Australasian Journal Of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy
NO.1&2 - 2022
Australasian Journal OfPsychoanalytic Psychotherapy
NO.1&2 - 2022
Time and the Psychoanalysts
Evidence is offered of age-tagged life events being unwittingly transmitted through the generations. This is seen as a manifestation of our innate, human compulsion to repeat, rather than to take time to feel, to think about what we feel, and to manage our feelings. It was Freud who wrote about this propensity, in his patients, in 1912 and again in 1919. This paper offers evidence of Freud, and of other psychoanalysts, being themselves involved in this unconscious inter-activity in their families.
‘The time has come, the Walrus said
To talk of many things:
Of shoes-and ships-and sealing wax-
Through the Looking Glass
(Lewis Carroll 1871)
I first became interested in time, i.e. in the when of things in my life, while I was recovering from a severe, but thankfully brief illness. The question which beset me, and which kept coming back as I was convalescing, was:
‘Why now? Why did I get ill now?’ I had always been healthy, active, and interested in everything.
Quite suddenly I realized that I had been struck, both by the illness and by the ensuing curiosity, at the very same age (and in the very same month), that my mother was when she gave birth to my younger brother. Medically, my illness was said to have been caused by a virus, caught from the external environment, and I do not question the virus’ contribution. However, I also regard myself as having reached a vulnerable time in my life, when I had, to use the language of today, an eruption of ‘toxic waste’ from my own internal environment where it had lain untreated for most of my life. At the time, I thought: this is a very serious business, being vulnerable to reverberations from my unknown interior; I would be wise to try and find out what goes on inside me. Having already trained and qualified in medicine, I knew about physiology, anatomy, biochemistry, genetics and so on, but no one had told me about timed events in families. So I set out on my personal voyage of exploration, which, I discovered to my delight, is never-ending.
I found nothing in the scientific literature about shared anniversaries, i.e. anniversaries shared by two or more people across the generations. I embarked on training as a psychiatrist, thinking I might find clues in that area of work. The most helpful find for me was the psycho-analytic literature and this took me further to a psycho-analytic training in child psychotherapy in London: most importantly it led to my own years of personal analysis there. So I found Freud, and realised that my illness could also be called ‘the return of the repressed’. Freud knew, too, about repetition! I was delighted to read, in the ‘Elisabeth von R.’ case history, of her ‘annual feasts of remembrance’. Thank goodness, I thought, I do not have a serious illness annually. Then I realised that I usually did have a cold in February every year! Still I found no mention of transgenerational repetition, and, thinking my illness to have been a manifestation of my personal madness, I told no one of it.
One day a colleague who had been ill asked me: ‘Why did this happen now?’ – and we worked out that it had ‘happened’ at his father’s age when his young sister was born. I was astounded- and relieved. It was not only me, then, for whom the birth of the next baby had been like an earthquake. One night I woke at 2 am with the question: ‘What if wonderful things happen, as well as illnesses, at this age?’ After all, I had had the birth of my curiosity and my illness at the same time. I sprang out of bed, turned on the light, took out the Ernest Jones’ biography of Freud, and there it was: a major change at his same-sex parent’s age, when the next child, Julius was born. 41½ years was father Jakob’s age when Julius, the next child after Sigmund, was born. Sigmund’s ‘baby,’ psychoanalysis, was born in the summer of 1897, when he was 41½ years old. What a coincidence!
Max Schur (Schur 1972, p. 159) wrote of ‘Freud’s preoccupation with dates at which he might die.’ ‘It was first focussed on 41 and 42.’ Baby Julius died when Jakob was 42.
Sigmund’s father, Jakob had been 401/z when Sigmund was born, on May 6th, 1856. On that anniversary, on October 23rd 1896, Sigmund reached 40½ years, and his father died, aged 81. On January 24th 1897, Freud wrote to Fliess: ‘I think I have now passed the critical age. My condition is so much more stable.’ (Masson 1985, p. 228)
On May 31st, 1897, at the age of 41, Freud dreamed his own ‘incest dream’ (Jones 1953, Vol. 1, p. 354) and four months after this he announced ‘the truth of the matter: irrespective of incest wishes of parents towards their children,’ is ‘the general occurrence of incest wishes of children towards their parents.’ This dream could suggest his awareness of his own wishes as an infant, to be the father of mother’s new baby. (Sigmund and Martha’s last baby, Anna, was born in December 1895. No more fathering for Sigmund.) The very first hint of the Oedipus conflict, announcing the ‘hostility of the children … towards the parent of their own sex’ was made by Freud in 1897. In letters of October 1897, Freud related how he enquired of his mother about his early childhood, and that in his self-analysis ‘he had discovered in himself his passion for his mother and his jealousy of his father.’ (Jones 1953, Vol. 1, p. 358)
I find it most interesting that this discovery was made when he was at his father’s age when the next baby was born. Why did he discover it then? – and not when he was in his thirties? – or in his fifties?
Again, Freud quarrelled with Fliess, his close friend and confidant, in 1900, when Freud was aged 44.
Why then? There was a separation between father Jakob when he was aged 44, and Sigmund when he was 3. Jakob left his wife and Sigmund and the new baby Anna, and travelled ahead to Leipzig, and later, to Vienna, to set up a new business and a new home for the family.
After the family were re-united, and settled in Leopoldstadt in Vienna, Jakob and Amalie had five more children. The youngest, Alexander, was born in 1866, when Jakob was 51. Fifty-one was another of the ages at which Freud thought he might die (Schur 1972, p. 159).
I think Sigmund Freud had an inkling about there being something more than pure chance, in the timing of the onset of what he called ‘neurotic symptoms’ in his patients.
When writing to his friend and. colleague Wilhelm Fliess, in January 1896, about repression, Freud first formulated his idea that the return of the repressed constitutes the illness proper (Freud 1896, p. 222, note 2). He also wrote: ‘Good grounds for suspecting that the arousing of the repressed is not left to chance but follows the laws of development’ (Freud 1896, p. 252).
In his ‘Leonardo’ paper, of 1910, Freud wrote (Freud 1910, p. 63): ‘There is no one so great as to be disgraced by being subject to the laws that govern normal and pathological activity with equal severity.’ Repetition is a ‘law’ of the unconscious mind; its strength surpasses the pleasure principle (Freud 1919, pp. 7-60).
I think that Freud himself stopped at the brink of recognising, consciously, his age-linking with his father. I write of these phenomena not to disparage the work and the discoveries of great men, but rather to reveal how little we still know of our unconscious mental inter-activities, and of their modus operandi. Some people believe that they can leave, and have left, their pasts behind them forever. Impossible, I say-we are humans, not snakes.
I wonder if Jakob Freud, when his son was 37, was thinking of himself at 37. It was at that age that he lost his first wife, Saly. Certainly it was at 37 that Sigmund wrote of ‘living in abstinence’ regarding his wife Martha, and of his ‘death deliria’, and his heart pains. How like this, bis bereaved thirtyseven year old father must have felt, heart-broken, without his wife. It is worth noting that Freud’s daughter Mathilde was very ill at exactly this time.
Freud wrote, in ‘Remembering, Repeating and Working Through’,
… the patient does not remember anything of what he has forgotten and repressed, but acts it out. He reproduces it not as a memory but as an action; he repeats it without of course knowing that he is repeating it (Freud 1914, p. 150).
My suggestion is that we are repeating our parents’ repressed experiences.
Ernest Jones wrote, of Freud ‘ … during the years 1881-98 he passed through a severe struggle before he decided to relinquish the idea of correlating somatic and psychic activity’ (Jones 1953, Vol. 1, p. 284).
My observations, I believe, indicate that time is the link between the psyche and the soma. Anniversaries may be expressed by physical or by emotional eruptions, and these are the precisely timed links with our parents’ events.
Many of us who saw the play Mrs. Klein, by Nicholas Wright, were intrigued by the dramatic events of one day in the life of Melanie Klein. We saw a middle-aged woman, trying to set her affairs in order, before leaving to catch the boat-train, to attend the funeral of her son, Hans. This was in April 1934, and Melanie Klein was aged 52.
In December 1902, when Melanie was a young woman of 20, her mother, Libussa Reizes, had lost her son, Emanuel. Libussa was then aged 52 (Grosskurth 1985, pp. 214-215).
When Libussa was aged 32, in 1882, Melanie, her fourth and last child, was born. When Melanie was 32 Libussa died, Melanie had her last child, Erich, and began analysis with Ferenzi. (Sigmund Freud’s father, you will recall, was aged 40½ years old when Sigmund was born. When Sigmund reached 40½ years old, his father died.)
When Libussa was aged 37, in 1887, her daughter Sidonie died. Melanie separated from her husband, Arthur Klein, in 1919 when she was 37.
In 1955, when she was aged 73, Mrs. Klein published her paper ‘On Identification.’ In this paper she exemplified some of her earlier findings, by an analysis of a story by the French novelist Julian Green, ‘If I Were You’ (Klein 1980, p. 141). The novel’s hero, Fabian, aided by the Devil, is able to exchange his identity with some one else, but only (it is implied) if the other person agrees to the exchange. Mrs. Klein’s discoveries, based on her work with children and adults, are of our inner worlds, and of our phantasies which link our inner and our outer worlds- like story-books with pictures. Klein realised that we all live in two worlds, one conscious and one unconscious. She introduced the idea of ‘projective identification’, to describe the states we are in when we are living as someone else. Children do this all the time, in their play, and they need caring adults to ‘bring them back to earth’ – or they get lost, and never feel sure who they are. Some adults have never been found. In 1959, when she was 77, Mrs. Klein wrote of ‘Our Adult World and Its Roots in Infancy’ (Klein 1980).
Carl Gustav JUNG
Carl Jung’s father, Johann Paul Achilles Jung, was born in 1842. He became a parson, and he married Emilie Prieswerk. Their first two babies, both boys, did not survive infancy. Carl Gustav was born on July 26th, 1875 when his father was 33.
When Carl Gustav was aged 33 in 1908, he married Emma Rauschenbach, and his third child, a son was born. (None of his and Emma’s children perished in infancy.)
When Johann was 42, in 1884, another child, Jung’s sister, was born. Jung was 9 at this time, sleeping in hi~ father’s room since aged 6, and having ‘anxiety dreams’ and ‘fear of suffocation’ (Jung 1983, pp. 33ft). He was also fond of playing with fire. One can wonder about the phantasies about his father, his mother and the new baby’s arrival, that 9 year-old Carl Gustav had. At any rate, when he reached 42, in 1917, he and his whole family ‘hallucinated’ the presence of ghosts in the house!!! Another creature, a girl, had swelled the menage a trois in 1884. Another girl, Jung’s intimate associate Toni Wolff, became part of his life in 1917.
Why then? One can ask, re: the hallucinations, and re: Toni Wolff’s arrival in his life?
Jung was intrigued by synchronicity, and he wrote:
Synchronicity is no more baffling or mysterious than the discontinuities of physics. It is only the ingrained belief in the sovereign power of causality that creates intellectual difficulties ties […] ‘inexplicability’ is not due to the fact that the cause is unknown but to the fact that a cause is not even thinkable in intellectual terms. (Jung 1951, pp. 518ff)
Jones was born on January 1st 1879, and he died on February 11th 1958. When he was born, his father, Thomas, was aged 25. The next baby, a girl was born in November 1880, when father Thomas was aged 27.
Ernest Jones was 37 in 1906, when he had what he described as ‘the most disagreeable. experience of my life’. He spent a night in gaol, accused of interfering with a child patient (Jones 1959, pp. 145-152).
Why then? The arrival of a new baby certainly would have interfered with the life of baby Ernest.
The third and last child of Thomas and May Jones, another girl, was born in September 1882, when Thomas was aged 29. Ernest Jones was 29 in 1908, when
(i) a second, and similar, scandal broke over him!
(ii) he had a sudden onset of rheumatoid arthritis, which was to give him lifelong pain,
(iii) he met Freud at the First Psychoanalytic Congress in Salzburg, and
(iv) he left London to live in Canada, for a time, and he saw his mother for the last time, before he sailed.
Jones wrote, in his autobiography Free Associations:
Scientific knowledge concerning heredity is of the utmost importance for the founding of any stable social organisation. It IS a necessary presupposition for an adequate discussion of any social problem whatever: and yet it is extremely hard to come by … (Jones 1959, p. 142)
There are few things I would rather discover more about than the nature of the inherited elements of the mind and I cherish hopes that further work in the psychoanalytic investigation of the unconscious mind may bring us nearer the desired goal, it assuredly gets closer to the root impulses of the mind than any other work does. (Jones 1959, p. 143)
A psychoanalyst, Elliott Jaques, wrote a paper ‘Death and the Mid-Life Crisis’ which was published in 1965.
He had taken a random sample of 310 painters, composers, poets, writers, and sculptors, of undoubted greatness or of genius. The death rate showed a sudden jump between thirtyfive and thirtynine. Amongst other geniuses, Jaques referred to Goethe, who, between the ages of 37 and 39, underwent a profound change in outlook, associated with his trip to Italy.
Goethe’s father ‘took a trip’ when he was 38 or 39: He married and became a father in 1749, aged 39! Our Goethe was the firstborn; five more children followed of whom only one survived infancy. Goethe’s father was 23 years older than Goethe’s mother: Goethe was 23 years older than the woman he took as his wife. Only one of Goethe’s children survived infancy. Coincidences??? Because of destruction of churches, and halls of registries, over the centuries, not all the data is available of the families of Jaques’ geniuses, which would allow us to compare age-linked life events across the generations, between sons and their fathers, and between daughters and their mothers. Where the data is available, links are there to be seen by anyone who chooses to explore.
These age-links are not answers to anything. They are observable phenomena, and evidence of unconscious inter-activity, which raise ever more questions. Like Freud, and Jung and so many other people before us have done, we begin our personal researches at predictable times in our lives. Our events are different from our parents’ events: our ages are the same. For most of us, family data is available. The amazing thing, to me, is that so few of us study our family trees. Even more amazing is that makers of family trees do not add the ages, by the side of the dates. Therein lie wondrous links. The evidence which I have been gathering for more than 25 years suggests that we humans unwittingly make changes in our own lives, at precisely the same ages that our parents experienced births, deaths, and other major changes in their families. In particular: when we reach our same-sex parent’s age, the age our parent was when the child after us was born, we make major life changes. When we ourselves are the youngest children, our parent’s age at the time of that event reverberates in our own adult lives. Observations of age-linked events, as repetitions across generations, are available everywhere. The modus operandi of these happenings is conjectural. Of the impact on the individual, of the birth of the next baby in the family, Freud wrote in 1937:
Up to your nth year you regarded yourself as the sole and unlimited possessor of you mother; then came another baby and brought you grave disillusionment … Your feelings towards your mother became ambivalent … (Freud 1937, p. 261)
Sylvia Plath put it rather differently. With reference to the birth of her baby brother Warren, she wrote: ó. baby. I hated babies. I who for 2½ years had been the centre of a tender universe felt the axis wrench and a polar chill immobilise my bones.’ (Wagner-Martin 1988, p. 22).
With reference to Freud’s ‘your feelings towards your mother became ambivalent. .. ‘, I venture to ask: What if our feelings towards our parents never did become ambivalent? What if we went back to live inside them, as it were, and we identified ourselves with them? What if we became them, rather than developing ambivalent feelings towards them? What if we went on living, but living as them? When we do this I believe, we live in their life times, and we have ‘our’ life events at the same ages as they had theirs.
It seems to me that, to some extent, and from time to time, we all do this, quite unbeknown to ourselves. This could be the psychic modus operandi of our anniversary phenomena.
When he was aged 82, Freud wrote:
‘Having’ and ‘being’ in children. Children like expressing an object relation by identification. ‘I am the object.’ (Freud 1937, p. 299).
In summary my suggestion is, and evidence is offered, that life events, (bombs, earthquakes and the like being excluded) are
(i) repetitions of family events across the generations;
(ii) precisely predictable in time;
(iii) events shared by same-sex parents and children;
(iv) manifested by mental, emotional and/or by somatic disturbances at the particular time;
(v) of psychic origin.
The evidence is everywhere available, but persistently ignored.
The modus operandi of the phenomenon is mutual projective identification, resulting in confusion of identity.
After many years of listening, questioning, reading, and recording data, I now believe that these transgenerational age-linked events are everywhere, reproducing past family events, with their preponderances either of love and creativity, or of hate and killing. These reproductions are expressed, sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally- but they are always ‘on time’. If, and when, we are able to accept these ‘happenings’, we are left with more work, and more responsibility still for the management of our own lives. So … where does this lead? For me, checking where I am in my family’s time, has become a sort of mental hygiene exercise. With my awareness of age-linked anniversaries with my mother, I now have opportunities to think about them consciously … how I am feeling now, at this age, how she may have felt then, at this age, and what else was going on at the time, in the world as well as in the family. Working through, made possible for me by my own analysis, has become a welcome and helpful occupation. Only after this working through, do I feel free, able to get on with my own lifetime, and to make new connections.
I have become aware that many people who seek analysis, or therapy, do so at a shared-anniversary age. At these times they say they feel vulnerable and uncertain- as I imagine their families, and they themselves, would have felt when the new babies were born. In my experience coming for help at this time augurs well for the therapy; these people seem ready for a new start. After all, it was at this point in their lifetimes, that the pioneers of psychoanalysis began anew, too.
For some years now, when people tell me of ‘happenings’ in their lives, I have been asking ‘What was happening to your father/mother at this age?’ The frequency of age correlations is well over 80% (Earnshaw 1983, pp. 23–24). I think of these happenings as headline news – ‘News of the Inner World’.
We spend so much time, bombarded by news of the outside world, and so little time seeking information from our inner worlds. Robert Oppenheimer was Director of the Los Alamos project, which produced the atomic bombs. These killed millions of Japanese people. In August 1945 Robert Oppenheimer was aged 41. Forty-one was Robert’s father’s age when Robert’s young brother Frank was born, in August 1912. The bombs were named ‘Fat Man’ and ‘Little Boy’, and the operation was called ‘Baby is Bor9’. At times like these, news from the inner world or one man, makes headlines in the outside world.
Amongst the time-bombs which we all carry in our unconscious minds, were those of the pioneers of psychoanalysis, which exploded into their conscious minds, right on time.
As I have tried to show in this paper, the pioneers of psycho-analysis made their beginnings at their own families’ anniversary ages. However, they did not notice that they were connected with their parents by these age-linked life events, and more importantly, that these connections have life-long repercussions. Because these repercussions affect others, as well as ourselves, it is obviously wise for all of us to be forewarned of them, and hopefully thus to manage them, rather than be managed by them.
Freud quoted Nietzsche as saying that one’s own self is well hidden from oneself; of all the mines of treasure one’s own is the last to be dug up.
Galileo, 1623: ‘Book of Nature … is written in mathematical characters’ (Encyclopaedia Brittanica).
Earnshaw, B.A. (1983), Family Time, A. and K. Enterprises, Sydney. Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1988), 15th edn, USA.
Freud, S. (1896), SE I, Hogarth Press, London.
(1910), SE XI.
(1914), SE XII.
(1919), SE XVIII.
(1938), SE XXIII.
Friedenthal, R. (1965), Goethe: His Life and Times, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London.
Grosskurth, P. (1985), Melanie Klein, Hodder and Stoughton, London. Note: p. 44. In a letter to Melanie, written on February 10, 1906, her mother wrote ‘ … I will be fifty-six this month … ‘ ‘This would make 1850 her date of birth, which is at odds with the date of birth given on her death certificate.’ In a personal communication,
Grosskurth wrote that birth records could not be found.
Hannah, B. (1977), Jung: His Life and Work, Michael Joseph, London.
Jaques, E. (1965), ‘Death and the Mid-Life Crisis’, Int. J. Psycho-Anal. 46, 502-514.
Jones, E. (1953), Sigmund Freud: Life and Work, The Hogarth Press, London.
Jones, E. (1959), Free Associations, The Hogarth Press, London.
Jung, C.G. (1951), ‘On Synchronicity’ in ‘The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche’ in Collected Works, Vol. 8, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.
(1983), Memories, Dreams and Reflections, Fontana Paperbacks, London.
Klein, M. (1955), ‘On Identification’ in The Writings of Melanie Klein, Vol. 3, 1980, 141-175, The Hogarth Press, London.
(1959), ‘Our Adult World and its Roots in Infancy’, ibid. 243-263.
Masson, J.M. (ed.), (1985), The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge & London.
Schur, M. (1972), Freud: Living and Dying, Hogarth Press, London.
Wagner-Martin, L. (1988), Sylvia Plath, Chatto and Windus, London.
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