If the childhood seductions did not occur on a physical level (which they do, all too frequently), then they occurred on an emotional level. The adult with memories of childhood seduction was seduced. As a child he was repeatedly seduced into fulfilling the needs and expectations of the parent, rather than freely being himself. He was repeatedly seduced into acting, speaking, walking, thinking, behaving in whatever ways appeased and satisfied the parent. This kind of covert seduction might be even more harmful than "real" seduction because it is so insidious. Under the guise of parental authority and obedience, the child develops neurotic fears and problems "for no apparent reason." The child feels violated, but he is told that this is what it means to be a good boy. The child has no choice but to feel that all of his fears are without cause -- because the cause is unadmitted. Most parents are guilty of imposing their own wills and needs, of repeatedly manipulating their children to be what they never were and to do what they never did. If Freud's concept of unconscious wishes does indeed enter the picture, it enters it on the side of the parent, not of the child. It is the parent's own unconscious wishes that are picked up by the child and later contribute to the development of his neurosis.
The significance and ramifications of Freud's move away from the real-life trauma of the seduction theory to the hypothesized wishes of the libido theory. A fascinating but controversial insight into the possible hidden motivations for Freud's theoretical shift has been provided by Jeffrey M. Masson ’s book , The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory (1984) ., Masson argues convincingly that Freud abandoned the seduction theory out of a misguided desire to protect both himself and his friend Fleiss. . Apparently, Fleiss had bungled an operation on one of Freud's patients, Emma Eckstein. The operation had been undertaken because of Fleiss' dubious and bizarre theory that sexual problems could be cured through nasal surgery. Eckstein suffered from profuse bleeding as a result of the operation, during which she nearly died.
In an article in The Atlantic Monthly of February 1984 which excerpted his book, Masson writes:
Freud had the option to recognize (his and Fleiss's mistake), confess it to Emma Eckstein, confront Fleiss with the truth, and face the consequences. Or he could protect Fleiss by excusing what had happened. But in order to do this, to efface the external trauma of the operation, it would prove necessary to construct a theory based on hysterical fantasies, a theory whereby the external traumas suffered by the patient never happened, and were inventions. If Emma Eckstein's problems (her bleeding) had nothing to do with the real world (Fleiss's operation), then her earlier accounts of seduction could well have been fantasies.As Masson points out, once Freud had decided that Eckstein's hemorrhages were hysterical symptoms and the result of sexual fantasies, he was free to give up his original seduction theory. Masson traces Freud's struggle with the issue of real versus fantasized trauma and notes that in 1897 Freud was beginning to recognize that children have aggressive impulses towards their parents. Of course, says Masson, if seductions had actually occurred, then these impulses were natural and righteous reactions to unbearable injury. But once Freud became convinced that the seductions were only fantasies -- that the parents were innocent --then impulses took over from seduction in Freud's theories.
An act was replaced by an impulse, a deed by a fantasy. This new " reality" came to be so important for Freud that the impulses of parents against their children were forgotten, never to reclaim importance in his writings. It was not only the aggressive acts of the parent that were attributed to the fantasy life of a child; now aggressive impulses, too, belonged to the child, not the adult.Not surprisingly, Jeffrey Masson's reinstatement of the seduction theory met with resistance from the psychoanalytic community. He quotes a letter from Anna Freud, with whom he apparently had a number of disagreements over his disclosures. Anna Freud wrote:
Keeping up the seduction theory would mean to abandon the Oedipus complex, and with it the whole importance of phantasy life, conscious or unconscious phantasy. In fact, I think there would have been no psychoanalysis afterwards.As Masson points out, this is a crucial point because most therapies "are based openly or implicitly, on Freudian theory."
Masson does not think that Freud made a conscious cold-blooded decision to ignore his earlier experiences. Nevertheless, he believes that, in doing so, Freud had forsaken the important truth "that sexual, physical and emotional violence is a real and tragic part of the lives of many children."
If this etiological formulation is true, and if it is further true that such events form the core of every severe neurosis, then it will be impossible to achieve a successful cure of a neurosis if these central events are ignored.Masson further says that any analyst who turns memories into fantasies "does violence to the inner life of his patient and is in covert collusion with what made her ill in the first place." Success in the terms of such a treatment is measured in the ability of the patient to suppress her memories and knowledge of the past and to believe that the emotions which overwhelm her are displaced. This means a denial of self and a denial of reality, which spells the end of the patient's independence, since her health is tied to the analyst's view of her. Masson is led to condemn psychoanalysis because "the silence demanded of the child by the person who violated her is perpetuated and enforced by the very person to whom has come for help."
Free and honest retrieval of painful memories cannot occur in the face of skepticism and fear of the truth. If the analyst is frightened of the real history of his own science, he will never be able to face the past of any of his patients.It is conceivable that this concept could be expanded to include not the analyst’s fear of his science as much as his past. In fact, it may be the analyst’s need to deny his own pain, which keeps him from admitting the trauma-filled pasts of his patients.
In Freud's seduction theory, sexual assault is always the central event in the etiology of neurosis. Today it is acknowledged in many schools of psychotherapy that though sexual assault happens frequently and exerts a devastating influence, it is no t the sole cause of debilitating neurosis. Any serious deprivation, neglect, or abuse of basic needs during childhood is a trauma , which leads to neurosis in adulthood. Nevertheless the results of Freud’s misguided theory has resonated in psychology for years. As Masson writes in The Atlantic Monthly:
By shifting the emphasis from an actual world of sadness, misery, and cruelty to an internal stage on which actors perform invented dramas for an invisible audience of their own creation, Freud began a trend away from the real world which, it seems to me, is at the root of the present-day sterility of psychoanalysis and psychiatry throughout the world.Masson's work confirms our belief that psychoanalysis failed because it attributed neurosis to the wrong causes and in some cases, . In fact, it attributed it to causes that do n’t exist. This was a mistake , which helped set psychotherapy on its misguided course -- on a course , which led away from a dialectical approach to healing neurosis. When subsequent theorists rejected its focus and method , they buried Freud’s important notions. Instead of returning to identify where psychoanalysis veered off track, they shut the door, turn ing their backs on not only the past of their science, but the past of their patients as well.
By abandoning the seduction theory, Freud ensured the failure of his treatment by handing his critics a justification for rejecting psychoanalysis. Today modern Freudians have shifted toward the present by adopting “ego psychology,” an approach that focuses on t he present day adjustments of the patient, beginning a steady march into non-dynamic , here and now theories and methods , which discounted the unconscious and steered away from addressing the generating sources of neurosis.