Sigmund Freud was born May 6, 1856. He was born in a small, predominantly Roman Catholic town called Freiburg, in Movaria- now known as Czechoslovakia. He was born the son of Jacob Freud, a Jewish wool merchant, and his third wife, Amalia.
Jacob Freud and Amalia Nathanson were married in 1855. Freud was born of a singular and bizarre marriage. In contrast to his mother’s youth, twenty years of age, his father was middle-aged at forty years of age, and had two sons from a previous marriage, both of whom were older than his new wife. In fact, Phillip, the older of the two was himself a father of two children, John and Pauline, when Freud was born. Freud was born an uncle, but he was in fact a year younger than his nephew John, and just slightly younger than his niece Pauline, both of who were playmates of his childhood. This was to be Amalia’s first child, her darling, Sigmund.
When Freud was born in 1856, Jacob and Amalia Freud were hopelessly poor. They occupied a single rented room in a humble house. Jacob and Amalia were Jewish; however, the Catholic Church dominated the town of Freiburg. Aside from the church, the only attractions were a handsome market square and inviting surroundings that featured stretches of fertile farmland, dense woods, and gentle hills. At the time of Freud’s birth, the town had over 4,500 inhabitants, with only about 130 of them being Jewish. Similarly, at this time, to be Jewish meant to be a member of a highly visible and oppressed minority.
Before Freud was even two years old, in 1857, Amalia was pregnant with another child. Because his family assemblage was so unusual, to him, his mother seemed far better matched with his half-brother than his father, yet it was his father that shared his mother’s bed. Freud somehow came to believe that his half-brother Philipp had taken his father’s place as a competitor for his mother’s affection. He found these things to be very perplexing. His mind consisted of these things: his mother pregnant with a rival, his half-brother in some mysterious way his mother’s companion, and his benign father old enough to be his grandfather. This perhaps led to his preoccupation with sexual matters. Incidentally, Freud’s new rival, Anna Freud, was born in 1885.
Then, in 1859, perhaps due to the decline of the textile market coupled with an increase with anti-Semitism in this predominantly Roman Catholic town in Movaria, Jacob Freud decided to move the family three years after Freud was born. They moved briefly to Leipzig in 1859, and then, the year after, to Vienna where Freud lived most of his life. Here the instability of their financial situation was not alleviated by Amalia’s fertility. Upon moving to Vienna there were but two children, Sigmund and Anna, now in rapid succession, between 1860 and 1866, Freud was presented with five more siblings, four sisters and one brother. And since six other children followed Freud, the mating periods of his parents continued into his teenage years. Consequently, the family remained hopelessly poor and lived in extremely cramped quarters.
However, despite poverish circumstances and raising six children, Amalia Freud never failed to shower Freud, her first born, with love and affection. In fact, his mother’s affection was more like a blind worship, seeing only incomparable qualities in Freud. Her exaggerated love favored Freud above all the other children she later gave birth to. In fact, his mother lived by his side all of his life until Freud was seventy- four (she died at age ninety-three). To her last days, even when Freud was old and gray, she regarded him as a brilliant child. Furthermore, Freud’s mother was not the only one to deify him.
Freud’s father, Jacob, also worshiped him. Jacob, opposite from Freud’s mother, was not a strong personality. In fact, even as a child Freud was able to overrule his father. Until Freud was ten years old, he was very close to his father who tutored him at home so that he was not obliged to attend elementary school due to his remarkable talents for reading and studying. However, as Freud grew older, he became increasingly appalled by his father’s lack of heroic conduct and continually sought substitute father images in great historical figures. Freud came to feel nothing for his father but resentment, even though his father continued to idolize him. Because his mother and father so revered him, it was only natural that his siblings would share in this blind worship.
Indeed the entire family worshiped Freud. The adulation of his mother was imitated not only by his father, but also his brothers and sisters. Freud became the center of the family circle. The entire family worshiped him as a hero. With only a few exceptions, Freud’s childhood was a period in reveling in fawning affection. His family had a will to believe in his greatness, which approached incredible proportions. Consequently, at an early age Freud was encouraged to believe in his outstanding prospects and at an early age dreamt of his brilliant destiny.
To become great became Freud’s fixed idea and obsession; a tormenting, agonizing compulsion which gave him no peace and constantly drove him on. The dream of greatness forever engrossed him and was permanently engraved in his mind. In addition, his family’s doting on his genius led Freud to a constant thirst for immortality and fame, which required constant reverence and adulation to satisfy. As a result, throughout his life, no honor or recognition ever did quite suit him. Freud was always hard to appease and ever able to find causes for dissatisfaction.
Freud seemed lacking in his ability to change or modify any of his ideas, and once entered into mind, all impressions became fixed and irrevocable. It became imperative for him to force the world to share in his beliefs. Because Freud was conditioned to such over-adulation and undue favoritism, it’s clear why he come to expect unconditional respect and belief for his dicta, and why he became so upset and impatient when his opinions were questioned. Clearly he grew in the conviction that he was a special personage to whom ordinary standards and ordinary rules of conduct or responsibility did not apply.
Like Freud’s exaggerated ego and monumental conceit, the root of his sexual obsessions can be easily traced to his childhood. He found the mystifying quality of familial relationships hard to sort out. Tangled domestic networks were fairly common in the 19th century, when early death from disease or in childbirth was only too familiar and widows or widowers often remarried promptly. However, the riddles confronting Freud were intricate beyond the ordinary. Because he was born into such an uncommon family he was likely to feel apart and somewhat confused. After all, his father was old enough to be his grandfather, his mother young enough to be his sister, while both half-brothers were old enough to be his father. This bizarre family circle may perhaps supply clues to Freud’s habitual tendency to detached reverie evident in his childhood, but which later left him lost somewhere between the vague boundaries of the unconscious and conscious minds.
Freud’s sexual preoccupation may perhaps be a result of his environment, which made sexual matters so common to his experience that he could not realize it might not be common to others. The immaturity if his ideas on the relations of men and women are astonishing, for nowhere in his writings is it possible to deduce he was aware of the passion, tenderness, poetry and beauty of love- nor all the shades of regard, affection and friendship which are not sexually motivated. Additionally, his idea that in dreams the incidents of childhood are relived again in the present also point to some ingrained characteristics of immaturity. Freud’s emotional attitudes in adulthood continued true to his childhood conditioning; they never changed.
Freud read himself into every aspect of his clinical practice. His case histories and psychological speculations centered upon himself. He was his own favorite patient. Freud’s confidence was often based on his capacity for self-hypnosis which tricked him into believing his thoughts were extremely brilliant, had occurred to no other before and tremendously enriched the world’s knowledge. Any opposition was a cruel departure from the adulation, which eventually became an indispensable need of his nature. In truth, all of psychoanalysis applied to Freud alone, and to no other.