In the wonderful film adaptation of John Kerrs book ‘A Most Dangerous Method’ we see Sabina Spielrein at the hub. The beautiful and disturbed young woman comes between the deep friendship of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, and ignites their turbulent relationship. It is as though over some time, Sabina’s neurosis is somehow magically transferred and displaced onto Freud (The Father) and Jung (The son). The dynamics between are extremely complex and endless, and initially the gravity of these dynamics seem to focus on sexual energy and intellectual discovery, Sabina providing the fire. The trio form the most perfect recipe for turbulence, and for me the essential premise is a reproduction of some triangular previous family setting, where each one of them is fighting to be seen by the other and have their needs met.
With Jung’s real Father passing away when he was young, he perhaps needed another father figure and mentor, and Freud needed a natural heir, someone to carry on with his analytical work, or rather to further enlarge his ego identity, and hence the relationship was established. As this relationship developed neither party managed to get their needs met which made them “bitter antagonists, locked in a savage struggle that was as much personal and emotional as it was theoretical and professional.” The rationalist Freud knew that Jung’s religious and superstitious approach was not concrete enough for the students of the mind and could jeopardise his theories within the analytical community.
During her analysis with Jung, Sabina painfully confesses to getting exited both before and during the beatings from her Father, especially when her Father mentioned ‘The little room’ where this took place. Sabina’s very physical symptoms mirror the physical abuse she once endured and her juxtaposition between getting attention by beatings, enjoying it and feeling guilty about it, created a serious splitting of the self and promoted her extreme self loathing. This humiliation was made worse by her having to kiss the very hand that beat her after her torment’s. Sabina ‘fell’ in love with Jung, his care and non judgemental empathy allowed her to stay with these awkward emotions, but ultimately she desired to return to the beatings and to conquer them by reciprocating them with Jung, in a safer environment. Ironically their relationship was both traumatic and healing. These ‘love beatings’ confused Jung as he seemed caught between his natural wolf instincts, promoted by the coke sniffing Otto Gross, and his genuine passion for helping others and becoming a prominent and original psychoanalyst. ”Never repress anything,” was Otto’s belief, and he acted as the catalyst that both freed and trapped Jung.
When Jung broke off their intense relationship to avert public scandal, It is said that “Spielrein found in Freud a friend and mentor, confiding to him the details of her attachment to Jung.” Perhaps Sabina wanted her relationship with Jung validated and made real, through confiding with Freud, insisting that she was genuinely loved in return. Instinctually part of her picked up on Jung’s guilt, and in her search to reclaim power, she engaged with Freud knowing that it would give weight to his theory’s of sexuality that Jung did not entirely agree with. Freud could then use what he knew about Jung’s personal life to exert further control over the psychoanalytic movement or again another attempt by Freud’s ego to be god like. It is very interesting that Freud fainted twice in Jung’s presence or perhaps it was what Jung symbolised to Freud…. A real God, not a fake one.
After Freud and Jung’s friendship came to a close, Jung was deeply ambivalent about the future. Jung perhaps witnessed this as another painful loss mirroring the loss of his own father, and suffered a 6 year long breakdown or breakthrough, where in solitude from the outer world he dug deeper into his own inner psyche, emerging as a prominent psychoanalyst in his own right.
“More ominously still, both men privately justified their disregard by implicitly casting her once more into the role of patient, as though that role somehow precluded a person from having a voice or a vision of his or her own” ~ John Kerr