I am taking a psychology class called Family Interventions, and this week we were asked to read an article on Sigmund Freud’s genogram and family history. For those who are unfamiliar, a genogram is a pictorial display of a person’s family relationships, including medical history. Unlike a family tree, genogram’s reflect psychological factors in relationships, and can be used to identify patterns of behavior and hereditary tendencies.
Freud’s family history is extremely fascinating, especially since he set fire to 14 years worth of his personal letters and manuscripts. One can only wonder, what was Freud hiding?
For me, the most interesting part of Freud’s family history, was his relationship with wife Martha Bernays. From the start of their secret engagement, in 1881, Freud demonstrated possessiveness and emotional blackmail. It is believed, that Freud felt threatened by Martha’s loyalty to her family, after she moved with her sister and mother to Humburg, a year following their engagement. Freud especially detested Martha’s brother Elli, whose financial debt, Freud believed, was the cause for the family’s move. Insecure about Martha’s love and loyalty to him, Freud wrote to Martha:
“Are you already thinking of the day you are to leave, it is no more than a fortnight now, must not be more or else, yes, or else my egotism will rise up against Mama and Eli-Fritz and I will make such a din that everyone will hear and you understand, no matter how your filial feelings may rebel against it. From now on you are but a guest in your family like a jewel that I have pawned and that I am going to redeem as soon as I am rich. For has it not been laid down since time immemorial that the woman shall leave father and mother and follow the man she had chosen?” (Letter to Martha, 8/14/1882)
Seeing that Freud was so stringent about their relationship’s emotional and physical loyalty, I found it shocking that Freud would later break their marital commitment, and engage in an affair with Martha’s sister Minna. Personally, I think Freud’s obsession with loyalty, (also seen in his issues of “betrayal” with colleagues) as well as his own failing to demonstrate loyalty (i.e. affair with Minna) are all manifestations of an insecurity seeded in his early childhood. Freud’s father, Jacob, and mother, Amalia’s, special treatment and favoritism of S. Freud as a youngster, especially after his brother’s death, caused him to develop a need of approval and fear of failure (the downfall of the Golden Sigi). I think this pressured upbringing is what drove Freud to see himself as an appointed king; deserving of praise and loyalty, and consequently fearful of defeat, betrayal, and his own mortality.
King Lear, anyone?