Selected Papers on Hysteria and Other Psychoneuroses/Chapter 10

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Selected Papers on Hysteria and Other Psychoneuroses by Sigmund Freud, translated by A. A. Brill
Chapter 10: Hysterical Fancies and their Relations to Bisexuality

Hysterical Fancies and their Relations to Bisexuality.[1]

The delusional formations of paranoiacs containing the greatness and sufferings of their own ego, which manifest themselves quite typically in almost monotonous forms are universally familiar. Furthermore, through numerous communications we became acquainted with the peculiar organizations by means of which certain perverts put into operation their sexual gratifications, be it in fancy or reality. On the other hand it may sound rather novel to some to hear that quite analogous psychic formations regularly appear in all psychoneuroses, especially in hysteria, and that these so called hysterical fancies show important relations to the causation of the neurotic symptoms.

Of the same source and of the normal prototype are all these fantastic creations, so called reveries of youth, which have already gained a certain consideration in the literature, though not a sufficient one.[2] They are perhaps equally frequent in both sexes; in girls and women they seem to be wholly of an erotic nature, while in men they are of an erotic or ambitious nature. Yet even in men the significance of the erotic moment is not to be put in the second place, for one examining more closely the reveries of men we generally learn that all these heroic acts are accomplished, that all these successes are acquired in order to please a woman and to be preferred to other men.[3] These fancies are wish gratifications which emanate from privation and longing. They are justly named "day dreams" for they give the key for the standing of night dreams in which the nucleus of the dream formation is produced by just such complicated, disfigured day fancies which are misunderstood by the conscious psychic judgment.[4]

These day dreams are garnished with great interest, are cautiously nurtured, and coyly guarded, as if they were numbered among the most intimate estates of personality. On the street however, the day dreamer can be readily recognized by a sudden, as if absent-minded smile, by talking to himself, or by a running-like acceleration of his gait wherein he designates the acme of the imaginary situation.

All hysterical attacks which I have been thus far able to examine proved to be such involuntary incursions of day dreams. Observation leaves no doubt that such fancies may exist as unconscious or conscious and whenever they become unconscious they may also become pathogenic, that is, they may express themselves in symptoms and attacks. Under favorable conditions it is possible for consciousness to seize such unconscious fancies. One of my patients whose attention I have called to her fancies narrated that once while in the street she suddenly found herself in tears, and rapidly reflecting over the cause of her weeping the fancy became clear to her. She fancied herself in delicate relationship with a piano virtuoso familiar in the city, but whom she did not know personally. In her fancy she bore him a child (she was childless), and he then deserted her, leaving her and her child in misery. At this passage of the romance she burst into tears.

The unconscious fancies are either from the first unconscious, having been formed in the unconscious, or what is more frequently the case they were once conscious fancies, day dreams, and were then intentiontally forgotten, merging into the unconscious by "repression." Their content then either remained the same or underwent a transformation, so that the present unconscious fancy represents a descendant of the once conscious one. The unconscious fancy stands in a very important relation to the sexual life of the person, it is really identical with that fancy which helped it towards sexual gratification during a period of masturbation. The masturbating act (in the broader sense the onanistic) then consisted of two parts, the evocation of the fancy, and the active performance of self gratification at the height of the same. This combination is familiarly in itself a soldering.[5] Originally this action was a purely auto-erotic undertaking for the pleasure obtained from a certain so called erogenous part of the body. Later this action blended with a wish presentation from the sphere of the object loved, and served for a partial realization of the situation in which this fancy culminated. If, then, the person forgoes in this manner the masturbo-fantastic gratification, the action remains undone, the fancy, however, changes from a conscious to an unconscious one. If no other manner of sexual gratification occurs, if the person remains abstinent and does not succeed in sublimating his libido, that is, in diverting the sexual excitement to a higher aim, we then have the conditions for the refreshment of the unconscious fancy; it grows exuberantly and with all the force of the desire for love at least a fragment of its content becomes a morbid symptom.

The unconscious fancies are then the nearest psychical first steps of a whole series of hysterical symptoms. The hysterical symptoms are nothing other than unconscious fancies brought to light by "conversion," and insofar as they are somatic symptoms they are frequently enough taken from the spheres of the sexual feelings and motor innervations which originally accompanied the former still conscious fancies. In this way the disuse of onanism is really made retrograde, and the final aim of the whole pathological process, the restoration of the primary sexual gratification, though it never becomes perfect, in a manner always achieves a certain approximation.

The interest of him who studies hysteria turns directly from the symptoms to the fancies from which the former originate. The technique of psychoanalysis gives the means of finding out from the symptoms other unconscious fancies, and then of bringing them back to the patient's consciousness. In this way it was found that the unconscious fancies of hysterics perfectly correspond in content to the consciously performed gratification situations of perverts. Those who lack examples of such nature need only recall the historical managements of the Roman Caesars whose frenzies were naturally only conditioned by the unrestricted fullness of the fancy creators. The delusional formations of paranoiacs are of the same nature, they are fancies which directly become conscious, and which are borne by the masochistic-sadistic components of the sexual impulse. Complete counterparts of these can also be found in certain unconscious fancies of hysterics. It is a familiar, practically significant fact that hysterics express their fancies not as symptoms but in conscious realization, and in this way they feign and commit murders, assaults, and sexual aggressions.

All that can be found out about the sexuality of the psychoneurotic can be ascertained by the psychoanalytic examination which leads from the obtrusive symptoms to the hidden unconscious fancies; herein, too, is the fact, the communication of which will be put in the foreground of this short preliminary publication.

Probably in view of the difficulties which prevent the effort of the unconscious fancies from expressing themselves, the relation between the fancies to the symptoms is not simple but rather manifoldly complicated.[6] As a rule, that is, in a fully developed and a long standing neurosis, a symptom does not correspond to an individual unconscious fancy, but to a number of such, and indeed it is not arbitrary but in lawful combination. To be sure in the beginning of the disease all these complications are not developed.

For the sake of general interest I pass over the connection of this communication and insert a series of formulae which strive to progressively exhaust the nature of hysteria. They do not contradict one another but correspond partly to more complete and sharper conceptions, and partly to the use of different points of view.

1. The hysterical symptom is the memory symbol of certain efficacious (traumatic) impressions and experiences.

2. The hysterical symptom is the compensation by conversion for the associative return of the traumatic experience.

3. The hysterical symptom—like all other psychic formations—is the expression of a wish realization.

4. The hysterical symptom is the realization of an unconscious fancy serving as a wish fulfillment.

5. The hysterical symptom serves as a sexual gratification, and represents a part of the sexual life of the individual (corresponding to one of the components of his sexual impulse).

6. The hysterical symptom, in a fashion, corresponds to the return of the sexual gratification which was real in infantile life but had been repressed since then.

7. The hysterical symptom results as a compromise between two opposing affects or impulse incitements, one of which strives to bring to realization a partial impulse, or a component of the sexual constitution, while the other strives to suppress the same.

8. The hysterical symptom may undertake the representation of diverse unconscious non sexual incitements, but can not lack the sexual significance.

It is the seventh among these determinations which expresses most exhaustively the essence of the hysterical symptom as a realization of an unconscious fancy, and it is the eighth which properly designates the significance of the sexual moment. Some of the preceding formulae are contained as first steps in this formula.

In view of these relations between symptoms and fancies one can readily reach from the psychoanalysis of the symptoms to the knowledge of the components of the sexual impulse controlling the individual, just as I have shown in the "Three Contributions to the Sexual Theory." But in some cases this examination gives rather unexpected results. It shows that many symptoms can not be solved by one unconscious sexual fancy or by a series of fancies in which the most significant and most primitive is of a sexual nature, but in order to solve the symptom two sexual fancies are required, one of the masculine and one of the feminine character, so that one of these fancies arises from a homosexual impulse. The axiom pronounced in formula seven is in no way effected by this novelty, so that a hysterical symptom necessarily corresponds to a compromise between a libidinous and a repressed emotion, but besides that, it can correspond to a union of two libidinous fancies of contrary sex characters.

I refrain from giving examples for this axiom. Experience has taught me that short analyses compressed into the form of an abstract can never make the demonstrable impression for which they were intended. The communication of fully analyzed cases must be reserved for another place.

I therefore content myself in formulating the axiom and in elucidating its significance:

9. An hysterical symptom is the expression, on the one hand, of a masculine, and on the other hand of a feminine unconscious sexual fancy.

I expressly observe that I am unable to adjudge to this axiom the similar general validity that I claimed for the other formulae. As far as I can see it is met neither in all symptoms of a single case, nor in all cases. On the contrary it is not difficult to find cases in which the contrary sexual emotions have found separate symptomatic expression, so that the symptoms of hetero- and homosexuality can be as sharply distinguished from each other as the fancies hidden behind them. Nevertheless, the relation claimed in the ninth formula occurs frequently enough, and wherever it is found it is of sufficient significance to merit a special formulation. It seems to me to signify the highest stage of complexity to which the determination of hysterical symptoms can reach, and can only be expected in a long standing neurosis and where a great amount of organization has occurred.[7]

The demonstrable bisexual significance of hysterical symptoms occurring in many cases is indeed an interesting proof for the assertion formulated by me that the supposed bisexual predisposition of man can be especially recognized in psychoneurotics by means of psychoanalysis.[8] Quite an analogous process from the same sphere is that in which the masturbator in his conscious fancies attempts to live through in his imagination the fancied situations of both the man and the woman. Other counterparts are found in certain hysterical crises in which the patients play both roles lying at the basis of sexual fancies; thus, for example, one of the cases under my observation presses his garments to his body with one arm (as woman), and with the other arm he attempts to tear them off (as man). This contradictory simultaneity determines most of the incomprehensibility of the situation otherwise so plastically represented in the attack, and is excellently suited for the concealment of the effective unconscious fancy.

In psychoanalytical treatment it is very important to be prepared for the bisexual significance of a symptom. It should not be at all surprising or misleading when a symptom remains apparently undiminished in spite of the fact that one of its sexual determinants is already solved. Perhaps it is still supported by the unsuspected contrary sexual. Furthermore during the treatment of such cases we can observe how the patient makes use of this convenience. During the analysis of the one sexual significance he continually switches his thoughts into the sphere of the contrary significance just as if onto a neighboring track.

  1. Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft, herausgegeben von Hirschfeld, I, 1908.
  2. Compare Breuer and Freud, Studien über Hysterie, 1895. P. Janet, Névroses et ideés fixes, I (Les reveries subconscientes), 1898. Havelock Ellis, Sexual Impulse and Modesty (German by Kötscher), 1900. Freud, Traumdeutung, 1906, 2d ed., 1909. A. Pick, Über pathologische Träumerei und ihre Beziehungen zur Hysteria, Jahrbuch für Psychiatrie und Neurologie, XIV, 1896.
  3. H. Ellis similarly expresses himself, l. c., p. 185.
  4. Compare Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, translated by A. A. Erill, The Macmillan Co., New York, and George Allen Co., London.
  5. Compare Freud, Three Contributions to the Sexual Theory, Monograph Series.
  6. The same thing holds true for the relation between the "latent" thoughts of the dream and the elements of the manifest content of the dream. See the Chapter on the "Dream Work" in the author's Interpretation of Dreams.
  7. Indeed J. Sadger, who recently discovered this sentence in question, independently by psychoanalysis, claims for it a general validity (Die Bedeutung der psychoanalytische Methode nach Freud, Zentralbl. f. Nerv. u. Psych., Nr. 229).
  8. Three Contributions to the Sexual Theory.