Discuss the reasons for Little Han's phobia as presented by Freud and Lacan.
Your answer should contain references to infantile sexuality, libido, anxiety, repression, Oedipus complex, paternal metaphor, imaginary and symbolic phallus.
This assignment requires you:
• To demonstrate knowledge of the psychoanalytic theories of phobia in relation to sexuality and the Oedipus complex
• To make specific reference to Freud’s ideas on this topic as they are illustrated by him in his 1905 case, A Case of Phobia in a five-year-old boy
• To include a commentary on Lacan’s ideas about phobia
The aim of this essay is to discuss the psychoanalytic theories that could explain Little Hans’s phobia, the five-year old boy who was treated in 1909 by Sigmund Freud. Hans had developed the habit of playing with his ‘widdler’ when his mother noticed and threatened him to have it cut off by a doctor. Around the same time, he also developed the phobia of horses and used to be so scared of the animal that he used to stay at home most of the time. The incident that made him phobic with horses was witnessing the death of a horse in the streets and noticing his big ‘widdler’.
The aim of this essay is to elaborate on the reasons for Hans’s phobia with the help of the psychoanalytic theories in relation to sexuality and Oedipus complex. A brief overview of the case study shall also be provided in order to understand the different concepts associated with the phobia. The essay will also focus on Freudian notion of phobia. Further, Lacan’s ideas shall also be discussed in the essay. Prior to explaining the ideas, the essay will provide a short description of the terms and phrases used.
The case study was done on a 5-year old boy named as Little Hans in the year 1909 by Sigmund Freud, knows as the father of psychoanalysis. Hans had a phobia of horses that had developed after he witnessed a horse collapsing on the street and dying. Max Graf, Hans’ father described in one of the letters to Freud that his son had preoccupation with male genitals that led to Hans’ mother threatening him of castration (Freud, 2001). Many instances there were that Graf had explained to Freud about his son’s imaginations; one of which was the two giraffes – one that was large and the other that was crumpled. He took the crumpled giraffe from the large one who called out to the crumpled one.
After the sings of the initial phobia vanished when Hans attained the age of five, he developed some fantasies. In one of those, Hans fantasized having several children and when asked who the mother would be, he replied his father, “Mommy, and you’re the Granddaddy” (Freud, 2001). Another fantasy Hans told about to his father was about a plumber who had come to remove his bottom including the penis and putting new and large penis instead.
The case provided Freud with great resources to complete his theory of psychosexual development. He also talked about infantile sexuality through the three primary stages – the oral stage that starts from birth and lasts until the age of one; the anal stage where defecation brings a satisfaction, and the phallic stage where children notice the genitals and begin to know the difference amongst the two genders (Freud, 2001). When Hans was just over three years, his sister was born and that was the tine when he was experience the third stage, that is, the phallic stage.
Phobia means the unreasonable and overwhelming fear of a situation or an object that poses no danger or little danger in real life but that provokes avoidance and anxiety. According to the psychoanalytic theory of phobia, the unsolved conflicts between the id and the superego lead to phobia. The id is present in humans since birth and seats the instincts. It is unconscious and attempts to receive instant gratification and avoid pain. It comprises the sex instinct, the Eros – which has the libido and the thanatos or instinct of death (Kahn & Liefooghe, 2014). The superego develops in human at the age of five and contains the morals and value. The psychoanalysts argue that the conflict generally originates in childhood and is either displaced or suppressed. The object is not the actual source of anxiety in phobia.
Psychoanalytic Theory of Phobia
In case of Little Hans, the source of phobia is not actually the horse or his ‘widdle’ but it is conflict with his id and the superego (Freud, 2001). Little Hans describes the horse, his phobia, as a white creature wearing a noseband and blinkers. The white horse is actually a reference to Hans’s father who is white, has a moustache and wears glasses. Hans’s father described to Freud about his son’s phobia at the age of four that developed into a conflict with him when Hans would climb to his parent’s bed every morning to cuddle his mother. When the father objected to the behavior of his, Hans’s phobia increased and he used to have generalized anxiety attacks. At the same age, Hans’s father explained to Freud about his son’s fear about a white horse biting him. The father related to this fear to the fear of his son having a small penis as compared to the horse’s big penis. As per the psychoanalytic theory of phobia, Hans’s fear had emerged from his realization about his sexuality. His father restricted Hans to cuddle his mother, which made him feel low about his sexuality since the horse (relating to his father) had a bigger penis (the symbol of sexuality) than he had (Freud, 2001).
Sigmund Freud, who did the case study on Little Hans, through the accounts of Hans’s father, described that Little Hans had Oedipus complex. Now, before proceeding to the why, it is important to explain the what. Oedipus complex is a term introduced and popularized Sigmund Freud himself that referred to a child obsession and desire for the parent of the opposite sex. The child feels angry at the same-sex parent and feels that she or he is competing against the same-sex parent to have the possession of the opposite sex parent.
Little Hans’s case thus, was directly related to the Oedipus complex as inferred by Freud. He provided specific examples that demonstrated the presence of Oedipus complex in Hans’s phobia. First, the horses with which Hans had phobia represented actually his father. Second, horses were good symbols representing the father because they had bigger penises. Third, Hans’s anxiety was actually caused by his anxiety of castration that his mother had triggered when she threatened to “cut off his penis” (Freud, 2001). In addition, his father stopping him from climbing in his parent’s bed caused the anxiety. Fourth, the giraffes that Hans fantasized – the large one and the crumpled one – could actually be his father and mother. The large giraffe symbolized the father big penis while the crumpled giraffe represented the mother’s genitals. Fifth, the fantasy of the child represented a friendly resolution to the Oedipus complex where Hans replaces his father as the main love object of his mother. Lastly, the fantasy of a plumber removing his bottom and placing new and large penis is actually identification to his father where he views himself growing up with big penis like his father.
Freudian ideas about the phobia of Little Hans were groundbreaking as it introduced his theory on psychosexual development that revolutionized the field of psychology. As many experts would suggest, Little Hans case study was the forerunner of the child analysis development.
Little Hans and the Oedipus Complex
Jacques Lacan, in his 1957 seminar on La relation d’object (Object Relations) developed the thesis that Little Hans’ phobia was the result of a flaw or fault in the paternal function (Vives, 2012). He categorized the father into three – the imaginary, real and the symbolic. Lacan actually meant that the difficulty was in the “construction of the paternal metaphor”. Lacan located paternal function as a metaphor that was formalized like this (Midgley, 2006):
The formula above formalized by Lacan guaranteed the metaphoric substitution of one signifier for another. The ‘name of the father’ signifier alternates for the mother’s enigma for the child, her desire with the arbitration of phallic signification. This means that the father is actually not an actual person to the child neither an ideal object. He is symbolic, one who is “the agent of castration” (Pietrusza & Dunn, 2018). In case of Little Hans, the horse replaces the signifier ‘name of the father’. Lacan’s theory of the imaginary, the real and the symbolic father provides further insights into the case of Little Hans.
Lacan viewed Little Hans’ case through a different lens although he accepted most of Freud’s views on the boy. Freud concluded Hans’ anxiety initially as caused by the fear of castration and it fueled his phobia as well. however, Lacan had a different view on it as he believed that the actual question that Hans had to come face-to-face with was “What does mother want from me?” that traumatized him (Midgley, 2006). For Lacan, the mother-child relationship in the early stages if often viewed as a dual relationship, preoedipal relationship. He claims that the child is never alone with his mother at this stage but with a third term constituting thus a triangular structure. The third term, states Lacan, is not the father but an “imaginary phallus”. The infant child believes that it is the imaginary phallus that the mother desires the most and is very happy to fulfill this role of a symbolic phallus to his mother. After the birth of Hans’ sister when he was just over three years old, Freud states that Hans felt he was suddenly cast out from the dual relationship and another one took his place. The later scolding by his mother stopping his phallic masturbation further worsened the relationship, states Freud. According to Lacan however, the “fundamental disappointment” faced by Hans was because of the realization that he is not what the mother desires and that the interest of his mother is actually the phallus (Lucchelli, 2016).
Lacan further claims that with the trouble in the mirror-relationship with his mother, Little Hans found that the imaginary lure had turned into a “deadly game” where he becomes aware the lack of phallus and its menacing since it creates a wide hole in the mother that fuels her enigmatic desire. It is only when the real father intervenes that a “symbolic castration” for Little Hans takes place. The paternal metaphor is introduced when the father claims possession of the phallus based on symbolic law. Lacan also states that the paternal metaphor states the child’s impossibility in attempting to be a phallus for his mother and hence, frees him to “identify with the father at the symbolic level” and allows the child to become an object of desire. However, the transition does not always occur successfully (Midgley, 2006). As Lacan observes, the castration is always connected to the influence and the intervention of the real father. He suggests that in Hans’ case, the castration does not take place successfully since the father failed to interfere between the child and the mother properly. The father failed to clarify his role to Hans as the one making the babies and this left Hans with the unbearable anxiety to fulfill this role. Therefore, as opposed to Freud’s assumption that Hans’ phobia of the horse is not actually symbolic to the father. It is rather Hans’ attempt to construct a substitute for the symbolic father, whom he needed desperately.
Freudian Ideas of Little Hans' Phobia
The phobia therefore, explained Freud, is a method that binds anxiety and serves a distrustful function because it transforms an “uncontained anxiety into a specific fear by focusing on a specific object”. In Lacan’s views, Hans’ experience of the anxiety takes place because of the response to being placed in the imaginary Oedipus triangle and the quaternity. The triangle involves the mother-child-phallus whereas the quaternity includes the symbolic father as well. Lacan puts this simply as the situation where Hans is “suspended between a moment where he no longer knows where he is and a future he will never be able to re-find himself” (Midgley, 2006).
Although Lacan’s ideas about Hans’ case differed significantly from that of Freud, he agreed with Freud’s chief assumptions such as Hans was a regular 3-year old who had a normal interest in his ‘widdlers’. I addition, Lacan also agreed to Freud’s idea that the foundation of Hans’ anxiety and infantile phobia occurred with his mother threatening him of castration (Shively & De Cecco, 2014).
As evident from the discussion, therefore, the reason for Hans’ phobia was actually due to the presence of Oedipus complex according to Freud. He analyzed that Little Hans had developed the Oedipus complex as he passed through the three primary stages of infantile sexuality development. The stages were oral, anal and phallic. The analysis also found that Freud did not directly address the case of Hans rather; Hans’ father Max Graf communicated it to him. Further, it was revealed that Hans had developed the phobia at the age of three that remained until he was five. It was later revealed that the phobia was actually symbolic of Hans’ fear with his father. The Little Hans case study was groundbreaking in the sense that it helped Freud formulate his theory of psychosexual development. Freud found that the reasons behind Hans’ phobia were actually the conflict of his id and the superego. The paper also provided the views and commentaries of Jacques Lacan on Little Hans case. Lacan agreed to some ideas of Freud but differed in some areas. One of the major areas of difference was Freud’s emphasis on the Oedipus complex and Lacan’s deviation from it. He instead focused on the paternal metaphor that revealed that Hans’ Phobia did not symbolize his fear of the father’s symbolic phallus but the absence of the symbolic father. The essay also included the psychoanalytical analysis to understand Hans’ phobia. The essay found that the psychoanalytic theory also explained the phobia in the same way as Freud did since he was the one who had developed psychoanalysis.
Freud, S. (2001). Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. Standard edition, 10.
Kahn, S., & Liefooghe, A. (2014). Thanatos: Freudian manifestations of death at work. Culture and Organization, 20(1), 53-67.
Lucchelli, J. P. (2016). Little Hans and the Myth of the Pregnant Boy. L'Information Psychiatrique, 92(10), 831-836.
Midgley, N. (2006). Re-reading “Little Hans”: Freud's case study and the question of competing paradigms in psychoanalysis. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 54(2), 537-559.
Pietrusza, C., & Dunn, J. (2018). A Horse: No Worse? Phobia and the Failure of Human Metaphors in Psychoanalysis. In Lacan and the Nonhuman (pp. 43-61). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
Shively, M. G., & De Cecco, J. P. (2014). From sexual identity to sexual relationships: A contextual shift. In Origins of Sexuality and Homosexuality (pp. 1-26). Routledge.
Vives, J. M. (2012). ‘Little Hans’: From his phobic episode to becoming an opera director. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 93(4), 863-878.
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