A summary of Freud’s Lecture 17 The Sense of Symptoms(1915-1917)
Freud’s essential declaration, in his paper/lecture the sense of symptoms, is that symptoms in general and obsessional neurosis in particular have a sense and a symbolic representation of the individuals experiential past. Neurotic symptoms represent, repeat, and contain, the individuals past experience, like parapraxes and dreams, which represent something of the individuals past and unconscious mind.
Freud defines obsessional neurosis as a preoccupation with thoughts and impulses that feel alien and strange to the patient. Although the obsessions appear silly, alien, and indifferent, they exhaust the patient’s well-being, and antagonize him until he surrenders to their overpowering persistency. The obsessions facilitate impulses which cause him to act and perform ceremonies which provide no enjoyment; on the contrary they’re repetitive and bring anxiety.
Although the obsessions and compulsions are related, they are not equally distributed in equal proportion.
The only way the patient can rid themselves from the obsessions is by using displacement. He is able to exchange one foolish idea with another, which is somewhat milder, however the general obsessions persist.
Another key feature in obsessional neurosis is doubt. Doubt in the intellectual arena. Although the individual may have achieved a high degree of intellect, he/she is unable to find certainty and decisiveness. Uncertainty is evident in areas which were once most certain, and an ever increasing inconclusiveness and loss of freedom become apparent.
Psychiatry views these symptoms as degeneration, however psychoanalysis proves otherwise. The fact that psychoanalysis can rid one from these symptoms proves that there is no degeneration; rather there is a specific expression that these symptoms communicate.
Freud goes on to present two cases which show how obsessional symptoms are actually a manifestation of a past scene. The obsessions can also be a form of identification with a particulate figure from the forgotten scene. Freud ads, in addition to its representation of the past scene, there is a specific motivation and kernel that propels the past incident into an obsessional act, which is the desire to undo, to correct, to rectify the past event.
The ceremonial process that’s manifest in the obsessional neurosis can be differentiated from the standard ceremonies with that that they are unyielding, irrational, and carried out with apprehension.
In both cases the symptoms reveal a strong sexual conflict in the patient’s past.
The more individualized the symptoms are the easier it is to find the connection. Difficulty arises with ‘typical’ and ‘historical’ symptoms, which are common among all individuals with a specific pathology, because of their commonality.
A summary of Lecture XVIII
In both cases there appeared to be a fixation which caused them to alienate the present and future. The past experience kept the patients in a particular attachment to its event, and didn’t allow them to move forward. The symptoms carried the individuals back to a past episode and kept them hostage and stagnated to that particular occasion.
Freud compares obsessional neurosis to traumatic neurosis (ptsd). In traumatic neurosis we can clearly see how the trauma keeps the patient from moving forward, and how the trauma is repeated and replicated. It is as if the patient is still in the ‘traumatic situation’ and needs to resolve the dangers and overwhelming stimulus which the situation once entailed. Obsessional neurosis can be seen as another form of traumatic neurosis.
However from our second case study where the girl had an erotic attachment to her father there needs additional explanation. The erotic attachment to fathers is so common that trauma is unsuitable and after the erotic attachment she went on for several years with no apparent symptoms, only after a long period of time did the symptoms appear.
There is another important observation which needs to made, and that is, both patients had no idea what was forcing them to perform these acts. They had no awareness as to why these obsessions and compulsions were happening. The connections to the past were totally hidden. The whence, whither, and predetermination were totally unmindful to the patient. This observation directs us to a specific region in the mind, the unconscious. We need to make another observation and that’s the alien features and estrangement, which color these symptoms. This also indicate to their unconscious origin. They’re like aliens from the immortals intruding on a mortal’s life, which again directs us to an unconscious region in the mind that is disconnected from the rest of the conscious mind. And although the obsessions themselves are conscious their predeterminations are unconscious.
In order for the symptoms to sustain their origin they need to stay away from consciousness. The minute the unconscious origin becomes conscious the symptoms cease. This is the key to the psychoanalytic therapeutic process. Symptoms arrived because the unconscious processes weren’t allowed to become fully developed, thus symptoms replaced these processes. The therapeutic mission is to reverse that which had taken place and to allow the unconscious processes to become fully develop, thus the symptoms cease. This is the foundation of psychoanalysis cure.
One may think that having the analyst tell the patient about unconscious origin will help, no, this is erroneous. The patient needs to become aware and acknowledge his desires from the inside. Although the analyst’s information can help put the analytic process into motion it cannot remove the symptoms. The knowledge of the fact is not enough. The knowledge needs to come from within the psychical structure of his internal ego.
The resistance to acknowledge the unconscious is because it causes a blow to the human ego, similar to the recognition that the earth is not the center of the universe, and that human are decedent from the animal kingdom.