Dismissing Freud 2.0


It happens every few years: historians, psychologists, journalists and investigators find “new” material to dismiss and discredit the work of Sigmund Freud. Since his passing in 1939, the man, who is often mythologized, has undergone numerous character assassinations. Many have said his work is both unscientific and offensive, while others have labeled him a racist and a sexist. Most recently, his work and its lack of empirical research, has been cause (somewhat fairly) for concern about the effectiveness of psychoanalysis. In his new book, the British author and critic Frederick Crews continues his take down of the late Freud. The book, “The Making of an Illusion,”  focuses on Freud’s shortcomings as a man and a professional, and rails against a form of treatment that created a “cult of personality” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Freud’s most notable dissenters have spent years rejecting his theories on penis envy, the Oedipus Complex and the core concept of the sexual drive inherent in all humans. His experimentation with cocaine has poured into mainstream culture. But the main problem with dismissing Freud outright is the lack of understanding of the value of psychoanalysis. At its core, psychoanalysis is a talking cure (coined by Josef Breur in 1895). Patients are able to therapeutically process emotion, content, disturbances and conflicts. The contemporary relational psychoanalyst Susie Orbach said “Psychoanalysis is the study of human subjectivity. It is a clinical practice. It theorises the vicissitudes of human attachment, of the psychological development of mind and body that occur within a relational, cultural field.” She is correct. Furthermore, psychoanalysis proper is rarely practiced today because of the “need” for brief, concrete and managed mental health treatment.

Swept up in the Freudian revisionism is a more common problem, which is the dismissal of the magnitude his ideas have had on the field of psychology for 100 years. Freud’s groundbreaking understanding of transference and countertransference, along with his working model of the mind, are still understood and used today. Psychiatric assessments refer to “attitude toward writer,” which can be linked to a patient’s transferential projection onto the therapist. Because of Freud, we now understand the omnipotence of defense mechanisms and the unconscious motives of our drives.

Freud normalized sexuality for men and women. The ability to relate sexuality to early childhood experiences is a sensitive issue, but one that needs exploration in the therapeutic setting. Today, we have a greater appreciation for attachment theory, psychosocial development and the ego because of Sigmund Freud. The problem with the argument that Freud’s work was not empirical rests on the idea that therapy is strictly a science. Cognitive behavioral approaches, along with other standardized modalities are ubiquitous, but their long-term efficacy remains unknown. Behavioral interventions negate defense mechanisms, unconscious conflicts, inhibition, drive and attachment.

The mind is still a largely unknown construct. Psychoanalysis has allowed therapists, physicians and lay people to inch closer to understanding its processes. Replacing this with psychopharmacology and shallow methodologies of treatment that rely on labels and symptoms fails to grasp the rewards of the subjective therapeutic experience.



Where are we when it comes to dating?

How do you describe the current state of dating? I find myself struggling with this question more and more. I’m left with more questions than answers, which is puzzling. For this blog post, I want to to turn to you, the readers, and ask: In the age of online and mobile dating, can men and women form intimate relationships?

Before posting your comment, please consider the pros and cons of online dating; for some, online dating can be empowering. For others, it is a dreaded tool that has ushered in the decline of romance and chivalry.

Are men and women equally to blame for the frustration that seems to be swirling around millennials? How about our own expectations for what a relationship should consist of? Are the dating norms different than they were 10-15 years ago? Does work play a role? How about the fear of rejection and the ability or inability to take risk?

I hope to hear from as many people as possible.

I’d also like to strongly reccomend reading a recent Vanity Fair article about Tinder.


Sex, work and marriage

couple fighting

What are the social, familial, sexual and role expectations of a 21st century marriage or relationship? If we were to look at culture and the media, the breakdown of a family would not be all that different from a “traditional” marriage of yesteryear- kids, pets, a house, cars, etc. Progress has been made on the social front and there are more open same-sex couples, more adoptions and more families that do not involve marriage. But what about the interpersonal relationships and the dynamics of recently coupled or married individuals? How does an egalitarian marriage dictate sex, power and money?

Female-headed households are on the rise. Many young families now count the mother as the breadwinner. In fact, there is a growing stay-at-home dad movement that can be found across the country. Men are taking on what were once traditionally female roles such as cleaning and cooking, while the wife is out in the workforce  earning a living. This is the result of more educated women and a sagging job market for skilled individuals (most “skilled” work such as machinery, operations and engineering are predominately male professions). With this new shift in the workforce comes changes in the dynamics of an egalitarian relationship.

Writing in this morning’s New York Times, Stephanie Coontz states, “One frequently cited study suggested that couples who shared housework equality had sex less frequently than couples who followed a more conventional division of labor.” She went on to write that “a forthcoming study of more recent marriages finds that egalitarian couples report no difference in sexual frequency or satisfaction compared to couples who cling to traditional roles.” Is this true?

I say no, and here is why. While we celebrate egalitarian marriage and a sharing of responsibilities between men and women in the household, women become less attracted to men who perform such tasks. Lori Gottlieb’s February 6th New York Times  article underscores this point. Gottlieb, using anecdotal evidence, states that women are less attracted to men who take on household responsibilities.

As I wrote earlier this year in a review of Gottlieb’s article, ” My belief is that for both the men and the women, this is emasculating. Women are attracted to the bad boy image of men. There is nothing sexy or rugged about a man vacuuming or dusting. There seems to be a conflict at hand between society’s demands for equal responsibilities in the house and a high level of sexual intimacy. The unintended consequence of men performing household chores is that subconsciously, they become less desirable to women. Men become domesticated and in turn emasculated.”

Take into account the role our culture plays in this dynamic. In 2014, men are still portrayed as individuals who are supposed to be the breadwinners. This is evident in movies, TV, politics and sports. Our culture also rewards hustle, motivation and determinism, not stagnation. These factors cannot be overlooked when evaluating a relationship or marriage.

Moving forward, this new family dynamic can cause frictions within a marriage or a relationship. Women still expect men to go out into the workforce and earn a living. I have yet to come across a woman who is attracted to the stay-at-home man. Couples should be forthright with their expectations and balance household chores and sex.

Today’s sadomasochism


When the term sadomasochism is heard, one usually thinks of sex, chains, whips, and leather. But sadomasochism, which involves those who enjoy receiving pain (masochist) and those who enjoy being the punisher (sadist) is more complex and more common than you might think. Today, sadomasochism can be seen in almost every aspect of our lives. Think marathon runners who routinely take a beating to the body or MMA fighters who suffer concussions, bruisings and broken bodies. What about those who tattoo their entire bodies? These can all be seen as masochistic behaviors. Not all acts of giving or receiving pain should be viewed the same. Running marathons can be a cathartic experience.

Where sadomasochism becomes complex is when it is found in interpersonal relationships. We always hear about the self-sabbotaging and self-defeating individual who finds him or herself in relationships that are doomed for failure from the onset. Yet, the question is, why does this person continue down the same doomed course? I think there are certain explanations for this. One example, which can be viewed through the psychoanalytic lens, is that people create and enter into relationships that are filled with cruelty, manipulation and punishment because of a family history of sadomasochistic behavior. This can involve physical brutality or emotional scarring. Often times, if abuse on any level is witnessed at a young age, the individual (usually a male) begins to identify with the aggressor.

Second, sadomasochism can be viewed as a power struggle between two individuals. People from a dysfunctional family where unhealthy alliances, boundaries, roles and attachments were present seek out relationships where self-sabbotage and manipulation can be exerted. In other words, someone who grew up in a dysfunctional environment creates a new environment where he or she is now the individual in control.  The defense mechanism of displacement is used to literally “displace” aggression and emotion. This can be seen through decision making, extreme criticism, manipulation and emotional instability.

Masochistic tendencies are seen in the clients I work with. Individuals will share stories in group that they know will lead to harsh reactions that involve slurs, scoldings and name calling. Despite the evidence that positive feedback will not occur, these men continue to expose themselves to punishment. Why? One explanation that seems fitting is that any connection, positive or negative is welcome. For one individual who routinely (and most likely unconsciously) welcomes the criticism, he is able to seek a connection with other group members. For him, this could be a libidinal (emotional) expression. While it is hard to listen to as the group facilitator, I believe the masochist enjoys it.

As an aside, I reject the notion that men tend to be sadistic and women tend to me masochistic. If childhood trauma or conflict is an underlying reason for sadomasochistic behavior, women and men can be both the punisher and the punished.

With all this being said, I do not think all sadomasochistic behavior needs to be or should be pathologized. Somebody who enjoys rough, punishing sex can simply enjoy…well, rough, punishing sex. An individual who is covered in tattoos might really enjoy self-expression. Sadomasochism is also not the same as aggression. Self-defense is not the same as instigating a fight.

As you think about sadomasochism, you’ll realize how prevalent it is around you.  Our culture is filled with violence, sexual exploitation, power grabs and manipulation. Politics is now a sport, the movie industry is consumed with sex and violence and we legitimize sports where the objective is to “kill” or “crush” the opposition.