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Freud in distress

On January 23, 1917, Freud humbly confides to Gizella, with whom he identifies, that he is disconcerted: “I now receive little news from our friend. I, too, expect good things from his stay in the Tetra [Mountains], I, too, have endured much with him.” He reveals his tine feelings: “Since I know you and know about your relations, it was an [ardent] wish on my part to see you united. He is not a person who can live and work without intimate belonging to another, and where would he find anyone more excellent than you?” More unexpectedly still, Freud goes so far as to enumerate, for Gizella, the different positions he adopted in an attempt to help Ferenczi, whose dismay irritates him as much as it distresses him: “Although I, too, had the impression that the best time has been missed, I have worked on the realization of this wish with the most varied means, directly and indirectly, in friendly intercourse and through analysis, carefully, so that my preambles would not produce recalcitrance in him, and with blunt demands, in order to bring my influence to bear.” Freud admits that, faced with Ferenczi’s indecision and, later, with Gizella’s hesitation, he adopted a different attitude: “I have urged him to make himself free of you, as a test of whether he is capable of doing something else for himself, and then I referred him to you, after it became evident that he is incapable of doing without you and replacing you. I have really left nothing untried and have met with no success.” He explains that his inability to change the situation drove him to his last intervention: “Finally, I had to come out and tell him [straight out] that he doesn’t want to do anything decisive and that he is even misusing the analysis in order to conceal his [refusal].” Freud admits how dismayed he is by his friend’s (and analysand’s) inability to decide: “It is not even a no; he just doesn’t want to change anything, do anything [but] wait passively to see if something comes to his aid.” While until then Freud thought that Ferenczi was exaggerating the seriousness of his ill health, he now has to accept reality: “Then this stupid, trifling, but nevertheless undeniable organic affliction, morbus Basedowi, came and [...] permitted him to free himself from the snare in which I was hoping to catch him.” Freud is distressed by his obvious helplessness: “It troubles me deeply that he should have no more of you and of life as before. But I can do nothing.” In his discomfiture, Freud turns to Gizella for help: “In these dismal times I accept your [generous] assurance that you will not turn away from me, with heartfelt gratitude and respectfill affection.”

On January 25 Ferenczi has nothing reassuring to say; a chest X-ray has revealed a possible problem. He doesn’t tiust his doctor, who denies “the tubercular nature of the illness”. Just as Freud has been known to do, Ferenczi imagines the worst: “[...] my first idea after discovering the organic illness was the following: First organize all notes so that they can at least be published posthumously.” But he also knows “very well (in the unconscious) that it could be a matter of a mild case”. On January 28, not intending to take up Ferenczi’s analysis, Freud suggests to him that “it would be very nice if [he] came to Vienna for a day” before leaving for a treatment centre.

On February 8, Ferenczi writes from Semmering. He reports that he has seen Dr Kraus, who gave him “dietary prescriptions” and recommended that he lie out in the open before and after meals. This doctor, the house physician of the cure house where Ferenczi was to stay for two weeks, “reassured [him] about the prognosis” from the start. Ferenczi thanks Freud for the friendly invitation:

I am, to be siue, already accustomed to and spoiled by being warmly and kindly received by you, but this time it has especially touched me, perhaps because, in my consciousness of being ill, I was more in need of tenderness.

Soon, Ferenczi would make this tenderness component a part of the active technique.

On February 11, Freud informs Gizella of his relief upon receiving confirmation that Sandor’s disorders are benign. He wants to stress that this illness, curable in a few weeks, has no subjective significance, so that Ferenczi “doesn’t need to assign any particular role to the illness in the economy of his life.” There was no attempt to relate Ferenczi’s physical collapse to his romantic torments or the subjective effects of the latest discoveries made in his personal analysis. Freud thinks the causes are elsewhere: “Work as intensive as it has been lately in Budapest is, of course, not suitable for him, nor is constant excitement. I.e., there should be peace, once and for all!” Freud asks Gizella to be discrete: “My last letter to you was meant for you only; it was too straightforward for him. He has also not said anything to me about having read it.”

On February 16, Freud writes Ferenczi a letter frill of dismal news of life in Vienna. He encourages the latter to draw the fullest benefit from the care he is receiving in the mountains.

So imbibe the comfort from your situation that is contained therein. The flight into illness is this time very much justified as flight from a miserable reality. Recover so soundly that with war’s end you will be able to come forth as a worker at full strength.

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