35 Things Most People Don't Know About Sigmund Freud
35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud

Trista - March 23, 2019

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
Karl Popper in 1990. Lucinda Douglas-Menzies/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain.

16. Freud Was Indirectly Responsible for the Scientific Method

Another important figure who was a contemporary of Freud was Karl Popper, an Austrian-born philosopher who was deeply troubled by the rise of what he called “pseudoscience.” He wanted to figure out a systematic means of weeding out Freud’s “pseudoscience” and distinguishing it from great minds like Einstein’s. He developed the scientific method, which laid out the need for generating testable hypotheses, doing research, and performing experiments that can be duplicated with similar results.

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
The scientific method explained in a diagram. Kbagdanov.

15. Freud’s Psychology Does Not Hold Up to the Scientific Method

In a lot of ways, Freud’s ideas tell us more about how he saw the world than about how human personality was believed to function at the turn of the twentieth century. He developed “theories” that were not falsifiable; in other words, everything that he looked at could be seen as evidence for his theories. His theory of “penis envy” was constructed in such a way that every single problem that girls face ultimately had to do with jealousy over the male sexual organ. The scientific method requires that you be able to prove your hypothesis wrong. Since Freud could not (really had no interest in) finding means to prove his ideas wrong, they are relegated to “pseudoscience.”

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) in his office in Vienna, circa 1937. Photo taken by Princess Eugenie of Greece, daughter of Marie Bonaparte. (Photo by Bourgeron Collection/RDA/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

14. Modern Psychology is Not Pseudoscience

Sure, there are plenty of ways that cognitive biases of psychologists and researchers filter down into how they understand the human psyche. But today, thanks to the scientific method, psychology does require the formation of testable, falsifiable hypotheses. You have to be able to prove something through experiments with multiple subjects for the theory to be valid. Even though Freud was unable to accomplish this task, he laid the groundwork for it occurring as psychology moved from pseudoscience to hard science.

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
Childhood trauma drastically impacts adult behavior. Feel Guide.

13. There Are Some Things Freud Got Right

For example, Freud was one of the first to realize that traumatic experiences, especially in early childhood, had a profound effect on the development of the person’s psyche and could lead to neurotic behaviors. Those traumatic events may become buried in the person’s subconscious, but they are still present, much like an app on your phone or tablet that is running in the background.

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
The founder of the psychoanalytical school of psychology, Freud, in the 1930s. David Webb from Alicante, Spain – Sigmund Freud Uploaded by Viejo sabio/ All About Psychology/ Wikimedia.

12. Freud Wanted To Better Understand The Relationship Between Childhood Experiences And Adult Behavior

Recognizing that there was a significant link between childhood experiences, particularly trauma, and the way that people acted as adults, Freud dedicated much of his life to better understanding this relationship and figuring out ways to treat it. Unfortunately, much of his knowledge had to do with so-called traumas related to infant sexuality and penis envy, things that are not only not traumatic but are nonexistent.

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud working in his office in Vienna. Luxfon.

11. Freud Identified Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are basically ways that we prevent ourselves from having to engage with a painful part of the world that we experience or inhabit. Freud recognized defense mechanisms such as repression, denial, projection, displacement, regression, and sublimation. The idea of defense mechanisms is very much accepted by modern psychology, but again, they have nothing to do with infant sexuality.

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
Sigmund and his daughter Anna Freud. US Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division/ Wikimedia Common/ Public Domain.

10. Freud Developed the Oedipus Complex

The Oedipus complex is based on the ancient Greek Play Oedipus Rex, in which a fortune teller told a young Oedipus that he would kill his father and marry his mother. He didn’t know who his parents were, and one day, he shot a stranger on the road and later married the stranger’s widow. Unbeknownst to him, that widow was his mother. Freud believed that this explained the heart of childhood trauma in boys: they are jealous of their fathers and want to engage in sexual behavior with their mothers.

9. The Oedipus Complex Also Explained Religion

Believe it or not, Freud was so convinced that his Oedipus complex explained every aspect of the world that he even applied it to the study of religion. He was a nonpracticing Jew himself and developed the idea that his own son killed Moses in the Hebrew Bible (Torah) as killed by his people, just like Oedipus’ father. He elaborated this theory in his book Totem and Taboo.

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
A meme featuring a cartoon Freud explaining Freudian slips. Pinterest.

8. We Live In A Freudian World

Have you ever heard the term “Freudian slip?” It refers to accidentally saying or misusing a word or phrase other than how you meant to use it or how it is supposed to be used. The idea came from Freud, who believed that such slips of the tongue were revealing about our inner anxieties, which lay within our subconscious and were continually trying to break free.

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
Subliminal messages are everywhere from TV commercials to music and beyond. onderpolis.org.

7. Subliminal Messaging Is Also From Freud

Freud developed the idea of sublimation, which is today used in what you may know of as subliminal messaging or subliminal advertising. It is a sneaky way that companies try to get us to buy a product by introducing it at a level that is beyond our conscious minds. For example, if Beyonce is wearing a milk mustache, we subliminally come to associate milk with Beyonce. Since everyone (supposedly) wants to be like Beyonce, we realize that we should buy milk.

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
A portrait of Charles Darwin taken in 1868. Julia Margaret Cameron – Reprinted in Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain.

6. Charles Darwin Influenced Freud

Charles Darwin lived at about the same time as Freud, and he developed the idea of evolution via natural selection. His theory became particularly important to European academia at the turn of the twentieth century, and the concept of natural selection influenced thinkers who didn’t work in biology. You can see it in some of Freud’s ideas about how the strong survive (and of course, he was referring to infant sexuality).

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
Freud was an Austrian Jew. Hulton Archive/ Getty Images/ Independent.co.uk.

5. Freud Had To Flee The Nazis

Austria in the 1930s was a dangerous place to be Jewish, even if, like Freud, one was not a practicing Jew. In 1938, he fled Austria for the United Kingdom. Much of his family had already fled by this time, and he was unable to leave because of significant legal challenges and extortion because he was a Jew in a Nazi-occupied land.

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
Freud was a lifelong smoker. loc.gov/ One Dio.co.

4. He Died Of Jaw Cancer

Freud was already in his eighties when he fled Nazi-occupied Austria, and he had been a lifelong smoker. He had cancer of the jaw and had already undergone multiple painful operations, but at the time, the relationship between smoking and cancer was not yet recognized. He died the year after he arrived in London, in 1939.

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud voluntarily underwent a morphine overdose.. freudnediyor/ One Dio.co.

3. Freud Underwent Voluntary Euthanasia

The pain caused by Freud’s cancer was so severe that he turned to his doctor, Max Schur, who was also a refugee from the Nazis and pleaded with him to help him end his life. Because his disease was known to be terminal and he was in constant pain, Dr. Schur agreed. He administered lethal doses of morphine on September 21 and 22, 1939, and Freud died on September 23.

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
You can go visit his ashes. Anorak.co.uk.

2. Freud’s Ashes Are On Display

Three days after his death, Freud’s body was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium in the northern part of London. His son, Ernst, who was also in London as a refugee from the Nazi regime, designed a plinth to hold the ashes on display for anyone who might wish to visit them. They are still on display today, for any of his fans who might want to visit.

35 Things Most People Don’t Know About Sigmund Freud
The statue of Sigmund Freud in London. Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)/ Wikimedia Commons.

1. His Legacy Is Extensive

Freud got a lot of things wrong. In fact, he got just about everything wrong. But the thing about Freud is that even though he got a lot of things wrong, he helped develop the modern field of psychology by showing the critical ways that human behavior is connected to personality and childhood experiences, as well as other unconscious or subconscious mechanisms. For these contributions, psychology will always owe him a debt.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Introduction to Psychology,” by Crash Course. (video)

“Karl Popper, Science, and Pseudoscience: Crash Course Philosophy #8,” by Crash Course. (video)

“The Interpretation of Dreams.” Wikipedia.

“Sigmund Freud.” BBC.

“Sigmund Freud.” Wikipedia.

“Psychodynamic Theory.” Chegg Study.

“How a Young Sigmund Freud Researched & Got Addicted to Cocaine, the New ‘Miracle Drug,’ in 1894.” Open Culture. April 3, 2014.

“Sigmund Freud,” by the editors of biography.com. Biography.com. January 15, 2019.