FREUD AND MY FATHER, PART 2 – ELLIN CURLEY

All quotes are from my father’s book, “My Analysis With Freud, Reminiscences”  – A. Kardiner, M.D.

In 1921 my father went to Vienna to be trained by Sigmund Freud in the new scientific field of psychoanalysis. My previous blog talked about some of my father’s experiences with Freud as a teacher and as a world-renowned scientist. But Freud liked my father and in their six months together my Dad was lucky enough to get to know Freud fairly well. So I can share with you some of my Dad’s favorite stories about Freud that will shed some light on his personality behind the spotlight.

Freud with signature-editedMy father was very fond of Freud. He described him as “likeable” and “dear”, “charming” and “full of wit and erudition.” My Dad said that Freud was so natural and unassuming in their encounters that you would never have known that you were dealing with a world-famous scientific giant. My father often said to Freud that he couldn’t reconcile the image he got of Freud in their private sessions, with that of the man who wrote all those great books. Freud laughed and said that “This is where familiarity breeds contempt.”

Freud was a devoted family man and talked about his family often. My father once commented to Freud that at times he seemed depressed. Freud admitted that he was having a hard time dealing with the death of his daughter, Mathilda, earlier in the year. He confessed that he could not get over it, which is testament to the fact that he was a decent and caring man.

Freud also had concerns about his surviving daughter, Anna, who was following his footsteps into the new profession of psychiatry. Anna’s inability to choose a husband was the subject of heated debate among Freud’s students. Freud once asked my father if he had a theory about Anna’s indecisiveness. I find it funny that the father of “Daddy Issues” would ask that question. My father’s answer was totally on point. He said, “Well, look at her father. This is an ideal that very few men could live up to and it would surely be a comedown for her to attach herself to a lesser man.” Student teaching the teacher.

Kardiner Family Pics group-edit- 1My favorite personal story about Freud involves his views on marriage. My father was a bachelor and was concerned that he would never marry. He had suffered many childhood traumas, including the death of his mother when he was three. Because of this Freud suggested that my Dad had “issues” with women. But Freud didn’t feel that this doomed my father to permanent bachelorhood. He told my father that in fact he hoped that my father would someday be “lucky enough” to make a good marriage. (Spoiler alert: He did, but not until the age of 59!) My father was puzzled about this comment and asked Freud if he thought luck was involved since as a professional, he knew so much about people. Freud said that luck was always involved with good marriages. He felt you could only know so much about a person without living with them and that you could only really get to know someone after living with them for many years! And in his day, living together before marriage was just not done.

Freud could be humble about his own ideas. He was discussing a minor theory with my father one day and said, “Oh, don’t take that too seriously! That’s something I dreamed up on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” On the other hand, the people around Freud got into serious trouble if they didn’t take all of Freud’s ideas seriously and show total loyalty. My father found this aspect of Freud’s personality confusing and difficult to manage.

Freud could also have a sense of humor about psychoanalysis. My father was talking to him about two Viennese analysts who had committed suicide and Freud’s comment was “ Well, the day will soon come when psychoanalysis will be considered a legitimate cause of death!”

As expected, Freud worried about the future of psychoanalysis. In particular, he was afraid that it would be labeled as “the Jewish science” since most of the people drawn to it in it’s early days were Jewish. The real problem that would plague the movement through the years was the fact that Freud insisted on maintaining tight, hands on control over everything. Everything had to go through him – who did what, who had what jobs, who had which patients, even in America. Most important, he controlled the purse strings. This caused lots of rivalry, infighting and politicking among his followers. In the end, this did more damage to the burgeoning profession than the “Jewish” label Freud so feared.

Kardiner Family Pics-1

One of the most interesting and revealing exchanges my father had with Freud dealt with Freud’s analysis of himself as an analyst. Freud admitted that he had no real interest in individual therapeutic problems. He also felt that he had several handicaps that prevented him from being a great analyst. One was that his real interest was with theoretical problems. That is where he devoted most of his energy. Another was that Freud admitted to tiring of people quickly and said he had no interest in keeping them on as patients for an extended time. He also felt that it was important to “spread his influence”, so he treated/taught many people but only for short periods of time. Fortunately that did not catch on as the standard of treatment in the general public.

Overall, my father enjoyed his time studying with and getting to know Freud. He greatly liked and admired the man and was in awe of his professional accomplishments and innovations. However my father was never a fundamentalist type Freudian, as many were. He believed that Freud meant the field he created to grow and expand with the times. He believed that Freud would have wanted new scientific data and theories to influence the practice of psychoanalysis and would have welcomed new ideas and new techniques into the field.

My father dedicated the rest of his life to expanding the horizons of psychoanalysis and incorporating psychiatry into the already existing fields of anthropology and sociology. My father believed that the only way to thoroughly understand any society and it’s people, was through an interdisciplinary approach. He wrote several books outlining his interdisciplinary methodology. He continued to write articles and lectures on this, and other topics in psychoanalysis, until a few years before his death at almost 90, in 1981.

10 thoughts on “FREUD AND MY FATHER, PART 2 – ELLIN CURLEY”

      1. ELLIN, I love these pieces that give us looks at Freud, the man beyond the myth. It’s absolutely exciting to see/hear Freud, the man and the mentor. Great stuff. And, your Dad’s link to freud is equally fascinating.

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    1. Thanks you! My father was a wonderful raconteur as well, so the stories were mesmerizing when he told them. He would regale people at parties with all his stories anad he would have a totally rapt audience! He was a charmer!

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