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The National Association of educational broadcasters presents Freud and the American child one in a series of transcribed programs dealing with some of the discoveries and errors of Sigmund Freud. A series titled Man is not a thing. First you will hear Dr. Eric from psychoanalyst and author is recorded in his study in Cuernavaca Mexico. Then you will meet Robert Nisbet dean of the College of Letters and Science University of California Riverside. Together with Floyd Ross professor of world religions of the Southern California School of Theology and Dr. Edward Rhoden chief psychiatry east of the California State Mental hygiene clinic in Riverside. Now here is Erich Fromm as interviewed by John harder in court of Arc in Mexico. Doctor from what specifically new sayings did Freud discover about childhood. This is of course not quite easy to answer because he discovered quite a few things. But I would say that perhaps his two main discoveries. The one concerning infant tired sexuality and the other one is that the
character of a person is essentially formed in the early years of childhood. How early and how old or how early did he feel this took place. Well read it from the first day of birth on. But maybe it could say first of good about his discovery of infantine sexuality. To day this does not sound so surprising anymore. We are accustomed to a good deal of evolutionary thinking today under the influence of diving in many scientists after him. And so it is not so difficult for us anymore to expect that sexuality is not a force which suddenly erupts in the Middle Ages at the age of puberty. But that it is something which develops slowly and which has its beginning with the very beginning of life. Interview Dorian age. The general idea was that a little child was like a little angel utterly pure and uncontaminated so to speak by the passions of the adult man. And that then with puberty suddenly new passionate forces
break out in the image namely that of sexuality. Now Freud showed that his sexuality does not appear suddenly that it begins already in childhood that it goes various stages of development and that already in childhood the sexual urges exist and that there is nothing to be ashamed about. Nothing to criticize about and that these things are to be taken as part of human nature and of the child's nature. Is anything it is everything else. I would say that is Curry our infantine sexuality was a much more revolutionary and challenging one. In the year 900 then it is today though even to date people talk about it a great deal and when it comes to really facing the fact that a little child has already sexual strivings quite a few are shocked when words they might talk about it quite glibly. That is the first discovery of Freud
which as I said perhaps has more historical value than it is so important today. I should like to return to that. But be a little later. But you say the second discovery the formation of character during childhood. I'm interested in the word character. Well in fact and very glad that you say that because the concept character is really the most central concept for understanding men. Each man has a character. And by that I mean each in each person his forces his psychic forces are organized and structured in a certain way which make him look at the world from a certain standpoint which make him feel and act in a certain way according to his character. Now the great discovery which Freud made was that the formation of this character aside of course from certain constitutional factors which we must not underestimate begins already in early
childhood. You might see that the character of a child develops in response to the stimuli which it experiences from the significant people in his childhood and that at the age of 5 or 6 the easy structure of the character has already developed and that's why these are difficult to change oneself leader. Well to look at these two tremendous ideas from the perspective of today infant sexuality and character formation and childhood should these two ideas still stand. Yes I would see these two ideas still stand. All the evidence in the study of children in the study of the development of personality in psychopathology consume the basic correctness of these two ideas. Well in what respects do they not stand. Well this is of course a matter of opinion and those who have remained strict adherence
or Freud would give a different answer to your question than I'm giving. I would say they do not stand in one important respect. Freud thought and this is based on his philosophical premise of physiological materialism. That's the factor which was primarily responsible for the formation of character was. There was. The satisfaction of frustration or distortion of certain instinctive urges and that the whole of character development is to be understood is a sublimation is a particular outcome of this libidinous structure which begins already in childhood. I personally and many others believe that this was an error. That the character of the child develops not in response to what happens to his Liebe it in his desires but develops in response to what you might call
the total interpersonal atmosphere in which he lives. By that I mean more specifically speaking it develops in reaction to the character of his parents. Whether the parents have respect whether they feel love or whether they tend to dominate they tend to force and all the many things which make up the particular interpersonal relatedness between one person another. This cannot be simplified then to say that libido or for a sexual basis is sufficient. This is not to discard Freud's idea but simply to recognize that it did not go far enough. It did not go fine or indeed was quite one sided. Perhaps I could give the very specific example. Many people are influenced over influenced by Freud's ideas that it makes a great deal of difference whether a child is breastfed or not breastfed. That this has an influence on what Freud causes orally
BDO and therefore determines its character. Well actually I don't think that is so. It doesn't matter too much for the character development though how it is fit but what matters is how it is aloft what the total response of the mother to the child is whether it is a giving response or a restrictive response. A child can be breast fed by a mother who does not know how to love and it will have the same reaction as if it were bottle fed or anything else. And on the contrary mother a loving mother might not breastfeed the child and yet the child will have the experience of complete acceptance and love. In other words it does not mean much what the technicalities of the satisfaction of the instinctual drives but what matters is what the total configuration what the total impact is of the mother's and the father's attitude to the child or the responses with the child learns to accept is
the reality of life. Is that a form of response which it later on Consider expect from everybody else. You have heard Dr. Eric from psychoanalyst and author as recorded in his study in Cuernavaca Mexico. Now to continue our discussion of Freud and childhood we'll switch to Studio C in San Bernardino Valley College where will join Dean Robert Nisbet of the University of California Riverside. Professor Floyd Ross of the Southern California School of Theology and Dr. Edward Rutan chief psychiatry of the riverside state mental hygiene clinic. Dean is but is our moderator. Well gentlemen we heard Eric from on a subject of childhood and I think we might begin as usual with some quick reactions from each of us on the subject of Eric from his reactions to Freud. Dr. Rhoden Why don't you begin. Well I think that it is important first to recognize that both the concept of infantile sexuality and the concept of early character formation
means that the great emphasis is placed on the impact of the environment on the child in his first six years of life that this becomes a primary focus as a result of Freud's studies. I win 10 from my own experience to disagree with Frome in his. The implication and in fact direct statement that he feels that the theories and concepts of infant house sexuality are well accepted. My experience has indicated that while there may be intellectual acceptance of infantile sexuality and that there is not an emotional acceptance of this that it tends to be still too frightening a concept for most people to be able to either understand or to respond to without anxiety. What do you mean Dr. Reardon.
Well I think first of all that this whole subject of infantile sexuality means many things to many people. And as Freud used this concept. And. As it is the basis of his theory of the understanding of childhood it truly represents erotic pleasures which the child develops from birth on centered around various areas of his own body which progress and evolve in the course of his development through puberty. And. That certainly has from sighted there is not suddenly some. A rising of erotic impulses at the time of puberty and certainly it is my experience that parents do not emotionally accept the concept that their infants or that their sweet innocent and wonderful little babies have in fact some erotic sensations.
Eros would you like to add your comment. I'll be interested later in raising this question whether the child character has formed so rigidly in the first five or six years of life that no growth in the fundamentals can take place thereafter. But I was interested in from spawning up what I think many parents need to hear today for a second or third time. Namely that it isn't the little technicalities of how we deal with the infant which are so important whether the infant is breast fed for example or a bottle fed. But what is important primarily anyway is whether the infant really feels accepted or warmly loved. I think this may set at rest some of the problems that some people have developed over this whole matter of whether one was properly fed in his first six months of life. Well I think my first reaction to Dr from comments on Freud would take the form first
of all all of what I would offer here as a criticism really of both Freud and for all and that is the lack of recognition of the cultural or the intercultural fact or in the development of character and in the conception of childhood. I'll put it this way. Sometimes wonder whether Freud had he lived in a society that had a different structure of the family and had a different conception of childhood than the one in which he lived. Whether on the basis of his studies of patients and his observations of family relationships would have come up with this all important emphasis on the first five years of life. It is I take nothing away from the importance of the first five or 10 years of any human being's life. We all recognize that a profoundly
important role of childhood. But on the other hand it seems to me that there are some indications of the power of culture and the power of interpersonal relationships is sufficient to take some of the edge off the emphasis that Freud gave and from also to this first five years that leads me to raise a question of our psychiatrist friend here. If we take a truly dynamic interpretation of the growth process is there any reason and why we should feel that character has farmed so tightly by the sixth year that there will be no shall we say significant changes after that in the life of a growing person. It seems to me Floyd that in your earlier remarks and in this question you join Dana's bet in raising the same kinds of questions that everybody raises and perhaps for the very same reasons
you are both perhaps without realizing it. Questioning needing to express doubts that the first six years of anyone's life could possibly be so important. And I think that you are responding to some anxieties about this because this place is a good deal of critical charge on a very limited period in our lives. It places tremendous responsibility on the parents who constitute the major environment of the child during these first six years. And I think that we all tend to try to run away from this as best we can. Character formation that both from and Freud are talking about have to do with the development of the capacities of the individual to handle his own bed in the energies in the face of what the environment his parents
expect of him or want from him. You know part of these. The bit and all energies have to do specifically with erotic impulses with love impulses of physiologic pleasurable level. And this is a fighting concept for all of us. The fact is that this is a fact is according to Freud's theory and the fact fact is according to my own clinical experience. And I think the fact would also be true for the neo Floridians too that this is the period during which the individual develops the modes with which he harnesses his Leviton all energies and develops the capacity to estimate the world around him the environment around him so that he can and can interpret it more correctly to himself. What happens after these first six years is certainly further experience with the world around him.
And this experience increases his facility and it makes it possible for him to perhaps react with less stress with less anxiety in certain critical situations. But the basic patterns of reaction are well established by the sixth year. All he does is to refine these patterns a little bit to perhaps decorate them a little bit. The basic structure of character the basic confrontation that the individual has with his own inner drives. Has occurred in these first six years of life. Well all right allowing for the moment the crucial importance of the first five years what about the heavy emphasis that Freud gives to invent sexuality. Here again I'm wondering if Freud wasn't to a very considerable extent responding to some of the moral and cultural pressures of the late 19th century. Think of the code of morality of that time which in Western Europe placed very heavy weight upon the sexual
aspects of morality the changing family they blanket if you like of what we would think of as Victorian morality. At this time sex and they generally infractions which were associated with sexual life were regarded as major. Now isn't it possible that if Freud. I realise this is a difficult question to answer but I offer it seriously isn't it possible that a Freud had been living in a society such as our own law in which sex is dealt with more neutrally and which they call a Victorian morality doesn't lie so heavily over its treatment that he would never have given such emphasis to sexuality they sexual libido and infantile sexuality. I think that if this were the case the news meant that we would find in our clinical practices that our theories about infant sexuality would collapse. We do not find emotional aid the tolerance of
infantile sexuality that you imply exists we find in intellectual tolerance of sexuality and intellectual paying attention to our not repressing little Johnny but emotionally we find great resistance on the part of our culture and on the parts of our parents to their little gestures that children make which have obvious erotic implications. Would you say that this may be due to the fact that the parents have not faced some of the implications of their own sexuality or their own UN result of sexual problems. Yes I think this is exactly the fact. We may be able to deny our unresolved sexual conflicts until somebody puts a mirror up to us and in this sense this child who is so openly expressing his own erotic impulses is holding up the mirror to us of our own early childhood and what we have tried to forget. We now suddenly come face to face with and we become anxious
we become disturbed and very often we then project this onto the child and say he's the naughty one rather than to say I'm the naughty one. Well I think probably what you say Dr. Rhoden. Age 1 to 5 might be more nearly a universal trait than would be the case when we were dealing with children of older ages. Take for example the problem of adolescence. There was a time when a storm in us the general tension the intractability of the American adolescent when all of this was explained by sudden new inner energies that were releasing themselves into a very large extent of a sexual sort. But what we have discovered on the basis of both historical and ethnological studies is that there are societies in which adolescence for example is a relatively trying period. And we have therefore been forced to conclude I think that much of the storminess and the difficulty of
adolescence in American life is the awakening consciousness of the American child before the richness of alternatives in American culture. Here is where I should think that a physiological and specifically a Freudian explanation might be much weaker than is the case of a small child. What we see happening in adolescence. And I think your point is well taken adolescence. It does not mean the same thing in all cultures. We may even question whether is there is such a thing as adolescence in some cultures adolescence as a kind of psychological cultural response at a certain age. But what we see happening in adolescence is that the individual who has gone through his infant Teil sexual development has gone through these erotic stages in his life has gone through the relationship between these erotic stages and the important people in his life is now suddenly physically able to express
the impulses which he has not been able to express before this time. He is living in a in a larger world as you well pointed out he's not restricted to the intimacy of his relationship with his mother or father and siblings. He has a larger field in which to play and he has greater physical capacity so that he suddenly begins to enact the very conflicts the very drives which he has been keeping within him or expressing in a relatively innocuous ways for all of the previous years. With are all of the earlier expressions minimal as they were they didn't bother anybody but the teenager bothers people because he's expressing these conflicts in a way which disturbs the family and society. Isn't it true that the adolescent is really confused within himself as well as being opposed to the authority figures around him. That is he's becoming aware now of some real contradictions in his own
nature he's really trying to get on his horse and ride off in two directions at once as somebody has said. He's also rebelling against the parents as the authority figures. At the same time he's becoming aware of a very strong heterosexual interest. This is the end of a long process isn't it because as an infant he was attached exclusively to the mother. Think how many months or possibly years it takes the child to get to the place where he understands why there's a man around the house at all. Having started with an attachment to the mother which perhaps has been displaced by a greater attachment to the father there comes this period when he feels the need to be independent of both mother and father and he also has this strong impulse to find a new kind of relationship with a person of the opposite sex but not the mother or the father. Of course in our society which has become more and more urbanized and with the father typically working a considerable distance from the home I would say there has been a
tendency to enhance the mother child relationship over what existed in an earlier day. As long as we have the family farm predominantly characterizing the American economy the father was around the home or at least around the field as much as the mother. And both the little girl and the little boy were in a position to identify with the father really as often as they could with the mother. Today normally the father leaves the house early in the morning doesn't return to late afternoon or in many areas until well after the children's dinner or even bedtime and the child is thrown together with the mother to an extent that must have been all together and dreamed of at an earlier time. Well let me mention one more aspect of the cultural or the intercultural phase of this one. We make studies as we have of different forms of community both in this country and elsewhere. We find for example that standards of child rearing vary a great deal. You'll find one people for example one
minority of people who pay very little attention to the behavior of their children during age 1 to 5 they may love them. Give them all the affection they need but as far as they don't send the injunctions to remain clean do clean up after yourself. Do this do that. Those don't exist among many peoples and it may well be that this produces in the long run a more disciplined character and the kind of character that is produced in our society our middle class society where most of us are inclined to start making little adults of our children almost from the very beginning. Professor Ross said earlier that. In talking about the teenager the specific problems that the adolescent has as a result of his being adolescent. And I'd like to point out that the problems which you cited Floyd were the problems that we could identify earlier in the life of this individual. The problem of conformity with his own particular role is in the society and the elements of rebellion. At what point does
one obey at what point does one need to prove individuality and independence this is precisely the struggle that we see going on in the one year old in the youngster a year and a half old who goes through this period of intense negativism and has to prove to you that by golly he's not going to go to bed. He doesn't care what you say. Well isn't this pretty much what we're seeing in the teenager. Even the conflict about heterosexuality. When we think of the three or four year old little boy who makes all sorts of propositions to his mother about getting rid of daddy or letting daddy stay out of the House who is making exactly the kinds of propositions to his mother that he's going to be making to a girlfriend some 10 years later. The only difference apparently being that as long as he remains under the age of 5 the parents feel that they can cope with this by repressing it. True it can be more easily managed but when he gets to be a teenager he isn't quite under our thumbs as much as we'd like him to be and he can express rather than repress.
Furthermore he has so many groups of his own age that he can begin to identify with the absolute necessity of father and mother is no longer present. Well I think we've reached the point where we can probably summarize this very briefly as being an essential agreement both with Freud and with a doctor from on the crucial role of childhood in the formation of character on the Certainly existent influence of infant sexuality but also much impressed by they role of interpersonal relationships through later life. Perhaps to a degree that goes beyond what Freud himself expressed and adhered to. And I think gentleman Dr. Roden the chief psychologist of the riverside State Mental Hygiene Clinic and Dr. Floyd Ross professor of world religions of the California School of Theology we're going to end on this point. You have been listening to Freud and the American child. One in a series of transcribed programs concerned with the discoveries and errors of Sigmund Freud. A series titled
Man is not a thing. First you heard Dr. Eric from the psychoanalyst and author is interviewed in his study in Cuernavaca Mexico then to Studio C in San Bernardino Valley College where we heard from Robert Nisbet dean of the College of Letters and Science University of California Riverside. Floyd Ross professor of world religion Southern California School of Theology and Dr. Edward Rhoden chief psychiatry east of the California State Mental hygiene clinic in Riverside. These programs were produced and edited by John harder for the community education division of San Bernardino Valley College and were developed under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the end E.B. Radio Network.
Man is not a thing
Freud and the American child
Producing Organization
San Bernardino Valley College
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, "Freud and the American Child," looks at Freud's theories about childhood.
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This series presents a discussion of the discoveries and errors of Sigmund Freud and his impact on the American family, politics and religion.
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Editor: Harding, Bob
Interviewer: Walker, Fred
Producer: Harter, John
Producing Organization: San Bernardino Valley College
Speaker: Fromm, Erich, 1900-1980
Speaker: Nisbet, Robert A.
Speaker: Ross, Floyd Hiatt
Speaker: Rudin, Edward
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-22-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:08
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Chicago: “Man is not a thing; Freud and the American child,” 1958-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
MLA: “Man is not a thing; Freud and the American child.” 1958-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 25, 2024. <>.
APA: Man is not a thing; Freud and the American child. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from