Justin D. Call
BETWEEN 1895 and 1923 Freud postulated that psychoneuroses, sexual aberrations, character defects, and the disguised wishes of anxiety dreams all had their roots in "infantile" experience. Accordingly, many of his followers, along with some educators, believed that the true path to optimum mental health had been found. This theory has been described as "the original sin hypothesis." According to this hypothesis, what was necessary for either the treatment or the prevention of such disorders was the same; that is, the therapist was required to locate and resolve the original infantile source of such difficulty and create for the patient a more loving and less conflictual kind of experience in which the psyche could flourish. This prescription, however, has turned out to be oversimplistic and becomes, in effect, an obfuscating half-truth when applied exclusively to problems of human development.
Freud 24 himself never espoused such a theory or remedy, for he was deeply mindful of the biological underpinnings of all mental functioning, both normal and abnormal. What he meant by "infantile" was often inexact ; it could refer to any time from birth through prepuberty. He also recognized that conflict did not exist in isolated psychoneuroses, but was part of human existence itself. 25 (Anna Freud 23 has discussed these misconceptions of psychoanalytic theory.) Freud was successful, however, in convincing most of western society that the infant and young child did possess a psyche in which complex fantasies and feelings were elaborated, even though most of what took place there was not readily accessible to parents, teachers, or other caretakers.