Freud's Theory of Child Sexual Abuse and Female Sexual Fantasies
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Freud's Theory of Child Sexual Abuse and Female Sexual Fantasies

Freud held two theories on child sexual abuse. At first he said that his patients were suffering from mental disorders due to being raped by their father in childhood. However, that theory was very controversial in his day. Freud later changed his theory to fantasies. He said that the women were not actually raped but fantasized about being rape. This led the cornerstone of his theory, the Oedipus complex.

As Freud’s views are not popular all that much today, they were not popular in some areas back then.  He was considered the guru of psychology in his day; well he had to be, he was the one that founded clinical psychology; though there were research psychologists before him.  One of the areas that Freud met with controversy was the area of child sexual abuse.

Freud postulated that his female patients were having mental problems as adults because they were raped by their father as children.  He was persistent with this theory until 1897.  He then recanted. He sent a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fleiss that he now believed these stories his patients were telling him were mere fantasies.  How much of this was his true feeling and how much was caving in to the pressure from his colleagues we will never know.

This change did have a significant effect on the development of psychoanalysis.  He took the search for the roots of the problems away from the environment and placed them onto the patients and their fantasies. The Oedipal complex then became the cornerstone of the Freudian era.

It also got the world thinking that all women fantasize about being raped.  This legacy trickled down to modern day until feminist psychologists among others started to challenge the Electra complex, penis envy, and women rape fantasies. To some, all these theories could very well be male fantasies about what women really think.

Anna Freud admitted to her friend Jeffrey Masson that without the Oedipus complex there would be no psychoanalysis.

There is research suggesting the Freud was aware of actual sexual abuse with physical evidence to support it.  However he buckled under the pressure.  The fantasy theory was more acceptable to the sensibility and the climate of the times.  Could it be that the good doctor sacrificed his patients’ care for his standing in Viennese society? 

It would make sense that it would be much easier to blame damaged individuals than to point figures at fathers; some of whom may have had a high standing in Vienna at the time?

Feminists have long maintained that Freud’s view on women was demeaning.  The male was held in high esteem but the female was reduced to a childlike stage, with little intellect and acting much like the infants in Freud’s developmental theory.

Unfortunately, though there have been much research into the reasons why Freud changed his theory on child abuse, no one to date has been able to provide solid proof.

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Comments (2)
Ranked #3 in Psychology

I always learn from your well presented articles. Thank you.

Ranked #2 in Psychology

thanks Roberta, did you not get some psychology courses when you were training as a nurse?