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Wilhelm Stekel

Wilhelm Stekel
Wilhelm Stekel
Born (1868-03-18)March 18, 1868
Boiany, Bukovina, Austria-Hungary (present day Ukraine)
Died June 25, 1940(1940-06-25) (aged 72)
London, England
Cause of death Suicide
Nationality Austrian
Occupation Psychoanalyst
Known for Auto-erotism: A Psychiatric Study of Onanism and Neurosis
Spouse(s) Hilda Binder Stekel

Wilhelm Stekel (German: ; March 18, 1868 – June 25, 1940) was an Austrian physician and psychologist, who became one of Sigmund Freud's earliest followers, and was once described as "Freud's most distinguished pupil."[1] According to Ernest Jones, "Stekel may be accorded the honour, together with Freud, of having founded the first psycho-analytic society"; while he also described him as "a naturally gifted psychologist with an unusual flair for detecting repressed material."[2] He later had a falling-out with Freud, who announced in November 1912 that "Stekel is going his own way".[3] His works are translated and published in many languages.


  • Career 1
  • Contributions to psychoanalytic theory 2
    • Theory of neurosis 2.1
    • Contributions to the theory of fetishism and of perversion 2.2
    • Freud's critique of Stekel's theory of the origin of phobias 2.3
    • On technique 2.4
    • On aesthetics 2.5
  • Personal life 3
  • In popular culture 4
  • Selected publications 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Born in Boiany, Bukovina, he 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 to replace perversion.[4] He analysed, among others, the psychoanalysts Otto Gross and A. S. Neill, as well as Freud's first biographer, Fritz Wittels. The latter paid tribute to "his strange ease in understanding", but commented that "The trouble with Stekel's analysis was that it almost invariably reached an impasse when the so-called negative transference grew stronger".[5] His autobiography was published 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":[6] "the works of Wilhelm Stekel and others...since taught me to form a truer estimate of the extent and importance of symbolism in dreams".[7]

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.[8]

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".[9] 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".[10]

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".[11] The same work is credited by Otto Fenichel as establishing 'the symbolic significance of right and left...right meaning correct and left meaning wrong '.[12] 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,'"[13] 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).[4] 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'.[14] "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".[15]

Complaining of Freud's tendency to indiscretion, 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".[16] Stekel's "elaboration of the idea that everyone, and in particular every neurotic, has a peculiar form of sexual gratification which is alone adequate"[17] may thus have been grounded in personal experience.

On sado-masochism, "Stekel has described the essence of the sadomasochistic act to be humiliation".[18]

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

In The Ego and 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",[19] 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...devis[ing] a form of short-term therapy called active analysis which has much in common with some modern form of counselling and therapy".[20]

On aesthetics

Stekel maintained that "in every child there slumbered a creative artist".[21] 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".[22] 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 and the unknown little woman...should have constructed such similar dreams?".[23]

Personal life

Stekel committed suicide in London by taking an overdose of Aspirin "to end the pain of his prostate and the diabetic gangrene".[24] 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.[25]

He was married twice and left two children.[26] Stekel's autobiography was published posthumously, edited by his former personal assistant Emil Gutheil and his wife Hilda Binder Stekel.[27] She died in 1969.[28]

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

Selected publications

  • 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. Liveright
  • Stekel W., Boltz O.H. (1999 reprint). Conditions of Nervous Anxiety and Their Treatment
  • 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). Sadism and Masochism: The Psychology of Hatred and Cruelty. Liveright
  • Stekel W. (2003 reprint). Bisexual Love. Fredonia
  • Stekel W. (1917). Nietzsche und Wagner, eine sexualpsychologische Studie zur Psychogenese des Freundschaftsgefühles und des Freundschaftsverrates
  • Stekel W. (1921). The beloved ego, foundations of the new study of the psyche
  • Stekel W. (1921) 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). The Homosexual Neuroses
  • Stekel W. (1922). Bi-sexual love; the homosexual neurosis
  • Stekel W. (1922). Sex and dreams; the language of dreams
  • 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. (1961). Auto-erotism: a psychiatric study of masturbation and neurosis. Grove Press
  • Stekel W. (1926). Frigidity in women Vol. II. Grove Press
  • Stekel W. (1952). Patterns of Psychosexual Infantilism Grove Press Books and Evergreen Books


  1. ^ Fritz Wittels, Sigmund Freud: His Personality, His Teaching, & His School (London 1924) p. 17
  2. ^ Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (London 1964), p. 312 and p. 402
  3. ^ Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for our Time(London 1989) p. 232
  4. ^ a b 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.
  5. ^ Edward Timms ed., Freud and the Child Woman: The Memoirs of Fritz Wittels (London 1995), p. 113 and 115
  6. ^ Gay, p. 173
  7. ^ Sigmund Freud, "Preface to the Third Edition", The Interpretation of Dreams (London 1991) p. 49
  8. ^ Wilhelm Stekel, "The Doubt", Compulsion and Doubt (London: Peter Nevill, 1950), p. 92.
  9. ^ Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (London 1991) p. 248 and n
  10. ^ Wittels, p. 231
  11. ^ Sigmund Freud, on Psychopathology (Middlesex 1987), p. 143-4
  12. ^ Otto Fenichel, 'The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 224
  13. ^ Fenichel, p. 25
  14. ^ Wittels, Sigmund Freud p. 195n
  15. ^ H. Freeman, Seminars in Psychosexual Disorders (1998) p. 55
  16. ^ Quoted in Gay, p. 187n
  17. ^ Wittels, Sigmund Freud p. 231
  18. ^ Susan Griffin, Pornography and silence (London 1988) p. 47
  19. ^ Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology (Middlesex 1987), p. 399
  20. ^ Francis Clark-Lowes: Stekel, Wilhelm
  21. ^ Poetry and Neurosis"Wilhelm Stekel,
  22. ^ Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key (USA 1974), pp. 207–8
  23. ^ Langer, p. 208n
  24. ^ Lester, David (2006). Suicide and the Holocaust. Nova Science Publishers. p. 63.
  25. ^ Golders Green Crematorium guide notes
  26. ^ Staff report (June 28, 1940). "Wilhelm Stekel, Once Freud's Aide; Former Chief Assistant to the Psychoanalyst Wrote Works on Mental Maladies".  
  27. ^ Wertham, Frederic (June 11, 1950). He Worked With Freud. New York Times
  28. ^ Staff report (June 3, 1969). "Dr. Hilda B. Stekel".  

Further reading

  • Bos, Jaap; et al. (2007). The Self-Marginalization of Wilhelm Stekel. 
  • Katz, Maya Balakirsky (2011). "A Rabbi, A Priest, and a Psychoanalyst: Religion in the Early Psychoanalytic Case History". Contemporary Jewry 31 (1): 3–24.  
  • Katz, Maya Balakirsky (2010). "An Occupational Neurosis: A Psychoanalytic Case History of a Rabbi". AJS Review 34 (1): 1–31.  
  • Meaker, M. J. (1964). "Ask my patients to forgive me....: Dr. Wilhelm Stekel". Sudden Endings, 13 Profiles in Depth of Famous Suicides. Garden, NY: Doubleday. pp. 189–203. 

External links

  • Quotations related to Wilhelm Stekel at Wikiquote
  • 2/2010HeksisWilhelm Stekel's article "Poetry and Neurosis. Psychology of the Artist",
  • 2/2010HeksisKazimierz Dąbrowski "Remarks on Wilhelm Stekel's Active Psychoanalysis",
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