Study Guide

Josef Breuer in The Interpretation of Dreams

By Sigmund Freud

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Josef Breuer

Josef Breuer was another of Freud's senior colleagues, and he established a long legacy in his own right. In fact, because Breuer inspired many of Freud's most influential theories and methods, he has been called "the principal forerunner of psychoanalysis" (source).

Breuer and Freud collaborated in studying and treating hysteria, and in 1895, they published their co-authored book Studies on Hysteria. Freud's respect for Breuer comes through in a number of his personal anecdotes and dreams, but—as in so many of his professional and personal relationships—Freud's feelings for Breuer were also tinged with frustration and ambivalence. Yep: another frenemy, folks.

Freud's frustration and ambivalence come through most clearly in his Dream of Irma's Injection (2.1.16). The "Dr. M." who appears in the dream is really Breuer, and Freud's relationship with Breuer was already on the rocks by the time the two men published Studies on Hysteria (source). Why was that? Well, for one thing, Breuer wasn't convinced by Freud's theory that neuroses had sexual origins (source).

In the Dream of Irma's Injection, "Dr. M." comes to Freud's aid when Irma begins to demonstrate strange and inexplicable symptoms. Freud tells us that this is an accurate reflection of the position that the senior physician occupied as a trusted colleague in the local medical community (2.1.25)—but the dream doesn't stop at acknowledging Breuer's seniority and experience.

Instead, the dream represents "Dr. M." as an incompetent and foolish physician, and it pokes fun at his lack of insight into "Irma's" illness. Freud realizes this in his interpretation of the dream and tells his readers that his unconscious unkindness to Breuer was in all likelihood an expression of his conscious frustration with his senior colleague's views on hysteria (2.1.34).

One scholar suggests that another reason for Freud's tense relationship with Breuer may have been "underlying feelings of ambivalence to a paternal figure (or older brother) that were troubling Freud" (source). Given Freud's preoccupation with fathers and father-figures throughout The Interpretation of Dreams, it seems pretty likely that Breuer's disguised appearances in the book have lots to reveal about Freud's conflicted relations with paternal authority.

Don't even get us started on the Oedipus complex.

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