The majority of patients in Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud’s book Studies on Hysteria  were described as having been victims of sexual abuse and up until 1895 Freud considered that the majority of his patients were suffering from the aftermath of sexual abuse in childhood.
Freud then rejected this idea. There has been a great deal of speculation regarding this decision. Freud’s biographer, Ernest Jones , proposed that given many of the fathers of his patients were part of his own social circle, it would have been difficult for Freud to publicly state that his patients had been sexually abused as children.
To then explain the symptoms of his patients, in the absence of any real trauma, Freud produced a socially acceptable theory that denied the reality of childhood sexual abuse. Once the memories of sexual abuse reported by personalities were rejected by Freud as not being memories of true events, then the interpretation of the nature of these additional, or ‘alter’ personalities had to change.
Whereas others, such as Morton Prince , had embraced the idea that there could be parallel rational conscious activity which could be described as "subconscious" or "co-conscious", Freud rejected this idea and invented his unconscious . From this point onward Freud referred only to an unconscious as distinct from a subconscious .
The unconscious of Freud, therefore, was not able to hold accurate memories, assume rational control of the body, or to think as would a rational adult. If the sexual abuse was not seen to be true, then the alter personalities (or the “unconscious” for Freud) must be irrational.
Despite the many great contributions made by Freud, this theory and the acceptance of his theory meant that many victims of sexual abuse were not believed and many patients with multiple personalities (or Dissociative Identity Disorder – DID) were to be misdiagnosed. For most of the twentieth-century the reality of many DID patient’s condition was also rejected as their appearance did not fit accepted theory.
And so this was the genesis of Legion Theory. If the rejection of the ideas of Pierre Janet, Alfred Binet, William James, and Morton Prince, was done so because Freud’s patients had not actually been sexually abused, and now we think that they were, there remains no logical reason to reject their ideas.
And so we accepted the advice presented in 1957, by J. McV. Hunt, former president of the American Psychological Association, that when “neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and sociologists achieve a coherent and connected theory of multiple personality, they shall have gone a long way in understanding personality and its organisation” . The goal of Legion Theory was to examine the characteristics of DID, and from the insights provided develop a new general theory of psychology – a psychological meta-theory we call Legion Theory.
- Breuer & Freud, 1895/1983
- Jones, 1953
- Prince, 1905/1978
- Freud, 1915/1995
- Ellenberger, 1970.
- Thigpen & Cleckley, 1957, p. vii
Back to top
Breuer, L., & Freud, S. (1983). Studies on hysteria. New York: Pelican Books. (Original work published, 1895).
Ellenberger, H.F. (1970). The discovery of the unconscious: The history and evolution of dynamic psychiatry. New York: Basic Books, Inc.
Freud, S. (1995). The Freud reader. P. Gay (Ed.). London: Vintage. (Original work published 1915).
Jones, E. (1953). Sigmund Freud: Life and work (Vol. 1). London: Hogarth Press.
Prince, M. (1905/1978). The dissociation of a personality. New York: Oxford University Press.