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Community Life, Inner Development, Sexuality and the Spiritual Teacher
GA 253

IV. Methods and Rational of Freudian Psychoanalysis

13 September 1915, Dornach

CONSIDERING the kind of deliberations you are engaged in at the moment, my friends, I must assume that your minds would be less than ready to take in a continuation of yesterday's lecture. For those of you who want to hear it, that lecture will be given tomorrow, but today I would like to speak about something that will relate in some way to things you all must necessarily have in mind at the moment.

First of all, and from a very specific point of view, I would like to address the question of what is really confronting us in the Goesch-Sprengel case. In recent lectures I have often said that it is important to arrive at the appropriate perspective from which to try to resolve any given issue. How, then, can we arrive at the right perspective on this particular matter through objective study of the case?

In order to deal with a case like this objectively, we must first of all remove it from its personal context and insert it into a larger one. If, as I believe, this larger context turns out to be what is most important for our anthroposophical movement, we will find ourselves obliged to study this case for our own edification and for the sake of spiritual science itself. And in fact there is a larger context to the case, as will become apparent if we look at Mr. Goesch's letter of August 19 with an eye for his main motives and arguments.

Since you have important deliberations ahead of you, I will not detain you too long, but will only select a few essential points for your consideration. The first is Goesch's claim that promises have not been kept. If you listened to the letter carefully, you will have noticed that the emphasis in his reproach is not on the alleged making and not keeping of promises. His primary accusation is that I looked for and systematically applied a means of making promises to members and not keeping them, and that once the members noticed that these promises were not being kept, they were put into a state of mind that forced them into a particular relationship to the one who had made and not kept the promises. As a result, forces accumulated in their souls that eventually made them lose their sound judgment.

So the first hypothesis Goesch presents is that systematic attempts were made to stifle the members' good sense, that deliberately making and breaking promises was a means of dulling their normal state of consciousness, resulting in a kind of stupefaction that turned them into zombies. That is the first point his letter addresses.

His second point has to do with one of the means of carrying this out. To put it briefly, through handshakes and friendly conversations and the like, I am supposed to have initiated a kind of contact with members that was suited, because of its very nature and the influence it allowed me to exert, to bringing about the above-mentioned effect on their souls.

A third thing we must keep in mind as a red thread running through Goesch's whole letter is the nature of his relationship to Miss Sprengel. We could add to these three points, but let us deal with them first.

To begin with, how does Goesch manage to construct such a systematic theory, based on his first two points, about how steps were taken to undermine the members' state of consciousness? We need to go into this thoroughly and try to find out where it comes from. In Goesch's case, we are led to his long involvement with Dr. Freud's so-called theory of psychoanalysis. [ Note 1 ] If you study this theory, you will begin to see that it is intimately related to how the pathological picture presented in the letter develops. Certain connections can be drawn between this pathological picture, as it relates to Goesch's first two points, and his involvement with the Freudian psychoanalytic point of view.

Of course, I am not in a position to give you a comprehensive picture of Freudian psychoanalytic theory in brief—my intent is only to present a few points that will help clarify the Goesch-Sprengel case. However, in a certain sense I do feel qualified to talk about psychoanalysis, because in my earlier years I was friends with one of the medical experts involved in its very beginnings. [ Note 2 ] This person eventually abandoned the theory of psychoanalysis after it degenerated later on in Freud's life. In any case, please do not take what I am going to say now as a comprehensive characterization of Freudian theory; I only want to highlight a few points.

Freudian psychoanalysts start from the assumption that an unconscious inner life exists alongside our conscious soul-activity—that is, in addition to the soul-activity we are conscious of, there is also an unconscious inner life we are usually not aware of. An important component of psychoanalysis is the doctrine that certain experiences people have in the course of their life can make impressions on them, but these impressions disappear from their conscious awareness and work on in their subconscious. According to the psychoanalysts, we do not necessarily become fully conscious of these experiences before they sink down into the unconscious—for example, something can make an impression on a person during childhood without ever coming to full consciousness, and still have such an effect on that person's psyche that it sinks down into the unconscious and goes on working there. Its effects are lasting, and in some cases lead to psychological disturbances later on. I am skipping a lot of links in the chain of reasoning and jumping right to the outcome of the whole process. In other words, we are to imagine in the soul's subconscious depths a kind of island of childhood and youthful experiences gone rampant. Through questioning during psychoanalysis, these subconscious proliferating islands in the soul can be lifted up into consciousness and incorporated into the structure of conscious awareness. In the process, the person in question can be cured of psychological defects in that particular area.

During the early years of the psychoanalytic movement, it was the practice of Dr. Breuer in particular to carry out this questioning with the patient under hypnosis. [ Note 3 ] Later on, this practice was discontinued, and now the Freudian school conducts this analysis with the patient in a normal waking state of consciousness. In any case, the underlying assumption is that there are unhealthy, proliferating islands present in the psyche below the level of consciousness.

This psychoanalytic outlook has gradually spread to incorporate and try to explain all kinds of phenomena of ordinary life, particularly with regard to how they appear in people's dreams. As I already explained once in a lecture to our friends in another city, it is at this point that the Freudian school really goes out on a limb in saying that unfulfilled desires play a primary role in dreams. [ Note 4 ] Freudians say that it is typical for people to experience unfulfilled desires in their dreams, desires that cannot be satisfied in real life. It can sometimes happen—and from the point of view of psychoanalytic theorists, it is significant when it does—that one of these desires present on an unconscious island in the psyche is lifted up in a dream and reveals in disguised form an impulse that had an effect on the person in question during his or her childhood.

Please note the peculiarity of this train of thought. It is assumed that as young boys or girls, people have experiences that sink down into subconsciousness and work on as fantasy experiences, clouding their consciousness. The pattern, then, is this: experiences of waking life are repressed and continue to work on the subconscious, leading to a weakened state of consciousness. This is exactly the same pattern Goesch constructs with regard to promises being given and broken and working on in the subconscious—all with the intention to create the same effect in the subconscious as the “islands” in Freudian psychoanalytic theory. According to Goesch, this was done cunningly and deliberately and resulted in a state of stupefaction analogous to what occurs when experiences of waking life have sunk into subconsciousness and are brought up again in a dream.

Psychoanalytic theory is a very tricky business, and if you dwell on it long enough, it gives rise to certain forms of thought that spread and affect all your thinking. As you can see, this has something to do with why Goesch came up with such a crazy idea.

In addition, as I have said before, the concept of physical contact plays an important part. I am now going to read certain passages from one of Dr. Freud's books, a collection of essays from the Freudian magazine Imago, and I ask you to pay close attention to them. [ Note 5 ] But I must precede that with something else concerning the Goesch-Sprengel case. Those of you who have known Miss Sprengel for some time will recall that she was always very concerned about protecting herself from other people's influence on her aura—she lived in horror of having to shake hands and things like that. Even before Goesch arrived on the scene, she had already gotten the idea that shaking hands is a criminal act in our esoteric circles. The following incident is absolutely typical: I had business to do in Dr. Schmiedel's laboratory and happened to meet Miss Sprengel there. [ Note 6 ] I extended my hand to her, which gave her grounds for saying, “That's how he always does it—he does whatever he wants to you and then shakes hands, and then you forget all about it.” There you have the origin of that theory about handshaking. Yesterday you all heard what this theory became in Miss Sprengel's confused mind with the help of Goesch. He contributed his understanding of Freud's theories and combined things systematically with Freudian ideas.

The following passage is from page 29 of the above-mentioned book by Freud:

The principal characteristic of the psychological constellation which becomes fixed in this way is what might be described as the subject's ambivalent attitude (to borrow the apt term coined by Bleuler) towards a single object, or rather towards one act in connection with that object. He is constantly wishing to perform this act (the touching), [and looks on it as his supreme enjoyment, but he must not perform it] and detests it as well. The conflict between these two currents cannot be promptly settled because—there is no other way of putting it—they are localized in the subject's mind in such a manner that they cannot come up against each other. The prohibition is noisily conscious, while the persistent desire to touch is unconscious and the subject knows nothing of it. If it were not for this psychological factor, an ambivalence like this could neither last so long nor lead to such consequences. [ Note 7 ]

This is followed by a long discussion of the role fear of physical contact plays in cases of neurosis:

In our clinical history of a case we have insisted that the imposition of the prohibition in very early childhood is the determining point; a similar importance attaches in the subsequent developments to the mechanism of repression at the same early age. As a result of the repression which has been enforced and which involves a loss of memory—an amnesia—the motives for the prohibition (which is conscious) remain unknown; and all attempts at disposing of it by intellectual processes must fail, since they cannot find any base of attack. The prohibition owes its strength and its obsessive character precisely to its unconscious opponent, the concealed and undiminished desire—that is to say, to an internal necessity inaccessible to conscious inspection. The ease with which the prohibition can be transferred and extended reflects a process which falls in with the unconscious desire and is greatly facilitated by the psychological conditions that prevail in the unconscious. The instinctual desire is constantly shifting in order to escape from the impasse and endeavours to find substitutes—substitute objects and substitute acts—in place of the prohibited ones. In consequence of this, the prohibition itself shifts about as well, and extends to any new aims which the forbidden impulse may adopt. Any fresh advance made by the repressed libido is answered by a fresh sharpening of the prohibition. The mutual inhibition of the two conflicting forces produces a need for discharge, for reducing the prevailing tension; and to this may be attributed the reason for the performance of obsessive acts. In the case of a neurosis these are clearly compromise actions: from one point of view they are evidences of remorse, efforts at expiation, and so on, while on the other hand they are at the same time substitutive acts to compensate the instinct for what has been prohibited. It is a law of neurotic illness that these obsessive acts fall more and more under the sway of the instinct and approach nearer and nearer to the activity which was originally prohibited. [ Note 8 ]

Considering the obsessions involved in fear of physical contact, you can well imagine how it would have been if Miss Sprengel, as a person suffering from this fear, had ever been seen by a psychoanalyst who, in line with usual psychoanalytic practice, would have questioned her about her fear of contact and tried to discover what caused it.

A third factor I want to emphasize is the relationship of Miss Sprengel to Mr. Goesch. According to psychoanalytic theory, this relationship would of course be characterized by the presence of repressed erotic thoughts. I mean that quite objectively… [ Note 9 ]

At this point, my friends, we must look a bit more closely at the whole system of psychoanalysis. As I have just outlined for you, psychoanalysis lifts up into consciousness certain “islands” in the unconscious psyche, and it assumes that the majority of these islands are sexual in nature. The psychoanalyst's task, then, is to reach down to the level of these early experiences that have sunk into subconsciousness and lift them up again for purposes of healing. According to Freudian theory, healing is brought about by lifting hidden sexual complexes up from the depths of the subconscious and making the person aware of them again. Whether this method is very successful is a matter of much discussion in books on the subject.

As you can see, psychoanalysts' thinking is often colored by an underlying pervasive sexuality, and this is taken to extremes when psychoanalysis is applied to any and all possible phenomena of human life. For example, Freud and his disciples go so far as to interpret myths and legends psychoanalytically, tracing them to repressed sexuality. Consider, for example, how they interpret the story of Oedipus. [ Note 10 ] In brief, the content of this legend is that Oedipus is led to kill his father and marry his mother. When psychoanalysts ask what this story is based on, they conclude that such things always rest on unconscious, repressed sexual complexes usually involving sexual experiences in earliest childhood. The Freudians are firmly convinced that a child's relationship to his or her father and mother is a sexual one right from birth, so if the child is a boy, he must be unconsciously in love with his mother and thus unconsciously or subconsciously jealous of his father.

At this point, my friends, we might be tempted to say that these psychoanalysts, if they actually believe in their own theory, should apply it to themselves first and foremost, and admit that their own destiny and outlook stem from an excess of repressed sexual processes experienced in childhood. Freud and his disciples should apply this theory to themselves first. They derive the Oedipus legend, for instance, from their assumption that most little boys have an illicit emotional relationship to their mother right from birth, and are thus jealous of their father. Thus, the boys' father becomes their enemy and works on as such in their troubled imagination. Later, however, they realize rationally that this relationship to their mother is not permissible, and so it is repressed and becomes subconscious. The boys then live out their lives without becoming aware of their forbidden relationship to their mother and their adversarial relationship to their father, whom they experience as a rival.

According to psychoanalytic theory, then, what we need to do in cases of defective psyches is to look for psychological complexes, and we will find that if these are lifted up into consciousness, a cure can be effected. It's too bad that I can't present these things in greater detail, but I will try to give you as exact an outline of them as possible. On page 16 of the above-mentioned book, for instance, you can read the following:

There has been little opportunity in the preceding pages for showing how new light can be thrown upon the facts of social psychology by the adoption of a psycho-analytic method of approach: for the horror of incest displayed by savages has long been recognized as such and stands in need of no further interpretation. [ Note 11 ]

This essay explains why primitive peoples so strictly enforce the ban on marrying one's mother or sister and why relationships of this type are punished. “Incest” is love for a blood-relative, and one of the first essays in this book is entitled “The Horror of Incest.” This fear is explained by assuming the existence of a tendency to incest on the part of each male individual in the form of a forbidden relationship to his mother.

All that I have been able to add to our understanding of it is to emphasize the fact that it is essentially an infantile feature [that is, primitive people retain this for a lifetime, while in civilized children it is repressed into the subconscious] and that it reveals a striking agreement with the mental life of neurotic patients. Psycho-analysis has taught us that a boy's earliest choice of objects for his love is incestuous and that those objects are forbidden ones—his mother and his sister. We have learnt, too, the manner in which, as he grows up, he liberates himself from this incestuous attraction. A neurotic, on the other hand, invariably exhibits some degree of psychical infantilism. He has either failed to get free from the psycho-sexual conditions that prevailed in his childhood or he has returned to them—two possibilities which may be summed up as developmental inhibition and regression. Thus incestuous fixations of libido continue to play (or begin once more to play) the principal part in his unconscious mental life. We have arrived at the point of regarding a child's relation to his parents, dominated as it is by incestuous longings, as the nuclear complex of neurosis.

Thus, according to psychoanalytic theory, the central complex involved in neurosis is a boy's forbidden sexual attraction for his mother and sister.

This revelation of the importance of incest in neurosis is naturally received with universal skepticism by adults and normal people. Similar expressions of disbelief, for instance, inevitably greet the writings of Otto Rank, which have brought more and more evidence to show the extent to which the interest of creative writers centres round the theme of incest and how the same theme, in countless variations and distortions, provides the subject-matter of poetry. We are driven to believe that this rejection is principally a product of the distaste which human beings feel for their early incestuous wishes, now overtaken by repression. It is therefore of no small importance that we are able to show that these same incestuous wishes, which are later destined to become unconscious, are still regarded by savage peoples as immediate perils against which the most severe measures of defence must be enforced. [ Note 12 ]

From this point of departure, an atmosphere of sexuality spreads until it pervades the psychoanalysts' whole field of activity. Their whole life is spent working with ideas about sexuality. That is why psychoanalysis has been the biggest contributing factor in making an unbelievable mockery of something quite natural in human life. This has crept into our life gradually, without people noticing it. I can sympathize deeply with an old gentleman by the name of Moritz Benedikt (who spent his life trying to bring morality into medicine) when he says that if you look around, you'll find that the physicians of thirty years ago knew less about certain sexual abnormalities than eighteen-year-old girls in boarding school do today. [ Note 13 ] This is the truth, and you can really empathize with this man. I mention it in particular because it is really extremely important to regard certain processes in children's lives as simply natural, without having to see them in terms of sexuality right away.

Nowadays, these complicated psychoanalytic theories lead us to label a lot of what children do as sexually deviant, although most of it is totally innocent. In most cases, it would be enough to regard these things as nothing more than childish mischievousness that could be quite adequately treated with a couple of smacks on a certain part of the anatomy. The worst possible way of dealing with it, however, is to talk a lot about these things, especially with the children themselves, and to put all kinds of theoretical ideas in their heads. It is hard enough to talk about these things with grownups with any degree of clarity. Unfortunately for people who are often called upon to provide counseling, parents frequently come with all kinds of complaints, including some really dumb ones, about how their children suffer from sexual deviance. Their only basis for these complaints is that the children scratch themselves. Now, there is no more sexuality involved in scratching yourself anywhere else than there is in scratching your arm. Dr. Freud, however, upholds the idea that any scratching or touching, or even a baby's sucking a pacifier, is a sexual activity. He spreads a mantle of sexuality over all aspects of human life.

It would be good for us to look more closely at Freudian psychoanalysis in order to become aware of the excesses of materialistic science; specifically, of those of psychoanalysis in seeing everything in terms of sexuality. In a book introduced by Dr. Freud, the Hungarian psychoanalyst Ferenczi writes about the case of a five-year-old boy named Arpad. [ Note 14 ] There is no doubt in his mind as to the sources of Arpad's interest in the goings-on in the chicken run:

The continual sexual activity between the cock and hens, the laying of eggs and the hatching out of the young brood gratified his sexual curiosity, the real object of which was human family life. He showed that he had formed his own choice of sexual objects on the model of life in the hen-run, for he said one day to the neighbour's wife: “I'll marry you and your sister and my three cousins and the cook; no, not the cook, I'll marry my mother instead.” [ Note 15 ]

We could wish for a return of the days when it was possible to hear children say things like this without immediately having to resort to such awkward sexual explanations. I can only touch on this subject today, but I will discuss it at greater length sometime in the near future in order to reassure all you fathers and mothers. [ Note 16 ] But of course, Freud's theory, which is spreading widely without people noticing it, is only a symptom of a worldwide tendency. And when parents come with the complaint that their four- or five-year-old sons or daughters are suffering from sexual deviance, in most cases the appropriate response is, “The only deviant thing in this case is your way of thinking about it!” In most instances, that is really what's wrong.

My intention in telling you all this has been to point out the kind of atmosphere Freudian psychoanalysis is swimming in. I am well aware that the Freudians would take issue with this brief characterization. But we are fully justified in saying that psychoanalysis as a whole is positively dripping with this psychosexual stuff, as its professional literature reveals.

Suppose the assumption that psychosexual islands exist in the human subconscious actually proves to be true in the case of a certain individual. A Freudian theorist might subject that person to questioning and be able to add a new case history to the annals of Freudian psychoanalytic theory. In the case concerning us, Goesch might have undertaken this line of questioning and made some discoveries among those psychosexual islands that would have served to verify Freud's theories. But to do that, Goesch would have needed to be stronger in his own soul. As it was, however, he succumbed to a certain type of relationship to his new lady friend. The material in our possession supplies ample evidence of this relationship and will allow anyone who applies it in the right way to describe their relationship with clinical, objective precision.

Since what can be learned from a specific case is often of greater significance than the actual case itself, let me point out that this case can lead us to the same conclusions I presented in my essay, published in the Vienna Clinical Review in 1900, entitled “The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche as a Psychopathological Problem.” [ Note 17 ] Notwithstanding all the contributions Nietzsche's genius made to the world, it was necessary to point out that Nietzsche would be misunderstood if the psychopathological factor in him were not taken into account. It is important for our Society that psychopathological elements not gain the upper hand, that they be eradicated from our minds and seen in the right light so that psychopaths are not looked upon as some kind of higher beings. That is why it is also important to see the current case in the right light and assess what is actually involved from the right standpoint.

It is already too late for me to describe now at length how the storm developed. When I was in Vienna in May of this year, one of our members wrote me a letter I had to tear up on returning here, since taking letters across the border is no longer allowed. This letter contained accusations very similar to those raised by Goesch under the influence of Miss Sprengel and showing a similar involvement in Freudian psychoanalysis. They came from the same quarter; the same wind was blowing in both sets of accusations. In fact, if I could have read you some sentences from that letter, they would have sounded remarkably like what Miss Sprengel inspired in Goesch.

What, then, was actually going on in the Goesch-Sprengel case? Goesch could not really function as a psychoanalyst, because to do that his relationship to Miss Sprengel would have had to be an objective one like that of a doctor to a patient. Her influence on him was too overwhelming, however, and thus his involvement in the examination was not fully conscious and objective. In Freudian terms, everything at work in the psyche of his friend, the “keeper of the seal,” came out, but since it sank down into Goesch's unconscious, it was masked by the whole theory that came to light in his letter.

The Goesch-Sprengel case grew out of one of the greatest mistakes and worst materialistic theories of our time, and we can only deal with it by realizing that both people involved threw a mantle of secrecy over their human, all-too-human relationships. In essence, this consisted of shrouding their relationship in Freudian psychoanalytic theories, as the documents very clearly reveal.

When we attempt to help people who come to us in such a confused psychological state, they are often fawning, enthusiastic supporters to begin with, but later on their adulation changes into enmity. That, too, can be explained in psychoanalytic terms. However, our most urgent concern at the moment is our relationship to the rest of the world. Just as we are now experiencing hostility coming from the direction of psychoanalysis, steeped as it is in sexuality, we can expect to encounter at any moment new opposition from all kinds of aberrations resulting from other all-too-human impulses.

This shows us that we must study such cases; they should be of great interest to us precisely because our Society represents a spiritual movement. I could speak at much greater length on this subject, but I must stop for today because you need to get on with your deliberations. I simply wanted to point out the first tentative steps we must take in seeing where the dangers for our movement lie and how urgent it is that we all do as much as we can to help the world out there learn that we are not chicken-livered. We know how to stand up for ourselves. When things come up in disguise as they did in this letter, we must rip off the mask and expose where they come from. Their origins lie much deeper than we usually think; they originate in the materialistic outlook of our times, which has not only become the dominant view in science but has contaminated our life as a whole. Combating it is our movement's very reason for existence, but we must keep our eyes wide open and see what is going on in the world. We must recognize what the people coming to us have learned out in the world and what they bring with them when they come to us.