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Sigmund Freud: A Sense of Mission in Troubled Times Sigmund Freud: A Sense of Mission in Troubled Times
by Rene Wadlow
2016-05-06 09:40:03
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It is then, a commonplace that the psychoanalyst must be aware of the historical determinants of what made him what he is before he can hope to perfect that human gift: the ability to understand that which is different from him.”
                                                 
Erik Erikson (1902-1994)

eric02_400Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) whose birth anniversary we note on 6 May, had a sense of mission in an increasingly troubled time.  He needs to be seen as challenged by the issues of his time and yet also dealing with aspects of the human condition that are “timeless” − thus his use of Greek myths to illustrate continuing relations among people.  Freud's sense of mission also was reflected in his desire to have close “co-workers” and so the development of a close circle.  The influence of Freud is seen in the lives and activities of those of his circle. Some, like Carl Gustav Jung and Wilhelm Reich, went on to other approaches.  Some such as his daughter Anna developed specific applications of Freudian thought, in her case, childhood development. Erik Erikson, one of the few non-medical members of “the circle” developed a cycle of life approach that is an important contribution both to individual growth and to the making of social policy.

The cycle of life is the most universal structure for societies worldwide. All societies recognize that there is a progression from birth toward sexual maturity which results in some form of marriage union, moving on to old age and death.  At each of these stages, there is a form of public recognition that the person has reached this stage.  There are often rituals which accompany the shift from one stage to the next.

These rituals have been stressed by one of the 'fathers' of European anthropology, Arnold Van Gennep (1873-1957) in his 1909 study Rites de passage. (1) There is a need for rituals  as the progress from one life stage to the next is always resisted.  While the next stage of life usually has higher prestige and power, there is also a sense of loss of the comfort ot the earlier stage − what has often been called a “mid-life crisis” as older men look longingly at younger women. The life-cycle approach also highlights the linked nature of economic and social issues such as those of women attempting to combine family and marriage, work and possible activities in the wider community.

In terms of social policy, awareness of the cycle of life encourages flexible but secure labor policies such as phased retirement, better integration of women into the workforce and men into the lives of families so as to promote gender equality, inter-generational care and opportunities for resourceful aging. (2)

eric01_400Erik Erikson has been a leading writer on the psychological aspects of each stage of life, developing an eight-stage cycle of life approach. One of Erikson's most widely-read books is Gandhi's Truth. (3) Erikson had been invited to India to lecture on his cycle of life approach in the light of the classic Hindu model which does not make as many sub-divisions between childhood and marriage. The categories of adolescence are a modern and largely Western concept. Nevertheless, adolescence is one period on which Erikson has focused. (4) In the first part of Gandhi's Truth he sets out both the traditional Hindu and his own divisions. It is interesting to study the two life-cycle divisions and the appropriate values for each period of life.

Erikson was part of the circle around Sigmund Freud in Vienna after the First World War. Originally, he was part of the circle as a teacher of the children of psychoanalysists working with Freud and the children of clients who had come to Vienna from other countries to be treated by Freud and his collaborators. Erikson had been trained in the Montessori techniques of early childhood education.

Anna, the daughter of Freud, was particularly interested in the psychological development of children and came to admire Erikson's teaching methods. She suggested to Erikson that he become a psychoanalyst for children and that she would do his psychoanalysis, a necessary first step before being able to practice as a psychoanalyst.

By the mid-1930s, many in Freud's circle saw the dangers of the growing Nazi ideology and started leaving Austria and Germany. Although Erikson did not think of himself as Jewish and had no religious practice of any sort, his mother came from a well-known Danish Jewish family and his stepfather was a Jewish medical doctor. The Nazis had a wide definition of who was a Jew. Therefore Erikson and his Canadian wife left Europe for the United States.

Although he had no medical degree − in fact no university degree of any sort − being part of the Freud circle opened doors. He was invited to teach and do research at the Harvard Medical School. He later taught at Yale. (5).  At these universities and as he was increasingly invited to speak at conferences, Erikson met the leading figures in both psychoanalysis and in the study of human  development.

For Erikson, each stage of life presents certain challenges which must be faced.  Each distinct stage of the life cycle is characterized by the ambiguous transitional period in which an individual becomes a more integrated member of the community.  No society allows an individual to confront the tensions, fears and anxieties posed by this transition.  However, for Erikson, transition is not only a moment of anxiety and of 'identity crisis'  but there is always a potential for growth, for moving to a higher level of consciousness. If there is not this psychological-spiritual growth, the person may be deformed by what Erikson called “the curse of unlived potentialities.”

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Notes and further readings
1) Arnold Van Gennep. Rites de passage

2) See Theodore Litz. The Person, his development throughout the Life Cycle.
3) Erik Erikson. Gandhi's Truth
4) See Erik Erikson.
Childhood and Society (1950) and Erik Erikson. Identity: Youth and Crisis (1968). See also for a related approach: Jules Masserman. Youth – a transcultural psychiatric approach.
5) For a good biography of Erikson written by a fellow put younger psychoanalyst, see Robert Coles. Erik Erikson (l970). See also Robert Wallerstein and Leo Goldberger (Eds) Ideas and Identities. The Life and Work of Erik Erikson

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Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens


   
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Emanuel Paparella2016-05-06 12:36:48
The crucial question for Freud and his cohorts remains: are these stages of life and these subconscious phenomena (Oedipus complex, Electra complex, etc.) a deterministic part of the human condition or does the human being remain free to determine his own destiny? Which is to say, was Freud another positivist or secular humanist with a veneer of classical mythology?


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