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American Views on Anna Freud (Part II)

Author: Carmen Birkle


Esther Menaker’s attitude toward and relationship with Anna Freud was quite the opposite of friendship, or even respect. Menaker was psychotherapeutically analyzed by Anna Freud because Menaker, like Anna Freud, had a strong interest in child analysis. In psychoanalysis, at the time, there was little interest in children at first because of a strong focus on questions of sexuality that were not considered relevant for children. As Menaker points out, “[t]he common attitude toward children was that whatever problems they might have, they would outgrow them in due time”.

With the help of Dr. Helene Deutsch (1884-1982), whom Esther and Bill Menaker met in New York, they arranged their analysis in Vienna, beginning in 1930. When Esther Menaker learned that Anna Freud would indeed become her analyst, her reaction was a mixture of awe and fear, which foreshadowed her life-long critical attitude toward “the godhead,” “the famous”. What Menaker at first believed to be “social shyness” later turned out to be an outright rejection of Anna Freud, her behavior toward her American patient, and of her theories.

The times were dreary, dark, and difficult when the Menakers arrived in Vienna in late August in 1930. They had trouble finding an affordable apartment; they did not have much money, and the city as such had quite a number of people living in poverty as a result of World War I and, most probably, the Great Depression after 1929 that had affected people far beyond the U.S. borders. The Menakers’ awe of the founder of psychoanalysis determined their eagerness to get acquainted with Sigmund Freud’s ideas but also triggered their mystification of the man, as we can read in Menaker’s autobiography: “The figure of its founder loomed large in our minds. When they see him at the window of his house in Berggasse 19, they consider it “an omen of some sort!”.

After the first telephone call to Anna Freud to arrange a meeting, Esther Menaker’s doubts about a fruitful and effective analysis began to grow: “[…] I was not entirely reassured that I would be meeting with an understanding person”. What Esther Menaker criticizes most about psychoanalysis, and thus also about her own treatment, is the secrecy that is involved. Not only do she and her husband feel a rift open up between them because they are not supposed to talk to each other about their respective analytical experiences, but Menaker considered any analysis as such – at least at the time – as a one-way street with the analysand talking and the analyst listening, integrating everything said into a theory, and maybe asking questions. The relationship, for her, is never on equal footing since the analyst reveals nothing, and certainly nothing about his or her own life. She describes analysis as a hierarchical relationship, in which “the patient grows increasingly dependent on the analyst, who supposedly has insight and understanding of the patient on deep levels far beyond the patient’s self-understanding”. If the patient reacts to such “an artificially created situation that really exists”, this reaction would also be seen as “an echo of the past” instead of considering the possibility that it may be “induced by the contrived, unnatural way in which the situation is set up”.

For Menaker, this one-sided relationship is painful, partly because it repeats a form of childhood dependency instead of offering an “experience in which to grow and mature”. What Menaker gradually, maybe even unconsciously, reveals is that although she criticizes the focus on the past to interpret the present, she analyzes all events with respect to Anna Freud, by precisely doing what she rejects. When she meets Anna Freud for the first time, she explains her aversion to the large dog that greets her by referring to her “dog phobia since earliest childhood” and to the mistakes her own mother made because of her ignorance of a child’s feelings.

From then on, anything Anna Freud said or did was viewed critically, probably because her analyst did not fulfill the expectations, which had turned into a “crush”. As a natural consequence, Esther implicitly rejected viewing her relationship with Anna Freud as merely professional. According to Robert Coles, Anna Freud once said: “‘Remember, I am an analyst!’”. Readers only have access to Menaker’s point of view and will have to decide whether to trust the narrator’s comment: “[…] I am sure that Anna Freud found my emotions inconvenient also”. From Menaker’s perspective, she receives judgment, condemnation, and lack of understanding, but, even more, misguided readings of her unconscious. Transference, as the projection of childhood experiences onto the analyst is called, was at stake here, of which Menaker, at the time, had not been aware but, of course, was when writing her autobiography. Esther Menaker’s narrative reveals the classical elements of psychoanalysis, as it was then understood: the evocation of childhood experiences leads to transference with sexuality playing an important part. Instead of finding the liberation she was looking for, Esther concluded: “Instead I encountered a rigid set of norms that paralleled the Victorian standards of my home environment”. Moving on in the interpretation of Menaker’s first-person narrative, the narrator’s voice remains full of doubt, battling emotions, and uncertainty, which she would have to confront five times a week in her analysis with Anna Freud.

For Menaker,“[s]ex was at the center of the mystique” and also a crucial experience in Menaker’s life and part of other young people’s concerns. Instead of accepting the one-sidedness of the relationship, Menaker began to speculate about Anna Freud’s thoughts and life because she “felt criticized and misunderstood. It was reminiscent of my relationship with my mother”. This is one of the reasons why Menaker’s mother assumed quite a prominent role in her autobiography while – at the same time – Menaker rejected the dominance of mother-child issues in her analysis. Based on what she learned later, Menaker, in her memoir, begins to analyze the father (Sigmund)-daughter (Anna) relationship from the point of view of the Oedipal complex. Freud was his daughter’s analyst between 1918 and 1921, and again in 1924 (cf. Salber), which was not publically known in the early 1930s, but, of course, known to Menaker at the time of writing her memoirs, which leads her to then speculate: “The strength of the father-daughter bond precluded the existence of any other significant relationship with a man”. Furthermore, she passes on the rumors of the time: “Anna Freud remained unmarried, and although there is reference to her being in love during early adulthood with certain members of the analytic circle […], it is doubtful that she had any fulfilling sexual experiences”. Menaker goes even further by applying these ideas to her own analysis: “Not only could she [Anna Freud] scarcely be a role model in the area of sexual life for a young woman of my age, but it is not unlikely that my own preoccupation with sex was disturbing to her”. Obviously, Menaker had developed from the young woman who blamed everything on her own shortcomings to one who blamed everything on Anna Freud, most prominently accusing her of turning her again into “the child” that “must inevitably be submissive to the power and authority of the parents”.

Menaker’s memoirs are a final attempt at getting back to her own mother through Anna Freud who made her re-live her feelings of inferiority, powerlessness, and weakness. To overcome the fear of loss (of the mother), the child had to be “submissive” and “humble”. Menaker’s voice in Appointment is one of resistance and revenge and not necessarily of authority, although she repeatedly refers to and quotes from her own psychoanalytic publications such as Masochism and the Emergent Ego (1979). From Menaker’s point of view, Anna Freud never separated from her father to become a person in her own right. Menaker felt “belittled” by her analyst but, as I suggest, Appointment in Vienna also belittles Anna Freud. It seems to turn her into her father’s daughter, into the famous man’s object of analysis, into the devoted disciple of her father’s theories at the expense of a life of her own as a mature adult. It seems that in the 1930s Menaker’s relationship with Anna Freud was like Anna Freud’s with her father. As Menaker sees it, the inferior one was full of awe for the superior one. This is the parallel that Menaker resented. She did not want to be dependent on and, thus, inferior to anyone, hence for herself she had to demystify Anna Freud so that she could finally undergo her own maturation process. A sign of maturity for Menaker is to accept the “contradictory feelings and impulses” in an individual; in Appointment, she unfolds both her admiration for and resentment of Anna Freud, but, it seems, instead of bringing both into balance, she feels the need to finally overcome her awe and explain her resentment. This is not a balance.

That Menaker has her own psychological agenda is quite obvious when Anna Freud’s biographers, among them Wilhelm Salber, offer their readings of the time when Sigmund Freud had cancer and had to undergo surgery thirty-one times. For Salber, it is Anna Freud who becomes the head of the family without giving her father the feeling of loss of authority and control. She created a large “family” around her father that was constituted by actual family, friends, patients and their relatives, teachers, and colleagues. She established a group that met regularly to discuss child psychoanalysis, among them Siegfried Bernfeld (1892-1953) and August Aichhorn (1878-1949), and regularly taught, together with Dorothy Burlingham, seminars for kindergarten teachers. Anna Freud also became a “mother” to many children, such as her dead sister Sophie’s son and Dorothy Burlingham’s four children. She helped everyone but also came across as overwhelming. For Anna Freud, the friendship with Jeanne Lampl-de Groot, Marianne Rie-Kris, and Dorothy Burlingham proved to stand the test of time, persecution, and escape. Dorothy Burlingham lived with the Freud family in Berggasse 19, underwent analysis and training with Sigmund Freud, and “was an early participant in the Seminar for Child Analysis with Anna Freud […]” (M. J. Burlingham), and escaped with them to England in 1938 after practicing analysis for a few years (cf. M. J. Burlingham). While Esther Menaker imagines Anna Freud’s life in isolation, like that of an old spinster in ignorance of sex and sexuality, some of her many biographers tell a different story, namely that of a largely fulfilled life within a large circle of family, friends, and colleagues. Because Menaker’s anxiety had been passed onto her by her mother, Menaker seemed to have developed the desire to find this emotional state also in those to whom she looked up to, as was the case with Anna Freud, and yet, she also needed guidance and authority.

Two years later, -when she got pregnant for the first time - her analysis ended. However, this pregnancy ended in a miscarriage and, consequently, in an emotional imbalance which motivated her to resume analysis with Anna Freud, but this time the latter refers her to Dr. Willi Hoffer. At that time, Menaker was pregnant for the second time. With the birth of her son Michael and the approaching end of her studies, Menaker became part of a circle of psychoanalysts who met regularly with Anna Freud to discuss child analysis. Again, Menaker’s criticism is devastating: “Some, like Margaret Mahler or Lily Peller, rarely contributed any comments in the group. I felt their inhibitions as a response to the overintellectualized atmosphere that Anna Freud created”. After five years in Vienna, the Menakers left for New York. Esther Menaker’s last farewell meeting with Anna Freud was full of “reserve and formality, as was her [Anna Freud’s] style”. Because of Sigmund Freud’s own dislike for the U.S., his daughter announced to never come to the U.S. Despite the lack of a medical degree, the Menakers gradually settled in psychoanalysis. Menakers final encounter with Anna Freud through a letter was meant to give the American a feeling of acceptance in the field. However, Freud’s reply was full of “formality and coolness”: “Her reply accomplished one important thing, however: it underscored an independence and self-expressiveness that I had always had, and made me resolve to cultivate it rather than continue to seek acceptance by an analytic establishment in which I had no proper place. I developed my own practice and began to express my own ideas in writing. This was the homecoming in which I returned to myself”. In later years, when many psychoanalysts escaped from Vienna to New York, the Viennese were still “committed to orthodox Freudian theory” and unable to show empathy for the suffering the Menakers had to go through because they did not have medical degrees. Everywhere the Menakers went professionally, they seemed to encounter rejection. Moreover, Esther continued to project her own feelings onto the Viennese psychoanalysts’ minds: “I knew that in the Vienna days he [Willi Hoffer] – as well as Anna Freud – had thought of me as an immature, impulsive, unstable individual who was scarcely the ideal candidate for an analytic career”. She proceeds in a similar vein in her “Epilogue,” emphasizing her own maturation: “I now know that the misjudgments and misunderstandings of me were in large measure due to the limitations – both cultural and psychological – of those who observed me, namely, Anna Freud and Willi Hoffer”. Anna Freud didn’t even recognize her in 1950 when she finally visited the U.S.. Menaker attributes this non-recognition to “her disorientation in unfamiliar surroundings, which speaks for a touch of her father’s misanthropy and which results in a lack of social grace,” which she also describes as “human weakness – her narrowness and rigidity, the limitations of her life experience and her social anxiety […]”. Menaker resents the superiority which she believes the Viennese psychoanalysts exhibit toward her.

Anna Freud, celebrated and respected by many, as, for example, by Muriel Gardiner, and the recipient of honorary degrees “by Yale, Harvard, Columbia, the University of Vienna, and the Queen’s Commander of the British Empire” (M. J. Burlingham), receives a highly critical judgment by Esther Menaker in her memoirs. I argue that Menaker’s memories of her time in Vienna  and her place in psychoanalysis are shaped by her own inferiority complex that is deeply, but not exclusively, rooted in her own childhood and transference of these experiences (in particular with her mother) onto Anna Freud. Professionally, the fact that psychoanalysts without a medical degree were not considered to be of equal standing enhanced this complex. However, what one should not forget is that Anna Freud did not have a medical degree either and, therefore, would have been on equal footing, a fact that Esther Menaker never mentions.

What Menaker does not seem to realize when she agrees with Paul Roazen, “a leading historian of psychoanalysis” (Lieberman, 2015), and other critics of the Freud family and their theories and practices of psychoanalysis, is, what Shuli Barzilai in a review of Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg’s study of Anna Freud refers as “Anna Freud’s life-long project,” which was “to safeguard and maintain the ego, an especially vulnerable psychical agency in the aftermaths of World War II and the Holocaust. A traumatized and/or irrational human subject”, as Stewart-Steinberg argues, “undermines democracy and abets totalitarian institutions and regimes”. The dilemma that both the reviewer and Stewart-Steinberg see at work in Anna Freud’s life and professional output is shaped by “two competing claims: fidelity to the teachings of her father and allegiance to her deeply-held belief in the urgency of shifting the psychoanalytic emphasis away from unconscious processes (the Id) to conscious defenses (the Ego)”. Anna Freud’s legacy, as visible in some of the American views presented here, seems to continue the split in psychoanalytic theory and practice that has been an indisputable ingredient in psychoanalysis ever since its inception.

Works Cited:

- Barzilai, Shuli. “Impious Fidelity: Anna Freud, Psychoanalysis, Politics by Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg (Review).” Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas 12.1 (Jan. 2014): 192-96. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/pan.2014.0009.
- Burlingham, Michael John. The Last Tiffany: A Biography of Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham. New York: Atheneum, 1989. Print. Republished as Behind Glass: A Biography of Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham. New York City: Other P, 2002. Print.
- Coles, Robert. Anna Freud: The Dream of Psychoanalysis. Reading, MA: Merloyd Lawrence; Addison-Wesley, 1992. Print.
- Freud, Anna. Foreword. Code Name “Mary”: Memoirs of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground. By Muriel Gardiner. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1983. xi-xiii. Print.
- Gardiner, Muriel. Code Name “Mary”: Memoirs of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1983. Print.
- Lieberman, E. James. “On the Freud Watch: Public Memoirs (Review).” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 79.1 (Spring 2005): 164-65. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/bhm.2005.0032.
- Menaker, Esther. Appointment in Vienna: An American Psychoanalyst Recalls Her Student Days in Pre-War Austria. New York: St. Martin’s P, 1989. Revised edition: Misplaced Loyalities. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction P, 1995. Trans. Schwierige Loyalitäten: Psychoanalytische Lehrjahre in Wien 1930-1935. 1995. Übers. Brigitte Janus-Stanek. Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag, 1997. Print.
- Roazen, Paul. On the Freud Watch: Public Memoirs. London: Free Association Books, 2003. Print.
- Salber, Wilhelm. Anna Freud. 1985. Reinbek bei Hamburg: rororo, 1991. Print.
- Stewart-Steinberg, Suzanne. Impious Fidelity: Anna Freud, Psychoanalysis, Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2011. Print.
- Warner, Lyle L. “Ruth Mack Brunswick.” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women’s Archive. https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/brunswick-ruth-mack  20 Febr. 2018. Web.

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