Vol. 9\Religion\Obsession\Obsessive Neurosis\displacement\1906-1908\
This is the first paper Freud ever wrote dealing with religion. It is said to foreshadow the lines of thought which are developed more fully in Totem and Taboo. (It also approaches lines of thought found in Civilizationand Future. The editor also notes that this article is the first instance of Freud discussing Obsessive neurosis since Studies in Hysteria. Not only does this article provide a sketch of what Freud mean by obsessive neurosis, it also relates to his case study of the Rat Man (Volume X, second part).
Freud begins this article by remarking that there is more than a superficial resemblance in the relationship between the obsessive acts of neurotics and religious observances. In other words, he considers obsessive ceremonials to be of the same class as obsessive thinking, ideas, impulses, etc. For the obsessive neurotic ceremonials appear as small adjustments to particular everyday activities which are carried out in a precise or methodologically varied, manners. Such actions are very formal even though they may seem to us, and indeed to the patient, to be meaningless. Still the person who participates in such actions is incapable of giving them up. And, in fact, any deviation from these activities is responded to by feelings of intolerable anxiety which requires immediate reparation.(117)
Freud says this of obsessive ceremonials: "The performance of a ceremonial can be described by replacing it, as it were, by a series of unwritten laws." That is, the special contentiousness with which an obsessive act is carried out and the anxiety which follows upon its neglect stamp the ceremonial as a 'sacred act.'
In fact Freud notes that any actions may be subject to the possibility of becoming obsessive if it is elaborated by small additions or is given a rhythmic character by means of pauses or repetitions. (118) Freud notes that both compulsions and prohibitions at first apply only to solitary activities and for a long time do not effect one's social behaviour. It is when the obsessive acts start to effect the individual that it become particularly dysfunctional.
Let's look at some of the resemblances and differences between religious acts and obsessive ceremonials. Similarities: 1] there are in both cases qualms of conscience caused by neglect of the actions; 2] such actions tend to be completely isolated from all other actions (prohibitions against interruptions); 3] there is a high degree of contentiousness in which both religious actions and obsessive acts are carried out in minute detail.
Nonetheless, even if obsessive actions appear to be meaningless to us, Freud notes that they actually have a logic and meaning of their own, which psychoanalysis can interpret. Freud notes that obsessive actions are 1] perfectly significant in every detail, 2] serve important interests of the person involved, and 3] give expression to experiences which are still operative and to thoughts which are attached to the affect. (119-120)
As we can see, although it may appear that he is making a direct comparison of obsessive actions and religious rituals, Freud merely wishes to juxtapose the two to point out that there are indeed similarities between the two. In other words, he never says that the two are the same. In fact he writes: "In this respect an obsessive neurosis presents a travesty, half-comic and half tragic, of a private religion." (119)
Freud goes on to note that there are two ways for obsessive actions to find expression. These are as follows: by 1] direct representation, or 2] symbolic representation. To Freud, as we might have expected, what is represented is derived out of the individual's most intimate experiences and his or her early sexual experiences. (120)
On p.p. 120ff Freud outlines several examples of obsessive actions and their significance through which we can distinguish between direct and symbolic representation.
Returning to the theme of the similarities between religious rituals and obsessive actions, Freud points out that one of the conditions of the illness is that the patient obey compulsions and carries them out without understanding their chief meaning. In other words, such actions are said to serve unconscious motives and ideas. Whereas in religious practices, the ordinary, pious individual does not concern themselves with the significance of the ceremonial even if the officials are familiar with this meaning. That is, the motives which impel the religious person to their religious actions are unknown to them or are represented in consciousness by other reasons (symbolically) which are advanced in the place of the original motives.(122)
Freud then takes up the theme of motives. First, there are three motives outlined for both the religious individual and the obsessive neurotic. 1] the obsessive neurotic is said to be compelled by some unconscious guilt which has as its source the early mental events of the obsessive person. Such unconscious guilt is constantly revived by renewed temptations which arise out of any contemporary provocation from either the internal or external worlds. 2] The obsessive actions occasions a "lurking sense of anxiety." That is, there are expectations of misfortune, linked to the idea of punishment following the internal perception of the temptation. 3] The connection between that which causes the arousal of anxiety and the danger that it imposes is always hidden. Hence there is the need for the setting up of defensive mechanisms -- to avoid the danger of anxiety.
In terms of the religious, the following is the case: 1] there is a sense of guilt found in the protestations of the pious that they know in their hearts that they are miserable sinners 2] and thus they compulsively employ pious observances to preface every daily act, and 3] every unusual undertaking seems to be imputed with the value of defensive or protective measures (e.g., prayers for protection). (122- 124)
Freud goes on to note that in obsessive neurosis the emphasis is on the repression of impulses of the sexual instinct. It is during the repression of these instincts that a special contentiousness is created which is directed against the instinct's aims. But this defense (reaction formation?) seems insecure to the obsessive and thus is constantly threatened by the desires of the unconscious instincts. Therefore the influence of the repressed instincts are felt as a temptation and this causes the arousal of anxiety. Hence we can see that the repression that occurs in obsessive neurosis is only partially successful and increasingly fails, thus leaving the obsessive in a state of never ending conflict. Therefore, fresh psychical efforts are constantly required to keep the repressed under control in attempts to protect the self against the expected illness or punishments. But as soon as the protective measures are deemed to be ineffective, prohibitions begin to take place of the obsessive actions. (124)
As we can see the symptoms of the obsessive neurotic fulfill the conditions of being a compromise, a compromise between the warring forces of the mind -- the instinctual desires and the desire to avoid the consequences of those desires. In the religious sphere, on the other hand, Freud suggests that 1] the formation of religions are based upon the suppression or renunciation of certain instinctual impulses. It is important to note, however, that these impulses are not those that are found in the neurosis -- i.e., which is of an exclusive sexual nature-- but are self-serving, socially harmful instinctual desires (ego instincts). 2] The sense of guilt, resulting from continual temptations, and the produced anxiety appears in the form of fear of divine punishment. This suggests that because of the admixture of sexual components and some general characteristics of instincts, the suppression of instincts proves inadequate and interminable process in religious life as well. (125) In other words, just as the obsessive actions of the obsessive neurotic were unsuccessful in riding the individual of the sense of guilt and anxiety, so is it the case in the religious attempt to rid the self of the notions of sin, guilt and anxiety.
Freud points out that the mechanism of displacement (when an idea and its affect are separated from one another but both remain accessible to the conscious mind -- if they were not split from one another they would be too objectionable and some other form of defense would have to take place -- repression, distortion, secondary revisioning, etc.) also functions as a defense in that it helps to diminish the mental processes of obsessive neurosis. He writes:
It cannot be denied that in the religious field as well there is a similar tendency to displacement of psychical values, and in the same direction, so that the petty ceremonials of religious practice gradually become the essential thing and push aside the underlying thoughts.
That is, in both cases -- the obsessive and the religious -- there is a tendency of the splitting of the idea from its emotional content and the subsequent displacement of one or the other onto an alternate idea (form emotional content) and affect (for the idea). This is indicative of the view which sees obsessive neurosis as a
pathological counterpart of the formation of religion, and to describe that neurosis as an individual religiosity and religion as a universal obsessive neurosis. (126)
In conclusion, Freud found that the most essential similarity is between religious practices and obsessive actions is in 1] the underlying renunciation of the activation of the instincts that are constitutionally present; and 2] the chief difference is in the nature of the instincts, which in the neurosis is exclusively sexual in origin, while in religion they spring from egoistic sources. That is, in the neurosis the instinctual desires that imputing themselves and cause the erection of the defenses is purely sexual in origin -- relating to the Oedipus complex; while religious prohibitions are aimed at an admixture of instinctual desires which are out of both the sexual drives and the drives for self-preservation in general.
Thus it is the progressive renunciation of constitutional instincts, whose activation might afford the ego primary pleasure, appears to be one of the foundations of the development of human civilization. (127) That is, civilization, from this point of view, requires each individual to sacrifice individual pleasure for the satisfaction of the deity. From this point of view we may conclude, as did Freud in Future and Civilization, that religions function as an oppressive mechanism which seeks to control humanity's instinctual or animal natures.
133 This letter expresses Freud's notion that children are polymorphicly perverse. In the letter we find references to infantile sexual investigations -- there is a particular reference to Little Hans -- Freud also takes up the question of the origins of babies as understood by children.
143) Day dreaming is called an `imaginative act of childhood` and is considered to be an activity that is akin to creative writing.
144) Freud writes "The opposite of play is not what is serious but what is real." Freud suggests that the link between imaginary objects and situations to the tangible and visible things of the real world is all that differentiates the child's play from phantasy. Freud thinks that the creative writer dose the same thing -- i.e., he or she creates a work of phantasy which is taken seriously (as in it is invested a great deal of emotion) and this is what separates it from reality.
Freud suggests that as a child grows he or she ceases to play, because the reality principle gets in the way. Nonetheless, one may find his or herself later in a situation that undoes the contrast between play and reality.
145) Freud suggests that adults tend to use humor to throw off the burden of reality -- that is, to recover the yield of pleasure no longer available as play is not practiced any more. Thus, instead of playing, the adult indulges in phantasies such as daydreaming. (146) The distinction between the child's and the adult's daydreaming is that the adult usually hides it while the child does not. That is, the adult hides his or her phantasies because of the nature of the wishes which instigate them -- i.e., these wishes are considered to be childish or unpermissible (morally objectionable).
Freud notes several characteristics of phantasying, which include: 1) only dissatisfied individuals partake in phantasying, and 2) the motives for such phantasying is that there are unsatisfied wishes which vary according to gender, characteristics and the circumstances of the individual. Freud list two main groups of such motives: 1) ambitious wishes -- used to elevate ones personality, and 2) erotic wishes. He also notes that the two are often connected.
A third characteristic of phantasying is that they are not necessarily stereotypical or unalterable. Rather they are said to alter themselves to fit the individual's situation and thus receive from each fresh impression a `date-mark`. As such, the relationship of phantasy to time is in general very important. There are three times in relation to phantasyzing which Freud identifies: (147) 1) current impressions, 2) current impression which hearken back to earlier experiences -- usually infantile in nature -- in which the wish is fulfilled, and 3) then there is the creation of a situation that relates to the future which also represents the fulfillment of the wish. that is, it creates the daydream or phantasy.
148) A fourth characteristic of phantasyzing appears if phantasies become over-luxuriant and over-powerful, the conditions are prepared for the onset of neurosis or psychosis. In this situation, phantasies become the immediate mental precursors of the distressing symptoms suffered by the individual.
149) In terms of the creative writer, Freud suggests that there are two types of writers: 1) those who write epics, etc. -- i.e., they employ ready-made material, and 2) `creative` writers -- as in the production of polyphonic novels (see: Julia Kristeva's Desire in Language. ). The features of such writing, Freud suggests, include 1) that each such book includes a hero who is the centre of interest (this is the hero of Joseph Campbell's monomyth and Northrop Frye's "comedies" and has nothing to do with the multi-voiced hero of modern novels as outlined by Kristeva). (150) Such creations of literature are called "ego- centric" in that all have some form of kinship with one another. That is, when a woman, for instance, falls in love with the hero we witness what could be considered daydreams. Furthermore a sharp division between good and evil characters in the novel also suggests the heroic genre. Such novels are considered to be psychological insofar that the singleness of the hero is often split from itself.
151) To Freud creativeness means the following: a particular experience in the present awakens in the consciousness of the writer a memory from an earlier experience (usually from childhood) out of which proceeds a wish which finds its fulfillment in creative work -- the work, in turn, reflects elements of the recent memory that provoked the old memory.
153) Freud notes that the writer softens the character of his or her phantasies by altering and disguising it (this is known as secondary revisioning). Hence, we are complicit in the author's `bribery` by giving in to the yield of pleasure which is offered in the presentation of the author's phantasies. This is what Freud calls the "invective bonus" or fore pleasure. This type of pleasure is offered to us so as to make possible the release of still greater pleasure arising from deep psychical sources. Freud writes: "In my opinion, all aesthetic pleasure which a creative writer affords us has the character of a fore-pleasure of this kind, and our actual enjoyment of an imaginative (?) which proceeds a liberation of tensions in our minds."
157) Editor's note: The first part of the text refers to 1897 in connection to Freud`s self analysis and the importance of phantasies to hysteria. The second part of the text is a further discussion of the relation between phantasies and symptoms. Hence the topic of bisexuality emerges as almost an afterthought in this text.
159) Freud begins this text by stating that the day dreams of both men and women are predominantly erotic in nature. (160) He continues by suggesting that hysterical attacks are an involuntary irruption of day dreams. Such day dreams, he notes, have a great deal of emotions cathected to them which can be seen as being wither conscious or unconscious. Yet as soon as unconscious phantasies become conscious they may also become pathogenic. (161) Thus unconscious phantasies have an important connection with the patient's sexual life. That is, they are identical with masturbation phantasies. Such acts, notes Freud, begin as solely auto-erotic activities used for obtaining pleasure. They later become merged with a wishful idea from the sphere of object-love and serve as a partial realization of the situation in which the phantasy culminates. When such activities are renounced the phantasy is given up and becomes conscious. In such situations, if the individual is not capable of sublimating the excess libido, it will emerge as a pathogenic symptom. In this light, Freud notes that unconscious phantasies are the immediate precursors to a whole range of pathogenic symptoms.
163) Freud notes that the relationship between phantasies and symptoms is very complicated.. He provides the reader with a series of formulae which progressively lead to a fuller description of hysterical symptoms. These formulae are as follows: 1) hysterical symptoms are mnemic symbols of certain traumatic impressions and experiences; 2) hysterical symptoms are substitutes (by conversion) for the associative return of traumatic experiences; 3) hysterical symptoms are the expression of the fulfillment of a wish; 4) hysterical symptoms are the realization of unconscious phantasies which serve as the fulfillment of wishes; 5) hysterical symptoms serve the purpose of sexual satisfaction and represents a part of the individual's sexual life; (164) 6) hysterical symptoms correspond to a return to a mode of sexual satisfaction which was real during infancy but are now repressed; 7) hysterical symptoms arise as a compromise or union of two opposite affects and/or instincts. In such cases one of the pair of opposites attempts the expression of the ego/sexual instincts and the other attempts to suppress it. 8) Hysterical symptoms may take over representation of various unconscious impulses which are not sexual but can never be considered to be without sexual import; and, 9) hysterical symptoms are expressive of a) masculine sexual phantasy, and b) a feminine one -- hence they are bisexual in nature and this is the highest degree of complexity that hysterical symptoms may attain.
169) Character traits that are typical of anal eroticism include:
170) Anal eroticism in infants is characterized as those children who refuse to empty their bowels as they would reserve the subsidiary pleasure derived by evacuation. RE: the vicissitudes of the sexual instinct found in Freud`s Three Essays on Sexuality.
171) Freud concludes this shot article by noting that anal eroticism, a trait deemed to be unserviceable by our civilization, is, as a result, sublimated so that it appears in forms that are acceptable to our society -- i.e., orderliness, obstinacy, and parsimony.
181) The basis of this article is the assumption that as a result of the domination of civilized sexual morality, the health and efficiency of singular individual's may be liable to impairment caused by the sacrifices imposed on them may reach such a point that cultural aims may also be endangered.
182) Freud agrees that the cause of nervous illness, present in modern life, can account for the marked increase of the same.
183) Freud then discusses the texts of W. Erb (1893) at length and takes a polemical view of Erb`s considerations of the "stresses" and "strains" of "modern" existence.
185) Freud claims that such opinions, as those held by Erb, are not mistaken. Rather they are insufficient to explain the details of nervous disturbances and leave out the account of the illnesses aetiological factors which are also very important. Freud follows by stating that "the injurious influence of civilization reduces itself in the main to the harmful suppression of the sexual life of civilized peoples (or classes) through the `civilized` sexual morality prevalent to them." The evidence that Freud offers for this opinion includes the following: he distinguishes between a) neuroses and b) Psychoneuroses. That is, between the somatic and toxic nature and the hereditary nature of such illnesses. Freud finds the latter the more important of the two.
186) He notes that the psychoneuroses are psychogenic and depend upon the operation of the unconscious (repressed) ideational complexes (or one's sexual aetiologies). He writes: "Generally speaking, ourcivilization is built upon the suppression of instincts. Each individual has surrendered some part of his possessions -- some part of the sense of omnipotence or the aggressiveness or vindictive inclinations on his personality." [CF: Civilization and its Discontents ] (187) For Freud, such renunciations are progressive and each single step forward is sanctioned by religion: "the price of instinctual satisfaction which each person has renounced was offered to the Deity as a sacrifice, and the communal property thus acquired was declared `sacred`." To Freud, those individuals who cannot yield themselves to this suppression were deemed to be `outlaws` unless his special qualities, etc. enabled him to impose himself as a great man or `hero`.
Freud continues the argument by noting that the sexual instincts are 1) made up of different component instincts, 2) capable of sublimation (i.e., are displaceable), and 3) may become `fixed` at some point in a person's early life and thus develop "abnormalities". Freud continues by noting that a certain amount of direct sexual satisfaction seems to be indispensable and a deficiency (which causes unpleasure varying between individual's) must be regarded as an illness.
Freud notes that if we consider the sexual instinctual aim as the only means of attaining pleasure, there are many difficulties that appear. Difficulties that may eventually, through abnormal object choices, (189) lead to perversion. Freud then speculates that if the evolution of the sexual instincts follow the pattern of auto-eroticism to object love, we may distinguish three stages of civilization, which are as follows: 1) Where the sexual instinct may be freely exercised without regard to aims of reproduction. 2) Where all of the sexual instinct is suppressed except hat which serves the aim of reproduction. 3) Where only legitimate reproduction is allowed as a sexual aim. Freud claims, on the one hand, that this third stage is representative of `modern` civilization [modern in 1908 perhaps, certainly not now]. Freud suggests that if the second stage the norm, on the other hand, we must note that a number of people are not equal to meeting its demands. That is, the development from auto-eroticism to object-love is not in all persons carried out correctly and to its full capacity. As a result, two types of harmful deviation from `normal` sexuality may appear:
190) Freud points out two possible results of intense perversions: 1) the individual may remain perverted and is thus useless to society, or 2) through education, etc. the perversion may be suppressed. Freud notes, however, that such suppressions of perversions are never really successful as they tend to find expression in manners which are injurious to the subject and result with a useless person as far as society is concerned.
Interestingly, Freud characterizes the neuroses as the negative of perversions, as they are repressed successfully and manifest themselves only unconsciously.
191) Yet he also notes that there is a limit to the amount of suppression that a person can endure. He writes: "All who wish to be more noble minded than their constitution allows, fall victim to neurosis; they would have been more healthy if it could have been possible for them to be less good." (192) Freud, thus. concludes that it is an obvious injustice that civilization demands from all individuals the same conduct in terms of their sexual life. If civilization actually reached the third stage in which sex is only performed for the reproductive function (i.e., intercourse only), Freud continues, there are three questions to consider. First, Freud questions what would be the individual's task? Must the individual practice abstinence until marriage. Yet, because most individual's are constitutionally unfit to do this, they would fail to maintain abstinence if required to do so. Freud writes: "The more a person is disposed to neurosis, the less can he tolerate abstinence; instincts which have been withdrawn from normal development, in the sense in which it has been described above, become at the same time all the more uninhabitable." (194) that is, Freud suggests that "the psychical value of sexual satisfaction increases with its frustration."
Freud`s second question inquires as to whether legitimate sexual satisfaction (i.e., intercourse only) can compensate for the renunciation of all other sexual satisfactions?
196) The final question refers to what relation do the possible injurious effects of this renunciation stand to its exploitation of the cultural field? His response to such a query is that cultural gains will most likely balance out such suffering which, he feels, will only affect a minority with any kind of severity. Nonetheless, Freud notes that abstinence of young men over twenty years old (what about women?) is injurious, even if there is no risk of neurosis, or possibility of leading towards neurosis. (197) Freud, in fact, is of the opinion that sexual abstinence will not cause the development of energetic, self- reliant men of action or even original thinkers or bold emancipators and social reformers. He writes: "For more often it goes on to produce well-behaved weaklings [which]...later become lost in the great mass of people that tends to follow, unwillingly, the leads given by strong individuals." Freud feels that abstinence in young men is often not the best preparation for marriage and that women can sense this and thus often prefer men with sexual experience.
198) Freud then takes up the issue of abstinence and women. He claims, first, that the possibility of harm resulting from the abstinence of women is dependent upon the degree of sexual suppression. That is, he finds women raised in abstinence to be incapable of loving others (i.e., in terms of transferring object-love onto the husband, which ruins their sexual relations) and when a women does awaken sexually it is too late (for what?) and she has no option but to choose from unfaithfulness, neuroses, and/or unappeased desire.
208) In this paper we find the first concrete mention of the `castration complex.`
Freud debates with the objection that neurotics are a special class of people who are marked with a innate `disposition` which is degenerate and therefore cannot infer anything of their lives to one another and vice-versa.
Freud uses as evidence to back up this claim the following:
The following includes some of the questions that Freud claims children make in reference to sexuality.
EDITOR'S NOTE: 228) This article contains the first discussion on hysteria since Freud co-authored STUDIES IN HYSTERIA . The next occurrence of Freud`s writings on hysteria appears in 1928 in his discussion of Dostoevsky `epileptic` attacks (1928b).
229) A) Hysteria is, in a sense, understood to be the occurrence o phantasies which have been translated in the motor sphere. Hence hysteria is said to be "portrayed in pantomime." Yet Freud notes that hysterical phantasies are very close in their nature to day dreams and are also subject to the distortions of the censor just as are dreams. As a result he suggests that the method of dream interpretation be used to further the understanding of hysterical phantasies. His reason is as follows:
231) B) The onset of hysterical attacks occurs with some consistency. That is, since the repressed complexes consists of libidinal cathexis and ideational contents (the phantasy) a hysterical attack can be evoked by the following conditions: 1) association, 2) organic considerations -- i.e., internal organic stimulation cause a rise in the libidinal cathexis to a certain degree; 3) in the service of a PRIMARY PURPOSE -- i.e., the flight response; and 4) by SECONDARY PURPOSES -- i.e., through an illness, for instance, as person can achieve an aim useful to him or herself (also known as `secondary gain`).
232) C): Note: hysterical attacks are designed to replace an auto- erotic satisfaction that was previously practiced and since given up as a result of an increase of libido. There are several stages to this, including the following:
Freud notes that the lapse of consciousness that occurs during hysterical attacks is observable here and at times of intense sexual satisfaction. He says that the roots of such an activity is in `hypnoid states` or in the `absences` of day dreams. (234) That is, if the individual has all of his or her concentration places in obtaining satisfaction, when satisfaction actually occurs the individual suffers a momentary void in consciousness (due to repression).
234) D): the motor discharge of repressed libido in hysterical attacks as a reflex mechanism of the "act of coitation" (???) Freud refers to the unrestrained surrender given over to sexual activity.
237) Freud here refers to the desire to break away from the parents an turn to others who one feels to deserve higher opinion (this is an asexual stage). Thus are erotic impulses subtly involved in day dreams.
239) In the sexual stage of family romances, Freud notes that after an individual learns about sexual relations, a boy's secrete motivation is to sleep with his mother. The emotions involved include revenge and retaliation against the parents who punish the boy.
Freud`s "ten most significant books"