Wilhelm Stekel


Wilhelm Stekel (; 18 March 1868 – 25 June 1940) was an Austrian physician and
psychologist A psychologist is a professional who practices psychology and studies normal and abnormal mental states, perceptual, cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by experimenting with, and observing, interpreting, and recording how ...
, who became one of
Sigmund Freud Sigmund Freud ( , ; born Sigismund Schlomo Freud; 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) was an Austrian neurologist Neurology (from el, νεῦρον (neûron), "string, nerve" and the suffix -logia, "study of") is a branch of medicine M ...

Sigmund Freud
's earliest followers, and was once described as "Freud's most distinguished pupil". According to
Ernest Jones Alfred Ernest Jones (1 January 1879 – 11 February 1958) was a Welsh neurologist Neurology (from el, νεῦρον (neûron), "string, nerve" and the suffix -logia, "study of") is a branch of medicine Medicine is the Art (skill) ...

Ernest Jones
, "Stekel may be accorded the honour, together with Freud, of having founded the first psycho-analytic society.". However, a phrase used by Freud in a letter to Stekel, "the Psychological Society founded by you," suggests that the initiative was entirely Stekel's. Jones also wrote of Stekel that he was "a naturally gifted psychologist with an unusual flair for detecting repressed material." Freud and Stekel later had a falling-out, with Freud announcing in November 1912 that "Stekel is going his own way". Stekel's works are translated and published in many languages.

Early life

Stekel was born in 1868 in
Boiany Boiany ( uk, Бояни, ro, Boian, yi, באיאן ''Boyan'') is a village in Chernivtsi Raion, Chernivtsi Oblast, Chernivtsi Raion, Chernivtsi Oblast (Oblast, province) of western Ukraine. It is located close to Sadagura in the historic region ...
(Yiddish Boyan),
Bukovina Bukovina ro, Bucovina; german: Bukowina or ; pl, Bukowina; hu, Bukovina; uk, Буковина, ; see also other languages Other most often refers to: * Other (philosophy), a concept in psychology and philosophy Other or The Other may also r ...

, then an eastern province of the Austro-Hungarian empire, but now divided between Ukraine in the north and Romania in the south. His parents, who were of mixed Ashkenazi and Sephardic background, were relatively poor, a fact which restricted his life choices. However, the fact that he later used "Boyan" as one of his ''noms de plume'' seems to corroborate his own account of a happy childhood. After an abortive apprenticeship to a shoemaker, he completed his education, matriculating in 1887. He then enlisted as a "one-year-volunteer" with the 9th Company, Prince Eugen's Imperial Infantry Regiment No 41 in Czernowitz oday's Chernivtsi, Ukraine Under this scheme he was not obliged to do his military service until 1890, after completing the first part of his medical studies. He was therefore free to enrol at the University of Vienna in 1887, and studied under the eminent sexologist
Richard von Krafft-Ebing Richard Freiherr (; male, abbreviated as ), (; his wife, abbreviated as , literally "free lord" or "free lady") and (, his unmarried daughters and maiden aunts) are designations used as titles of nobility Traditional rank amongst Europ ...

Richard von Krafft-Ebing
Theodor Meynert Theodor Hermann Meynert (15 June 1833 – 31 May 1892) was a German-Austrian psychiatrist A psychiatrist is a physician A physician (American English), medical practitioner (English in the Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth Engl ...

Theodor Meynert
Emil Zuckerkandl Emil Zuckerkandl (1 September 1849 in Győr, Kingdom of Hungary, Hungary – 28 May 1910 in Vienna, Cisleithania, Austria) was a Kingdom of Hungary, Hungarian anatomist. He was the brother of urologist Otto Zuckerkandl (1861–1921). Biograph ...
, (whose son would later marry Stekel's daughter, Gertrude),
Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke Ernst Wilhelm Ritter von Brücke (6 July 1819 – 7 January 1892) was a German physician A physician (American English), medical practitioner (English in the Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth English), medical doctor, or simply doctor, ...
, Hermann Notnagel, and Max Kassowitz. From 1886 to 1896 Freud was head of the neurological department at the "1st Public Institute for Sick Children" (otherwise known as the Kassowitz Institute) of which Kassowitz had been the director since 1882. As Stekel worked at this institute during the summer semester of 1991, it seems probable that he knew about Freud then, and possibly was also introduced to him by one of the founder members of the Wednesday Psychological Society, Max Kahane, who also worked there. In 1890 Stekel completed the first six months of required military training, which he described as "the most disagreeable period of my life." No doubt in part because of this experience, in 1891 Stekel attended the International Pacifist Convention in Bern, funded by the well-known peace activist
Berta von SuttnerBerta is a female Germanic name or may also be a colloquial shortening of Alberta or Roberta. Berta may refer to: * Berta people, an ethnic group from western Ethiopia and eastern Sudan ** Berta language, their language * Berta (moth), ''Berta'' (m ...
, and founded a University Pacifists Club supported not only by von Suttner, but also by Krafft-Ebing. Nevertheless, he was in such financial straits that at the instigation of his family he applied for a military scholarship. This bound him to another six years of service in the army, and also prohibited him from marrying until his release in 1897. He managed, however, by intentionally failing an examination and using a loophole in the regulations, to gain his release in 1894. Thereafter Stekel opened a successful doctor's practice, while as a sideline, following the example of his elder brother, the journalist Moritz Stekel, wrote articles and pamphlets covering issues around health and disease. In 1895 Stekel wrote an article, "Coitus in Childhood" which Freud cited in an article on "The Aetiology of Hysteria" in 1896. The same year Stekel cited Freud in an article on migraine, which, however, did not appear until 1897.


Stekel wrote a book called ''Auto-erotism: A Psychiatric Study of Onanism and Neurosis'', first published in English in 1950. He is also credited with coining the term ''
paraphilia Paraphilia (previously known as sexual perversion and sexual deviation) is the experience of intense sexual arousal Sexual arousal (also sexual excitement) describes the physiological Physiology (; ) is the scientific Science () ...
'' to replace ''perversion''.Stekel, Wilhelm (1930), Sexual Aberrations: The Phenomenon of Fetishism in Relation to Sex, translated from the 1922 original German edition by S. Parker. Liveright Publishing. He analysed, among others, the psychoanalysts
Otto Gross Otto Hans Adolf Gross (17 March 1877 – 13 February 1920) was an Austrian psychoanalyst. A maverick early disciple of Sigmund Freud, he later became an anarchist and joined the utopian Monte Verità, Ascona community. His father Hans Gross was a ...

Otto Gross
and A. S. Neill, as well as Freud's first biographer,
Fritz Wittels Fritz Wittels, born Siegfried Wittels" parents, who were full of the Wagnerian enthusiasm of those days, named me Siegfried. I was always ashamed of that name, which was too glorious to be used on weekdays, so they called me Fritz..." (November ...
. In his 1924 Freud biography, Wittels expressed his admiration for Stekel, to whose school he at that time adhered. This annoyed Freud who wrote in the margin of the copy of the book Wittels sent him 'Zu viel Stekel,' (Too much Stekel). Much later, Wittels, who by then had returned to the Freudian fold, still praised Stekel's "strange ease in understanding" but commented, "The trouble with Stekel's analysis was that it almost invariably reached an impasse when the so-called
negative transference Negative transference is the psychoanalytic Psychoanalysis (from Greek: + ) is a set of theories and therapeutic techniques"What is psychoanalysis? Of course, one is supposed to answer that it is many things — a theory, a research method, a ...
grew stronger". Stekel's autobiography was published posthumously in English in 1950.

Contributions to psychoanalytic theory

Theory of neurosis

Stekel made significant contributions to symbolism in dreams, "as successive editions of ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' attest, with their explicit acknowledgement of Freud's debt to Stekel": "the works of Wilhelm Stekel and others...since taught me to form a truer estimate of the extent and importance of symbolism in dreams". Considering obsessional doubts, Stekel said,
In anxiety the libido is transformed into organic and somatic symptoms; in doubt, the libido is transformed into intellectual symptoms. The more intellectual someone is, the greater will be the doubt component of the transformed forces. Doubt becomes pleasure sublimated as intellectual achievement.
Stekel wrote one of a set of three early "Psychoanalytic studies of psychical impotence" referred to approvingly by Freud: "Freud had written a preface to Stekel's book". Related to this may be Stekel's "elaboration of the idea that everyone, and in particular neurotics, has a peculiar form of sexual gratification which is alone adequate". Freud credited Stekel as a potential forerunner when pondering the possibility that (for obsessional neurotics) "in the order of development hate is the precursor of love. This is perhaps the meaning of an assertion by Stekel (1911 'Die Sprache des Traumes'' 536), which at the time I found incomprehensible, to the effect that hate and not love is the primary emotional relation between men". The same work is credited by Otto Fenichel as establishing 'the symbolic significance of right and left...''right'' meaning ''correct'' and ''left'' meaning ''wrong'' '. Less flatteringly, Fenichel also associated it with "a comparatively large school of pseudo analysis which held that the patient should be 'bombarded' with 'deep interpretations,'" a backhanded tribute to the extent of Stekel's early following in the wake of his break with Freud.

Contributions to the theory of fetishism and of perversion

Stekel contrasted what he called "normal fetishes" from extreme interests: "They become pathological only when they have pushed the whole love object into the background and themselves appropriate the function of a love object, e.g., when a lover satisfies himself with the possession of a woman's shoe and considers the woman herself as secondary or even disturbing and superfluous (p. 3). Stekel also deals differently than Freud with the problem of perversion. A lot of perversions are defense mechanisms (Schutzbauten) of the moral “self”; they represent hidden forms of asceticism. To Freud, the primal sexual venting meant health, while neuroses were created because of repressing sexual drives. Stekel, on the other hand, points out the significance of the repressed religious “self” in neuroses and indicates that apart from the repressed sexuality type, there is also a repressed morality type. This type is created in the conditions of sexual licentiousness while being opposed to doing it at the same time. In the latter instance, 'Stekel holds that fetichism is the patient's unconscious religion'. "Normal" fetishes for Stekel contributed more broadly to choice of lifestyle: thus "choice of vocation was actually an attempt to solve mental conflicts through the displacement of them", so that doctors for Stekel were "voyeurs who have transferred their original sexual current into the art of diagnosis". Complaining of Freud's tendency to indiscretion,
Ernest Jones Alfred Ernest Jones (1 January 1879 – 11 February 1958) was a Welsh neurologist Neurology (from el, νεῦρον (neûron), "string, nerve" and the suffix -logia, "study of") is a branch of medicine Medicine is the Art (skill) ...

Ernest Jones
wrote that he had told him "the nature of Stekel's sexual perversion, which he should not have and which I have never repeated to anyone". Stekel's "elaboration of the idea that everyone, and in particular every neurotic, has a peculiar form of sexual gratification which is alone adequate" may thus have been grounded in personal experience. On
sado-masochism Sadomasochism ( ) is the giving and receiving of pleasure from acts involving the receipt or infliction of pain or humiliation Humiliation is the abasement of pride, which creates mortification or leads to a state of being humbled or reduc ...
, "Stekel has described the essence of the sadomasochistic act to be humiliation".

Freud's critique of Stekel's theory of the origin of phobias

In ''
The Ego and the Id ''The Ego and the Id'' (german: Das Ich und das Es) is a prominent paper by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. It is an analytical study of the human Psyche (psychology), psyche outlining his theories of the psychodynamics of the id, ...
'', Freud wrote of the "high-sounding phrase, 'every fear is ultimately the fear of death'" — associated with Stekel (1908) — that it "has hardly any meaning, and at any rate cannot be justified", evidence perhaps (as with psychic impotence and love/hate) of his continuing engagement with the thought of his former associate.

On technique

Stekel "was also an innovator in technique...devisa form of short-term therapy called active analysis which has much in common with some modern form of counselling and therapy".

On aesthetics

Stekel maintained that "in every child there slumbered a creative artist". In connection with the psychoanalytic examination of the roots of art, however, he emphasised that "...the Freudian interpretation, no matter how far it be carried, never offers even the rudest criterion of 'artistic' excellence...we are investigating only the impulse which drives people to create". Analyzing the dreams of artists and non-artists alike, Stekel pointed out that "at the level of symbol production the poet does not differ from the most prosaic soul...Is it not remarkable that the great poet
Goethe Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832) was a German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Germany or people of German ancestry * For citizens of G ...

and the unknown little woman...should have constructed such similar dreams?".

Personal life

Stekel committed suicide in London by taking an overdose of
Aspirin Aspirin, also known as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), is a medication used to reduce pain, fever, or inflammation. Specific inflammatory conditions which aspirin is used to treat include Kawasaki disease, pericarditis, and rheumatic fever. Aspirin ...

"to end the pain of his
prostate The prostate is both an accessory gland of the male reproductive system The male reproductive system consists of a number of sex organ A sex organ (or reproductive organ) is any part of an animal or plant that is involved in sexual repr ...

and the
diabetic Diabetes mellitus (DM), commonly known as diabetes, is a group of metabolic disorders characterized by a high blood sugar level over a prolonged period of time. Symptoms often include frequent urination, increased thirst and increased appeti ...
gangrene". He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on 29 June 1940. His ashes lie in section 3-V of the Garden of Remembrance but there is no memorial.Golders Green Crematorium guide notes He was married twice and left two children. Stekel's autobiography was published posthumously, edited by his former personal assistant Emil Gutheil and his wife Hilda Binder Stekel.Wertham, Frederic (June 11, 1950). He Worked With Freud. ''New York Times'' She died in 1969. A biographical account appeared in ''The Self-Marginalization of Wilhem Stekel'' (2007) by Jaap Bos and Leendert Groenendijk, which also includes his correspondence with Sigmund Freud. See also L. Mecacci, ''Freudian Slips: The Casualties of Psychoanalysis from the Wolf Man to Marilyn Monroe'', Vagabond Voices 2009, pp. 101

In popular culture

* He is referenced in the episodes 22 and 26 of ''Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex''. * A quote attributed to Stekel ("The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause. The mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.") is referenced in ''The Catcher in the Rye'' by J.D. Salinger. Cited by a character in the novel as a statement of Stekel's, it has sometimes been attributed to Salinger and may indeed be his paraphrase of a statement by the German writer Otto Ludwig (writer), Otto Ludwig (1813-1865), which Stekel himself has quoted in his writings: "Das Höchste, wozu er sich erheben konnte, war, für etwas rühmlich zu sterben; jetzt erhebt er sich zu dem Größern, für etwas ruhmlos zu leben." Cf. q:Wilhelm Stekel#Misattributed.

Selected publications

*Stekel W. (1911). ''Die Sprache des Traumes: Eine Darstellung der Symbolik und Deutung des Traumes in ihren Bezeihungen'' *Stekel W. (1911). Sexual Root of Kleptomania. ''J. Am. Inst. Crim. L. & Criminology'' *Stekel W. (1917). ''Nietzsche und Wagner, eine sexualpsychologische Studie zur Psychogenese des Freundschaftsgefühles und des Freundschaftsverrates'' *Stekel W. (1921). iarchive:belovedegofounda00stekuoft, ''The beloved ego, foundations of the new study of the psyche'' *Stekel W. (1921) iarchive:depthsofsoulpsyc00stekuoft, ''The depths of the soul; psycho-analytical studies'' *Stekel W. (1922). ''Compulsion and Doubt (Zwang und Zweifel)'' Liveright *Stekel W. (1922)
''Disguises of love ; psycho-analytical sketches''
*Stekel W. (1922). iarchive:homosexualneuros00stekiala, ''The Homosexual Neuroses'' *Stekel W. (1922). iarchive:bisexuallovehomo00stekuoft, Bi-sexual love; the homosexual neurosis (2003 reprint: Bisexual Love. Fredonia) *Stekel W. (1922). iarchive:sexdreamslanguag00stekiala, ''Sex and dreams; the language of dreams'' *Stekel W. (1926). ''Frigidity in women Vol. II.'' Grove Press *Stekel W., Boltz O.H. (1927). ''Impotence in the Male: The Psychic Disorders of Sexual Function in the Male.'' Boni and Liveright *Stekel W., Van Teslaar J.S. (1929). Peculiarities of Behavior: Wandering Mania, Dipsomania, Cleptomania, Pyromania and Allied Impulsive Disorders. H. Liveright *Stekel W. (1929). iarchive:b20442282M001, ''Sadism and Masochism: The Psychology of Hatred and Cruelty.'' Liveright *Stekel W. (1943). ''The Interpretation of Dreams: New Developments and Technique.'' Liveright *Stekel W., Gutheil E. (1950). ''The Autobiography of Wilhelm Stekel.'' Liveright *Stekel W., Boltz O.H. (1950). ''Technique of Analytical Psychotherapy''. Live right *Stekel W. (1952). ''Disorders of the Instincts and the Emotions -- The Parapathaic Disorders,'' Vol. 1 and ''Sexual Aberrations -- The Phenomena of Fetishism in Relation to Sex,'' Volume 2. (Two volumes in one.) Liveright *Stekel W., Boltz O.H. (1999 reprint). ''Conditions of Nervous Anxiety and Their Treatment'' *Stekel W. (1952). ''Patterns of Psychosexual Infantilism'' Grove Press Books and Evergreen Books *Stekel W. (1961). ''Auto-erotism: a psychiatric study of masturbation and neurosis''. Grove Press


Further reading

* * * *

External links

Wilhelm Stekel's article "Poetry and Neurosis. Psychology of the Artist", ''Heksis'' 2/2010

* {{DEFAULTSORT:Stekel, Wilhelm 1868 births 1940 deaths 1940 suicides People from Novoselytsia Raion Austrian Jews Austrian psychologists Freudians Austrian sexologists Austrian psychoanalysts History of psychiatry Suicides in London Jewish psychoanalysts Austrian emigrants to the United Kingdom Drug-related suicides in England