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Freud's maternal attachment

There is a lack of certainty over the nature and source of Freud’s attachment to his mother. On the one hand, Ernest Jones describes a close relationship: “It was strange to a young visitor to hear her refer to the great Master as ‘mein goldener Sigi’ and evidently there was a close attachment between the two" (1953: 3). Or perhaps Freud experienced this as doting, and so, like Narcissus, inevitably scorned his mother. This idea finds support in the thoughts of others, who said that he appeared to lack genuine affection for his mother. Freud’s nephew commented that “even when he kissed his mother on his weekly visits, one felt he did this out of duty” (Freud, 1956: 313). Schur says that

whatever Freud’s early relationship to his mother had been, during her last years it was, at least outwardly, one of cordial filial duty. I had never met her and Freud had spoken of her very little. There was no obvious grief upon her death.

(1972: 423)

If one takes the image of Pegasus being tied to an ox as an expression of Freud’s early experience of maternal attachment to the Medusa aspect of his mother, one might say that he could not get free; he was as much held in bondage and subjugation as Narcissus was tied to his own ungraspable image in the pool. Freud was helpless and powerless in a burdensome attachment to his mother. These feelings seem supported by Freud’s own words written in a letter to Ferenczi upon his mother’s death:

Above all my warm thanks for your beautiful words about the death of my mother. It has affected me in a peculiar way, this great event. No pain, no grief . . . at the same time a feeling of liberation, of release . . .

(E. Freud, 1960: 164)

While he came to acknowledge his incestuous wishes and fantasies which he cushioned as inevitable due to man’s archaic heritage, he never revealed having experienced maternal seduction. Freud’s narcissistic confirmations were shared by his Oedipal conflicts. The source of Freud’s shame is the mother-lover conflict that forced this sharing of the libidinal cathexis. This atmosphere prematurely destroyed his sense of exclusivity, and he denied his dependency needs. Freud writes:

Everything connected with the first mother-attachment has in analysis seemed to me so elusive, lost in a past so dim and shadowy, so hard to resuscitate, that it seemed as if it had undergone some specially inexorable repression.

(1964f: 226)

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