Sex, Lies and Letters:

A Sample of Significant Deceptions in the Freud/Jung Relationship.

Martin S. Fiebert

California State University at Long Beach

Running head: Sex, Lies and Letters


This research has focused on an examination of the correspondence and writings of Freud and Jung. A core theme of deception in the Freud/Jung relationship has been identified and appears to be correlated with and perhaps causative of their eventual breakup. A number of examples are presented.

Sex, Lies and Letters: A Sample of Significant Deceptions in the Freud/Jung Relationship.

Freud and Jung are clearly seminal figures in the history of Psychology. There has been much written regarding their conceptual differences in theory and psychotherapeutic approaches, as well as the differing emphases they placed on an understanding of such factors as the unconscious, the importance of religious experience and the validity of parapsychological phenomenon. Jung, in his Memoirs (1963), and Ernest Jones (1953; 1955; 1957) and Peter Gay (1988), in their comprehensive biographies of Freud, have discussed some of the personal issues that eventually led to the acrimonious Freud-Jung split. My research is based on an examination of the writings of Freud and Jung, their correspondence with each other and colleagues, and the writings and recollections of those who knew them. From this material, I have identified a central theme of mutual deception, which is present throughout the Freud/Jung relationship. This pattern of deception, in my view, clearly fostered a cycle of growing mistrust and, I believe, is correlated with, and perhaps causative of, the eventual Freud/Jung breakup.

Deception # 1: Freud's Affair with Minna Bernays

Jung recounts that during his first visit with Freud in March, 1907, Minna Bernays, Freud's wife's sister, told him of her sexual intimacy with Freud. Specifically, Jung recalls that Minna Bernays "was very much bothered by her relationship with Freud and felt guilty about it. From her I learned that Freud was in love with her and that their relationship was indeed very intimate. It was a shocking discovery for me, and even now (May, 1957) I can recall the agony I felt at the time" (Billinsky, 1969, p.42).

Evidently Jung never shared this information with Freud, but, in my view, the revelation and initial deception had a profound impact on aspects of the Freud/Jung relationship. In particular, I believe, it influenced Jung's decision to begin an affair with his patient, Sabina Spielrein (See Deception # 3) and played a part in the subsequent deceptions which both Freud and Jung engaged in during their mutual dream analyses while on route to America in 1909 (see Deception #4).

Deception # 2: Freud Suspects Jung of Anti-Semitism

Freud communicates to Abraham in August, 1908, his suspicion that Jung harbors anti-Semitic feelings (Abraham & Freud, 1965). Freud apparently did not confront Jung directly and the issue of Jung's alleged anti-Semitism played a part in Freud's eventual distancing himself from Jung. As an example, Freud wrote to Rank in August, 1912 (Gay, 1988, p.231) and indicated that the problems with Jung reveal his failure to achieve an "integration of Jews and anti-Semites on the soil of Psychoanalysis." Moreover, in his 1914 article, entitled, "The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement," Freud publicly chastised Jung for maintaining "certain prejudices with regard to race" (Freud, 1959, p. 329).

Deception # 3: Jung's Affair with Sabina Spielrein

It is my contention, that when Jung discovered that Freud, his mentor, was having a secret and culturally forbidden affair with Minna Bernays, this stimulated and sanctioned his growing desire for his patient and student, Sabina Spielrein. According to entries and letters in Spielrein's diary, Jung deceived both Freud and Spielrein's mother regarding the true nature of his relationship with Sabina (Carotenuto, 1984).

In 1909 Spielrein wrote to Freud and told him of her romance with Jung. Freud apparently did not take Spielrein's accusations seriously and seemed to accept Jung's explanation that Spielrein, a former patient, was emotionally disturbed. When Spielrein visited Vienna in 1912, she and Freud became closer, and Freud accepted her version of earlier events, but did not share his reevaluation with Jung. In January of 1913, right after the breakdown of his personal relationship with Jung, Freud wrote to Spielrein, "Since I received the first letter from you, my opinion of him (Jung) has been greatly altered" (Carotenuto, 1984, p. 118).

Deception # 4: Mutual Dream Analyses

Profound deceptions emerged from the mutual dream analyses Freud and Jung conducted during their voyage to America in August, 1909. The deceptions and the intensity of Jung's reaction, presaged the eventual ending of their professional and personal relationship.

In his interview with Billinsky (1969, p. 42), Jung recalls, "Freud had some dreams that bothered him very much. The dreams were about the triangle--Freud, his wife and his wife's younger sister. Freud had no idea I knew about the triangle and his intimate relationship with his sister-in-law. And so, when Freud told me about the dream...I asked (him) to tell me some of his personal associations...He looked at me with bitterness and said, 'I could tell you more but I cannot risk my authority!'" Jung comments in his MEMOIRS (1963, p.158), "At that moment he lost it altogether. That sentence burned itself in my memory; and in it the end of our relationship was already foreshadowed."

Jung for his part was also deceptive in revealing his dreams to Freud. Jung shared a dream with Freud in which he explores a house, descends to the cellar and, then beneath the cellar, finds an ancient vault containing two human skulls. Freud, probing for Jung's secret death wish toward himself, pressed Jung for his associations. Jung, sensing his dream reflected his emerging ideas of the collective unconscious and fearful of Freud's resistance, lied and said the skulls represented those of his wife, Emma and her sister (Jung, 1963, p.159).

In addition to an attempt to mollify Freud, I believe Jung's deception was a subtle attempt on his part to establish more honesty in communication by indirectly revealing his knowledge of Freud's intimate with his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays. Freud, apparently unaware of Jung's knowledge and intent was, according to Jung, "greatly relieved" by Jung's deceptive interpretation of the skulls.

Deception # 5: A Triangle--Emma Jung, Ferenczi and Freud

Not only were Freud and Jung party to dishonest communications but Jung's wife, Emma, and Sandor Ferenczi, a colleague of Freud and Jung, also contributed to fostering deception. Specifically, Emma Jung made a heartfelt attempt (which actually backfired) to patch up what she perceived as a growing rift between her husband and Freud.

On October 15, 1911, Emma wrote to Ferenczi to inquire whether he was aware of Freud's disapproval of her husband's latest work. In her letter she explicitly asked Ferenczi not to mention her concerns to Freud (Donn, 1988, p.137). On October 19th, Ferenczi, betraying Emma's confidence, enclosed her letter in his correspondence to Freud. Ferenczi also speculated that if Freud was upset with Jung, it might be because of Jung's interest in the occult and his revision of the libido theory (Donn, 1988, p.137-8).

Freud's answer to Ferenczi spelled out the manner in which he should respond to Mrs. Jung. In addition, Freud explicitly asked Ferenczi to not mention the topics of occultism and libido. Because of the word meaning "strike" (avoid) and "emphasize" are similar in German, Ferenczi misread Freud's instructions and conveyed to Emma Jung that Freud was particularly troubled by Jung's current interests! This inadvertent deception in turn led to Emma Jung's secretly writing to Freud (Mcguire, 1974, p.452-453), Jung subsequently finding evidence of the correspondence, and both Freud and Jung increasing their mistrust and intensifying their scientific and professional differences with each other.

Deception # 6: The "Gesture of Kreuzlingen"

Freud deceived Jung regarding the nature of his sudden visit to Ludwig Binswanger in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland in May, 1912. (Kreuzlingen is about forty miles from Jung's house in Zurich.) Freud did not make specific arrangements to see Jung, who in turn, was hurt and upset at what he perceived to be Freud's avoidance of him. In later correspondence with Freud, Jung bitterly referred to this event as the "Kreuzlingen gesture" (McGuire, 1974).

In fact, Freud wrote to both Jung and Binswanger two days before his arrival and assumed that Jung would meet him in Kreuzlingen. Jung was out of town and did not receive Freud's note in time to make travel arrangements. Moreover, because Freud agreed to Binswanger's request not to share this information with Jung, Jung was not aware that the prime reason for Freud's visit was Binswanger's impending surgery for cancer (Binswanger, 1957; Gay, 1988, p.228-229). Thus another minor and unnecessary deception contributed to the breakdown of the Freud/Jung relationship.

Deception # 7: The Committee

In response to the growing tension and mistrust in the Freud/Jung relationship, and, in particular, to the intensity of Jung's reaction to what he perceived as the "Kreuzlingen gesture," Ernest Jones, a feisty and loyal supporter of Freud, initiated a grand deception which had profound implications for both the Freud/Jung relationship and the history of Psychoanalysis.

Jones, in the summer of 1912, suggested that a small group of trusted analysts form an "old guard" around Freud to provide protection from future dissensions. Freud warmly accepted this idea but cautioned that "the committee would have to be strictly secret in its existence and actions" (Jones, 1955, p.152-153). The committee consisting of Jones, Ferenczi, Rank, Sachs and Abraham advised Freud and guided Psychoanalytic policy for many years.

Jung, although he was the elected president of the International Psychoanalytic Society and, earlier, had been designated by Freud as his "Son and Heir" (McGuire, 1974, p. 72 and p.218) was kept ignorant regarding the committee's existence.

Deception # 8: Freud, Jung and Homophobia

In writing to Jung on November 29, 1912, Freud's attempted deception regarding his homoerotic feelings toward Jung was, I believe, a significant element in precipitating the ending of their personal relationship. Shortly after Freud and Jung had apparently reconciled some of their theoretical differences during a conference in Munich (November 24, 1912) and had cleared up the misunderstanding concerning Freud's visit to Binswanger, Freud fainted, for the second time, in Jung's presence. Jung then tenderly carried Freud to a sofa and two days later wrote him a very friendly note, apologizing for earlier difficulties and inquiring after Freud's health (Jung, 1963; McGuire, 1974).

Freud's response to Jung acknowledged some outstanding differences in their theoretical views and then, referring to his fainting spell, wrote, "according to my private diagnosis, it was migraine...note without a psychic factor which unfortunately I haven't had time to track down...a bit of neurosis I ought to look into" (McGuire, 1974, p. 524). However, Freud was much more candid in a letter to Jones when he attributed his fainting spell to an "unruly homosexual feeling," which involved a transference from his earlier and intense friendship with Wilhelm Fliess to Jung (Donn, 1988. p.154-6).

Jung's response to Freud was an explosion of rage. He was particularly upset at both Freud's downplaying the meaning of his fainting spell and, what he perceived as Freud's trivializing of his contribution to Libido theory (McGuire, 1974). I also suspect that on a deeper level Jung sensed Freud's homoerotic conflict (perhaps intensified by the nonverbal contact they shared when he carried Freud after he fainted) and was angered that Freud was deceptively vague about its significance.

It should be mentioned that Jung, himself, was particularly vulnerable to such homoerotic and homophobic feelings. In particular, earlier in their relationship (1907) Jung had confessed to Freud that he had been homosexually assaulted as a boy by a man he trusted. He also admitted, when he asked Freud for his photograph, that he had "a religious crush" on Freud which he was aware had "clear erotic undertones" (McGuire, 1974, p.95).

After exchanging a set of angry letters with Jung, Freud waited two weeks and then wrote on January 3, 1913, "I propose that we abandon our personal relations entirely" (McGuire, 1974, p.539).


Abraham, H.C., & Freud, E.L. (Eds.) (1965) Psychoanalytic Dialogue: The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Karl Abraham, 1907-1926. New York: Basic Books.

Billinsky, J.M. (1969) Jung and Freud: The End of a Romance. Andover Newton Quarterly, 10, 39-43.

Binswanger, L. (1957) Sigmund Freud: Reminiscences of a Friendship. New York: Grune & Stratton.

Carotenuto, A. (1984) A Secret Symmetry: Sabina Spielrein Between Jung and Freud. New York: Pantheon.

Donn, L. (1988) Freud and Jung: Years of Friendship, Years of Loss. New York: Collier.

Freud, S. (1959) On the History of Psychoanalytic Movement. In Collected Papers, Volume 1. New York: Basic Books.

Gay, P. (1988) Freud: A Life for Our Time. New York: Norton.

Jones, E. (1953, 1955, 1957) Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Volume I, II, III. New York: Basic Books.

Jung, C.G. (1963) Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vintage.

McGuire, W. (Ed.) (1974) The Freud/Jung Letters: The Correspondence Between Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press.

This paper was presented at the American Psychological Society Convention, June, 1992, San Diego, Ca.

Copyright, 1992. Martin S. Fiebert.