Sigmund Freud’s theories are challenged by his granddaughter, Sophie Freud.
SOPHIE FREUD: One of you asked me whether it was a great burden for me to be Freud's granddaughter, but in Boston nowadays, it's my grandfather who's my grandfather, rather than I'm being his granddaughter.
CHRIS AIKEN: Welcome to the Carlat Psychiatry Podcast, keeping psychiatry honest since 2003. I’m Chris Aiken, the editor in chief of the Carlat Report.
KELLIE NEWSOME: And I’m Kellie Newsome, a psychiatric NP and a dedicated reader of every issue.
CHRIS AIKEN: On June 3, 2022, Sigmund Freud’s last living grandchild died at the age of 97. But Sophie Freud did not carry the family torch. A social worker and therapist, Sophie challenged the idea that human behavior is guided by hidden, unconscious forces.
Sophie took a practical approach to psychotherapy. She once told the Boston Globe that psychoanalysis was “a narcissistic indulgence.” But that was when she was being sympathetic. In 2002, she told a Canadian filmmaker that "In my eyes, both Adolf Hitler and my grandfather were false prophets of the twentieth century." Both shared in common, “the ambition to convince other men of the one and only truth they had come upon.”
Statements like that made me wonder if Sophie Freud was an embittered woman, driven to harsh judgments by some unspoken breach in the family. So I set out to learn more about her. And yes, there was family conflict, not just with her grandfather but with her mother, her father, and her brother, who responded to Sophie’s criticisms of psychoanalysis by telling her “Without grandfather, the Nazis would have made lampshades with your skin.”
KELLIE NEWSOME: Sophie details it all in her 2007 book In the Shadow of the Freud Family, which we’ll quote from in this episode. But she was not a bitter woman. She was passionate about life, love, and learning. She challenged her grandfather’s view of women as passive, conservative, incapable of following their own passions or changing the world in the way that men do. If a woman did pursue an intellectual career, Sigmund wrote, it was probably out of penis envy. Sophie set out to prove her grandfather wrong through survey research in the 1970’s. She showed that women had just as many independent and passionate pursuits as men.
SOPHIE FREUD: I'm referring to theories like the penis envy thing and women being essentially castrated men and You know, I was interested in Freud's language in this.
He says things like, talking about little girls, the fact of her castration, he says, or the discovery of her castration. In other words, It goes beyond that the little girl thinks she's missing something. It's the discovery of her, it's, it's language that's very revealing of a little boy who sees his sister and is scared about what might have happened.
KELLIE NEWSOME: That was from a lecture on feminism and psychotherapy Sophie Freud gave in 1983, which was generously provided by the Milton Erickson library. Their website catalog.erickson-foundation.org houses thousands of psychotherapy lectures new and old.
In her lectures, Sophie is warm, engaging, and playful – she seems to delight in disagreements, not because she enjoys conflict, but because she enjoys the diversity. She met people where they were at and let them be who they are, in a way that was ahead of her times.
Rick Miller was a student of Sophie Freud’s from 1983 to 1985 and has written several books about psychotherapy with gay men. He describes how he came out to his professor:
RICK MILLER: Coming out at the time, 1983, and I was extremely self conscious about who should know, who shouldn't know. And I wrote a term paper about My being gay this was in 1983 and exams were written in pencil in these little blue booklets and I don't know how many pages my story was about coming out, but she commented at the beginning that she was very moved by my story and she asked that I would share it with the class and then crossed that out She still said she was moved. She crossed out the rest and said I've changed my mind about reading it to the class. Now, I don't know what to make of that. I don't know if she was doing that as a paradoxical intervention or if she felt she was protecting me or what, but she was definitely moved by my story. And that's what stuck with me. She was a hundred percent accepting of me. And I'm sure in the second semester, as we got away from psychoanalytic literature, that, I mean, I think she just addressed modern issues in society from a very accepting and liberal position.
SOPHIE FREUD: I think one of the myths, too, that have been quite destructive in the psychotherapy establishment is the myth of homosexual pathology. Even if the official position is now more liberated, we could see at this conference that it continues to operate on subtle levels.
KELLIE NEWSOME: Sophie Freud was born in Vienna in 1924. Her mother was Esti, a speech therapist, and her father Martin Freud was the eldest son of Sigmund Freud, a lawyer who helped run his father’s publishing house.
As a child, Sophie visited her grandfather every Sunday. She remembers him as cordial and punctual but not particularly warm. Along with her cousins, the young Sophie was ushered in every Sunday at 12:45 p.m. for a 15-minute audience with the patriarch, before settling in for a family lunch promptly at 1.
SOPHIE FREUD: My grandmother was a housefrau. She was the best possible housefrau that one can be. She ran a very tight ship, and I explained to you how things were done by the clock in the Freud family. So that dinner was served exactly at twelve o'clock, not two minutes after, not two minutes before twelve. I thought it was quite a cold and formal household from a little girl's viewpoint. But certainly my grandmother must have facilitated, you know, that there was this husband, all he did was go to his office and work and then he would come out for three and a half minutes and then he would eat for ten minutes and go back to his office. So it would not be my idea of a compatible husband.
KELLIE NEWSOME: Sophie’s parents barely knew each other when they got married in 1919, having courted while her father Martin Freud was fighting in WWI. Her mother Esti was a passionate, vivacious, but emotionally unstable person, who suffered clinical depressions and had difficulty empathizing with others points of view. The Freuds – including Sigmund – disapproved of the marriage from the start and treated Esti as a second class citizen. Esti, whose grandfather was a Jewish coal magnate in Vienna, brought some wealth to the family, which her husband Martin Freud approached with an unfortunate combination of frugality and recklessness. He put his wife on a budget, watching every penny, and then squandered the fortune in ill-advised gambles on the stock market. This forced Esti to search for work, training in speech pathology and eventually working as a speech therapist at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
CHRIS AIKEN: By the 1930’s their relationship had deteriorated, and the Nazi invasion of Austria pushed them to the brink. The couple fought over how to evade the Nazis and whether to leave the country. Sigmund and his daughter Anna Freud did not want to give into the Nazis, while Sophie’s mother Esti pushed for them to go. From Sophie’s mother’s diary, 1938:
KELLIE NEWSOME: “Anna Freud could not conceive of the fact that Hitler’s intention was first to humiliate and then to annihilate the Jewish spiritual leadership.” [p131]
CHRIS AIKEN: Two days after the invasion, 13 Nazis stormed into Freud’s office, looting his belongings, burning his books, and detaining his daughter Anna for interrogation. Sophie’s mother’s continued in her diary …
KELLIE NEWSOME: “Life in Vienna was more and more horrible. Signs appeared on coffee houses: JEWS AND DOGS NOT PERMITTED. Nazi bands roamed the streets looking for Jewish women whom they took to public lavatories, which they had to scrub with some acid so that the skin on their hands were burned. Jewish doctors were taken into custody, with the accusation that they had carried out abortions, which in Austria was strictly forbidden by law. One heard of people jumping out the window when the Gestapo came to jail them. Some took poison. In a few days Vienna’s Jewish community, which had contributed so much to its scientific and cultural life, was annihilated."
SOPHIE FREUD: When Hitler entered Vienna, I asked my teacher of religion why God would allow Hitler, and he thought about it and said, well, if your grandfather made a decision.You would not question it. You would believe in his superior wisdom. And so it's the same with God. So, that gives you a flavor of, you know, the kind of, um, awe in which my grandfather was held by the Viennese Jews at least, uh, and in his own family. And it must have been very oppressive, even though he was a kind father, uh, to have this kind of overwhelming father for his Children, and each child managed that in one way or another.
CHRIS AIKEN: The Nazi invasion provided a convenient excuse for Sophie’s father to do what he had been hoping to for a long time: end the marriage. Sophie’s father and older brother followed Sigmund Freud to London, while Sophie went to Paris with her mother. They escaped by bicycle through country roads, hoping to evade anti-sematic attention. Her mother Esti hoped to reunite after the political fires settled, but soon met with a surprise that brought that hope to an end.
KELLIE NEWSOME: Esti had somehow managed to ship boxes of her belongings from Austria to Paris, and when she went to pick up them up a book fell to the floor. On the spine was printed Four Case Studies by Sigmund Freud, but inside the case studies had been removed. In place of the clinical text, someone had placed black and white photos of smiling young women in various states of undress. We will pick up there next week in part II of this series.
KELLIE NEWSOME: Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for. A preview of the CME quiz for this episode, which you can earn through the link in the show notes.
1. Which of Sigmund Freud’s grandchildren was a psychotherapist and social worker?
A. Esti Freud
B. Sophie Freud
C. Anna Freud
D. Martin Freud
KELLIE NEWSOME: Read the full journal at thecarlatreport.com, where we have a special offer for our podcast listeners – you can get $30 off your first year’s subscription with the promo code PODCAST. The Carlat Report is one of the few CME publications that depends entirely on subscribers. Thank you for helping us stay free of commercial support.