Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy

Sigmund Freud 1909

Part 1

Freud points out that there could be two problems with this case study. The first is that Hans may not be a normal child and therefore it would be wrong to draw conclusions about children in general from this one case study. The second is that as the material was gathered by Han's father then the material might be considered biased. Freud quite rightly suggests that children are highly suggestible.

Freud points out that we should pay attention to what Hans has to say and not dismiss his talk as childish nonsense. Even so Freud believes that mistruths can easily be detected.

Little Hans is viewed as a cheerful straightforward child. It was during analysis that the intrusion of unconscious material caused problems for Hans.

Freud admits that it is necessary when interviewing a child to help the child concentrate its thoughts upon the subject under investigation. Freud tries to draw a distinction between this and the accusation of experimenter bias (i.e. suggesting to the child what he should say).

Little Hans calls his penis his "widdler". Hans classified all animate and inanimate objects based on whether they have a penis or not. Hans is faced with contradictory evidence of his theory when he watches his seven-day old sister being given a Bath. "But her widdler is still quite small", he remarks. Hans then consoles himself by saying, "when she grows up, it'll get bigger all right".

Freud suggests that Hans seeing his baby sister without a penis would have worried him. Hans would worry about being castrated (castration complex).

When Hans was three and a half, his mother found him touching his penis. She threatened him by saying: "if you do that, I shall send for doctor A to cut off your widdler. And then what'll you widdle with?"

Hans replied: " with my bottom."

At this time Hans begins to show an interest in his widdler and looking at other people's widdlers. He has a dream that expresses a wish that one of his little girl friends should assist him in widdling. Hans expressed a wish to see his parent's widdlers. Hans had observed that large animals, such as horses, had widdlers and that they were larger than his. Hans believed that adults had widdlers "like a horse".

Little Hans was seen to be gaining sexual satisfaction from not only micturition (having a wee) but also from evacuation of the bowels. He had a fantasy whereby he imagined he had children, whom he took to the WC, whom he made to widdle, and whose behinds he wiped. Freud concludes that as Hans takes pleasure in this fantasy he therefore must have taken pleasure when he had been taken to the toilet himself.

At this time hans became ashamed of micturiting in front of other people and he made efforts to give up masturbating. He also showed disgust at faeces, which he called "lumf" as well as being disgusted with widdle. The fantasy of looking after his children was considered to be a way of coping with his repression.

Han's father often had to be away from the family home. On nights when his father was away Hans would sleep in his mother's bed. Freud interprets this in a sexual way. Freud says "Hans really was a little Oedipus who wanted to have his father out of the way, to get rid of him, so that he might be alone with his beautiful mother and sleep with her. Hans wished that his father were permanently away, in other words dead. Freud believes that the fear of Hans of being bitten by a white horse refers to the retribution of his father.

When Hans is three and half years old his baby sister is born. Hans' bed was in the parents room but when Labour began at five in the morning Hans and his bed were moved into the next room. At 7 Hans could hear his mother groaning and asked, "why is mummy coughing?" He also said "the stork's coming today for certain". Later when Hans was called into the bedroom his attention was caught by the basins filled with blood and water. Hans observed "but blood doesn't come out of my widdler". Hans becomes jealous of his baby sister because she is receiving all of the attention. When others say what a lovely baby she is, Hans scornfully says "but she's not got any teeth yet". Later when Hans is taken ill with a sore throat in his fever he says "but I don't want a baby sister!"

Hans is afraid of drowning when taking a bath. During an interview Freud asks Hans "when you were watching mummy giving Hanna her Bath, perhaps you wished she would let go of her so that Hanna should fall in?" Hans replies "yes". From this Freud concludes that Hans has a death wish against his sister. Hans wishes both his sister and his father dead because they interfere with his being alone with his mother.

Part 2

When Hans was in the street he became frightened. He said that he was frightened that a white horse would bite him.

At one point Hans fears that "the horse will come into the room".

Being taken by his mother into her bed often comforted Hans. Freud says, "we may assume that since then Hans had been in a state of intensified sexual excitement, the object of which was his mother." Freud gives an example of Hans' attempt to "seduce" his mother. Hans' mother was drying and powdering him after his bath. She is taking care not to touch his penis. Hans asks, "why don't you put your finger there?" His mother explains that it would not be proper. Hans laughs and says "but it is great fun". Freud continues "he (Hans) found an incidental channel of discharge for it by masturbating every evening, and in that way obtaining gratification."

Freud encourages Hans' parents to break his habit of masturbating by emphasising his love of his mother. Freud says that this intervention brought a slight improvement, but a period of illness caused Hans to go back to his old ways! Hans had heard a father warn his child, "don't put your finger to the white horse or it'll bite you". Freud points out that the phrase "don't put your finger to" is similar to the warning against masturbating. Freud at first believes that there is a connection between masturbation and the white horse's biting but then dismisses this.

Hans wanted at all costs to see his mother's widdler. For that matter he also wanted to see a new maid's widdler. His father told him that women have no widdlers. Hans pretended that he had seen his mother showing her widdler. He said that it was "fixed in, of course".

Freud maintains that a fantasy about two giraffes demonstrates Hans' mastering his castration complex. Hans says that a big giraffe came into his room during the night as well as a crumpled giraffe. Hans took the crumpled one away from the big giraffe and the big giraffe called out. After a while the big giraffe stopped calling out and Hans then sat on top of the crumpled giraffe. Freud interprets the giraffes as representing Hans' parents.

Freud now informs Hans that he was afraid of his father because he was jealous of him. It was explained to Hans that he was hostile towards his father. It was further explained that Hans' fear of horses really meant he was frightened of his father. Freud points out that the black around the horse's mouth and the blinkers represented Hans' father's moustache and glasses.

Whilst Hans was walking with his mother he saw a bus horse fall down. Hans thought the horse was dead. His father pointed out to him that the horse really represented his father. In other words Hans wished that his father would be dead. Hans did not contradict this interpretation. Hans played a game of biting his father, and this was seen as further evidence that the theory was correct.

Hans became fascinated with his bowels. His father believed "that there was an analogy a between a heavily loaded cart and a body loaded with faeces, between the way a cart drives out through a gateway and the way in which faeces leave the body."

Suddenly Hans had a new fantasy. Hans said "Daddy, I thought something: I was in the bath, and then the plumber came and unscrewed it. Then he took a big borer and stuck it into my stomach".

This fantasy was interpreted thus: the bath full of water represented his mothers womb. The borer represents his father's penis. The fantasy can then be re-worded as "with your big penis you bored me and put me in my mothers womb".

Hans was frightened of having a bath in the big bath. This was thought to be because he was feeling guilty about wishing that his sister would drown in the bath. He feared that he would suffer a similar fate as a punishment for the way he thought. Whilst talking about his fear of having a bath Hans changed the subject to lumf and then spoke of his baby sister. Freud interprets this as meaning that his sister, Hanna, is seen as a lumf herself. All babies are seen as lumf's and were born like lumf's. Freud continues in asserting that all furniture vans buses and carts, etc. were representations of pregnancy. A cart falling over represents childbirth. Falling horses represents two things, his dying father and his mother in childbirth.

Whilst Hans' father was talking to Hans about the death wish that he had against his father Hans knocked over a toy horse. This was seen as further evidence that Hans wished his father dead.

Hans produced a new fantasy "the plumber came, and first he took away my behind with a pair of pincers, and then gave me another, and then the same with my widdler. He said: "let me see your behind!" And I had to turn round, and he took it away; and then he said: "let me see your widdler!"

Hans' father saw this as meaning that Hans wanted to be like his father. When Hans was questioned about his wish for a bigger widdler and a bigger behind, Hans agreed and added "I would like to have a moustache like yours and hairs like yours".

Freud believed this fantasy demonstrated that Hans had overcome his fear of castration.

Whilst Hans was playing with his imaginary children his father said to him "are your children still alive? You know quite well a boy can't have any children". Hans replied "I know. I was their mummy before, now I'm their daddy". His father asked, "who's the children's mummy? "Hans replied "why mummy, and you're their grand-daddy". His father then said "so then you would like to be as big as me and be married to mummy, and then you would like her to have children". Hans agree and added "then my Lainz grand mummy, (his father's mother) will be their granny".

This fantasy, according to Freud, demonstrated that Hans had no further need to kill his father, as now his father had become his grand mother's husband. Freud thought that this fantasy demonstrated that Hans had been cured of his illness.

Diagram of Freud's theory

A picture of the brain according to Freud

Return to Gary Sturt's home page