Biography of Sigmund Freud Through 10 Interesting Facts


Sigmund Freud was an Austrian physician who is known all over the world as the founder of psychoanalysis, a method to treat mental illnesses, usually involving dialogue between patient and doctor. He developed several innovative therapeutic techniques to cure his patients and delved into the subconscious thereby formulating many theories which remain popular even today. Know more about this revolutionary thinker through these 10 interesting facts.


#1 Sigmund Freud was a William Shakespeare fan

Martha Bernays
Freud’s Wife – Martha Bernays

Sigmund Freud was born on May 6, 1856 in the Austrian town of Freiberg to Jewish Galician parents. Although his family was struggling financially, they favoured Sigmund over his 7 siblings and supported his education. Sigmund was an outstanding pupil and was proficient in German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Latin and Greek. Freud loved literature and read William Shakespeare throughout his life. It has been suggested that his understanding of human psychology was derived from Shakespeare’s plays.

#2 He got engaged to Martha Bernays secretly

Freud entered the University of Vienna at age 17 and in 1881 he received his medical degree. The same year Freud met Martha Bernays, who was the sister of one of his University friends; and they fell in love. Although they were too poor to marry and start their own life, they got secretly engaged in 1882. Freud was torn between his passion for research and for Martha. Ultimately, in 1886, Freud resigned from his hospital post and entered private practice so that he could support Martha. They married the same year. 

#3 His daughter Anna Freud also went on to become a renowned psychologist

Sigmund had six children with Martha. Their youngest child, Anna, followed the footsteps of her father and also became renowned for her contributions to psychoanalysis. She co-founded child psychoanalysis and summarized the ego’s defence mechanisms in her book The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1936).

Sigmund and Anna Freud
Sigmund Freud with his daughter Anna


#4 He was an advocate of cocaine and this damaged his reputation

Josef Breuer
Josef Breuer developed ‘talking cure’ to treat his patients

In 1880s refined cocaine became widely available in Europe for the first time. Freud was one of the first researchers to study the effects of cocaine on the mind and body. His initial assessment of the drug was optimistic. In 1884, he published a paper in which he claimed that cocaine might be useful in treating low mood and morphine addiction. Freud went on to publish two more papers on cocaine which were more skeptical on its usage. In 1885, Freud tried to treat a friend’s morphine addiction by giving him cocaine. His friend immediately gave up morphine but instead developed a voracious appetite for cocaine, which ultimately caused his death in 1891. This incident damaged Freud’s reputation and he stopped advocating the use of cocaine. However he didn’t stop using it personally for a few more years. Cocaine made Freud talk about memories and experiences he previously thought were locked in his brain for no one to hear and this made it difficult for him to let go of cocaine.

#5 Along with Josef Breuer he developed ‘taking cure’ therapy

Early in his career, Freud was influenced by the methods of his friend Josef Breuer, who used hypnosis to treat his patients. Freud and Breuer frequently discussed their cases. One prominent case was that of Bertha Pappenheim (usually referred to by pseudonym Anna O), who suffered from many classic symptoms of hysteria. Breuer made Anna talk about her symptoms while under hypnosis and these symptoms became reduced in severity as she retrieved memories of traumatic incidents associated with their onset. This verbal therapy came to be known as ‘talking cure’, a term coined by Anna herself. Freud and Breuer documented their discussions of Anna O. and other case studies in their 1895 book, Studies on Hysteria. Freud believed that the “repressed” memories that lay behind hysterical symptoms were always of a sexual nature. Breuer did not hold this belief, which led to a split between the two men soon after the publication of the Studies.


#6 Sigmund Freud’s most famous theory is the ‘Oedipus complex’

Between 1897 and 1899, Freud dedicated himself to recording his dreams and analysing them to determine the roots of his own neuroses, which he linked to the death of his father in 1886. During this self-analysis, Freud came to the conclusion that his problems were due to a repressed desire for his mother and his feelings of hostility towards his father because of jealousy over his mother’s affections. This formed the basis for his famous ‘Oedipus complex’ which became the key theory in determining the origin of neurosis in all of his patients. The dreams he had during this period provided much of the raw material for The Interpretation of Dreams, which was published in November 1899. Although the book received lukewarm response initially, it gained popularity as Freud did and is now considered one of the most important works in psychoanalysis.

The Interpretation of Dreams Cover
The Interpretation of Dreams Cover


#7 His books were burned in Nazi Germany

Princess Marie Bonaparte
Princess Marie Bonaparte helped Freud and his family to escape from Austria

In 1930, Freud was awarded the Goethe Prize in recognition for his contributions to psychology and to German literary culture. However when the Nazis took control of Germany his books were burned and destroyed. Freud quipped: “What progress we are making. In the middle Ages they would have burned me. Now, they are content with burning my books.

#8 Marie Bonaparte helped Freud escape from Germany

In 1938, Nazi Germany annexed Austria and there were outbursts of anti-Semitism. However Freud underestimated the Nazi threat and remained determined to stay in Vienna. But when his home was raided several times and his daughter Anna Freud was arrested and questioned by the Gestapo, he became convinced that it was time to leave. The Nazis controlled emigration but with the help of his former patient Marie Bonaparte, princess of Greece and Denmark, exit permits were obtained for Freud and his immediate family. However Marie’s subsequent attempts to get exit visas for Freud’s four sisters failed and they all died in Nazi concentration camps during the course of the war.

#9 Sigmund Freud’s death was by euthanasia

Sigmund Freud
Popular picture of Freud with a cigar

Freud was a heavy smoker. He started smoking cigarettes when he was 24 and later he switched to cigars. He believed that smoking enhanced his working capacity and said that addictions, including that to tobacco, were substitutes for masturbation, “the one great habit”. Despite warnings, Freud continued smoking which eventually caused him to suffer from oral cancer. By September 1939, Freud’s cancer was causing him severe pain and was termed as inoperable. On September 21, Freud asked his doctor, Max Schur, to administer a dose of morphine large enough to ease him out of life. Anna Freud wanted to postpone her father’s death but Schur convinced her that it was pointless. On 21 and 22 September Schur administered doses of morphine that resulted in Freud’s death on 23 September 1939. Freud’s ashes rest in an ancient Greek urn that Freud had received as a gift from Princess Bonaparte. After his wife Martha died in 1951, her ashes were also placed in that urn.

#10 Freud was among TIME’s 100 Most Important People of the Century

Major contributions of Freud towards psychology include: development of therapeutic techniques like free association (in which patients report their thoughts without reservation, in whichever order they spontaneously occur and without suggestions from the psychoanalyst), discovering transference (unconscious redirection of feelings of patients, especially those derived from the sexual experiences and fantasies of their childhood, towards another person, like their analyst), formulating the Oedipus complex, Interpretation of Dreams and postulating the existence of libido. Sigmund Freud’s work has been both passionately praised and heavily criticized but no one has influenced psychology as much as Freud. In 2001, Time Magazine featured Sigmund Freud as one of their 100 most important people of the 20th century.

“To us he is no more a person / now but a whole climate of opinion / under whom we conduct our different lives”.
W. H. Auden in a poem dedicated to Sigmund Freud.

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