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Psychoanalysis, Seduction And False Memories

The Letter, Issue 15, Spring 1999, Pages 100 - 116


Maeve Nolan

Ever since the very first psychoanalytic patient, Anna O, who had been unable to drink for six weeks, recalled her disgust at the sight of a dog drinking from a glass, the role of forgotten memories in the generation of symptoms became part of psychoanalytic theory. Ever since Elisabeth and Lucy revealed the erotic conflict at the heart of their distress, psychoanalysis has concerned itself with unacceptable sexual desires on the part of the patient. And ever since Anna O cried out 'Dr. B's child is coming' at the end of her treatment with Dr. Breuer the seductiveness of the therapeutic process has been impossible to deny.

Anna, Elisabeth and Lucy are some of the case histories making up Studies on Hysteria written in 1893.[2] It was as a result of these case histories that the authors, Breuer and Freud concluded that the body speaks and that 'hysterics suffer mainly from reminiscences'. One hundred years on, at the close of another century, the same themes of forgotten memories, sexual desire, seduction, and the power of the therapeutic process have come to the fore again in the devastating phenomenon of recovered memories of sexual abuse. This time however, the diagnosis of hysteria is no longer available and instead of daughters nursing sick fathers we have daughters cutting off contact with debased father figures accused of outrageous acts of sexual and satanic abuse. The often idealised father of the 1890's has become the debased, abusing father of the 1990's.

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