conflict between two more or less equally strong opposing impulses, opposites which, in my experience to date, are always those of love and hate.”


This intermixing of desire with harm is described by Freud when Lanzer tells the story of removing a rock from being in the way of his lady’s carriage, and then putting it back showing the ambivalence he has for his love. He also displayed these ambivalent behaviours with his other intimate relationships. “It was a matter of conscience to him not to hand anyone dirty paper notes; they carried bacteria of the most dangerous sort, which might harm the recipient. At that time I already had some faint sense of the connection between the neuroses and sexuality and so on another occasion I took the risk of asking my patient how he felt about this matter. ‘Oh, everything’s fine in that department’, he answered lightly, ‘I don’t go short. There’s more than a few good families where I play the kindly old uncle and now and again I take the opportunity to invite a young girl on an outing to the country. Then I arrange things so that we miss the train and have to spend the night in the country. I do things very handsomely; I always take two rooms, but when the girl is in bed I go in to hers and masturbate her.’ – ‘Are you afraid of doing her some harm when you use your dirty hand to work on her?’ – At this he exploded, however: ‘Harm? What do you mean, harm? I didn’t do any of them any harm, and they all liked it. Some of them are married already and it didn’t do them any harm.'” Freud viewed the excuses as a rationalization which allowed Ernst to let go of some of his scruples towards cleanliness so he could gain more pleasure than if he was more principled.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

Freud returned back to Ernst’s father and this conflict between love and hate and how it affected his relationship decisions. His mother had arranged a marriage to a daughter of a cousin of hers when Lanzer finished his studies. Mahony identifies this family as “wealthy Saborsky relatives.” This would open up prospects for him from her side of the family. This scenario would be similar to what happened to his father before he married Ernst’s mother. Should he follow his heart and marry his admired lady or marry for prospects like his father? “He resolved this conflict, which was actually the conflict between his love and the continuing effect of his father’s will, by means of illness, or more precisely: he used his illness to escape the task of resolving it in reality…The principle outcome of the illness was a persistent inability to work, which caused him to defer conclusion of his studies for years…The conflict underlying the illness was essentially the clash between the continuing effect of his father’s will and his own inclinations as a lover.” To prove that his father’s decisions were working in Ernst’s unconscious, Freud used the patient’s transference, where a patient projects characteristics of authority figures in their life onto a new authority figure. He did this to Freud by elevating “a young girl whom he had once met on the steps of my house to the status of my daughter. He was attracted to her and started to imagine that I was only being so kind and unbelievably patient with him because I wanted him for a son-in-law; and that through this marriage he would enhance his wealth and refinement of my house to a level that would correspond to his own aspirations. Inside him, however, this temptation battled with his inextinguishable love for his mistress. After we had overcome instance after instance of the most powerful resistance and the most bitter insults, he could not escape the persuasive effects of the complete analogy between transference fantasy and past reality. I give as an example one of his dreams from this period as a sample of the representation style: he sees my daughter standing in front of him, but instead of eyes she has two filthy splodges. Anyone who understands the language of dreams will have no difficulty in translating this: he is marrying my daughter not for her lovely eyes, but for her money …He found himself in a situation that he knew or supposed to be the same as the one confronting his father before his own marriage, and was able to identify with his father.” We can also see here a sense of alienation that people go through, Eg. By not being able to satisfy a wish, one can create omnipotent thoughts that force the situation in one’s mind to a fantasy satisfaction and conclusion. Unfortunately if reality doesn’t change, the mind simply goes back to a depressed position. It’s a form of self-torture. This is also a clue to how people use proximity and grab what is available in the environment, and in memory, to solve problems. His father’s experience, for example, is a strategy to satisfy wishes and because Ernst is aware of it he can explore it. This constant vacillation between different objects of love is a way to see how people are constantly looking for the most accessible forms of pleasure that are available. The Pleasure Principle.

The Pleasure Principle:

Father as a ghostly presence

Going back into Lanzer’s infantile sexual development Freud inquired about his masturbation habits and if they were different from “typical behaviour….Our patient’s attitude to masturbation was a striking one: he did not practice masturbation in puberty…The urge to masturbatory activity manifested itself, on the other hand, in his twenty-first year, a short time after his father’s death . Each time, having achieved satisfaction, he was deeply ashamed and soon vowed to give up the habit. From then on he masturbated only rarely and for somewhat surprising reasons. He could be moved to do so when he experienced a particularly beautiful moment or read a particularly beautiful passage in a book.” Lanzer also masturbated when he experienced people flouting authority in real life and in books. “We may place in the same context his strange behaviour at a time when he was studying for an examination and was playing with a fantasy that he had become very partial to, namely that his father was still alive and might come back at any moment. At the same time he arranged his day so that his study was undertaken in the small hours of the night. He would break off his studies between midnight and 1 o’clock and open the front door of the apartment as if his father might be standing there; then, after he had come back in, he would unfasten his trousers and gaze at his penis in the hall mirror. It is easier to understand such antics if we assume that he was behaving as if he expected his father to visit him at the witching hour. When his father was alive he had been a somewhat lazy student, a fact that his father had often lamented. Now, if he returned as a ghost he should find him at his studies and be pleased with him. His father was most unlikely to take pleasure in the other aspect of his behaviour, however; in this way he defied him and gave simultaneous expression, by means of a compulsive action that he did not understand, to the two sides of his relationship with his father, just as he did to the lady he loved in his later compulsive action over the stone on the road.”


Delving deeper into Pompeii , as Freud alluded earlier, the flouting of authority went back to a childhood, possibly connecting with his earlier masturbation practices. Like with most early memories, they are covered up not just by unconscious repressions but also from parents who want avoid embarrassment. Freud explored “…the possibility that as a child of 6 he had committed some sexual misdemeanour relating to masturbation and received a painful beating from his father. While his punishment had put an end to the masturbation it had left him, on the other hand, with a grudge against his father and fixed him for all time in the role of an intruder upon sexual pleasure. To my great astonishment the patient now told me that his mother had recounted such an incident from his early childhood on many occasions, and that it had obviously not been forgotten because it had such remarkable associations. He, on the other hand, had retained no trace of it in his own memory. However the story was as follows: when he was still very young – it would be possible to determine the exact point in time because it coincided with the fatal illness of one of his older sisters – he was supposed to have done something awful for which he received a beating from his father. The little chap apparently got into a fearful rage and abused his father even as he was being beaten. Since he was not yet familiar with any terms of abuse, however, he called him by the names of all the objects which came into his mind, such as ‘You lamp, you towel, you plate’, etc. Shaken by this elemental outburst his father paused in mid-blow and remarked: ‘This boy will either be a great man one day, or a great criminal!’ He thought this scene had had a permanent impact on both himself and on his father. His father had never beaten him again; he himself attributes some part of the change in his character to this experience. From then on, terrified by the magnitude of his rage, he had become a coward. His whole life long, moreover, he had had a terrible fear of being beaten and would creep away, horrified and outraged, whenever one of his brothers or sisters was being caned…When he questioned his mother again she provided both confirmation of his narrative and also the information that he was aged between 3 and 4 at the time and had been punished because he had bitten someone. Even his mother could not remember any more; she thought – though with considerable uncertainty – that the person to whom the boy had caused injury might have been the children’s nurse; nothing she said suggested that the offense might have been sexual in nature.”

The most difficult part of psychoanalysis is to get at early memories, or to find evidence that proves an incident actually happened. Mahony says that, “…this one traumatic event was never…ratified in the treatment, for the most Dr. Lanzer could do was to report a tale that was repeated in the family but the events of which he had forgotten…As to the fact that the mother’s account contained no explicitly sexual element, Freud offered two explanations: either her censorship effaced the sexual material or there was no erotic meaning in the misdeed at all.” To get to possible other reasons for a quitting of masturbation, psychoanalysis has to delve into infantile sexual development.

If you remember from my early study of Freud’s sexual theories, the anal phase includes childhood reactions where the child holds back their stool and after staying too long on the pot it leads to parents chastising them. The punished child will often associate the pleasure of feces moving in and out of the anal sphincter with the messiness that is to be avoided in life and create a reaction formation by being “anal” and doing the opposite of messiness: Orderliness. The Phallic period is one where genital confidence is developed, but can revert back to anal behaviours. Here Freud didn’t elaborate much on this with Ernst Lanzer. Mahony tries to use contemporaneous events to see how this could happen. Lanzer’s sister Camilla died “when the little boy was three and a half – yet the consequential prolongation of the [forgotten] period was left unexplained. A greater lack-though understandable for the early state of psychoanalysis at the time – is that Freud did not yet see the essential relationship between anality and obsessional neurosis.” He quotes Gedo and Goldberg: “‘Freud explained the neurosis as a whole on the basis of repression of Oedipial hatred of the father as well as of the rejecting woman, followed by a dual regression: that of the libido from phallic aims to anal sadistic ones, and that of action to the sphere of eroticized thought.’ In the case at hand, he simply acknowledged the importance of anal eroticism in Ernst’s childhood, manifest in his early [playing with feces] and olfactory hypersensitivity as well as in the stimulation caused by rectal worms he had over a period of years. It is equally noteworthy that Freud made only sparing use of the concept of regression and did not express any understanding of the patient’s anal eroticism in that sense. Freud pointed out the unusual fact that Lanzer remembered his governess not by her first name but by her last, masculine-sounding name (Rudolf), an early indication of the part played by a homosexual object-sexual choice in the patient’s life. Freud’s comments to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society indicate that he may have considered the Rat Man’s homosexuality as fully emerging only in the latency period [the period before puberty]: ‘The basic conflict in this case lies, roughly speaking, in the patient’s struggle between his drive toward man and that toward woman (his drive toward man is stronger)….The patient already at such an early age clearly showed heterosexual inclinations and…his later homosexuality is in sharp contrast with these.'”

Mahony says that “since the Rat Man was obsessed with anal penetration, we might expect that the terminal parts of his utterances would be hyperinvested; and in reality, such was the case. It is as if his utterances at times were symbolic extensions of his corporeal schema where an investment was defensively displaced from the front to the anal region. The oath ‘May God protect him/her.’ A not would suddenly emerge from the Rat Man’s unconscious and turn the sentence into its opposite. As opposed to English, however, in German the negative  Nicht is appended to the end of the sentence so that it penetrates the formula just as the rats did the anus.”

Sexuality Pt. 2 – Sigmund Freud:

An important influence that Freud didn’t explore was that of Ernst’s mother and sisters. Mahony describes how those early influences affected his heterosexual inclinations. “Ernst maintained that he loved his lady but had no sensual desire for her, a defensive maneuver further subjected to doubt and alternate periods of his loving her intensely and being indifferent to her. Not exploring the oedipal significance of the relationship, Freud kept Mrs. Lanzer and Gisela apart…In Ernst’s dreams ‘his sexual desires for his mother and sister and his sisters’s premature death were linked up with the young hero’s chastisement at his father’s hand.’ Apart from this passage, Freud was content to subsume his patient’s mother into a few oedipal statements. Nor did Freud [express] any oedipal conclusions from back-to-back associations that at the age of six the little Ernst complained about erections to his mother and felt that his desires to see girls naked were liable to cause his father’s death…One may want to argue that Freud had to be discreet and consequently filtered out many allusions to Mrs. Lanzer, who functioned as a controller of the purse strings and thus as a participant in the analysis. Yet as sound as that objection may be, it is surely not sufficient in itself. But if we seek elsewhere, a supplementary reason comes quickly into view to resolve our puzzlement. The relatively pallid picture of the Rat Man’s mother and the full-bodied picture of his father fit the lopsided pattern in Freud’s descriptions of both Dora’s and little Hans’s parents…Marcus’s incisive comment: the relative exclusion of the mother in Freud’s case histories ‘was characteristic of his culture as well, and one of the more strongly marked features of both the major novels and major autobiographies of nineteenth-century culture is the consistency with which they place the relation of father and child (particularly, of course, father and son) at the center of the human universe of development, passion and choice, and how relatively infrequently the relation of mother and child (with a few notable exceptions) occupies that paramount position. One can say that one of the themes of nineteenth-century literary culture has to do with the conflict surrounding this tendency to a suppression of the mother.'” Mrs. Lanzer was also an interferer in Ernst’s desires, like with his choice of a marriage partner. “…Mrs. Lanzer did not fail to criticize Gisela’s family as ‘futile persons’ and even forbade Ernst from going to the funeral of Gisela’s grandmother. If it is only probable that Mrs. Lanzer controlled her family’s financial affairs, it is certain that she was the strict administrator of Ernst’s inheritance. As the distributor of the analytic fees, did she force…ending of the treatment?”

“Already on the basis of the first several weeks of clinical material presented by Freud to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Rank opined that ‘all factors clearly point to the patient’s love for his mother, even though there has not yet been any direct reference to this in the analytic material’ …Freud replied that ‘Rank will probably prove to be right in his assumption that incestuous wishes for the mother play a  role, though the relationship is complicated by the presence of four sisters…The extant evidence allows us to draw a mixed picture of the interaction between Ernst and his mother. Her controlling nature, entrenched miserliness, ambivalent attitude toward neatness, and lack of the outbursts so characteristic of her husband and son indicate an obsessional personality with restrictive traits. If she was family-conscious, concerned about the comfort of her house, and even protective of her son against her violent husband, she could yet be critical, controlling, and dangerously seductive and phallic.”

Like in the ‘Little Hans’ case, the birth of new siblings creates a lot of emotional turmoil. Mahony says that, “…when he was living through the phase of gender consolidation, his privileged position as the only son in a family of daughters was undermined by the birth of a rival brother; when Ernst neared three, another sister was born; and nine months later, Camilla died. In general, Mrs. Lanzer hardly appears to be a preoedipal or oedipal mother who functioned as a consistent developmental stabilizer or as one who maintained an open dialogue with her son that would have constantly promoted and solidified ego functioning. She did not suffice for her son to deal with his unresolved distress, frustration, and rage; he turned then to other family members for gratifying solace and sustenance. We attain a clear idea of the oedipal constellation if we understand that Ernst’s sisters became substitute objects more approachable than his mother.” 

Case Studies: ‘Little Hans’ – Sigmund Freud:

Mahony found that much of what bothered Ernst in later life could be explained by his experiences with his sisters in the process notes. “Ernst’s first perception of sexual difference dating from his observation of Camilla on the pot; her declaration to him, ‘If you die I shall kill myself’; remembered scenes of her illness and death and the distressed reactions of himself and his parents; his fear that his own masturbation might have caused her death; and last, his experience of her death as a relief over a rival being eliminated, as [a warning] sign of what might happen to him if he continued to masturbate, and as the origin of his omnipotent belief that by giving or retaining love he could control life…Being a focus of Camilla’s oedipal strivings obviously intensified Ernst’s choice of her as his incestuous heterosexual object. If the one reported event of Ernst’s early biting is seen phasically, we might understand that to ward off the painful affects of anxiety and helplessness connected with Camilla’s impending loss, he regressed to the conflicts of the anal stage and the oral-sadistic rage he had brought into it. Occurring during the height of his oedipal phase, the catastrophic loss of the mother surrogate traumatically shaped his infantile neurosis.”

Mahony also describes the behaviour of making substitutes. “When Camilla died, the nine month old Olga might have been the object of Ernst’s deflected libido. We are on surer grounds when we postulate that at least during adulthood, Olga was his incestuously preferred sister and a choice object of sadistic-anal fantasies. The finicky brother brought himself to tell her, ‘Nothing about you would be disgusting to me’, a total acceptance no other woman in the case history receives. After the death of their father (the ‘interferer’), Ernst repeatedly attacked Olga and once ‘assaulted’ her; he even had to make a vow to keep away from her. Once he dreamed of copulating with her and of then being fearful for having broken his vow; upon waking and recognizing that he had only been dreaming, he was so delighted that he ‘went into her bedroom and smacked her bottom under the bedclothes’. Servants thought that Ernst and Olga kissed not like siblings but like lovers. Even her eventual husband became jealous to the point that Ernst said to him, ‘If Olga has a baby in 9 months’ time, you needn’t think I am its father; I am innocent.'”

Core complex of neuroses

Freud describes what is experienced by every child, which is a series of thwarted attempts at pleasure and why. He called it the “core complex of the neuroses.” As the layers of resentments pile up, resistance in the patient starts to be taken out on the analyst, Freud in this case, which is an expected hazard of being a therapist. “I will merely say that as a result of [the childhood scene] re-emergence he started to falter for the first time in his refusal to believe in feelings of rage against his beloved father, acquired prehistorically and subsequently lying dormant. I had expected the scene to have a more powerful effect, if anything, since he had been told of his event so often, by his father as well, that there was no doubt as to its reality. With a capacity to flout logic that is always particularly disconcerting in highly intelligent patients suffering from a compulsive disorder, he denied the value of the scene as evidence, protesting over and over again that he himself could not remember a thing about it. He was obliged therefore to come by the conviction that his relationship to his father did indeed need to be amplified by material from the unconscious by the painful route of transference. It soon came about that in dreams, daytime fantasies and arbitrary notions he would insult me and mine in the most coarse and offensive manner, yet at the same time he never intentionally showed me anything but the greatest respect. His behaviour when relating these insults to me was that of a desperate man. ‘Most honoured Professor, how can you allow yourself to be insulted in this way by filthy scum like me? You ought to throw me out; I don’t deserve any better.’ He would get up from the couch and walk around the room as he spoke, claiming at first that this was motivated by tact: he could not bear to say such terrible things while lying there in comfort. Soon he himself hit upon the more convincing explanation, however, that he was putting himself at arm’s length for fear that I would strike him. If he remained seated, he would conduct himself like a man seeking to protect himself in desperate anxiety from an intemperate beating: he would bury his face in his hands, cover his face with his arm, or run away suddenly, his features distorted with pain, etc. He recalled how his father would fall into sudden rages and in the violence of his feelings would no longer have any sense of how far he could go. In this school of suffering he gradually gained the conviction he had been lacking…” By bringing all those old memories up, including the actions of the father, mother, siblings, and the resentments they caused, the emotions over those incidents could be mourned by Lanzer.

Rat associations

Once rat associations could be connected with a painful complex it became clear how the obsessions could colour other concepts. Freud was able to connect the game of Spielratte , or “Gambling rat” to a game where his father lost money and couldn’t repay the debt. The rats burrowing in the victim’s anus could trigger associations of punishment related to pleasure holding back defecation and the sensations of worms that he had in childhood. The penetration could be associated with the penis. The penis can spread disease just like a rat can. Penetrating an anus can be associated with sewage where rats live and feed on excrement. When discussing Ibsen’s Little Eyolf , in analysis, the Rat-Wife commands rats, which could also be associated with children, like in the story of the Pied Piper , and Ernst’s desire to have children. “And now he provided a piece of information that he had withheld from its proper context for long enough, but which fully explained his interest in children. As a result of a gynaecological operation, the removal of both ovaries, the lady whose admirer he had been for so many years and yet could not bring himself to marry was condemned to childlessness; this was indeed the principal reason for his hesitation, since he was extraordinarily fond of children.” So many associations to rats created a symbol in him “designated to grate, on the complex of his feelings.”

Even if this appears far-fetched for some, more obvious examples of triggers can be references to sex, sexual orientation, race, bodily ugliness, mental illness and any references to low status that can trigger defense mechanisms. Lanzer was triggered by embarrassing desires and sources of shame with his family. Being mindful, you can catch yourself seeing words when you scan a text, and how it triggers a sore spot on your self-esteem. Sometimes you may see words that aren’t even there because your concern about a troubling subject matter related to yourself esteem is so consuming that the brain fills in the blanks. Notice how when the economy is good, people feel less sensitive, but when the economy crashes and people are struggling, it’s hard to find anything funny. You may have made fun of lots of people, but your circumstances have changed so much that now you are the target of jokes. Notice how hard it is to move beyond those negative labels that stigmatize and create a flurry of stressful thinking, suicidal thoughts, inhibition and inaction that prevents full development of yourself. Seeing it in your own life helps you to see how it is everywhere. Defense mechanisms can be masochistic and self-attacking, or sadistic where people redress slights with insults and violence externally. Being able to laugh at oneself and accept imperfections for as many wounds as you have, and to be less reactive to slights people give to you, cures the need to launch pre-emptive strikes on people, and cures the need for you to shrink away and avoid achieving your goals. As an adult you can’t change the past. You can only make new choices. In a modern environment people are sensitive to feeling insignificant or ridiculed because there are more signals in media and advertising displaying our inferiority. Understanding your impulses helps you to be able to control them. Then you can mourn past decisions and forgive your younger self for not knowing what you know now.

Sublimated revenge

After this review you can now go out into the world and understand its hostility much better. Lanzer took pleasure in thinking about obstacles meeting with an untimely end, but these fantasies have to brought to consciousness or they will look for other avenues. The typical way people discharge their frustrations if they can’t get revenge, is to resort to entertainment and addictions to numb the pain instead. For example, most people enjoy movies and TV shows that depict revenge that people can’t have in real life. The neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese, references René Girard. “[René] argues that actors on stage are symbolically sacrificed. In that way, society discharges its ever-present propensity for violence without doing harm.” To bring these unconscious intentions into consciousness allows us to predict how we will feel in competitive, insulting environments, and make better choices. One can spend more time with people who aren’t constantly triggering you. One can love and accept oneself with the understanding that most other people are the same and have one thing or another that causes them to feel shame. To see the toxic method of discharge, all you have to do is look at politics. Notice how many people actually direct attention to the weaknesses of others to bolster their own self-esteem.

Humor – Sigmund Freud:

Sublimation – Sigmund Freud:


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‘Ratman’ to just Man

Whether Lanzer’s mother ended the sessions, or whether he was too busy to continue them, he behaved more assertively and returned to his studies. He became a lawyer, found employment and married Gisela. This was despite attending only a brief analysis with Freud. Questions still remained of how cured he really was. Certainly by marrying for love, instead of for money, the ghost of his father, and his mother’s influence, weakened. Of course there would have to be confirmation that he wasn’t marrying the woman, who could not bear children, to deprive his father of the continuation of his line. If that was the case then his father’s pathological presence would still be there. How he viewed Gisela based on his experience with his mother and sisters is too murky to have definite conclusions. Many parents use their power of inheritance to force matches. Marrying Gisela could be a way to defy his mother or she may have had similar characteristics to his sisters that he found attractive. The healthy choice would be to choose based on love that exists day in and day out for a person, and not on getting attention from authority figures. This way the marriage partner wouldn’t be treated as a means to an end. Ernst also had a tendency to idealize and devalue Gisela. People are more of a mix rather than an angel or devil. It’s not known if Lanzer could see beyond that dichotomy. There were also self-esteem issues. If Lanzer felt that people could read his mind, and know his thoughts, I wonder myself if a feeling of inferiority was involved in this magical thinking that people have these abilities that he doesn’t have. Are authority figures given too much reverence? An independent mind would be rid of that habit. Finally, Freud’s use of the primal scene, where children watch their parents have sex and develop theories of conception, was such an important part of his study of the ‘Wolfman’, but was actually more applicable to Lanzer’s case study. Sleeping in the same bed with his parents would be “over-stimulation”, and early introductions to male and female savouring of sexual pleasure could have introduced conflict on which form of savouring would be better to imitate. Any shame for homosexual impulses could create self-reproaches and be triggered by reminders of anal penetration, including triggers from the story about the rat torture. Unfortunately, very soon it was the breakout of WWI, and Ernst was enlisted. He was captured by the Russians on November 21, 1914 and died on November 25th. Freud himself was still in his early phase of his theories and around this time was finding challenges from within his own circle, notably Carl Jung and Alfred Adler who offered their own treatment methods and moved onto creating their own schools. Naturally Freud’s view of WWI would change a lot of his theories and advance them to include more darkness and depth that humanity displayed during that war.

The Wolfman and other cases – Sigmund Freud: Kindle: Paperback:

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Dr. Sigmund Freud - Psychoanalysis Case Study Wolf Man - Sergei Pankejeff From the History of an Infantile Neurosis (1918[1914]), in An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works, Vol.17, S.E. pg. 1-104. “The perfect stillness and immobility of wolves… The factors of attentive looking and motionlessness”. (Freud, 1918, p.33 & 34) Ayla Michelle Demir 14/02/2013 Clinical Interventions in Psychoanalysis MA Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Society Department of Psychology, School of Social Science, Brunel University.

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Dora Case Study

A look at the background and dreams of sigmund freud's well-known patient, dora..

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Dora Case Study

  • Sigmund Freud

Subjects of his case studies included Ernst Lanzer, who became known as Rat Man owing to his irrational fear of family members being injured by rodents, and a patient of his friend, Josef Breuer, referred to as Anna O , who had been regressed in an effort to discover the causes of her symptoms.

Freud Cases

  • Rat Man: A Case of 'Obsessional Neurosis'
  • Inside the Mind of Daniel Schreber
  • The Case of Little Hans
  • Case Studies of Sigmund Freud

Through the treatment of actual clients, Freud claimed that repressed traumatic events of the past could contribute towards a person’s present day problems.

Another patient who sought help from Freud and whose story was published as a case study was Dora, a girl whose inexplicable cough led Freud to pursue psychological causes of her symptoms. Her treatment was reported by Freud in Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria in 1905, five years after she had consulted Freud.

Dora was Freud’s pseudonym for a girl named Ida Bauer, who was born into a middle-class Jewish family on November 1st, 1882 at Bergassa 32, Vienna on the same street as Freud resided. Her ancestors had emigrated from Bohemia prior to her birth but her father, Phillipp, continued to earn a living from the clothing factories there. Dora had an older brother, Otto Bauer (1881-1938), who would later become a key member of the Austro-Marxist movement.

Freud described himself as a “ conscientious archaeologist”, uncovering past events in Dora’s life and investigating her familial relationships. He reported that Dora admired her brother and father, with the latter maintaining a close relationship with Dora. By contrast, she was distant from her mother, Katharina Gerber, who assumed the role and duties of housewife and developed habits of obsessive cleaning. Her relationship with her daughter gradually deteriorated to the point of Dora ignoring her.

Throughout her childhood, Dora’s father suffered from ill health and was temporarily blinded by a detached retina in 1905, although was later able to regain partial sight. The symptoms of syphilis which he had contracted prior to marriage led him too to seek help from Freud in 1894, when he experienced partial paralysis and psychological issues including confusion.

Dora herself had suffered from health problems too - since an outing involving climbing, she had also developed a nervous cough and at times, lost her voice. At the age of around 12, she also experienced headaches and at times, migraines. Dora visited Freud in 1898 but as she appeared to recover, the full treatment that Freud had suggested had been unnecessary.

Two years later, Dora became reclusive, refusing company and expressed a wish to commit suicide.

Diagnosed with hysteria, she underwent hydrotherapy and electric shocks in an effort to combat the symptoms, but to no avail. A turning point was reached when she accused a family friend of making a pass at her, insisting that relations between her father and the man were ended. In 1900, Phillipp Bauer sought help from Freud once more for his daughter.

Freud referred to Dora’s symptoms as “petite hystérie” and was keen to understand her circumstances. He discovered that the Bauers were close friends with another couple, Herr and Frau K. Whilst Phillipp Bauer’s wife had become distant, Frau K had been keen to care for him during his illness, and although Dora had enjoyed an amicable relationship with her, she had become convinced that she was having an affair with her father. Throughout her childhood, Herr K had also shown affection towards Dora, who accused him of making advances towards her - and accusation which, confronted by her father, Herr K denied, blaming the books that she had been reading, such as Paulo Mantegazza’s Physiology of Love , for influencing her.

Dora’s father was skeptical of the accusation and refused to cease relations with Herr and Frau K. However, on further investigation, Freud obtained further suggestions of Herr K making advances towards Dora, which she had also resisted, prior to the present allegations.

During their sessions together, Dora also revealed the content of her dreams to Freud, who encouraged her to de-construct them in an effort to identify any themes or symbolic elements which might reveal repressed anxieties - factors which Freud believed could be linked to Dora’s other symptoms.

In a recurring dream, Dora recalled being awoken in bed by her father as the house was on fire. Although her mother insisted on staying in the burning house to find her jewellery box, her father refused, insisting that he did not perish with his two children just to save the vanity item.

At face value, the dream reflected a fear of being burnt alive, which Freud attributed to Dora’s cousins playing with matches along with her mother insisting on locking the dining room door, which prevented her brother’s route of exit had there been a fire in the house. Whilst this fear may not have affected Dora consciously, the anxiety evidently played on her mind at a subconscious level.

Freud viewed specific elements of the dreams as being symbolic, representing more obscure thoughts. He believed that Dora’s close relationship with her father and Herr K’s harassment of her were symbolised in the dream. Having once been taken by surprise by Herr K, Dora had been wary of him appearing unannounced. Freud believed that Herr K was represented in the dream therefore by her father, who awoke her unannounced in a reversal of symbols to represent her affection towards her father

Herr K had previously given her a jewellery box as a gift, and, as the term ‘jewellery box’ was, at the time, also a colloquial reference to female genitals, Dora was anxious to protect this representation of chastity from her father’s, who wanted to save his family in the dream from the passion that the house fire embodied.

Freud also de-constructed a second dream, in which Dora found herself walking through a strange town to her apartment, where a letter from her mother reveals her that her father has died, inviting her to return home. In pursuit of the train station, strangers keep telling her that it is just five more minutes away. When Dora finally reaches the station and reaches her mother’s house, the family have already left for the cemetery.

Dora recalled that, after resisting Frau K’s advances towards her by a lake, she had left him and asked a stranger for directions, but despaired when they told her that she would have to walk for a further 2 ½ hours. Freud attributed this to the situation in the dream, when she walked hopelessly asking for directions. Making a more contrived interpretation, he assumed that the train station was symbolically phallic and suggested to Dora that the dream represented ideas of “defloration” and explained her experience of appendicitis, which she claimed to have felt nine months following her experience with Frau K, as a “childbirth fantasy”.

Freud’s interpretation of Dora’s dreams epitomised the approach that he described in his 1899 book The Interpretation of Dreams . However, it did not solve the mystery of Dora’s symptoms. Instead, he felt that the oral stage of psychosexual development during the first year of Dora’s life has been interrupted , leading to an oral fixation which would explain Dora’s smoking habit and nervous cough. Other symptoms such as a stomach ache in the absence of her parents were, according to Freud, an attempt to gain the attention and love of Dora’s parents when she had to share such affection with her brother. Freud believed that she was also jealous of the affection that Frau K attracted from her father. This subconscious desire for her father’s attention might today be attributed to the Electra complex , the equivalent in females to the Oedipus Complex that Freud theorised. 1

  • Freud, S., Bell, A. and Robertson, R. A Case of Hysteria: (Dora) . Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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