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Opinion & Essays - Oct, 1997 Issue #48

The Malignant Effect of Freud’s Theory
on American Thought and Culture

by: E. Fuller Torrey, psychiatrist
excerpts from this 1992 book 
contained in the article
“Child-Proofing the World”
by: Nick Gillespie in
the June edition of REASON magazine. P. 26.

Author Torrey claims “Especially from the World War II era on, parents have had an inordinate fear that any little thing they do may permanently misshape their child’s psyche.” The author attributes this to Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, which “did more than any single individual to disseminate the theory of Sigmund Freud in America.”

Through Spock’s books and articles, author Torrey says, “Spock persuaded two generations of American mothers that nursing, weaning, tickling, playing, toilet training, and other activities inherent in childhood are not the innocuous behaviors they appear to be on first glance. Such activities, according to Spock, are psychic minefields that determine a child’s lifelong personality traits, and maternal missteps on such terrain can result in disabling and irrevocable oral, anal, or Oedipal scars. Through-out his career Spock was deeply imbued with Freudian doctrine and in a 1989 interview he acknowledge, ‘I’m still basically a Freudian.’”

The acceptance of Freudian thought, says Torrey, “made parenting much more difficult because of the generally accepted theory that—to exaggerate it a little bit—if you look at your child cross-eyed, your child will never be the same again.” Author Torrey also claims, “except for grossly aberrant events, there is no evidence that the normal developmental events of childhood shape personality traits to any significant degree....”

Article author Gillespie summarizes: “Where Freudian-inflected thought stresses how ‘fragile’ the psyche is, Torrey argues for its resiliency. Where Freudian-inflected though stresses the parental role in personality development, Torrey makes a case for inborn temperament and a wider-ranging array of influences. An appendix to Freudian Fraud summarizes more than two dozen studies that attempt to substantiate a link between toilet training and personality traits and finds none (Freud hypothesized that botched toilet training leads to a number of possible ‘problems,’ ranging from homosexual orientation to paranoia to a fixation with order). Twin and adoption studies, says Torrey, suggest that ‘parents have much less effect on their children than we have been led to believe—or would like to believe.’”

Copyright © 1997, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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