Journalist, Humorist, Novelist, and Book & Pitch Doctor

—Informal Non-Fiction Backgrounder to Hysterical

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HYSTERICAL: Anna Freud’s Story
by Rebecca Coffey
A fact-based novel. 343 pages, with archival photographs and bibliography.
Seattle: She Writes Press, 2014
EAN: 978-1-938314-42-1
BISAC Code – Category: FIC041000 – Fiction/Biographical.
FIC025000 – Fiction/Psychological


[Author’s Note: This document originated as notes to myself while I researched and wrote Hysterical. I’ve since tightened it up so that it’s readable by other people. But it and the endnotes are written informally, as guides to me.]

Anna Freud was born in 1895 and lived until 1982. Unlike her two sisters and three brothers, she never married. Instead, beginning in her mid teens, she became Freud’s pupil of sorts. By her early adulthood she was his nearly constant companion and, eventually, his closest collaborator. As Freud’s cigar habit contributed to cancer, and as cancer surgeries increasingly debilitated him, Anna began tending physically to her father day and night. This arrangement continued until Freud’s death, when Anna informally assumed the mantle of the head of the psychoanalytic movement and bore his psychoanalytic seed into the world. Ultimately, Anna became a pioneer in the field of child psychoanalysis, adding immeasurably to Western understanding of childhood development.

Anna was inarguably her father’s favorite daughter. Freud’s intellectual desendents readily concede that point. What many Freudians don’t concede is that there was anything inappropriate in Anna’s relationship with her father. For the longest time, most didn’t have cause to.

It wasn’t until the late 1960s that Paul Roazen, a political scientist and historian of the development of psychoanalysis, stumbled upon an immense skeleton in the Freud family closet. Even though Freud defined analysis as an erotic relationship laden with transference and countertransference, Freud analyzed Anna. [1] [2]  He did so for two periods, one beginning in 1918 and one beginning in 1924. [3] Roazen published his discovery in 1969 in Brother Animal (Knopf), a book that raised serious questions about Freud’s role in the bizarre suicide of one of his most brilliant pupils.[4] The book was not heartily embraced by the psychoanalytic community. In fact, in its November 5, 2012 obituary for Roazen, The Washington Post quoted Anna Freud as saying, “Everything Paul Roazen writes is a menace.”

So while, beginning in about 1969, some people within the psychoanalytic community surely knew about the illicit analysis, for the most part, that community treated Roazen’s views—and news—with scorn. It wasn’t until 1988 that news of the improper analysis officially “broke” within the psychoanalytic community itself. In Anna Freud: A Biography (Norton), which to my knowledge is the only authorized biography of Anna, psychoanalyst Elisabeth Young-Breuehl described the analysis without commenting on its propriety or lack thereof. On the other hand, that same year in Freud: A Life for Our Times, Peter Gay (a Yale-affiliated historian with no professional allegiance to Freud’s ideas) called that particular psychoanalysis “a most irregular preceding,” and Freud’s decision to analyze Anna, “a calculated flouting of the rules he had lain down with such force and precision.” [5]

Indeed, again and again Freud had cautioned his colleagues about the rules. “Never, ever try this at home” is essentially what he said about psychoanalysis and families.

Questions for Freud

Both Gay and Young-Bruehl named the analyses primary topic: Anna’s masturbation fantasies, which were frequent, violent, and masochistic. Anna had been masturbating to what she called “beating fantasies” since about age six. The earlier fantasies took different forms and had vaguely defined protagonists and antagonists. Once she was an adult, the fantasies were clearly about Anna. She imagined herself a young man being held captive by a knight who tried to force her to betray “family secrets.” Even though the youth never made a whole-hearted attempt to escape from the knight, he refused to blab. The youth was always beaten by the thoroughly enraged knight.[6]

When Freud first analyzed Anna, he seems to have done so with the objective of relieving her of her habit of masturbating—a habit that he considered masculine in nature and therefore dangerously inappropriate for females.[7] [8] [9] But was Freud concerned about more than just the masturbating? Anna had not married; she’d never even dated. In the beating fantasies that she discussed with her father she played the role of a male (albeit a male in a homoerotic relationship with another male). Was Freud also concerned about a general tendency in Anna towards masculinity? And was Anna indeed struggling with questions of sexual preference when she first entered analysis with her father?

In 1922 Anna terminated her analysis; the record is unclear about why she chose to do so. Perhaps the frequency of Anna’s masturbating had diminished. Regardless, by 1924 she was again masturbating regularly—and enjoying it immensely. “I am impressed by how unchangeable and forceful and alluring such a daydream [of the young man held captive by the knight] is, even when it has been—like my poor one—pulled apart, analyzed, published, and in every way mishandled and mistreated,” Anna wrote to her friend, the novelist and femme fatale, Lou Andreas-Salomé. “I know that it is really shameful … but it [is] very beautiful.”

In 1924, Anna reentered analysis with her father.

Also in 1924, Anna met an American woman, Dorothy Burlingham, heir to the Tiffany fortune. Almost immediately, Dorothy and her four children took up permanent residence in Vienna. Soon enough they moved into an apartment in the same building as that of the Freud family. Anna moved many of her personal items out of her family’s apartment and into Dorothy’s. Dorothy and Anna began vacationing together and bought a small house in the country. [10] Eventually Dorothy began referring to Anna as the second mother to her children. [11]

Almost any concerned father of Freud’s day would have hoped that his daughter would marry and have a family. So Freud may be forgiven for at least wanting Anna to be analyzed in 1924, given the fact that she was about to turn 30, her biological clock was ticking, she was masturbating again and aplenty, and her sexual fantasies were not classically “boy meets girl, boy marries girl, girl has children” ones. Freud may also have been especially interested in analyzing Anna once Dorothy entered the picture and the apartment building.

But given that Freud knew that analysis was always erotically charged, why didn’t he refer Anna to a colleague for analysis? By his own theorizing, if his daughter were a lesbian, mistakes that he had made as a father were the cause of that trouble. [12] [13] Was Freud too worried about his personal reputation to let a colleague talk frankly with Anna? Was he hoping that, as Anna’s analyst, he could quietly rectify any “problems” he had “caused”—and help her refuse a life that would speak embarrassingly about his failings?

And just how erotic did things get in the analytic sessions between Sigmund and Anna Freud?

No doubt, an answer to the question about incestuous overtones in the father-daughter psychoanalytic relationship would be easier to improvise if Anna’s sexual fantasies had demonstrably changed over the course of the analyses in a way that invited speculation. But they didn’t. Anna continued on with her “young man meets knight, young man gets imprisoned by knight, young man doesn’t actually try to escape from knight, young man gets beaten by knight and Anna has an orgasm” fantasy life.

Anna, however, was hardly the only significant party to the analysis. Surely her father’s thoughts, feelings, and fantasies were tugged hither and yon in all of that transference and countertransference. Does evidence exist suggesting how Freud himself was affected? Changed?

Certainly we know nothing about his sexual fantasies during that period or any changes in them. We do know, however, about his theories about women, and those did change, significantly, during the years of his analyses of Anna. Or at least two theories did.

During the six years in which Freud analyzed Anna, he redefined penis envy as the major factor in a woman’s sexual development and he redefined masochism as an expression of female nature.

 Penis Envy

Way back when Anna was 10 years old, Freud had first theorized about penis envy, but back then he had framed the concept rather innocently. In 1905’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality Freud had sounded neither pejorative nor terribly informative about a girl’s supposed desire for a penis of her own. He said that all little boys assume that everyone has a penis. When presented with evidence to the contrary they deny the absence that they behold. Little girls, on the other hand, do not resort to denial. They immediately recognize that a boy’s genital is bigger than a girl’s and they want one more like the one that boys have. Penis envy as described in 1905 was much like the envy that any child with a small scooter might have for another child with a large tricycle. For a child size always matters.

Even as a little girl, Anna had been a precocious thinker, so independent that her father’s letters to friends were proudly speckled with anecdotes about her feral ways. As a young woman, she remained unconventional and forward-thinking. Other girls looked forward to lives as homemakers. Anna did not. She wanted to know about analysis. She wanted to meet analysts and breathe analysis. She wanted to discuss ideas.

However, once Freud took 23-year-old Anna into analysis and the inevitable web of sexual attractions were woven, Anna grew emotionally dependent on her father, more than she had ever been before. While they were briefly separated in 1920, she wrote to Freud, “You surely can’t imagine how much I continually think of you.” Around the same period, Freud’s letters to friends began including concerns about Anna’s increasingly unshakable attachment to him. In 1921, he wrote to his Berlin colleague, Max Eitington, “I wish that she would soon find reason to exchange her attachment to her old father for a more durable one.”

It was in 1925 that Freud published an elaboration of his original theory of penis envy. He said, essentially, that the moment at which a girl first discovers her lack of a penis is a moment of ineradicable psychic trauma. From that single moment on the girl will want a penis. As she matures, however, she will realize that she can never under any circumstances grow one. Hoping, then, for second best, she will begin to desire her father’s penis. Because she knows that incest is taboo, the girl’s desire for her father’s penis will be wrapped in shame. She will eventually sublimate her desire for her father’s penis into a desire for a child. To fulfill her obsession to have children throughout her childbearing years she will need to secure and retain a man.  [14]

Freud believed that boys build their moral sense from a fear that their fathers might castrate rather than spank them. A girl, however, has no penis to lose to her father’s rage and therefore no good incentive to develop moral virtue. Whatever virtuous behavior she will manage to exhibit will derive from her quest to catch and maintain the man who can provide her with cute and cuddly penis substitutes. Or so said Freud, roughly. [15]

By Freud’s own understanding of the erotic tangle that psychoanalysis creates, each session of Anna’s six-night-a-week psychoanalysis was one in which she and her father/analyst sexually desired each other. There seems no reason not to assume that each of them conducted themselves admirably in spite of the abundant opportunity the privacy of analysis gave them to transgress almost any boundary imaginable. Rather, there is every reason to assume that they went through whatever machinations were necessary to avoid acting on whatever desire they felt. It seems probable that their actual behavior was impeccable, and this in spite of the fact that the nightly topic of conversation (the youth, the knight, the youth’s curious failure to escape, and, oh, that inevitable beating) probably fed the general level of agitation in the room.

Plain English: However innocent its beginnings, Freud’s theory about penis envy and a girl’s overwhelming desire for her father’s penis may be based only minimally on observable phenomena in girls and young women in general. More profoundly, it might be about Freud’s own daughter and Freud’s own penis.


In 1905’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality Freud also first discussed masochism, observing that certain people require physical or mental pain in order to achieve sexual satisfactions. Unequivocally he called masochism a perversion.

Then, in a 1919 paper called A Child is Being Beaten, Freud normalized masochism, suggesting that sometimes masochistic elements in childhood sexual fantasies are but sexual representations of underlying feelings of guilt. Freud based A Child is Being Beaten on his analysis of the masochistic fantasies of two boys and four girls. However, one child’s case material made up the lion’s share of the paper’s documentary evidence.

That child was Anna. The fantasies were the childhood versions of her adult beating fantasies. We know this because, three years later, Anna described the same child and the same fantasies in Beating Fantasies and Daydreams, her first psychoanalytic paper ever. (In Beating Fantasies and Daydreams, Anna referred to the child as a patient of hers. However, as psychoanalyst and historian Elisabeth Young-Bruehl pointed out in her authorized biography of Anna, the conceit is transparent. The “patient” must have been Anna herself, for it would be another six months before Anna began psychoanalyzing anyone.) [16]

Then, in 1924, Freud elaborated on masochism, suggesting for the first time that it is quintessentially feminine to find pleasure in pain—indeed that masochism is “an expression of the feminine nature.” [17]

To his credit, there is no evidence that Freud based his 1924 idea of feminine masochism mostly on his analysis of Anna. Regardless, he did write it during his analysis of her. So it seems fair to ask: To what degree did his analysis of and hopes for Anna convince Freud that masochism is characteristically female? Keep in mind that Freud, a self-described “conquistador” of the inner world, [18] required Anna to recline on the couch six nights a week while he psychologically teased her. Keep in mind also that she complied.

Keep in mind that the young man in Anna’s beating fantasies never once tried to escape the pleasure of the knight.

 All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men

Shortly after Anna’s second bout of analysis came to an end, she went on to cohabit happily ever after with Dorothy. Evidently, even the king of psychoanalytic persuasion could not dictate to his daughter whom and how she would love. Freud seems to have grudgingly accepted Anna and Dorothy’s relationship. In his correspondence with friends he referred to them both fondly as “virgins” but, as the years passed, stopped wishing for the day that Anna would marry. Following Freud’s suit, over the years, friends and family and even Freud’s most doctrinaire adherents acknowledged Anna and Dorothy’s relationship as intimate and exclusive. However, no one but the maid ever hinted that it was sexual. (According to Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, former Projects Director at the Freud Archives, Anna and Dorothy’s maid told him that they “shared a bedroom” from time to time. [19]) And in 2011 in an interview with Freudian psychoanalyst Isaac Tylim for a story in The Buenos Aires Herald, Dorothy’s grandson, Michael, reported that his father (Dorothy’s son Robert) left a deathbed note spilling the family beans by acknowledging that Anna and Dorothy were, indeed, lovers.


[1] “Perhaps the most extraordinary illustration of Freud allowing himself privileges he might have condemned in any other analyst was his analyzing his youngest child, Anna. Freud analyzed Anna in the period at the end of World War I. In letters Freud was quite open about this analysis, and it became a pubic secret to a small group of his inner circle. From freud’s point of view there were probably some good reasons for doing what he did. But considering all the discussion in later years about what constitutes proper psychoanalytic technique, Freud’s liberty in analyzing his own child makes one skeptical of ritualism in therapy or training.” Brother Animal, page 100.

[2] From page 433 of Elisabeth Young Bruehl’s 1988 Anna Freud: A Biography (Summit): “Roazen interviewed some associates of the Freud family for his 1975 book, Freud and His Followers, and Anna Freud had tense exchanges with her friends as she tried to find out who had discussed with Roazen such matters as her own analysis with her father, which she had refused to discuss when asked about it by historians.”

[3] In his essay, “’A Child is Being Beaten: A Clinical, Historical, and Textual Study,” in the 1997 book On Freud’s “A Child is Being Beaten” (Yale University Press) Patrick Joseph Mahoney says, “Without doubt, Freud was stimulated to explore beating phantasies because they were central in the dynamics of his daughter, whom he began analyzing in October 1918. (He finished her first analysis in the spring of 1922.)” This is on page 49. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, in her 1988 Anna Freud: A Biography, says on page 81 that the first analysis began in October of 1918. On page 107 she says that the 1918 analysis lasted “nearly four years.” On page 122 Young-Bruehl writes that Anna began her second analysis “after a two-year pause,” and on page 124 she describes it as having taken place in 1924 and 1925.

[4] The New York Times’ obituary of Paul Roazen reads, in part: “A more recent book, How Freud Worked: First-Hand Accounts of Patients‘ (Jason Aronson, 1995), continued Dr. Roazen’s fascination with Freud’s breaches of his stated methods and practices. It revealed that Freud had analyzed his daughter, Anna, as well as a friend of Anna’s, Eva Rosenfeld, while Eva lived in Freud’s household, despite his emphasis on maintaining objective distance between analyst and patient.”

[5] Freud: A Life for Our Time, page 440.

[6] Rivka R. Eifferman gives a nice summary of Anna’s masturbation fantasies in her essay, “The Learning and Teaching of Freud,” published as part of On Freud’s “A Child is Being Beaten.” See page 171.

[7] In his early writings Freud did not declare an attitude toward masturbation. However, he apparently considered it a treatable problem, for in 1895 he referred a patient, Emma Eckstein, who was a chronic masturbator, to his friend Wilhelm Fliess for nasal surgery. Fliess believed that certain sexual problems could be relieved by surgeries involving the patient’s nose. See J. M. Masson’s 1984 The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). See also Freud’s essay “On the Grounds for Detaching a Particular Syndrome from Neurasthenia under the Description ‘Anxiety Neurosis.’” In it Freud makes reference to Fliess’s idea of “nasal reflex neurosis.” (I believe this is in Vol. III of Strachey’s The Collected Papers of Sigmund Freud. See page 90.) Furthermore, in “The Neuro-Psychoses of Defense” (1894) Freud writes about “a girl who suffered from obsessional self-reproaches. Stimulated by a chance voluptuous sensation, she had allowed herself to be led astray by a woman friend into masturbating, and had practiced it for years, fully conscious of her wrong-doing….” (Strachey, Volume III, page 55.) Freud does not explicitly condemn masturbation but his attitude toward it is apparent.

[8] In 1932 Freud formalized his attitude toward masturbation. “An overwhelming aetiological importance is attributed by neurotics to their masturbatory practices. They make them responsible for all their troubles, and we have the greatest difficulty in getting them to believe that they are wrong. But as a matter of fact we ought to admit that they are in the right, for masturbation is the executive agent of infantile sexuality, from the faulty development of which they are suffering. The difference is that what the neurotics are blaming is the masturbation of the pubertal stage: the infantile masturbation, which is the one that really matters, has been for the most part forgotten by them.” This is from Freud’s New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, 1932, Chapter 5 (edited by James Strachey) and quoted in the 1965 Freud: Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, edited by Nandor Fodor and Frank Gaynor (Fawcett Publications). See page 94.

[9] By 1925 Freud’s attitude toward masturbation in women had become quite clear. In “Some Psychical Consquences to the Anatomical Differences Between the Sexes” he writes, “But it appeared to me nevertheless as though masturbation were further removed from the nature of women than of men, and the solution of the problem could be assisted by the reflection that masturbation, at all events of the clitoris, is a masculine activity and that the elimination of clitoridal sexuality is a necessary precondition for the development of femininity.” Strachey, XIX, 255.

[10] Paul Roazen’s How Freud Worked, page 97.

[11] The early history of Anna’s and Dorothy’s almost six-decade relationship is described by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl on pages 132-139 of Anna Freud: A Biography.

[12] Diagnosing a female homosexual patient, Freud says “[a]fter her disappointment [with her father], therefore, this girl had entirely repudiated her wish for a child, the love of a man, and womanhood altogether. . . . She changed into a man, and took her mother in place of her father as her love-object” (“The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman,” in Sexuality and the Psychology of Love, ed. Philip Reiff, trans. Joan Riviere (Collier Books, 1920). See page 144.

[13] Freud writes in “Some Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia, and Homosexuality” (1922), “We subsequently discovered, as another powerful motive urging towards homosexual object-choice, regard for the father or fear of him….” Strachey, XVIII, page 231

[14] Strachey, Vol. XIX, pages 252-256.

[15] A few years after “Some Psychical Consequences to the Anatomical Differences Between the Sexes,” Freud wrote once again about penis envy. “We ascribe a castration-complex to the female sex as well as to the male. That complex has not the same content in girls as in boys. The castration-complex in the girl, as well, is started by the sight of the genital organs of the other sex. She immediately notices its difference and—it must be said—its significance. She feels herself at a great disadvantage and often declares that she would ‘like to have something like that too,’ and falls victim to penis-envy, which leaves ineradicable traces on her development and character-formation and, even in the most favourable instances, is not overcome without a great expenditure of mental energy. That the girl recognizes the fact that she lacks a penis does not mean that she accepts its absence lightly. On the contrary, she clings for along time to the desire to get something like it, and believes in that possibility for an extraordinary number of years…. The discovery of her castration is a turning point in the life of the girl…. The wish with which the girl turns to her father is, no doubt, ultimately the wish for the penis…. The feminine situation is, however, only established when the wish for the penis is replaced by the wish for a child—the child taking the place of the penis, in accordance with the old symbolic equation…. Her happiness is great indeed when this desire for a child one day finds real fulfillment; but especially this is so if the child is a little boy who brings the longed-for penis with him.” Freud: New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, 1932, Chapter 5, quoted in Freud: Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, edited by Nandor Fodor and Frank Gaynor. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1965, page 116-117.

[16] Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s Anna Freud: A Biography, page 104. “But it is at least clear from her various correspondences that [Anna Freud’s] ‘Beating Fantasies and Daydreams’ was modeled—in general, if not in complete details—on her own case, and her essay’s descriptive framework is identical with the one that applies to two of the female cases in Freud’s essay.”

[17] “The Economic Problem of Masochism,” in Strachey Vol. XIX, 159-170. “Expression of the feminine nature” is found on page 161.

[18] In 1900 Freud wrote to his friend, Wilhelm Fliess, “I am actually not a man of science at all. . . . I am nothing but a conquistador by temperament, an adventurer.” Encyclopedia Brittanica Online at

[19] Final Analysis, page 158.