How Freud’s arsenicum pathology was instrumental in his founding of psychoanalysis – Vangelis Zafeiriou

Dr. Vangelis Zafiriou –

Psychiatrist-Neurologist Senior Consultant to the Athenian Centre of Homeopathic Medicine

The article was written in 1994-1995, published in 1995 in the journal European Journal of Classical Homeopathy. (International Academy of Classical Homeopathy)

To what extent does our pathology shape our destiny – or even our genius? Dr. Zafiriou, the eminent consultant at the Athenian Centre of Homeopathic Medicine, investigates this matter and asks some pertinent questions in this article. We hope to investigate the matter further and invite our readers to contribute their opinions.

The Editor


The term psychoanalysis is a composite one, consisting of two Greek words: “analysis,” and “psyche,” the latter meaning soul, character, personality, emotional life. It is a long lasting process that takes years to complete. The famous “Oedipus complex” and the terms “unconscious” (better known as “subconscious”) and “libido” are parts of this theory. The patient’s position during therapy is horizontal, lying on a bed, while the analyst sits behind the patient’s head.
Psychoanalysts are fanatical in confirming the credibility of this form of analysis, but the dispute and criticism this theory has engendered from its beginning right through to the present day are considerable. Homeopathy in this case, as well as in many other instances, can be a precious tool in our attempt to approach the truth, and this is what we are setting out to do here.
I am basing this work on the premise that every idea is an imprint, a picture, of its creator’s “psyche;” this is certainly true for psychoanalysis. An investigation of the analogies which the content, structure and practice of psychoanalysis have with Freud’s own personality traits and idiosyncracies should prove this satisfactorily.
Psychoanalysis stands out as the most dogmatic personality theory in the field, and this reflects one of Freud’s own characteristics. Dogmas have inviolable limits, mainly for the purpose of security, which is what Arsenicum longs for all his life, because freedom contains danger.
The frame of psychoanalytic practice is exactly and strictly defined: there is an exact description of all the obligations of both participants, about frequency, duration, payment and even the precise position, which both patient and analyst are to maintain during the interview. All agreements and rules are to be found under the following names: “contract” and “alliance,” i.e. “therapeutic contract” and “therapeutic alliance.” These are terms that remind us of commercial transactions or war negotiations. Freud added one more limitation to all the above: extending formality in therapist-patient relations to the nth degree, he legislated the therapist’s action as a lifeless mirror, through which the patient merely looks at his own reflection!
Let us try our first interpretation at this point: the rubric “anxiety when anything expected” contains only one remedy: Arsenicum. You can’t expect anything from a mirror!
Psychoanalytic practice, as mentioned previously, requires the patient to lie on his back, while the analyst sits at the head of the bed at a secure distance from the patient, in a position permitting him to control all physical and emotional reactions of the patient, while he remains safe even from his patient’s glance. It is a well-known fact that Freud could not stand being looked at in the eyes. Arsenicum is the only capital remedy among thirteen of the rubric: “Looked at, cannot bear to be.”
The therapist’s position is by nature a secure position compared to that of the patient. For Freud’s insecurity however, this is not enough and he places the patient lying on his back, a position that, in free and Greek-Roman wrestling, as well as in martial arts, signals that the opponent has been completely neutralized.
From this secure position, the Freudian analyst begins to analyze his patient in detail, three to five times a week, for a period of three to ten years! We can detect here his obsession with details, a kind of fastidiousness, as well as the insufficiency of his method.
Freud believes that the mental symptoms, in other words the apparent enemy, are nothing but a mask worn by the real enemy, hidden in the darkness of the “unconscious.” Freud initially tries to uncover this hidden enemy, and, having thus made it less threatening, he then attempts to bring it up to the surface of consciousness.
One of the definitions of anxiety, a key symptom of Arsenicum, is “a feeling of an impending vague danger.” Freud tries to convert the danger from vague to obvious.
He perceives his environment as inimical and threatening and this stems from his own childhood. Freud writes that “… the child grows and finds out that it is his destiny not to remain a child forever, and that he will never be able to live without protection against the unknown and most powerful forces…”
“…we already know, that the tremendous impression of the child’s helplessness gave birth to the need for protection and the discovery that this helplessness will go on for life, gave birth to the need for attachment to a father much stronger…” (he means God)
“…man cannot remain a child for ever: finally he has to take the risk of entering the inimical world.”
“Libido follows the 7 directions of narcissistic needs and becomes attached to objects (meaning persons!) that are able to satisfy those needs. Thus, mother satisfying the hunger becomes…the first protection against all undetermined and dreadful dangers of the external world. She becomes his first protection against restlessness.”
G. Vithoulkas describes all the above in far fewer words: “Arsenicum feels weak and helpless in a seemingly inimical world.”
Perceiving the world via the distorting prism of his own personal disorder, Freud not only attempts to shape all mental disorders in this narrow frame, but also tries to interpret religion and social structures from this same point of view. He interprets and explains everything according to his own reality and thus he retains the delusion of being able to control everything. This is a dominating need for Arsenicum.
Writing that “insecurity of life is what joins people in a community and prohibits killing,” he reveals both his characteristics and key symptoms of Arsenicum: his insecurity and his tendency to kill.
Leaving no doubts about our presumption, he continues, “civilization established the law that prohibits killing the neighbor you hate, or the one you find as an obstacle in your way, or the neighbor that has an eye on your property.”
“The killer attracts upon himself the revenge of the victim’s relatives, and also the occult envy of those that feel a similar inward tendency.” (to kill). The infant, according to Freud, is born helpless and vulnerable, surrounded by the dangerous and potentially lethal stimuli of the environment. During his first years of life, survival depends absolutely upon those that have undertaken his care.
His insistence on the subject seems inexplicable unless we understand his idiosyncratic Arsenicum type feeling, as quoted above from G. Vithoulkas. Vithoulkas adds that “…this insecurity is dominant in Arsenicum from the very first stages of its pathology.”
The objective way to look upon the subject is that an infant is naturally vulnerable, but it does not drop into the world from heaven; it is born to two parents, integrating a totality with them (family) and having a priori an innate tendency not only for care and protection (that Freud asks for), but also for something more precious: love (lacking from Freud’s experience). Psychoanalysis asserts that all children, from birth to five years of age, pass through three stages of “psychosexual development”: oral (birth to one year,) anal (one to three years) and Oedipal or phallic stage (three to five years).
During the oral stage, babies discover pleasure through their oral attachment to the mother’s breast first, and to other objects, like their own fingers, later. Incomplete overcoming of this oral stage has as a result dependence and attachment as basic traits of the adult (this is Arsenicum’s way of relating). The baby’s dependence is a demanding one, exactly similar to that of Arsenicum. Vithoulkas uses this trait to differentiate Arsenicum from Phosphorus, both of which have tremendous anxiety about health: “…while Phosphorus will beg the physician for help, Arsenicum will be demanding it.”
During the anal stage, pleasure comes from the homonymous part of the body, due to the relief that follows elimination, as well as to mother’s rewards when elimination takes place properly in place and time. Unsuccessful overcoming, or “fixation,” of the anal stage will mark the adult with a tendency to retention (avarice and collections in general) and fastidiousness, the well known symptomatology of Arsenicum.
The third and most famous stage is the Oedipal one: boys at approximately the age of three, discovering the origin of pleasure from their genital area, develop a kind of sexual possessive desire for their mother, look upon the father as a hated rival and develop a fear that the father will react by castrating them (“Oedipus complex” and “castration anxiety” according to psychoanalytic terminology.)
The compatibility of ideas exhibited in this stage, as well as in the whole Freudian theory, with Arsenicum pathology and Freud’s own traits is more than impressive: 1) desire for possessing the mother as an “object (!) of libidinal investment.” Vithoulkas points intensely to the Arsenicum tendency: “He is a very possessive individual and especially with people.” 2) murderous hate for the rival father, and 3) anxiety (insecurity) that the father will punish him with castration.
According to his biographers, Freud was himself so passionately attached to his mother, that he could not tolerate sharing her with anybody else. He faced any possible rival with tremendous hostility. Thus, he wished for his younger brother’s death, which indeed happened and filled young Freud with guilt. This event is also helpful in understanding why Arsenicum is capital in the rubric “anxiety, as if guilty of a crime.”
His feelings towards his father were extremely inimical as well. Wasting time at a barber’s shop, he was late to his father’s funeral, and later he wrote that he did not feel the sorrow he ought to (!) for this event. Strangely, he describes his father’s death as “the most poignant loss” of his life, and that which troubled him for a long time. It seems rational that his grief was due to: 1) the feeling that he had lost one of his support systems, 2) the guilt because of the hostility he had felt towards his father when the latter was still alive and 3) the fact that his father’s death only emphasized and increased his already existing fear of death.
This third factor seems to be the exciting cause for starting his self-analysis a few months later, in 1897. He would spend thirty minutes before going to sleep every night analyzing himself, and continued with this until his death in 1939. This exact keeping of a certain program every day is another example of his fastidiousness.
In the first years, he addressed his written self-analysis to Wilhelm Fliess, a close friend and collaborator who was in a higher social and professional position, and whom Freud admired and could rely on.
According to O. Manoni “Freud uses Fliess and expects from him. The people that Freud broke relations with were those that he was usually expecting a lot from.”
It is written in the “Essences ” that “…in any relation right from the beginning, Arsenicum has the expectation of receiving interchange…when Arsenicum gives, there is always the expectation of receiving something in return, and this will become obvious in case the return will not come.”
Freud was occupied for a long period of time with Fliess’s theory of a “universal law of periodicity” which is related with death, and has to do with all living organisms. (Both concepts, periodicity and death, appear in the basic pathology of Arsenicum). Based on this theory, Fliess “predicted” Freud’s death as occurring in 1907 (making a mistake of 32 years!), a prediction which a terrified Freud adopted, at a time when he was already concerned and obsessed with his own death.
So, in 1901 he writes: “I am occupied with calculations that have to do with the duration of life For egotistical reasons (to live longer) I will be very satisfied to reject Fliess’s estimations,” and concludes that his death is going to happen around 1917-18, making another mistake of 22 years! He started trials to predict his death in 1899, when he finished “The Interpretation of Dreams,” “a book that he believed was his masterpiece” and thus “there was nothing more to accomplish in life” and “he might as well die. Almost any incident would have been scrutinized for some indication of the year of his death” (C. Monte, “Beneath the mask”, p. 100.)
In a chapter about superstitions (like the one he had about his own death,) in a copy of one of his own books, Freud wrote somewhere in the margin that the “neurotic compulsive superstitions,” (similar to his own,) derive from a core of “murderous rage” against a loved person, a rage that is repressed (kill, desire to, beloved ones: Arsenicum.)
What a strange thought, as well as a glamorous description of Arsenicum. Freud tried to connect two different links of pathology he himself was experiencing: his fear of death and his desire to kill! According to my opinion, the “essence” of Arsenicum is the concept of death in all its forms and expressions: fear of death, desire to kill, desire to be killed, suicidal disposition, fear of killing, desires death, sensation of death, thoughts of death, agony before death, delusions: sees dead persons, delusion he is about to die, delusion that time has come to die, presentiment of death, “deathly anxiety,” “anxiety like one who has committed murder”, “loathing life,” “he appears like a cadaver,” “the aspect is cadaveric,” “cadaveric odors,” “gangrene,” “mortified flesh,” “my whole insides are mortifying,” “cancerous affectations,” “the surface of the body is cold, pale,” dreams of the dead, dreams of death. (All taken from “Synthesis” and Kent’s “Materia Medica.”) This concept of death is the link that joins the two symptoms previously mentioned – fear of death and desire to kill.
Freud’s fear of death began in childhood, and continued to manifest itself in adulthood; he was very anxious about precordial discomfort and the little pains he was feeling, and believed that they would drive him to an early death. He writes that when he was six years old, his mother taught him that “we all are made of earth” and must return to earth. Freud did not like this idea at all, so his mother rubbed her palms together and showed him the scales of skin produced by the friction as proof of her previous statement. He felt completely “astonished” he writes, as much as when he later heard the words: “you owe nature a death.” This event must have been the exciting cause of his death fear, so early in his life.
As comparison only, I quote relative data by the second most famous exponent of personality theories, Karl Jung. He, in contrast to Freud, was mostly attracted by the phenomenon of death, for its mystery and uncertainty. He remembers the beginning of this attraction when he was four years old (!) and discovered the dead body of a man drowned and half-covered by sand by the flooded river’s edge. When he was told that fourteen people had drowned and were stuck in the sandy riverbed, he writes that “there was no holding me” from going to see them. He was similarly very interested in watching the slaughter of a pig, to the absolute horror of his mother.
These events of Freud’s and Jung’s childhood are excellent examples of how two people with different dispositions have completely different reactions to similar stimuli.
When Freud’s death fear reached a peak, he quit smoking his beloved cigars; only to begin smoking them later on continuously till his death. The interesting coincidence is that his death was due to cancer of the mouth (Arsenicum. is among the few remedies of the rubric: “mouth, cancer” and it is underlined twice). Dependence (of the oral type, according to his own theory) and restlessness are the traits expressed by the heavy smoking habit he had, pointing also to Arsenicum. His dependent tendency was even more obvious during the long time he was addicted to cocaine.
The power of death was so dominant inside him, that Freud alone included it among the instincts (!) and wrote about a “death instinct” that exists inside everyone. What a perversion in perceiving life expressions! It is well known that the power of an instinct belongs only to phenomena and tendencies that support and promote life (self-conservation, serving the life of the individual, reproduction and mother-hood, serving the life of the species.)
When he desperately wonders, “Whether there is any reaction someone can compare to death,” he reveals the lack of experiencing that absence is expelled only by the reappearance of the absent, and anyhow not by analysis!
This kind of analytical mental approach in order to know “where he is standing on” is what the rubric “theorizing” means when referring to Arsenicum.
It is very often the case that individuals create a theory or an ideology out of their own pathology. Freud went even further: he proposed it as a tool for knowledge and psychic therapy (!) proper for all and extending even to social and religious phenomena.
According to C. Monte, Freud was under the strong influence of his passion to be the master of his own destiny (i.e.: need to control), a fact that, according to the same writer, must have played an important role in his decision to begin his self-analysis. Insecurity is what leads to the need for control, and this is a key symptom of Arsenicum.
It has been said that Destiny reserved for the insecure Freud the role of the person who finally pulled the last inch of the “carpet of safety” out from under the feet of the Western world. This process had already begun when Copernicus said that the earth was not the centre of the Universe, and continued with Darwin when he stated that man was not special nor the King of creation, but that he was an accidental evolution of the fish or the monkey. Freud closes this trilogy by stating that man’s life is “accidental” and not controlled by himself or his “free will,” rather it is controlled by forces stemming from the unconscious.
Several writers (Monte, Stolorow, Atwood, Mosak and Kopp) have repeatedly pointed out that they find many similarities between psychoanalytic theory and Freud’s own personality. I have tried to show how, on the one hand, the main aspects of the whole of psychoanalytic theory, structure and practice, and on the other hand, Freud’s own pathology, both find their simillimum in Arsenicum album; the former is a product and a picture of the latter. Thus, we find that a true understanding of the real dimensions of psychoanalysis can only be reached using the tools provided to us by Homeopathy.


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