Understanding our Ancestry: A brief book note on a brilliant, concise book

by Stuart D. Perlman, Ph.D.

A Dream of Undying Fame: How Freud Betrayed his Mentor and Invented Psychoanalysis (2009), by Louis Breger, Ph.D. New York: Basic Books, 146 pages.

For someone who has not read Dr. Breger’s brilliant long biography, Freud, Darkness in the Midst of Vision, (John Wiley, 2000), this new short book is a gift which presents, in a condensed and readable form, many of the ideas spelled out in more detail in the earlier biography. Dr. Breger’s present book is an extremely intelligent overview of the complex contributions of one of the giants of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud. Breger, Professor Emeritus of Psychoanalytic Studies at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, and the Founding President of the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles, pulls together decades of scholarly research, with threads from many fields, to weave an original tapestry of Freud, his life and influence. This book is an easy read with fascinating content which pulls the reader into the context and process of psychoanalysis, presenting all the case studies from the Studies on Hysteria, the historical backgrounds of these first patients, and delineating the many conflicting relationships within the psychoanalytic movement. The book educates, entertains and deepens our understanding simultaneously. It gives the larger community access to a plethora of ideas and scholarly research which otherwise would be laborious to obtain. The book – short and very readable – is ideal for college courses at many levels.

A Dream of Undying Fame, in a sense, loops back, using contemporary psychoanalytic ideas such as Attachment Theory – which had its beginning in Freud’s 1926 essay Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety — to understand Freud’s life in a way that he himself, and his loyal followers such as Ernest Jones, did not. Breuer, Freud’s older mentor, benefactor, and the real inventor – along with his first patient Bertha Pappenheim (Anna O. in the Studies on Hysteria) — of the talking cure, and a number of the central ideas that Freud later elaborated into psychoanalysis, was at first credited with his accomplishments and later slandered by Freud with a rumor – later proven untrue – that he fled from his patient because he was frightened off by her erotic transference. This was the first co-worker that Freud turned on when they did not give total agreement, did not support his quest for fame. Our current perspectives – relational, self-psychological, intersubjective — can be better understood by examining the history of the psychoanalytic movement that Freud began and controlled with an iron hand. While Breuer did not directly anticipate all these modern perspectives, his focus on trauma, catharsis, and openness to the contributions of many others, is compatible with general contemporary approaches and stands in sharp contrast to Freud’s “pure gold,” “shibboleths,” and insistence on the centrality of sexual drives and the Oedipus complex.

Dr. Breger’s portrayal of Freud’s difficult childhood, filled with traumatic losses, and how it created an ambitious, driven man who had to succeed to feel acceptable, is central to our understanding of him. Freud’s fearfulness of people and his need for total agreement, as well as his need for love and adulation, drove him to betray his mentor Josef Breuer; he took psychoanalysis deeper but, sadly for all of us, also took it off track. Some of what went wrong for Freud was his need to be the all-knowing and powerful analyst, pushing his brilliant insights and interpretations even when the patient disagreed. For all his wrong turns, his ideas have had a profound influence on Western culture.

Stuart D. Perlman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in West Los Angeles where he specializes in helping people who have experienced trauma, difficult childhoods, and relationship issues. He is a training and supervising analyst at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles. Dr. Perlman received his first Ph.D. from UCLA in Clinical Psychology and his second Ph.D. from the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute, and has been a faculty member at both. He has published numerous articles in psychology and psychoanalytic journals on topics such as: trauma, sexual abuse, countertransference, and supervision. His book, The Therapist’s Emotional Survival: Dealing With The Pain Of Exploring Trauma, was a Psychotherapy Book Club Main Selection.

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