Sigmund Freud Biography

(Neurologist & the Founder of Psychoanalysis)

Birthday: May 6, 1856 (Taurus)

Born In: Příbor, Czechia

Regarded as one of the most important thinkers of the last century, Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis. He revolutionized the study of dreams with his magnum opus book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams.’ His theories about the mind and the mysteries locked within, transformed the world of psychology and the way people looked at the complex-energy system known as the brain. He refined the concepts of unconscious state, juvenile sexuality, and subjugation, and also proposed a three-way theory pertaining to the structure of the mind. Notwithstanding the multiple facets of psychoanalysis as it exists today, it can, in almost all fundamental respects, be traced directly to Freud’s early works. His works related to the treatment of human actions and dreams have been considered paramount in the world of science and proved to be extremely fruitful in the field of psychology. A freethinker, an ambitious rebel, and an atheist, Freud’s outlook was a result of his Jewish upbringing, love for Shakespeare’s narratives, and solitary life. Although many critics disowned Freud’s work for being highly sexist and unrealistic, there were many positive remarks on his discoveries and some even compared his works to those of Aquinas and Plato.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Sigismund Schlomo Freud

Died At Age: 83


Spouse/Ex-: Martha Bernays (m. 1886)

father: Jacob Freud

mother: Amalia Freud

children: Anna Freud, Ernst L. Freud, Jean Martin Freud, Martin Freud, Mathilde Freud, Oliver Freud, Sophie Freud

Born Country: Czech Republic

Quotes By Sigmund Freud Neurologists

Died on: September 23, 1939

place of death: London, England, United Kingdom

Ancestry: Ukrainian Austrian

Cause of Death: Oral Cancer

More Facts

education: University Of Vienna

awards: 1930 - Goethe Prize for his contributions to psychology and to German literary culture

Early Years & Education
Sigmund was born Sigismund Schlomo Freud on 6 May 1856, in Freiberg in Mähren, Moravia, Austrian Empire. He was the first of the eight children born to Jewish Galician parents, Jakob Freud and Amalia Nathansohn. Sigmund’s initial years were tough as his family was struggling financially. Due to the Panic of 1857—a financial crisis triggered in the US—his father lost his business and the family moved to Vienna.
In 1865, he was enrolled at the ‘Leopoldstadter Kommunal-Realgymnasium,’ a renowned school in the region. He proved his mettle as an outstanding student and graduated from high school in 1873.
As a young boy, he was passionate about literature and was proficient in a number of languages, such as German, French, Italian, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. He was also an avid reader of Shakespeare’s works which helped him understand human psychology.
He studied at the ‘University of Vienna,’ where he joined the medical faculty and graduated with an MD in 1881. He enjoyed science, but found the idea of practicing medicine unexciting. He wanted to pursue neurophysiological research but could not, owing to financial constraints.
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In October 1885, he traveled to Paris on a fellowship to study with Jean-Martin Charcot, a prominent neurologist. He was inspired by his practice of medical psychopathology, which made him realize that neurology was not to his taste and that he was meant for something bigger and more exciting.
He started his private practice in 1886. Inspired by his friend and collaborator Josef Breuer, he adopted the use of ‘hypnosis’ for his clinical work. Josef’s treatment for one particular patient named Anna O. proved to be transformative to Freud’s clinical career.
He inferred that a patient could be cured of psychological problems while being engaged in an uninhibited discourse about his/her traumatic experiences in a hypnotized state, the practice which he later called ‘free association.’
In addition to this practice, he also discovered that a patient’s dreams could be analyzed and the psychic repression of an individual could also be studied and cured. By 1896, he had carried out extensive research on a new subject, which he called ‘psychoanalysis.’
He also concluded that repressed childhood memories of sexual molestation or assault were prerequisites to understand a certain psychological condition called ‘neuroses.’ In order to further his research on the same, he developed the ‘seduction theory’ which threw light on how horrifying childhood memories related to sexual abuse or other gruesome physical encounters can become causative factors for the afore mentioned condition.
He was appointed as the professor of neuropathology at the ‘University of Vienna’ in 1902, a position which he held until the outbreak of ‘World War II.’
He delivered lectures on his newly-formulated theories to a small group at the university and his works generated considerable amount of interest among a small group of Viennese physicians.
Some of them soon began to visit his apartment every Wednesday and indulged in discussions related to neuropathy and psychology; this group eventually came to be known as the ‘Wednesday Psychological Society,’ marking the beginning of his worldwide psychoanalytical movement.
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The International Psychoanalytical Congress
By 1906, the strength of the ‘Wednesday Psychological Society’ had grown manifold. On April 27, 1908, they had their first official international meeting called ‘The International Psychoanalytical Congress’ at ‘Hotel Bristol’ in Salzburg. Over 40 members were present at this conference and the news of Freud’s psychoanalytical developments began to spread, so much so that it attracted wide audience, even from across the Atlantic.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate by ‘Clark University’ in Massachusetts, which attracted widespread media attention. It also caught the attention of James Jackson Putnam, a renowned American psychiatrist.
After a couple of discussions with Freud, Putnam was convinced that his work represented a significant breakthrough in the world of psychology in the United States.
As a result of his popularity, he was elected as the president of ‘American Psychoanalytical Society’ when it was founded in 1911. However, after disagreement with a couple of members of the ‘American Psychoanalytical Society,’ he initiated the formation of a new psychoanalytical group in 1912.
The same year, he published a paper titled ‘The History of the Psychoanalytical Movement’ which shed light on the evolution of the psychoanalytical movement.
In 1913, the ‘London Psychoanalytical Society’ was established by Ernest Jones, one of Freud’s devoted followers. The name of the association was changed to ‘British Psychoanalytical Society’ in 1919, with Jones as its president; a position he held till 1944.
Freud attended his last ‘International Psychoanalytical Congress’ in 1922 in Berlin. By then a dozen of institutes were established by his followers around the world; Russia, Germany, France, America, Canada, Switzerland, Poland, etc.
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Later Life & Nazi Troubles
After the end of ‘World War I,’ he spent less time in clinical research and focused on the application of his models in the fields of history, literature, and anthropology.
In 1923, ‘The Ego and the Id’ was published. It suggested a new fundamental model of the human mind, distributed into three divisions— ‘id,’ ‘ego,’ and ‘superego.’
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After Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany in 1933, many of Freud’s publications were destroyed, but he remained optimistic throughout the impending Nazi threat.
Ernest Jones, who was the-then president of the ‘International Psychoanalytical Movement,’ persuaded Freud to seek asylum in Britain, to which Freud agreed. His departure however, was a long and painful process, mired by the Nazis.
His passport was confiscated, but with the support of his followers, he escaped the talons of Nazi brutality and left Vienna for London with his wife and his daughter Anna.
Theories & Perspectives
Early in his career, he became greatly influenced by the works of his Viennese friend Josef Breuer with whose assistance he discovered that when a hysterical patient was asked to talk uninhibitedly about a certain trauma or pain, the symptoms of hysteria would eventually abate.
He suggested that neuroses had its origins deeply embedded in a person’s conscience and that one could rid himself or herself of neurotic symptoms by recalling the experiences candidly. This gave birth to the theory of ‘psychoanalysis,’ following the successful treatment of Anna O.
He also suggested that unconscious memories, such as those pertaining to physical or sexual abuse, could result in ‘obsessional neuroses.’ He used a number of ‘pressure techniques’ and other clinical procedures to trace back the memories of his patients’ experiences in order to cure them.
The theory of ‘unconscious’ was crucial to Freud’s interpretation of the mind. He argued that the concept of ‘unconscious’ was based on the theory of ‘repression.’
He postulated an ‘unconscious mind’ cycle, which was based on the investigation of people with traumatic experiences. It also suggested that behavior of patients could not be elucidated without reference to ideas or thoughts of which they had no cognizance.
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He further explained his ideas of the ‘unconsciousness’ in two publications; ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ and ‘Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious,’ published in 1899 and 1905, respectively.
His perspectives on women stirred unexpected controversy during his lifetime and continue to evoke debate even today. He was against women’s emancipation movement and believed that lives of women were predominantly controlled by their sexual or reproductive functions.
He elaborated on his views by explaining girls’ psychosexual development, and suggested that girls around the ages 3-5 begin to detach emotionally from their mothers and devote more time and attention towards their fathers; he called this the ‘phallic stage.’ He was also criticized for his suggestion that women were inferior to men.
Major Works
‘The Interpretation of Dreams,’ published on November 4, 1899, was one of Freud’s major works which introduced the subject of ‘unconscious’ with respect to the analysis of dreams. Although the initial print runs for the book was very low, it went on to become one of the most read books and seven more editions of the same were published later. The original text, written in German, was translated to English and re-published in 1913.
‘The Psychopathology of Everyday Life’ was published in 1901. It is regarded as one of his significant works because it laid the basis for one of his most important theories, ‘psychoanalysis.’ The book went on to become one of the greatest scientific classics of the 20th century and was published in English in 2003. To date, the publication is considered one of his greatest works and is often referred by modern-day psychoanalysts.
His paper ‘The Ego and the Id’ outlined the theories of the psychodynamics of the id, ego, and super-ego. This three-way account of the human mind furthered the development of psychoanalysis and was published on April 24, 1923. Considered one of his most influential works, ‘The Ego and the Id’ laid the foundation for all of his future works and ideas.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the ‘Goethe Prize’ in 1930 for his contributions to psychology and German literary culture.
He was made the honorary Foreign Member of the British Royal Society of Medicine in 1935.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Martha Bernays in 1886 and the couple had six children. Anna, one of his daughters, went on to become one of his greatest supporters and helped him carry out his research in his later years. She also became a prominent psychologist, following in her father’s footsteps.
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In 1923, he discovered that he had developed cancer in his jaw, which is believed to have been caused by his love for cigars. He had to endure 33 painful surgeries in an attempt to remove the cancer.
He used cocaine regularly and believed that it reduced mental and physical problems. He frequently suffered from bouts of depression, migraine, and nasal inflammation which he combatted by using cocaine.
He passed away in London on 23 September 1939, after being administered doses of morphine, thus putting an end to his pain and suffering. The drug was administered to him as a result of an overgrown cancer, which was declared inoperable after 33 surgeries. Three days after his death, his body was cremated. His funeral was attended by many of his followers and fellow-psychoanalysts.
His works greatly influenced the 20th century studies related to philosophy, science, and literature. His famous psychoanalytical system dominated the field of psychotherapy in the early 20th century and continues to do so even today. His interpretation of dreams, ‘ego psychology,’ and the study of linguistics laid the foundation for modern psychoanalytical study and research.
Several experiments were carried out on Freud’s theories and his ideas were interpreted as both radical and ‘forward by 50 years or more’ by modern-day scientists.
The decline in his popularity was orchestrated by the feminist uprising of the ‘50s. His works were condemned by feminist authors like Betty Friedan who stated that most of Freud’s works asserted male dominance and female inferiority.
Today, a number of awards, such as the ‘International Sigmund Freud Award for Psychotherapy of the City of Vienna’ and ‘The Sigmund Freud Award’ are given in his honor to worthy individuals for their contribution to psychology, literature, and science.
The father of psychoanalysis, as he is called, knew eight languages. He learned Latin, Hebrew, and Greek, picked up German and English, and taught himself French and Italian.
This famous Jewish thinker and psychoanalyst was superstitious about the numbers 23, 28, and 51. He believed 23 and 28 had magical properties and that he would die at the age of 51. It is also said that he became obsessed with the number 62 later in his life.
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