What happened during Sigmund Freud's case with a patient called the "Rat Man?"

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is some uncertainty as to the identity of Freud's patient, nicknamed "Rat Man," and how long Freud actually treated him (either six months or a year—it is unclear).

However, presented by the now-famous doctor, the man's illness was displayed in "obsessional" thoughts most prominently associated with his fiancée and his "revered" but long-dead father. The "Rat Man's" illness resulted in a fixation regarding the safety of father and fiancée, precipitated by the loss, replacement and cost of his glasses (pince-nez), as well as a story he had heard from another officer. The tale described how rats attacked people. The "friend's" description was of gruesome "torture wherein rats would eat their way into the anus of the victim." 

Freud's patient was torn between...

...obsessive ideas and similar thoughts were produced by conflicts consisting of the combination of loving and aggressive impulses relating to the people concerned.

In one case the "Rat Man" would wish that his father would die and so leave his wealth to his son who could then marry. On the other hand, the man would fantasize that his father would die and leave nothing to him. Freud also reported that the man fantasized that he was going to marry Freud's daughter. The man imagined that Freud's kindness toward, and patience, with the "Rat Man" were based on the delusion that Freud desired such a marriage. This particular obsession was a state of "transference" based upon the wish of the gentleman's mother that he marry a wealthy woman (as his father had) rather than pursuing a marriage to a woman of poverty.

Freud believed that his patient's illness was the result of several things: distress over making important decisions, as well problems of a sexual nature—theories for which Freud was famous. Specifically, Freud referred to...

...sexual experiences of infancy, in particular harsh punishment for childhood masturbation, and the vicissitudes of sexual curiosity.

According to his psychoanalyst, the "Rat Man" suffered from several things, including suicidal thoughts. Freud noted that the man was cured through "analysis," only to later die in the Great War.

Freud was later criticized; it was reported by a Mr. Stadlen that the man did not have the maladies Freud presented. According to the man's relatives, he had simply counseled with Freud to overcome shyness prior to his marriage.

user4121359 | Student

can you think of any  criticism of freud's explanation of Rat Man's neurosis?

zumba96 | Student

This nickname was actually derived from if a patient develops a series of obsessive fantasies where is Freud's words, "rats had acquired a series of symbolic meanings, to which...fresh ones were continually being added". To protect the secretiveness of the patients, the analyzers would disguise the names of the people in the study. The rat man had many terrible fantasies but also suicidal thoughts during the process.