The Seduction Theory
In 1896, Freud published an article entitled, “The Aetiology of Hysteria,” (Gleaves & Hernandez, 1999). Within the paper, he presented his scarcely known “seduction theory,” which stated that the repression of memories from childhood, and sometimes infant, sexual trauma produced hysterical symptoms in teenage and adult individuals (generally women) (Gleaves & Hernandez, 1999). Moreover, Freud claimed that the only way to alleviate these symptoms was through “the retrieval and reliving of repressed memories,” (Gleaves & Hernandez, 1999).
Interestingly, however, within just a year of publishing this controversial article, Freud appeared to be having doubts about his theory. In a letter to close friend, Wilhelm Fliess, Freud wrote that a “great secret has been slowly dawning on me in the last few months,” (Gleaves & Hernandez, 1999). Reportedly, the great secret was that Freud no longer believed in his theory and was attempting to reorganize his theory on hysteria to better suit the evidence and research he had collected (Gleaves & Hernandez, 1999). In his new theory, which would eventually spawn what the psychological community recognizes as the Oedipus Complex, Freud argued that hysteria was caused by repressed memories of sexual fantasies, not memories of actual sexual abuse or trauma as he once believed (Gleaves & Hernandez, 1999).
In another letter to Fliess, dated September 1897, Freud expressed four general concerns and reasons for abandoning his theory (Gleaves & Hernandez, 1999; Aron, 2012). First, he referred to the fact that he could not bring resolution to any of his analyses nor could he explain partial successes (Gleaves & Hernandez, 1999; Aron, 2012). If his theory was correct, why could he not cure any of his patients? Next, Freud remarked that in every case “the father had to be accused of being perverse,” (Gleaves & Hernandez, 1999; Aron, 2012). If this were true, then Freud’s own father would need to be accused of such perversions (Gleaves &Hernandez, 1999). Having just lost his father in 1896, however, it would seem as though Freud might have been trying to repress the notion that his own father could have sexually abused him or one of his siblings (Aron, 2012). Third, Freud indicated that the unconscious was unable to discern fact from phantase (i.e. fiction) (Gleaves & Hernandez, 1999; Aron, 2012). Finally, he noted that if unconscious memories could in fact break through to the conscious level in even the most severe cases of mental illness (which he believed they could), than it would seem unlikely that therapy could help individuals whose unconscious is met with great resistance from the conscious to retrieve repressed memories (Gleaves & Hernandez, 1999; Aron, 2012). After disclosing these reasons to Fliess, he officially published his reasons for abandoning the theory in 1905 (Gleaves & Hernandez, 1999; Aron, 2012).
Theories from Today’s Psychologists
Despite supplying the...