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Garcia, E.E. (1987). Freud's Seduction Theory. Psychoanal. St. Child, 42:443-468.

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(1987). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 42:443-468

Freud's Seduction Theory

Emanuel E. Garcia, M.D.


Resident in psychiatry at the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia.

I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to the late Harold Feldman.

- 443 -

RECENTLY MUCH ATTENTION HAS BEEN FOCUSED ON FREUD'S SO-called seduction theory of the etiology of neurosis (Masson, 1984). While both critics and admirers of Freud seem to agree on its importance in the development of psychoanalysis, strikingly divergent interpretations of the seduction theory have emerged. Thus, a review of the establishment and evolution of the seduction theory in Freud's work should prove useful.

Because Freud's scientific publications serve as the definitive embodiment of his theoretical formulations, they—and not his private correspondence or other personal material—consequently form the basis for the investigation that follows.


The seduction theory of the etiology of hysteria and obsessional neurosis was set forth by Freud in three papers, all appearing in 1896. As with any hypothesis in statu nascendi, inconsistencies of presentation may be detected; however, in the case of the seduction theory the inconsistencies that occur do not vitiate its core. They concern ancillary aspects, as we shall see. Nevertheless, contrary to the impression left by Masson (1984), the seduction theory was not without its deficiencies. Despite Freud's

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