Sex, Spanking and the Bitter Feud That Jung and Freud Took to the Grave; as a Controversial New Film Exposes Psychoanalyst Carl Jung's Obsessive Affair with a Teenage Patient

Daily Mail (London), September 26, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Sex, Spanking and the Bitter Feud That Jung and Freud Took to the Grave; as a Controversial New Film Exposes Psychoanalyst Carl Jung's Obsessive Affair with a Teenage Patient


Byline: by Annabel Venning

ON A wooded hillside in a suburb of Zurich, Switzerland, a carriage drew up outside the imposing grey stone building that housed the Burgholzli psychiatric hospital.

Inside the carriage was an 18-year-old Russian girl named Sabina Spielrein, accompanied by her uncle and a police officer. She had been referred by another psychiatric hospital unable to cope with her behaviour. When she entered Burgholzli it was not hard to see why.

Her admission notes, dated August 17, 1904, described how the patient 'laughs and cries in a strangely mixed, compulsive manner. Masses of tics, rotating head, sticks out her tongue, legs twitching'.

The young psychiatrist who took the notes was Carl Gustav Jung. He would, in time, be recognised as one of the founding fathers of psycho-analysis, alongside his friend and mentor, Sigmund Freud.

For six years the two men corresponded and collaborated, before their friendship faltered and then turned to hostility as Jung became disillusioned with Freud's theory that sex -- and sexual repression -- lay at the heart of all hysteria and neuroses.

But, in 1977, a box was discovered in a basement in Geneva that revealed another possible cause for the rupture between the two psychiatrists.

It contained a diary written by Spielrein, as well as letters from Freud and Jung and drafts of letters she had sent both men. The papers appeared to confirm what some had long suspected: that Jung had had an illicit relationship with Spielrein.

Their affair played a part in the breakdown of Freud and Jung's friendship, as Spielrein became caught between the two men.

The fascinating relationship between Freud, Jung and Spielrein is the subject of a new film, A Dangerous Method, based on a book of the same title, by clinical psychologist John Kerr.

Released in Irish cinemas in November, Keira Knightley's performance as the troubled Sabina has been tipped for an Oscar.

But is the film's portrayal of a violent sexual affair, with scenes of Knightley being spanked by Kerryactor Michael Fassbender, who plays Jung, really an accurate depiction of their relationship?

Could Jung, the pioneer of psychoanalysis, have abused the patient-doctor relationship so flagrantly that he indulged in sado-masochistic sex with his vulnerable young patient?

What is indisputable is that Jung and Spielrein quickly moved from the doctor-patient relationship to one of some intimacy. Jung diagnosed Spielrein as having psychotic hysteria and noted that her condition was so bad that she 'did nothing else than alternate between deep depressions and fits of laughing, crying and screaming. She could no longer look anyone in the face, kept her head bowed'.

He described her as looking 'oriental and voluptuous', with a 'sensuous, dreamy expression', although she was convinced that she was ugly. She sat on a chair, he sat behind her and they talked. At the root of her problems was her relationship with her parents. Although Jung could find no evidence of a sexual assault that might explain her condition, it was clear she was fixated by her father and in particular her memory of him spanking her naked buttocks.

A depressive, highly manipulative man, he delighted in inflicting punishment on his daughter, both physical and mental. As late as the age of 11, he would take her into a separate room to beat her -- possibly to relieve his frustration at being cuckolded by his wife. If Sabina failed to show him the affection he required, he would threaten suicide.

Sabina's mother was equally manipulative, keeping her daughter in ignorance about sex, beating and humiliating her. Little wonder that Sabina felt confused and consumed by guilt, self-loathing and repressed sexual feelings, constantly fantasising about transgression and punishment.

Every other day she would sit with Jung for an hour or even two, pouring out her feelings.

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Sex, Spanking and the Bitter Feud That Jung and Freud Took to the Grave; as a Controversial New Film Exposes Psychoanalyst Carl Jung's Obsessive Affair with a Teenage Patient
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