The publication of Beyond the Pleasure Principle in 1920 established the third and final stage of Freud's theory where he renewed his emphasis on childhood trauma as a cause of neurosis. Basically, Freud blend ed his first two stages of thought into a recognition that both factors -- childhood trauma and repressed instincts -- functioned as instruments of neurosis:
Henceforth traumas, operating independently of repressed perversions, were given increasing recognition as major sources of neurotic symptoms...(Freud) subsequently extended the role of childhood traumas to include a regular series of developmental disturbances, or "threats," to libido: birth, loss of the mother as nurturing object, loss of penis, loss of the mother's love, and loss of superego's love.Sulloway points out that this period of Freud's work also reflected his renewed effort to bring together the two fields of science which he believed would finally result in a unified theory of human behavior:
Of all of Freud's works, Beyond the Pleasure Principle offers perhaps the closest conceptual ties to the unpublished Project for a Scientific Psychology, drafted a quarter of a century earlier. One is struck by the bold and frankly speculative vein of both works as well as by their common guiding principle --attempt to unite psychology with biology in resolving his most fundamental questions about human behavior. Biology, as he reaffirmed in the later work, was indeed "a land of unlimited possibilities."There are, however, important conceptual differences between Freud's Project and his Beyond the Pleasure Principle -- – differences , which might partly account for the non-biological direction ultimately taken by psychoanalysis as a theory and a therapy. Concepts in the Project were based upon "proximate-causal reductionism" whereby the mechanisms of psychophysics and neurophysiology were used to explain human behavior. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud shifted his vantage point to one of "ultimate-causal reductionism" where historical and evolutionary factors moved into the forefront. Sulloway evaluates:
In many ways Beyond the Pleasure Principle is the culmination of Freud's remarkable biogenetic romance about human psychosexuality, a romance first cultivated some twenty-five years earlier in the wake of his problematic Project for a Scientific Psychology. It is historicism, not mechanisms or psychophysics, that pervades the innovative logic of Beyond the Pleasure Principle. It is also historicism, not mechanism, that enabled Freud to extend his biogenetic romance from the very origins of life itself, through the evolutionary odyssey of primal man, and finally to the conflict-ridden problems of present-day psychological man.
Of course, phylogeny is part of the dynamic backdrop to individual experience. Nevertheless, each person truly has a life of his own, with an evolution specific to it. If the dictates of phylogeny are what we must battle, then we know we enter a losing cause -- with compromise the only solution. Psychoanalysis teaches us the inevitability of this compromise and helps us to support it. It teaches us to fear the real self as threatening, for with all of its innately perverse impulses our only recourse is to work on control and sublimation. But, paradoxically, it is actually control (repression) of the real self which has lead to perversity, and it is admission (experience) of the real self which makes sublimation irrelevant.
No doubt there are some powerfully influential forces from the occult world of phylogeny which are unknown to us. That is no reason, however, to make those found the center of attention, subordinating the known realities of individual experience to them. We can relate much more easily to our real experiences, real memories, and real feelings than to universal mysteries of which we are but a minute part. It is certainly difficult to understand how we are going to recover from those real experiences by trying to view them in the light of hypothetical universal principles
With the libido theory, Freud disavow s the reported personal experiences upon which his seduction theory was based in order to espouse the exact opposite. Not only were his patients not traumatized by the parental sexual abuse they had reported, worse: Freud now contended that they actually had longed for it as children. This longing took the form of an unconscious wish which was itself a derivative of some primary biological impulse for sexual union with the parent.
It is just conceivable that a child might wish for sexual union with a parent -- or at least appear to -- but it is not an inborn instinctive impulse, as Freud would have us believe. Certainly a child does not need sexual union. If it occurs at all, it is because the child somehow senses that sex is the only way she may have the contact and love she truly needs. Of course, the child would prefer the natural form of attention, but a desperate child will take what is offered. In spite of appearances, however, it is not the sex the child wants, but the contact. The child's need might appear sexual because that is often the only way parents (and other adults) can look at sensual need. Sexualization of childhood need comes not from the child but from the parent. After all, sexualization can only come from the one with sexuality.
It ’s clear that Freud viewed the issue of childhood sexuality from a backward position. Too often, parents want sexual contact with their children, even though beneath that desire lies parents' own neglected primal needs.
The neurotic gets many of his primal needs "satisfied" through sex because sex offers the gratification of all the senses. Therefore it has great symbolic possibilities for ameliorating the past neglect of those senses. In addition, neurotic parents invariably want from their children all the things they were denied in their own childhoods -- affection, stimulation, support, attention, etc. When these two factors combine, the parent is likely to act out his primal needs through sexual contact with his child. This may lead the child to conclude unconsciously: "If I want Daddy to love me, I have to give Daddy what he wants." This idea then gets shortened to: "I want what Daddy wants," which ultimately becomes, "I want Daddy" -- which is then completely misconstrued as a sexual desire. The natural desire for contact came from the child; the sex came from the parent.
How did this erroneous view of childhood sexuality take hold? If children are sexual, then indeed they would have to inhibit their instincts because of the harmful possibilities of incest. But children are not sexual; they are sensual. It is when sensuality is mistaken for sexuality that it is subjected to the taboos appropriate to sexuality and incest. In other words, the necessity to inhibit sexuality between family members is co-opted to help repress sensuality as well.
Infantile sexuality becomes a dangerous concept when it is applied clinically and heralded as a cause for adult neurosis and adult Pain. It is dangerous because it implies that the victim --the child -- is his own assailant. The neurotic adult is left with nothing more than his own childish incestuous desires to explain his agony and his debility. Worse, the concept is itself seductive. It is an adult concept that falsely exonerates the adults who hold it. It perverts the neurotic child's reality by ignoring the deprivation inherent in the very creation of neurosis.
If it is the child's sexual desires that ultimately sicken him, and if it is the cultural taboo on incest that is responsible for such hysterical fear, then no parent need wonder at his or her role. The culprit again becomes an amorphous, impersonal, and immutable force: the taboos of society. The implication is that this conflict is inevitable. All children will desire to have sex with their parents; the desire will always be strongly forbidden; so all children must learn to deal with their desire in the face of the taboo in the best way possible. Those who manage this task will be well; those who don't will be neurotic.
Here Freud is far removed from the grim realities of the neurotic child's life. The child does not fear some abstract taboo, he fears being violated by his parents in concrete ways. He fears being abused, neglected, manipulated, ignored, humiliated, controlled, pressured, raped. He feels fear each time his needs are rebuffed, overlooked, or devalued. He fears not being taken seriously; he fears not having any power to decide how he spends his day, what he eats, how he talks, what he feels.
Ibid., p. 409.
Sulloway, pp. 409-410.
Sulloway, p. 415.
Ibid., p. 415.