On September 23, 1939, the world lost one the greatest minds in the world of psychology. Doctor Sigmund Freud died in London from a lethal dose of morphine. His radical ideas of the human mind completely transformed psychology. They remain controversial to this day. And while many know most of his work and ideas (we live in the world of memes and popular quotes), there are some facts about Freud that might surprise you.
His death might have been a physician-assisted suicide
There are many theories about Freud’s death and what many believe was a suicide. He was suffering from intense pain by the summer of 1939 because of mouth cancer. Two days before his death, Freud called his good old friend, doctor Max Schur. He reminded the physician that he promised “not to torment me unnecessary”. Freud admitted that his life is now nothing more than torture and makes no sense. After a permission of his daughter Anna, the doctor injected three heavy morphine doses. Sigmund slipped into a coma and never came back.
He went through 30+ cancer surgeries
Freud was an avid smoker. He tried his first cigarette in his 20s, and became addicted ever since. He smoke more than 20 cigarettes per day. Doctors warned him constantly about his chain-smoking, but he didn’t listen. He firmly believed that smoking enhances his creativity and productivity. In 1923, doctors diagnosed him with a cancerous tumor inside his mouth. Doctors removed a large part of his jaw, and he underwent 33 more surgeries in the next 16 years. He even had a large prosthesis inserted in his mouth to separate the sinus and jaw. But he never quit smoking, despite everything pointing to the fact he should.
The “Interpretation of Dreams was a failure at the beginning
The most significant work done by Freud was a commercial failure at the beginning. His book “The interpretation of dreams” was sold in just 351 copies in the first six years. In the book, he introduces the theory of unconscious with respect to dream interpretation. He discusses what later became the “Theory of the Oedipus complex”. The second edition of the book was published in 1909, 10 years after the first book was published in 1899.
Collection of archeological statutes
Freud hoarded and collected archeological statues. He liked recovering lost memories of both his patients and humanity. His collection included an impressive number of artifacts from antiquity. Many of those artifacts can still be found in his former family home.
He saw only a single child patient in psychoanalysis
Freud had extensive theories on childhood development. But during his time, he saw only a single patient who was a child in psychoanalysis.
That patient was Little Hans. He was the son of Freud’s friend Max Graf. Hans was just 5 year old when he visited Freud. His father was a composer and music historian who attempted weekly psychoanalytic meetings at Freud’s house. Little Hans developed a phobia, refusing to leave his house. He was afraid that the horse might bite him.
Freud saw Little Hans, and developed a case study into a theory on which he based his entire career. According to Freud, Hans couldn’t act on his father being a rival to him for his mother’s attention, so he had to repress his anger and aggression toward his father. The repression leads to fear of being castrated by his father. Sigmund believed that Hans saw his father as a horse, so he ward off his fear of being castrated by his father by putting his fear onto horses. Being afraid of a horse was his way of managing his fear of castration. At least that is what Freud believed.
He thought cocaine was magic drug
Freud had many faults in his life. One of them was smoking, and the other was cocaine addiction. He enjoyed cocaine for 13 years, and even wrote about the health benefits of cocaine. He experimented with the drug he called “magic drug” from 1887 to 1900. Sigmund used cocaine to cope with his depression and lack of energy. He also used it as an aphrodisiac.
It is worth noting that back in the 1880s, cocaine was a legal drug used by the German military doctors. They used it to rejuvenate exhausted troops.
Another important note: after finding out about the addiction and death because of cocaine, Freud stopped advocating its medical benefits. He also asked his four papers on cocaine to be dismissed as part of his work collection.
Freud turned down $100,000 from a Hollywood mogul
In 1925, movie producer Samuel Goldwyn offered Freud $100,000 to write a movie script. Sigmund’s fame spread widely among America. Goldwyn considered Freud to be “the greatest love specialist in the world”. Freud’s task was to write or consult on a movie script about the great love stories of history. But Freud turned down the offer.
Goldwyn is the founder of Goldwyn pictures, what later became part of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He won an Academy Award for best motion picture arts and sciences in 1946 for his drama “The Best Years of Our Lives”.
Studying the sex lives of eels
Freud was obsessed with sex, and most of his theories are about sex. While at the university of Vienna, the young Sigmund studied zoology. During a trip to Trieste, he was assigned to study the sexual organs of eels. His professor tasked him to find the gonads of the male of the species. That discovery has eluded scientists for centuries. Sigmund spent hours dissecting eels to no avail, and at the end said all of the eels were of the tenderer sex.
Thieves tried to steal his ashes
Freud’s ashes were placed in an ancient Greek urn given to him by Bonaparte. When his wife Martha died in 1951, her ashes were also added to the vase. The urn was kept at the London’s Golders Green Crematorium. In January 2014, thieves attempted to swipe his ashes. And while they were not successful, they damaged the 2,300 year old urn.
Freud ignored his own ethical mandates
Freud set several standards in his publication, many of which are used by contemporary psychotherapy. Big emphasis is put on neutrality and confidentiality. But Freud did not follow those mandates. According to a 1988 study, Freud ignored anonymity standards in 100% of his cases. He ignored confidentiality in 53% of his cases, and neutrality in 86% of his cases. Safe to say, he did not practice what he preached.
The U.S. Library of Congress houses 153 boxes of his correspondence that can never be opened
One of the biggest archivists for famous people’s correspondence, the US Library of Congress has 8 boxes of Freud’s correspondence. People bequeath writings to them. Some of Freud’s correspondence are about him, his family, his patients, some about his colleagues, and some about his writings. And out of all of them, 19 cannot be opened until 2020, 2050, and 2057. Another 8 are sealed forever.
Freud psychoanalyzed his daughter
Against all ethical guidelines and better judgment, Sigmund often did therapy on his family members. But he did most of his work on his daughter Anna. It is a truly bizarre twist to his theories how adults get stuck in their lives. He had regular psychoanalysis sessions with her, scheduled every day at 10pm. He started seeing his daughter when she was 23, and continued until his death.
She was unmarried and lived with Freud and her mother. What is even more interesting, Freud discouraged suitors away from Anna. When she 18, Sigmund told the man courting her “she was still away from sexual longings”. What an irony. The man who was pioneer in arguing children were sexual beings protested his 18-year old daughter that she has no sexual feelings.
He was judged unfit for a Nobel Prize
Sigmund Freud was nominated for the Nobel Prize for 12 years. However, the nominations ceased forever when the committee engaged an expert who said his work was of “no proven scientific work”. He never won the Nobel Prize.
He had OCD
Today, we label those who follow rigid schedules as obsessive-compulsive. Freud might have had an OCD as well. He followed a rigid and demanding schedule for 50 years. He got up at 7pm, received patients from 8 to 12, and then had a regular lunch with his family. He followed that by a walk to the local tobacco store, and saw patients again. He retired by 9 or 10 to write (or have psychoanalysis sessions with his daughter later). His dairy is full with details of his daily activities.